Employer charged after rape of worker: Guard sexually assaulted while alone on job site

A private security company has been charged with failing to ensure the safety of a female employee who was raped while working alone two years ago.

Garda Canada Security Corp. has been charged with one count under the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act for not ensuring, as far as reasonable, the health and safety of a worker.

It is the first time a company has been charged because of a sexual assault, said Occupational Health spokesman Chris Chodan. Usually, the charge is connected to other workplace incidents, such as an accident.

"Usually, when it's violence, it's a straight-up criminal offence," he said. "In this case, it was a criminal act by the person who committed it and there was a work-related issue on top of that."

The charge was laid Oct. 31 -- just under the two-year time limit -- in connection to the Nov. 1, 2006, attack on a woman working overnight alone at a construction site on Macleod Trail.

The victim had only been on the job a few days when she was working at the site, which was secured by only a tarp.

She called 911 when she heard banging and shouting and police were dispatched to the site. Before they arrived, Renno Allen Lonechild attacked and raped the then-34-year-old woman.

During court proceedings, it was learned the woman -- a former teacher in an African country -- was new to Canada, had limited English, only one day of training and one week on the job.

Lonechild, 21, was sentenced to eight years in prison in September for sexual assault and unlawful confinement after pleading guilty in court.

Chodan said investigators often wait for any criminal proceedings to be completed before examining the incidents and forwarding the files to the Crown to determine if charges can be laid.

Joe Gavaghan, spokesman for Garda World Security Corp., confirmed the company's attorneys have received the documents outlining the charge, but would not say anything further.

"Because the matter is in litigation, we're not able to comment at this time," he said.

The president of the Alberta Federation of Labour said he was surprised to hear charges had been laid against an employer in this case, especially in light of the federation's ongoing fight to improve working-alone legislation.

"Given they've laid charges, it shows there is a recognition at some level in government that a problem exists," Gil McGowan said.

The essential problem in this case -- that an employee was harmed while working alone -- reinforces the need for more aggressive legislation to ensure it doesn't happen again, McGowan said.

Since it falls under Occupational Health legislation, the charge is vague, he said.

"What is the specific failure of the employer?"

The matter is expected to be heard in Calgary provincial court on Jan. 8.

Calgary Herald, Wed Nov 12, 2008
Byline: Gwendolyn Richards

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