Justice David Stone handed down the largest fine against any mining company in the history of Ontario on Feb. 20, sentencing First Nickel Inc. to $1.3 million in penalties after the now-defunct company was found guilty on six counts related to the deaths of two Sudbury miners in May of 2014.
Crown counsel David McCaskill was seeking fines totalling $1.5 million in what he called "precedent-setting" penalties.
While Stone ultimately landed on $1.3 million in fines spread out over six counts of guilt under the Ontario Health and Safety Act, Mine Mill 598/Unifor joint health and safety co-chair Dave Stewart said that First Nickel won't be held accountable in any way.
Stewart spoke at the sentencing in Sudbury on behalf of the Methe family, whose son Marc was one of two workers killed when 12 tons of material fell from above, burying and asphyxiating both he and his partner, Normand Bisaillon.
"What needs to be clarified is that First Nickel declared bankruptcy and were discharged in September of 2016," said Stewart in an interview with Sudbury.com, a sister publication of Northern Ontario Business.
"Once discharged they're not held accountable because all of the money from a third party bankruptcy agency who have secured all of the assets have been sold off. There's no money, they (First Nickel) are gone, it goes down as losses."
In addition to the $1.3 million in fines imposed by Stone, First Nickel is also on the hook for a victim surcharge of 25 per cent of the total fines ($325,000). All of the money is collected by the municipality in these cases, and the victim surcharge is put into a fund that supports victims of crime.
"Any fines that are imposed by a court are collected by the municipality in which the case was heard, so it now becomes a municipal issue," said Ministry of Labour spokesperson Janet Deline.
"It's like if you drive (from Sudbury) to Toronto and you get a parking ticket, you have to pay Toronto. It's where the offence occurred and it's up to the municipality to collect the fines."
Where things get tricky, however, is the fact that First Nickel went into receivership and was discharged, and once a company declares bankruptcy, their finances fall under the federal government's jurisdiction.
"If someone fights a traffic ticket and they lose they just go to the desk and say 'ok here's my $100'," said Deline.
"But in this case, because no one was there to pay it will still be up to the municipality to decide how to collect."
This is where issues crop up for Stewart, who says that First Nickel will never have to pay, and should never have been discharged from receivership while they were facing criminal charges.
"There will be nobody that's going to pay anything financially. That money will never ever be dispersed to anybody because they're bankrupt and that's why the family is angry," said Stewart.
"If you want to declare bankruptcy, that's federal law, if you want to start your litigation with bankruptcy, go ahead, but if there's any criminal charges against a corporation they should not be allowed, or have been discharged, until the matters are settled in a court of law."
Stewart and the families of the victims will be pushing politicians at different levels of government for changes to be made to the judicial system in order to prevent companies like First Nickel from slipping through loopholes such as this.
"We're going to deal with (Sudbury MPP Glenn) Thibeault and the politicians because what's going on here? We need to change some laws here because this wasn't just," said Stewart.
"What if there's another company out there who has hurt or killed another worker and says 'I've got a segue out of here, I'll just bankrupt my company and I won't find myself responsible and go back and open a company in a different name'? Has someone ever done that? Is there a history of this? That's what we're going to investigate and look into."