Sinopec can be prosecuted for workplace deaths

Alberta's Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday a Chinese company can be prosecuted for its role in the deaths of two temporary foreign workers in 2007.

Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Company Ltd. had claimed it shouldn't be involved in the trial also involving Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and contractor SSEC Canada Ltd.

The companies face 53 charges in connection to the double fatality at CNRL's Horizon site, north of Fort McMurray on April 24, 2007. Hong Liang Liu, 33, an electrical engineer, and Genbao Ge, 27, a scaffolder, were killed when the roof of the oil tank they were working in collapsed.

Sinopec Shanghai had brought the workers into the country, but had argued it had no official presence here and that it was never properly served. However, several acts outlined in an earlier hearing helped link Sinopec Shanghai and SSEC.

"The next step is we go back to provincial court and we're going to be asking for Sinopec to be tried jointly with CNRL and SSEC Canada Ltd.," said Josh Stewart, Alberta Justice spokesman Thursday.

That court appearance will also seek approval to move ahead with the trial already scheduled for Oct. 1, 2012. It will be heard in a St. Albert courtroom.

"We can do it in absentia now," he added, if Sinopec fails to show up for court.

The companies were set to go to trial last month, but the court granted an adjournment requested by CNRL which had argued all three accused should stand trial together.

"The Crown objected and we asked that it go ahead on schedule as planned, but the judge ruled against the Crown and granted the adjournment," said David Dear of Alberta Justice at the time.

That appeal had been scheduled for Oct. 8.

Meanwhile, the Alberta Federation of Labour is applauding the court's ruling.

"(Wednesday's) ruling makes it clear that if international companies want to do business here, they have to not only respect our laws, but also be accountable when they violate them," said Gil McGowan, AFL president.

Though he applauded the decision, he admitted his organization is concerned the proceedings are taking so long. It's been over four years since the workers were killed.

"With one of the three court justices holding a dissenting position, there's a possibility that the company may seek to delay their day in court even longer," said McGowan. "It is incredibly frustrating and distressing that this company tried to dodge justice by dragging the process out as long as they have. We hope these workers' families will see justice as soon as possible."

Given the companies will be in court for trial more than five years after the accident, he said the delays make a mockery of the laws designed to protect workers.

Fort McMurray Today, Fri Nov 25 2011
Byline: Carol Christian

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