Firms fined for deadly falling debris in Calgary

Two of the three companies that were charged for safety violations after a piece of corrugated metal blew off a downtown construction site in August 2009 were fined $15,000 each Monday in a Calgary courtroom.

Michelle Krsek, 3, died instantly when she was struck by the three-metre long piece of metal that stormy winds blew from the top of the 18-storey Hôtel Le Germain that was being built at 112 Ninth Ave. S.W.

The court heard that workers used seven screws to secure the piece of metal, but only four went through.

The general contractor, Grenville-Germain Calgary Limited Partnership, the building's owner, Germain Residences Ltd., and the subcontractor, Flynn Canada Ltd., each pleaded guilty Monday to violating the Alberta Safety Codes Act.

Only the latter two were fined.

Father, brother injured

As he imposed the fines, provincial court Judge Gerry Meagher said the penalties for violations of the Safety Code Act are "woefully inadequate".

City lawyer Ola Malik agreed.

"We're dealing with a fine that seems trivial, given what it is that has occurred," he said.

The companies will also pay a $2,250-surcharge.

Michelle Krsek was walking with her family near the Calgary Tower when the debris fell from the hotel, which also includes upscale condominiums and an office tower. Her father and brother, 7, were also injured.

After the accident, city and provincial officials struck a construction safety committee — in part to look at whether existing fines should be increased — while Alberta Occupational Health and Safety officers inspected all downtown highrise construction sites.

No criminal charges laid

The Krseks were not in court Monday, but Michelle's mother Mariana Krsek has said that $15,000 is not a stiff enough punishment.

The construction safety committee agreed, arguing that the amount is too low to effectively deter companies from violating safety regulations.

"We believe the fines should be in line with other regulatory type legislation with regards to safety of the public or for workers, and if you look at the Occupational Health and Safety numbers for fines, they're considerably higher than ours," Kevin Griffiths, Calgary's chief building official, said outside court.

During the hearing, the judge noted that a chunk of concrete also flew off the construction site that day — narrowly missing a police officer — and that it took fire crews two hours to secure loose building materials on another floor of the building.

The charges are all regulatory in nature and so far no criminal charges have been laid in the incident.