Nova Scotia getting creative with sentencing

Safety presentations most common option

Nova Scotia getting creative with sentencing

Nova Scotia is one of the few provinces that allows for creative sentencing for safety violations and it is seeing success with this approach, according to the government’s special prosecutor for occupational health and safety, Alex Keaveny.


“We have one of the broadest set of powers that judges have to sentence under our OHS act,” he said, speaking at the Safety Services Nova Scotia workplace health and safety conference in Halifax on April 9. “Many provinces have no creative sentencing ability or very limited. We have a very broad one and we use that. We try to be as creative as possible. We really want the sentence to have an impact.”


While the act also allows for fines and jail time, the Public Prosecution Service has been placing a lot of focus on creative sentencing. The most common creative sentence is safety presentations. Offenders conduct presentations at public forums, community centres, industry annual general meetings and colleges on the lessons they have learned. In one case, an offender will soon be sharing his message at morning meetings on a company’s work site.  


James Murphy is a success story for this type of sentencing. He was a truck driver who ran over and killed a flagger. He gave a series of very effective presentations about what happened: At the end of the day, he was tired, not focused and simply did not follow the safety procedures for the task. While he was only required to give seven presentations, he ended up doing nine and reached more than 400 people in the industry.


‘He was a really good public speaker and I think he had a real impact,” said Keaveny. “To me, I can’t imagine watching a presentation like that, being in that industry and not taking something away from it.”


Another creative example is media ads and billboards to educate the public or an industry on safety.


“Obviously there is a cost to printing and erecting and maintaining these billboards and that’s what the sentence would provide for,” said Keaveny.


Yet another option is scholarships and bursaries. One example of this is a bursary in memory of Alan Fraser for Nova Scotia Community College students. Fraser was 21 when he died after falling from the sixth floor of a construction project in Halifax. Part of the sentence for the company was to set up an annual bursary.


“It’s another way of keeping the message going,” said Keaveny. “A student will know that a bursary he or she got is in memory of Alan Fraser.”


This penalty was actually a suggestion from the defence. As part of the creative sentencing process, offenders and their team can make suggestions.


“If it’s a good one, if it's something that’s enforceable that furthers the goals of the act and raises awareness on safety issues, we can do that — if it’s something we can sell to the judge as a good idea,” Keaveny said.


Along with working with offenders and their lawyers to come up with a creative sentence, Keaveny also considers the specific industry sector. 


“Not every industry is exactly the same, not every avenue is going to be as effective," he said. "We want things that work.”