Farm workers denied Coroner’s inquest: greater risk of fatality in mining and construction industries, HRTO decides

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has decided that it was not discriminatory for the Coroner’s Act to require mandatory inquests in construction and mining deaths, but not in farm deaths.

Ned Peart, a migrant farm worker from Jamaica who came to Canada under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (“SAWP”), was crushed to death by a 1,000-pound tobacco bin that fell from a steel bin lift. No inquest was held into Mr. Peart’s death, despite requests to the Office of the Chief Coroner by both migrant farm worker advocates and the labour movement that consideration be given to the plight of migrant farm workers.

In 2005, Mr. Peart’s brother filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, alleging that s. 10(5) of the Coroners Act discriminates against migrant farm workers in Ontario, and specifically those employed under SAWP, on the basis that it denies them the benefit of a mandatory inquest into workplace deaths, which currently is extended to workers in the mining and construction industries.  

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found that SAWP workers are at a significantly lower risk of traumatic workplace fatality than those in the mining and construction industries.  In addition, the evidence revealed that there is much greater variance in the mechanisms and circumstances that result in accidental workplace deaths in the mining and construction industries than in the agriculture industry.  In fact, 41% of all fatalities in the agriculture industry result from tractor roll-overs and tractor run-overs.  The Tribunal concluded that the greater variance of accidental deaths in the mining and construction industries makes it more likely that useful inquest recommendations will result from these mandatory inquests than if inquests were required for all workplace deaths in agriculture.  

Therefore, the Tribunal held that the focus in s. 10(5) of the Coroners Act on persons employed in the mining and construction industries is a recognition of the greater degree of risk of traumatic workplace fatalities that these groups face.  Notwithstanding the vulnerabilities experienced by SAWP workers, the Tribunal ruled that their exclusion from the mandatory inquest requirement under s. 10(5) of the Coroners Act does not result in substantive inequality for this group when taking into account the purposes and context of this provision.

Peart v. Ontario (Community Safety and Correctional Services), 2014 HRTO 611 (CanLII)

Chelsea Rasmussen

About Chelsea Rasmussen

Chelsea advises and represents employers in all areas of employment and labor law, including employment standards, employee hiring, discipline and termination, human rights, and labor relations. She also provides employment and labor advice on corporate transactions.

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