TORONTO - That poor man didn't stand a chance to survive the Sunrise Propane explosion five years ago.
In her damning decision released Thursday, Justice Leslie Chapin found Sunrise Propane guilty of nine regulatory offences under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Environmental Protection Act, including failing to provide safety training and a safe working environment as well as ignoring numerous orders to clean up after the blast. They were acquitted on one count under the EPA.
Sunrise directors, Shay Ben-Moshe and his brother-in-law Valery Belahov, could face millions of dollars in fines for the violations.
Ignited by leaking propane vapour during an illegal truck-to-truck transfer, a deadly fireball lit up the sky at 3:47 a.m. on Aug. 10, 2008. Part-time Sunrise employee Parminder "Rocky" Singh Saini, a 25-year-old from India who came to study at Sheridan College just eight months before, was killed in the initial blast. It was also blamed for the fatal heart attack of district fire chief Bob Leek, 55, who rushed to the scene on his day off. More than 12,000 residents were evacuated and dozens of houses destroyed as metal debris and asbestos rained down from a series of explosions.
In her decision, the judge found Saini was never trained or properly supervised. The student had been hired to fill taxis with propane, yet was left alone, virtually in charge of a station where tankers were being filled.
"It is difficult to imagine a more dangerous workplace than a yard filled with propane where a leak could cause explosions given that there are so many possible sources of ignition available at any given time," Chapin wrote in her 135-page judgment.
"Given the evidence, the only rational inference I can draw is that Mr. Saini was not provided with sufficient information and instruction because of the way he reacted to the sound of the explosion," she continued. "Mr. Saini ran in the direction of the explosion instead of away from it."
Chapin also found Sunrise failed to properly oversee their truck drivers or update them on safety concerns. "In an inherently dangerous industry the defendants were required to take steps to ensure that their truck drivers were knowledgeable about the risks of handling propane and how to avoid them."
Sunrise's preventative maintenance system was "woefully inadequate" and she found it "shocking" that the company, in a densely-populated area, had no system in place to comply with regulatory requirements.
In the Downsview neighbourhood rocked by the fatal explosion, life has resumed its ordinary pace. Damaged homes have been rebuilt, shattered glass has been replaced, broken gravestones repaired. A nearby park has been named in honour of the fire chief.
News that Sunrise Propane has finally been convicted was met with satisfaction, but little surprise.
"Finding them guilty is great. It took people's lives and created so many headaches for residents. But what's going to happen now? Are these people going to be reimbursed?" asks Tony Di Santo, head of the Ancaster Ratepayers Association.
A sleepless Di Santo was watching TV on the sofa when he heard a huge boom and saw the giant fireball fill the northwest sky outside his back window. With his wife and 94-year-old mother, he joined his terrified neighbours in fleeing the neighbourhood. "I knew it was the propane right away," recalls the ratepayers association president, who has lived in the area since 1964. "It should never have been there with residential right across the street. We complained to our councillor in the area but nothing was done, unfortunately."
Resident Jeff Green, whose family's home suffered damage during the blast, wants nothing less than criminal charges as well as tougher inspections by the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA), which never enforced its 2007 order to stop its unsafe truck-to-truck propane transfers.
"This was 100% preventable," contends Green, whose family is also part of a class action lawsuit against Sunrise and TSSA. "Is any good going to come of this? Will the province now reexamine the need for stricter enforcement?"
Sunrise lawyer Leo Adler called the verdicts "disappointing" and said no decision has been made yet about a possible appeal.
The case returns to court July 23 to set a sentencing date.
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