Halifax Port Authority sentenced for safety violation in 2018 fatality
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The Chronicle Herald
The Port of Halifax Authority has been fined $90,000 for violating Canada’s Labor Code in connection with an on-the-job fatality at the Fairview Cove infill project more than four years ago.
Michael Wile drowned after the truck he was driving accidentally rolled into Bedford Basin in July 2018 while attempting to dump a load of pyrite shale into the water.
After a trial in Halifax Provincial Court last February, the Port Authority was found guilty of failing to ensure that there was a bumper block or signaling device at the water’s edge to prevent rear-dump vehicles from overturning.
Judge Elizabeth Buckle on Friday fined the Port Authority $75,000 and issued a 14-day probation order ordering the Federal Crown Corporation to make a $15,000 donation to Threads of Life, an agency that Supporting families after death or serious injury at work.
Before the judge made her decision, defense attorney Paul Niefer said the Port Authority would pay for a bench bearing Wile’s name to be placed in the park area planned for the site, as suggested by his widow, Alysen Coady.
“It must be said that no judgment can be proportionate to the loss of Mr. Wile’s life,” Buckle said in her decision. “No penalty, let alone a monetary one, could ever make up for that loss or measure its worth.”
During the trial, the defense argued that Port Authority employees were never near the waterfront work surface, so space was technically not a workplace within the meaning of Canada’s Labor Code.
However, the judge dismissed that position, saying the Port Authority has a duty to make the site safe for all users, without distinguishing between its own employees and anyone else.
The Port Authority hired David Seaboyer of Dartmouth’s SiteLogic Construction Management Inc. to oversee the day-to-day operations of the infill project. The contact person for seaboyers at the port authority was the environmental manager.
Seaboyer had eliminated the position of spotter on the infill project in December 2017 when he fired the person who did it and did not replace her.
No one saw Wile’s dump truck hit the water on the morning of July 9, 2018. Surveillance video shows a splash of water or dust at 7:51 a.m
Wile’s body was discovered floating in the water at 9:40 a.m. by a maintenance supervisor on the nearby MacKay Bridge, but the offloading was not stopped until 3:10 p.m. By then, a further 149 loads of slate had been offloaded.
RCMP divers found Wile’s truck in about 20 meters of water the next day. The driver’s side window and door were open and the load of slate was still in the truck.
Wile, 44, of Ellershouse, had three children and was engaged to be married to Coady, who made an impact statement at the sentencing hearing.
“It’s impossible to put into words the true impact the loss of Mr. Wile would have had on Ms. Coady, his family and friends,” Buckle said. “But statements like Ms. Coady’s help and are a valuable part of criminal proceedings.”
She said Coady described “both the tangible and intangible impact” of Wile’s death.
“She described the devastating financial impact,” the judge said. “Without family support, she and her daughter would have had no shelter or food. She was unable to work for a period after Mr. Wile’s death, which of course compounded the financial impact of his loss of income
“The less tangible psychological and emotional effects are just as real and will last longer. For a time, Mrs. Coady did not want to speak to or see anyone. She couldn’t sleep and couldn’t stop thinking about the accident, how and why it happened.
“Not surprisingly, at the time of sentencing … four years after his death, she continued to show pain on special occasions and to let her know that her daughter still thinks of Mr. Wile and misses him.”
Prosecutors recommended a fine of $100,000, the maximum amount for the summary offense, and a three-year suspended sentence, including charitable donation and numerous safety-related conditions.
The defense asked for a $50,000 fine and said the probation terms proposed by the Crown were not necessary because the Port Authority had taken security measures since the incident.
Allan Gray became CEO of the Port Authority in November 2019, some 16 months after the mishap. He apologized to Wile’s family and friends for the fact that the systems were down and said that since he joined the Port Authority, the staff had campaigned for change and ensured this type of tragedy did not happen again.
Buckle said the evidence showed the location of the Seaboyer signaller was removed without the Port Authority’s knowledge.
“As such, I accept that the Port Authority had a system in place which, if followed, would have resulted in compliance,” she said. “Their guilt stems from the fact that they didn’t ensure that the system was followed. They failed to properly monitor Mr. Seaboyer’s activities, failed to notice that the signaller was no longer being used and, more generally, failed to identify and remediate the waterfront hazards.
“In doing so, as the defense admits, they failed to exercise due diligence. But I’m not convinced that the Port Authority made a conscious decision to discontinue the signaller or that they didn’t do a risk assessment.”
The judge said that although the offense was “closely linked to Wile’s death” and there was a significant need to impose a fine that deterred and denounced the conduct, the maximum penalty was not necessary in this case.
Seaboyer and his company pleaded guilty in 2020 to two counts under the provincial Occupational Safety and Health Act of failing to take reasonable precautions to ensure the health or safety of individuals in the workplace. They were fined a total of $60,000 and Seaboyer was ordered to give a series of safety demonstrations.
The provincial Department of Labor also filed safety lawsuits against a Fall River company that operated excavators and trucks to move materials around the site and was tasked with providing scouts and maintaining a secure dumping dock. Those charges were dropped in November 2020.