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
Labour members of the Task Force that recommended new provisions for working alone regulations released a "minority report" today stating the provisions "fall short" in protecting workers. The "Minority Report" comes in response to the official implementation of new working alone regulations.
"The Alberta government missed an opportunity today," says Audrey Cormack, AFL President. "The new regulations fall far short of what is needed to really protect workers who have to work alone."
The Minority Report comes from a group of 6 Labour representatives on the General Safety Regulation Task Force, which is the body charged with recommending new regulations for working alone. The Task Force recommendations included a mandatory assessment of the hazards and some form of effective communication system.
"The labour representatives attempted to include stronger provisions, such as permitting a worker to refuse working alone that may put their safety at substantial risk, but were shot down by the employer side of the Task Force," says Jason Foster, who represented the AFL on the Task Force.
"Banning working alone was never in the Minister's plan," says Foster. Foster indicates the Minister communicated to a number of parties that a ban was never in the works. This message affected the Task Force's deliberations.
The labour representatives decided to support the six sections as a first step measure. "It was the best compromise possible given the strong opposition from employers and the government," says Foster. "We want the public to know that the provisions do not go far enough."
The Minority Report calls for additional steps to be taken, including:
- Making the elimination of working alone (scheduling more than one worker) the first consideration before other hazard controls
- The Minister be given the discretion to designate certain jobs "high hazard" and ban working alone in those jobs
- Permitting workers to refuse to work alone if it places their safety at "substantial risk"
- Define "effective communication system" as having both an emergency call for the employee and a regular check-in by someone who can get help
"Preventing working alone should be the first level of defence," says Cormack. "With this government, it barely makes the radar screen."
The labour representatives will continue to sit on the Task Force and try to make improvements to the health and safety regulations where they can.
"What the results of the working alone process show is that the public needs to put greater pressure on the government to make them give higher priority to worker health and safety."
For more information contact:
Audrey M. Cormack, President @ 780 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (home)
Jason Foster, AFL @ 780-1137 (wk)
Note: Copies of the Minority Report are available from the AFL at 483-3021.
The Alberta Federation of Labour is asking why Human Resources Minister Clint Dunford is holding back approval of the new working alone regulation and handbook, when it has been complete for over a month. The working alone regulation was promised after the murder of Tara MacDonald in a Calgary Subway store earlier this year.
"Four months ago, the Minister was promising fast action to the serious problem of working alone," says AFL Secretary-Treasurer Les Steel. "Today he seems content to let it languish in bureaucratic limbo. We know the minister has been getting a lot of bad publicity lately because of his reaction to the death of a 14-year-old construction worker a couple weeks ago. But that's no reason to stop dealing with other important work safety issues. And it's no reason to go back on a promise."
In April the Minister appointed a committee to prepare a handbook on the hazards of working alone. He also instructed a second committee too fast-track the drafting of new regulations governing working alone. Both committees were to have completed their work by June. In a press release dated April 3, the Minister promised the handbook, which builds on the regulation, would "be made available to workplace stakeholders by June 30, 2000."
"The regulation is now almost a month overdue," says Steel. "Mr. Dunford has a responsibility to workers who have to work alone to get the regulation implemented." Currently in Alberta, there are no regulations governing the practice of working alone.
Steel predicts the release of the regulation will spark more controversy for Dunford. As reported by various media outlets, the proposed regulation will not place a ban on working alone. Steel suggests many Albertans will see the regulation as not doing enough to protect workers.
"July has been a hot month for Dunford," says Steel. "But he is compounding his problems by holding back protection for workers who work alone. He needs to lay aside his media concerns and put the interests of workers up front." Steel called on Dunford to release the regulation immediately, so that workers know what their protections are.
For more information call:
Les Steel, AFL Secretary Treasurer @ 483-3021(work) or 499-4135 (cell)
The tragic wave of workers killed on the job in the past six days is a marker that the Alberta government is not doing enough to protect worker safety, says the Alberta Federation of Labour. In the wake of these avoidable tragedies, the AFL is calling for stronger health and safety legislation, including a ban on working alone.
The AFL's call comes after three deaths in less than a week, including the murder of a young woman working alone in a Calgary Subway store. One worker was killed on the Suncor site in Fort McMurray. A third worker was killed in Northeast Edmonton on Tuesday.
"How many worker deaths will it take for this government to act," asks AFL President Audrey Cormack. "Every one of those deaths was preventable. They shouldn't have happened. There are too many holes in Alberta's health and safety legislation," observes Cormack. "And what is worse is that the Conservative government refuses to enforce what rules that do exist."
"The tragedy of the young woman killed at the Subway store is made worse by the fact that if she wasn't working alone, the whole horrible incident could have been avoided."
Cormack is calling for toughened health and safety legislation, including renewing her call for a ban on working alone. The AFL will be writing the Premier and the Minister of Human Resources and Employment urging them to pass legislation during the spring sitting.
The AFL reminds Albertans that two years ago, an Edmonton custodial worker was sexually assaulting while working alone in a school at night. "Being by yourself leaves you far more vulnerable to attacks, and for that reason it should be banned," says Cormack.
"These deaths also show that the government's strategy of 'self-enforcement' is a failure," says Cormack. Self-enforcement is a policy where employers voluntarily enforce health and safety legislation themselves through their own associations.
"The fact is the past three years have been the most deadly in history," Cormack points out. In three years, 339 workers were killed on the job or due to occupational disease. This is the highest cumulative figure in Alberta history. In 1997, 120 workers were killed. In 1998, 105 were lost. The preliminary figures for 1999 are 114 deaths.
Something is going horribly wrong in this province, and I fear it is the result of bad government policy. The government's inaction proves they are putting profit margins ahead of human life, and I find that immoral," Cormack concludes.
For more information call:
Audrey Cormack, President: @ 483-3021(wk) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (hm)