Press Release

MoL, police and Crown must enforce laws to protect nurses

Publication Date

Friday, December 12, 2014 - 11:15am

The Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) and the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union (OPSEU) are urging the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Toronto police, and Crown attorneys to lay charges against the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) for a violent attack that left a Registered Practical Nurse (RPN) beaten beyond recognition.

Both the RPN who was brutally assaulted, a member of OPSEU, and the Registered Nurse (RN) who came to her aid, an ONA member, are still off work.

The attack took place on January 12 and the deadline for charges to be filed is one year from the date of the incident—January 12, 2015—leaving only one more month for the Ministry, police, and prosecutors to act.

“It is unacceptable for a nurse to go to work healthy and not come home because she’s in the ER,” said Linda Haslam-Stroud, RN, President of ONA. “If a worker at a construction site or on an assembly line was beaten in this manner, there’s no doubt this would be treated differently. Employees in male-dominated workplaces do not put up with violence and neither will our predominantly female profession.”

“There have been 400 incidents of violence against workers at CAMH this year alone, most of them happening after this horrible and preventable beating,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, RPN, President of OPSEU. “It’s time for the CEO, directors, and managers of a hospital to be held accountable for showing disregard for the health and safety of their employees. It seems that it will take being charged to make our bosses understand they must not ignore hundreds of acts of workplace violence per year.”

In this case, the employer cleaned up the blood at the scene of the attack before investigators were on site and, contravening Section 51 (1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), the Ministry, the joint health and safety committee, and the unions were not immediately notified that a critical injury had occurred. Nurses and other health care workers at CAMH are calling for the Ministry to enforce the law by charging the hospital and the CEO, directors, and managers for failing to comply with the OHSA. ONA and OPSEU are also urging the police and Crown attorneys to lay criminal charges against the CEO and any directors and/or managers who did not take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm.

The Westray provisions of the Criminal Code, enacted in 2004, established new legal duties for workplace health and safety, and imposed serious penalties for violations that result in injuries or death. These amendments provided new rules for attributing criminal liability to organizations, including corporations, their representatives, and those who direct the work of others.

More information:    

Ken Marciniec  ONA        416-964-1979 ext.2306; 416-803-6066

Greg Hamara   OPSEU   416-443-8888

Backgrounder

At the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), there were 514 violent incidents in the fiscal year 2013-2014. Of those, 453 involved physical assault/abuse, 10 involved sexual assault/abuse, and 51 involved a threat of violence.

In the fiscal year 2012-2013, 397 violent acts were reported. This means there was a 29 per cent increase in violent incidents over a one-year period.

While mentally ill patients are more likely to become the victims of violence than the perpetrators of it, there is nonetheless significant risk to both staff and patients in the province’s hospitals. This risk can be mitigated, in part, by employers having an adequate number of properly trained security professionals present 24 hours per day who can accompany nurses when there is a threat of violence and who are authorized to place their hands on and detain a patient.

In the unit at CAMH where this violent assault occurred:

       there is no video surveillance of treatment areas, only cameras facing the elevators;

       there are stationary ‘code buttons’ in designated areas, but these are useful only if an assault is about to take place within reach of these buttons;

       security guards are not always present in the building, so if a code button is activated, they would have to come out of another building, across a parking lot, and up the elevators or stairs to respond.

In July 2014, the Canadian Criminal Justice Association wrote to the federal Attorney General explaining:

“Research has shown that these [2004 Criminal Code] amendments are rarely applied to cases of workplace accidents and deaths, and that the potential influences of neglect, corporate mismanagement, and disregard of health and safety regulations are not often considered.”

“With the introduction of the Westray amendments, the Canadian criminal justice system obtained tools with which to investigate and prosecute corporate crime in the workplace. ... At face value, what appears to be human error or chance may in fact be caused by the direct or indirect actions of the corporation at large or specific individuals acting on behalf of the corporation.”

Every province should, “raise awareness and train police officers, Crown attorneys, and health and safety regulators on how to properly investigate, prosecute, and otherwise deal with workplace accidents and fatalities that may have been caused by criminal negligence or failing to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm.”

In February 2009, the President of the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) wrote to the Ontario Attorney General, Minister of Labour, and Minister of Community Safety and Correction Services, asking them to train enforcement agencies to understand and apply the applicable sections of the Criminal Code and enforce provincial occupational health and safety law in nurses’ workplaces. The letter read, in part:

“We are finding that police officers are unaware of, and not trained to enforce the ‘new’ sections of the Criminal Code that deal with occupational health and safety crimes, and they show no awareness or understanding of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. While police officers generally seem to understand to call on the Fire Marshall’s office to assist in the investigation of a suspicious fire, they show no similar knowledge or inclination to call on the Ministry of Labour to investigate and enforce violations in workplaces.”

“Ironically, when we call on the Ministry of Labour to respond to violence in our workplaces, their inspectors have refused, saying this is a ‘police matter.’”

“Police routinely enforce the special section of the Criminal Code that prohibits assaults against armed police officers. Our members are not armed, and according to statistics are more vulnerable to attack than police officers, yet there is persistent confusion among enforcement agencies about what law, if any, to enforce when our members are assaulted.”

“We need police and Ministry of Labour officers to be sensitive to the dangers our members face at work, to respond to our calls for help, to understand the laws that can be used to protect our members and to independently and jointly enforce these laws in our workplaces.”