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Who pays Ontario's highest fine against a mining company?

First Nickel fined $1.3 million following 2014 deaths of two miners
Lockerby Winter First Nickel

Defunct First Nickel Inc. was fined $1.3 million by Justice David Stone in a Sudbury courtroom on Feb. 20 stemming from the May 2014 deaths of a pair of miners who were working at Lockerby Mine.

The ruling of six guilty counts by Stone prompted Crown counsel David McCaskill to seek fines totalling $1.5 million.

After more than an hour of deliberation, Stone responded with fines $200,000 short of the Crown's request, but it makes it the highest fine levied against any mining company in Ontario.

Two contract drillers at Lockerby Mine – Marc Methe, 34, and Norm Bisaillon, 49 – died May 6, 2014 after 12 tonnes of material fell from above, trapping and asphyxiating the two men.

Stone found First Nickel Inc. guilty of six of eight Ontario Health and Safety Act (OHSA) charges laid against them, while Taurus Drilling Services, the company that employed the two men, were found not guilty of the four charges laid against them in the case.

The question now remains, who will pay the fine?

First Nickel, which went into receivership in August 2015, was tried in absentia. Company officials did not appear. The judge entered a plea of not guilty on the company’s behalf.

The mining company’s president-CEO, Thomas Boehlert, landed on his feet in being named CFO of New York-based Bunge Ltd., a global agribusiness and food company, in December 2016.

Boehlert helmed First Nickel from 2011 to 2015. Prior to that, he was CFO for Kinross Gold and for several energy companies including Texas Genco, Direct Energy and Sithe Energies.

The Ministry of Labour laid 13 charges. The company was convicted on the following six counts:

▪ A workplace in an underground mine shall be kept free from accumulation or flow of water that might endanger a worker in the area ($250,000)

▪ Failure to develop a quality control program for work in underground mine to ensure the group support systems that are specified in the mine design are properly installed and remain effective while in use ($350,000)

▪ Supervisor of a work shift failed to make and sign a record in writing, and end of shift, where potential or actual danger to health and safety of a worker not remedied, describing the dangerous condition ($300,000)

▪ Failure to give notice in writing when a fuse, detonator or explosive is found to be defective ($100,000)

▪ Failure to develop written program (with joint Health and Safety committee if any) for timely communication between workers and supervisors respecting ground stability, ground movement, falls of ground, ground monitoring equipment and emergencies (including means and procedures for communicating, kind of information to be communicated and actions to be taken by supervisors and workers when information received) ($150,000)

▪ Failure before work has begun in a workplace to examine ground conditions for dangers and hazards and, if required, to make safe ($150,000).

McCaskill made note of recent legislation that was passed in December of last year that saw a steep increase to maximum fines that companies can face in these types of cases, where a maximum penalty of $500,000 per charge and that First Nickel could have potentially been hit with fines of more than $3 million.

"First Nickel did not step forward in court, the time has come to send a message that companies that act this irresponsibly are going to be made to pay," said McCaskill.

"There is nothing to suggest that they (First Nickel) have done anything to reconcile with the victims, and they don't get mercy in this case. This is about setting a precedent. Other companies must be reminded that if they act this way, at the end of the day, it's going to cost them."

The $1.3 million in fines comes with a 25 per cent victim surcharge attached, which is $325,000, bringing the total in money owed by First Nickel to $1.625 million.