NEWS: Nunavut December 07, 2017 - 8:14 am

Fly to Iqaluit to cop your plea, judge tells ex-public works boss

Former superintendent must attend Safety Act sentencing in person


A Nunavut judge yesterday messed up the best laid plans of lawyers trying to resolve longstanding Safety Act charges against the City of Iqaluit and three of its employees, after he learned one of the accused persons was told not to attend his own sentencing hearing in Iqaluit.

“Mr. [Joseph] Brown must be in court to attend this matter,” Nunavut Justice Paul Bychok said before delaying his acceptance of joint sentencing submissions proposed by lawyers, negotiated in exchange for guilty pleas from the accused parties.

Brown, who is Iqaluit’s former superintendent of public works, along with supervisor Keith Baines, employee Ben Kovic Jr., and the City of Iqaluit, all face charges laid under the Nunavut Safety Act.

The charges stem from a workplace accident in April last year that nearly killed city worker James Dorrington, when he was run over by a city garbage truck at the dump.

“It’s not only a serious matter, it’s an extremely serious matter. An employee of the City of Iqaluit was very grievously injured,” Bychok told Crown lawyer Narissa Somji and the lawyer representing the city and its employees, Teresa Haykowsky.

“Counsel should never assume they can make an agreement amongst themselves, outside of the normal court process, when it comes to the attendance before this court of people who are charged with either regulatory or criminal offenses,” Bychok said.

“This is what happens.”

Bychok set back the expected pleas and sentencing until March 21, 2018.

Dorrington was injured in April 2016. Following an investigation, the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission laid multiple charges against Baines, Kovic Jr. and the city in January 2017 and laid charges against Brown in April 2017.

This week, Bychok appeared skeptical of the penalties that Somji and Haykowsky proposed in their joint submission.

In exchange for guilty pleas, lawyers recommended fining the City of Iqaluit $60,000 for its failure to maintain adequate safety and health standards for employees.

Brown would be fined $3,000 under the Safety Act, while Baines would be fined $2,000, and Kovic Jr. $1,000, based on the amount of each worker’s seniority at the city.

Somji, an Ottawa-based Crown lawyer who travelled to Iqaluit for the hearing, told Bychok the City of Iqaluit had already spent $100,000 upgrading its occupational health and safety infrastructure.

The city will also be formally audited in the new year by a health and safety inspector to ensure infrastructure is up to code.

“It’s a pity [the City of Iqaluit] did not invest that money before the incident,” Bychok responded.

“This city did take this very unfortunate incident very seriously,” said Haykowsky, who travelled to Iqaluit for the day’s proceedings from Edmonton.

Haykowsky told the court that Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern and supervisor Baines visited Dorrington in Ottawa while he recovered from surgery.

The city also gave Dorrington a part-time janitorial position at its new aquatic centre following his release from hospital.

“I’ll be very frank, given the nature of this extremely serious offence, I’m somewhat taken aback by the proposed penalties which the lawyers are proposing to this court,” Bychok responded.

“I’m not prepared to impose those levels of fines without convincing legal argument from both lawyers as to why [the fines] satisfy the principles of sentencing.”

Brown—who now lives outside the territory—was told by lawyers to attend the court via teleconference link, but was unable to dial into the courtroom because of technical problems.

“You can tell [Brown] the judge says he has to be here,” Bychok told Haykowsky when she asked the court for directions on what to inform her client.

Baines and Kovic Jr. sat in the courtroom, along with city officials.

Bychok dismissed suggestions by the lawyers, who wanted to continue with the sentencing hearing.

“I certainly understand the need for closure. But there must be closure with justice attached,” he said, adding he would not deliver sentencing on the matter “piecemeal.”

Though last month they were expected to do so, neither the City of Iqaluit, Baines, Kovic Jr., nor Brown formally entered guilty pleas that afternoon.

Bychok gave lawyers until March 9 to submit written arguments justifying their proposed fines.