Readers may remember the heartbreaking story of the death of Michelle Krsek, a three-year old who was killed by a falling piece of sheet metal at the base of the Calgary Tower in August 2009. In the resulting court case, the companies responsible, Flynn Canada and Germain Residences pleaded guilty and were charged with a maximum $15,000 fine under the Safety Codes Act. The judge who levied the maximum $15,000 fine described the penalty as “woefully inadequate.” That is an understatement.
I was pleased to read yesterday that Municipal Affairs Minister Hector Goudreau also believes that the fines are too low. Speaking to the Calgary Herald, Minister Goudreau anticipated that he would be able to make recommendations to his colleagues to have much larger fines. As a deterrent and penalty for individuals and corporations breaking provincial laws, fines need to reflect current monetary value.
In this case, the section of the Safety Codes Act listing maximum fines for offences has not been updated since 1991. Section 68(1)(a) of the Act prescribes a person guilty of a first time violation of the code a fine no more than $15,000 and in case of a continuing offense, a further fine of not more than $1000 each day during which the offense continues or imprisonment not exceeding 6 months. For a second offense, the fine is limited to $30,000 and $2000 a day for continuing offense or 12 months in prison.
Although the threat of a prison sentence should be a stiff enough deterrent for most, the pathetically small maximum fines listed in this Act do not reflect twenty years of monetary inflation.
The Safety Codes Act is not the only law in which maximum monetary fines should probably be updated. The Pipeline Act was amended in 1981 to increase fines to not more than $10,000 for a corporation or not more than $5000 for individuals. In the penalties section of the Oilsands Conservation Act which was amended in 1983, offending corporations are liable for fines of not more than $5000. Amended in 1980, the Coal Conservation Act limits fines to not less than $300 and not more than $1000. Even under the Marriage Act, a person who unlawfully performs a marriage is liable to a fine of only $1000, which was amended in 1983.
These are only a few examples of fines that would not provide a very good financial deterrent or punishment for say, an offending corporation like Statoil, which is facing offences against the more stringent Water Act.
More recent laws and amendments have given the government an opportunity to set maximum fines that are more reflective of current realities. The Waste Control Regulation Regulation under the Environmental Proection and Enhancement Act, amended in 2005, hands out fines of no more than $500,000 to offending corporations. The Occupational Health & Safety Act, amended in 2002, lists penalties for a first offense as a maximum fine of $500,000, a further fine of $30,000 for each day the offence continues. The fine is doubled if the offender fails to comply after their first offense. The 2007 Climate Change and Emissions Management Act penalties section hands out fines not more than $1,000,000.
It is time to update our provincial laws so that they include fines and penalty deterrents that are relevant in 2011. It is understandable that government may be hesitant to launch into the large commitment of individually amending and updating each law, so I wonder if it would be possible to introduce an omnibus type of legislation in the Assembly every five year that could update these fines and penalties sections?