Radiohead stage collapse victims let down by the justice system


On September 5, 2017, Justice Nelson of the Ontario Court of Justice stayed all quasi-criminal charges against the three corporate and one individual accused in the deadly stage collapse at the Radiohead concert in Downsview Park on June 16, 2012.  These charges under the Occupational Health & Safety Act (“OHSA”) are some of the latest in a series of serious regulatory and criminal charges, that have been stayed for unreasonable delay as a result of the Jordan decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Radiohead, a British rock band, was scheduled to perform at a concert in Toronto at Downsview Park.  Just hours before the start of the concert, the stage superstructure collapsed.  Scott Johnson, a drum technician, and resident of the United Kingdom,  was fatally injured.  Others were also seriously injured.

On June 6, 2013, the Government of Ontario’s Ministry of Labour laid charges against a number of parties under the OHSA, including but not limited to, Live Nation Canada Inc., Optex Staging & Services Inc., and the professional engineer who provided advice and engineering drawings and certification, Domenic Cugliari.

The case was factually and legally serious and complex.  It proceeded to trial in November 2015, before Justice Nakatsuru, of the Ontario Court of Justice.  Although during that trial, there had been an Application for Delay, after the Jordan decision was released by the Supreme Court of Canada on July 8, 2016, it was rejected by the trial judge.  The trial proceeded, the prosecution and defense evidence was completed, and the lawyers were in the process of making final, written submissions on the merits of the prosecution.

However, on April 12, 2017, before all the final arguments were made, Justice Nakatsuru was appointed to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, by the Federal Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould.  As a result, and under instructions from the Department of Justice not to do any further work on any matter, including the completion of the Live Nation case, Justice Nakatsuru ruled that he had no jurisdiction to continue the trial, and declared a mis-trial.

The  policy and practice of the Department of Justice did not permit Justice Nakatsuru to complete the trial, after his appointment to the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario.  Justice Nelson, was appointed to be the second trial judge. On a pre-trial Charter delay motion, to stay the OHSA charges for a breach of s. 11(b) of the Charter, said the following at paragraph 70:

[70] Both Cugliari and Live Nation submit that Justice Nakatsuru’s appointment should not be treated as a discrete event because although unforeseen by the Crown in this case, it was not unforeseen by the state.  Further, the state failed to take reasonable steps to mitigate any delay that did ensue.  Specifically, counsel point to the following:

  • The Provincial government failed to pass legislation which would have permitted Justice Nakatsuru to complete the trial;
  • Justice Nakatsuru would have known that he was presiding over this trial when he applied to the Superior Court bench thus risking the mistrial;
  • Justice Nakatsuru could have deferred his appointment until after he completed this case;
  • The Federal government should have ensured that Justice Nakatsuru was not appointed until this trial was completed.[1]

Although the Crown prosecutor persuaded Justice Nelson that the judicial appointment was a discrete exceptional event, it still did not permit this type of overall delay that occurred in this case.  The trial justice held that even if one was to give thirty (30) months to complete this type of trial, rather than the presumptive eighteen (18) months, that the delay still far exceeded that period of time;  the case having been in the judicial system for almost five (5) years.

The charges were stayed for breach of the constitutional right, under the Charter, to a trial within a reasonable period of time under section 11(b).

[1]       Ibid., para. 70.

Deferred Prosecution Agreements Regime: A Canadian Proposal

Diversion programs for those accused of criminal offences are not new in Canada.  In Québec, for example, first-time individual accused or accused suffering from a psychiatric or medical condition may participate in a diversion program, which results in the criminal charges being dropped.  Corporations may also benefit from diversion programs, such as the Competition Bureau’s Immunity and Leniency Programs.

Transparency International Canada (“TI Canada”), a non-governmental anti-corruption organization, released a report in July, 2017 “urging” the Canadian government to adopt a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (“DPA”) mechanism, modeled closely to the current regime in the U.K.  A DPA is an agreement between the prosecutor and the accused suspending outstanding charges and requiring the accused to fulfill a certain number of commitments.  Once the accused has completed its contractual undertakings, the prosecutor will drop the charges.

TI Canada’s Recommended DPA Mechanism

The proposed scheme, according to TI Canada, addresses all the pitfalls of the current DPA regime in the U.S., but retains all of the advantages, including encouraging greater enforcement and self-reporting, saving costs and resources for both parties, and promoting certainty and transparency for all stakeholders involved.

TI Canada recommends that the proposed DPA scheme only be available to corporate accused who are charged with economic crimes.  The DPA scheme would be legislatively enacted and judicially monitored to fulfill the underlying three objectives of financial reparations, sincere compliance reform, and accountability of individual wrongdoers.

Below is a summary of the proposed regime.

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Panama Papers: CRA getting tougher on tax evasion

We are beginning to see the legal enforcement fallout from the now infamous Panama Papers.  Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) concerted efforts to find undeclared offshore money and assets is moving into full gear. In addition to pursuing typical civil audits, the CRA is now executing search warrants and launching criminal investigations for tax evasion.

The CRA is actively gathering information from domestic and international sources to identify and charge offenders criminally. Since 2015, the Canadian government has required domestic financial institutions to report to the CRA all international electronic fund transfers of $10,000 or more.  In addition, as of March 2016 the CRA has analyzed over 41,000 transactions worth over $12 billion dollars, involving four jurisdictions and particular financial institutions of concern, and has initiated risk assessments on 1,300 individuals named in the Panama Papers. This has resulted in approximately 122 CRA audits to date and counting. However, it is not just taxpayers who are subject to the CRA’s scrutiny and who may be criminally charged. The CRA is also investigating the enablers and advisors, including the lawyers and accountants, who facilitated the hiding of taxpayer money and assets offshore.

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ISO 37001: The New Anti-Corruption International Standard

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has recently entered the fray by establishing an ISO certification standard 37001 specifically addressing anti-bribery in corporations by providing a structure for organizations to assist them in the implementation or management of anti-bribery managements systems.  So what is ISO 37001?  Simply put, it is an international standard for anti-bribery management systems.  The beauty of ISO 37001 is the global acceptance of the standard for anti-corruption compliance.

Obviously an anti-bribery system is to prevent bribes from being given or offered by corporate individuals representing business interests of the organization.  As with all ISO certification standards there are specific elements that must be met by the organization in order to be certified.  The system is set up that there is a consistent review of the system in order to ensure compliance and continual improvement.

While national laws may differ regarding anti-corruption compliance, the idea, as with any standard, is to provide a common ground where all global branches of an organization, no matter the location, have the same basis for compliance.  Keep in mind that ISO 37001 only addresses bribery.  Other white collar compliance issues such as fraud, ant-trust offences and other types of corrupt practices activities are not within the scope of this standard.

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Government of Canada Launches Federal Contracting Fraud “Tip Line”

On April 20, 2017, the Government of Canada introduced a new tool in the fight against federal fraud.[1] The federal contracting fraud tip line is a joint initiative between the Competition Bureau, Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).  It allows anyone who suspects unethical business practices in federal contracting, such as bid-rigging, price-fixing, bribery, undisclosed conflict of interest and fraudulent contract schemes, to report it anonymously. Individuals may report either by calling in to a toll-free number or by completing an online form.[2] The information provided through the tip line will be shared with three federal organizations and will be used to help conduct investigations and to introduce due diligence measures, where warranted. Any suspected criminal activity that is uncovered as a result will be turned over to the Competition Bureau and/or the RCMP.

The tip line complements measures already in place at the Competition Bureau to detect fraud in the realm of federal contracting. The immunity and leniency programs are currently the most relied upon by the Competition Bureau to detect and investigate criminal offences under the Competition Act. Under these programs, individuals with evidence of criminal offenses under the Competition Act are given immunity or lenient treatment if they cooperate with the Competition Bureau and Crown in investigating and prosecuting others implicated in the illegal activity.  However, the Competition Bureau has still encountered challenges over the years in securing convictions with the evidence obtained through these programs. The primary reason being insufficient resources and the lack of experience and training of Competition Bureau investigators.

This was evident in the 2014-2015 trial of several information technology companies and individuals charged with conspiracy and working together to obtain contracts with the federal government. The trial arose from charges laid following an investigation at the Competition Bureau and ultimately led to a defeat for the Competition Bureau, due to the weaknesses in the Crown’s case. At trial, it was shown that the Competition Bureau had relied almost exclusively on the testimony of self-interested people who were competing against the accused when making its referral of the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Competition Bureau investigators had essentially taken the immunity and leniency reports of these individuals without independent investigation. The evidence at trial disclosed that the Bureau investigators in charge of the case, while seizing hundreds of thousands of documents from the suspect companies, failed to seek any significant material from the government agencies involved. The resulting, 8-month jury trial resulted in 60 not-guilty verdicts.

It will be interesting to see if the Competition Bureau, with its new Tip Line has learned from such cases and how it investigates future potential criminal offences under the Competition Act. By collaborating with RCMP officials, this hopefully marks the beginning of additional measures being implemented by the Competition Bureau to ensure that allegations of illegal conduct are investigated thoroughly and that only appropriate action is taken. It is not clear whether the Competition Bureau, PSPC or the RCMP will take the lead in investigations arising from tip line complaints. The addition of a combined task force, signals that the Competition Bureau is getting serious in its efforts to  detect and investigate Anti-corruption crimes.

[1]       “Government of Canada launches tip line to help Canadians report federal contracting fraud

[2]       “Report wrongdoing in government contracts and real property agreements