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Sunrise Propane found guilty in massive plant explosion

Arthur Zeilikman employment lawyer

TORONTO – An Ontario company was convicted Thursday of violating environmental and labour regulations in connection with the 2008 explosion of a propane plant in Toronto that killed a man and forced thousands from their homes.

Sunrise Propane and its directors, Shay Ben-Moshe and Valery Belshov, were found guilty of nine provincial-offences charges in relation to the Aug.10 explosion.

The court ruled Sunrise failed to provide safety training and a safe working environment, discharged a contaminant and contravened a number of provincial orders related to the cleanup after the blast.

The company was cleared on one count of failing to comply with a provincial order.

The court also found Ben-Moshe and Belahov failed to take all reasonable care to prevent the company from flouting those orders.

Sunrise defence lawyer Leo Adler said both he and his clients were disappointed with the verdict, which could amount to millions of dollars in fines for the company.

Ontario government lawyers argued training negligence in a fireball that killed employee Parminder Saini, 25, and rained debris on the surrounding area. A responding firefighter died of a heart attack.

The explosion displaced some 12,500 residents and caused millions in property damage in north Toronto.

In an interview with AdvocateDaily.com, Toronto civil litigation and employment lawyer Arthur Zeilikman says on principle, the decision is legally sound.

“Employers should take good care of their employees’ safety,” says Zeilikman. “Criminal or quasi-criminal sanctions should form part of industrial relations in cases involving harm to person or property. In these types of cases, civil litigation may not be sufficient and the government should be expected to intervene.”

A properly-trained employee is critical to any workplace, he adds.

“Training is crucial not only because failure to perform to a certain standard may have serious legal consequences, but because, more importantly, it could save lives,” Zeilikman tells AdvocateDaily.com.

The court heard Saini was “incinerated” during a risky truck-to-truck propane transfer, while fellow employee Felipe De Leon escaped from the blast.

De Leon was an experienced propane truck driver while Saini had only been filling propane tanks for a few months. The two men reacted differently when the propane truck exploded, the court heard.

During the trial, which began in February 2012, the court heard that Sunrise had been told almost two years earlier to stop truck-to-truck transfers but the it continued.

The defence had argued that Saini and De Leon had received training and were handling a faulty piece of equipment.

“My understanding from the fire marshal’s report was that it was a hose that was defective,” Adler said Thursday after the verdict was delivered.

He said there were no charges of criminal negligence brought against Sunrise.

“This was fully investigated … by all the regulatory agencies,” he said, adding that all charges brought against Sunrise fall under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Environmental Protection Act.

“Obviously our thoughts are with the family of the young man that died,” Adler said. “Nothing could ever bring him back.”

Adler said he will review the verdict with his clients before deciding on whether or not to appeal the ruling.

The court will reconvene July 23 to set a date for sentencing.

-With files from AdvocateDaily

© 2013 The Canadian Press