Trial in two confined space deaths concludes with $22,500 fine

WALKERTON, Ont. —  UPDATE: A supervisor has been fined in an incident on a southwestern Ontario farm 16 months ago in which two Jamaican migrant workers died.
Charges were laid under Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act in the deaths of Paul Roach, 44, and Ralston White, 36, in September 2010 on Filsinger's Organic Foods and Orchards near Ayton, Ont.

The charges against Debra Ann Becker, Shaun Ronald Becker, Cory Richard Becker and Brandon Weber — operators of Filsinger's — were settled Tuesday through an agreed statement of facts.

Charges against the Beckers were dropped and Weber pleaded guilty to a single charge and was fined $22,500. The four are believed to be the first people charged under the Act following a farm workplace fatality.

Roach and White were attempting to fix a pump for a vinegar vat on the southwestern Ontario farm when they were overcome by the fumes. They were removed from the vat with no vital signs, were revived and taken to hospital but died later.

Migrant worker advocacy group, Justicia for Migrant Workers, said Wednesday that the case amounted to a denial of justice for the White and Roach families.

"This decision implies that employers have carte blanche to engage in health and safety violations, and that the legal mechanisms meant to protect workers in fact shield employers from any form of accountability for deaths of their employees," said Tzazna Miranda Leal, an organizer with the group.

Justicia said it is calling on the provincial government to enact steps to protect workers, including inspections of areas where migrant workers live and work and coroner's inquests into the details relating workplace deaths.

Earlier, the national president of the United Farm and Commercial Workers, Wayne Hanley, said he hoped the trial would bring some closure to the victims' families.

Hanley said it is a wake-up call to the agriculture industry that safety is paramount and that agriculture workers are not disposable commodities. For more than two decades, UFCW Canada has led a campaign for equal labour, workplace and safety rights for agriculture workers.

The union called for a coroner's inquest in the wake of the September 10, 2010, fatalities.