The links below takes you to the recent CBC story of the 2009 boiler explosion in Ottawa that killed Peter Kennedy. The boiler was operated by Public Works and Government Services Canada, which had received a scathing report on its safety practices just days before. In addition, Rino DeRosa, a plumber working for PWGSC, had been trying for years to get action on problems he had seen – notably the use of unqualified personnel hired in a foolish effort to save money. But management, apparently blinded by arrogance, wasn’t interested in hearing what a plumber had to say.
- Company escaped charges in fatal Ottawa explosion (video)
- Company escaped charges in fatal Ottawa explosion (text)
Frustrated by a lack of action, Rino approached us in 2008 with his concerns. Using information that he provided to us, we filed Access to Information Act requests to get to the bottom of things. The requests also serve another purpose: they inform an organization that we know there’s a problem, giving it the opportunity to fix things. Sadly, all too often management instead tries to bury things. It’s the strategy used by lesser and more corrupt minds, and often makes the potential scandal worse.
In this case, PWGSC began a game of cat-and-mouse with us, first claiming documents didn’t exist and then, when confronted, arguing they should be exempted because of national security concerns. These are the tactics used by those who seek to avoid accountability for actions that sometimes – as in this case – border on criminal. PWGSC pled guilty to health and safety violations in 2012. No managers or executives were found criminally liable, likely due to the fact that the problems arose from a general culture of negligence rather than the acts of one or two specific individuals. This is in some ways regrettable, as numerous individuals did make decisions along the way, including ignoring increasingly emphatic warnings. But nobody thought to make a stand – besides Rino and the inspector who issued the last warning, of course. (That’s likely due to the diffusion of responsibility effect, in case you’re interested.)
The public profile this has received gives Rino some much-deserved vindication; what he went through would have tried the patience of any man. Now, if only we could get the executives to face some accountability. That’d be a treat.