Lack of training alleged in 2008 Sunrise Propane explosion that killed one man

TORONTO – Ontario government lawyers allege negligence in environmental protection and training in the devastating 2008 explosion at Sunrise Propane that killed one man and forced thousands of Toronto residents from their homes.

In his closing submissions, Ministry of Labour lawyer Wes Wilson said that Sunrise Propane director Shay Ben-Moshe had failed to provide training and safety information to victim Parminder Saini, 25, and that the worker “had no tools” to respond to the explosion.

The assertion that the entire workforce was “generally trained” did not prove that Saini had been properly trained ahead of a “catastrophic failure,” Wilson said.

“There is no evidence whatsoever that any effort was made to provide some sort of surrogate supervisor,” Wilson said.

“All we do know is that he worked alone … and the absence of supervision makes the offence that much more egregious.”

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Wilson added that Saini had been working filling vehicles with propane at the north Toronto propane plant for only a few months, and reacted differently than experienced former propane truck driver Felipe De Leon, who escaped the explosion.

De Leon witnessed the blast when propane vapour leaked from a defective hose or pump bypass and ignited during a risky truck-to-truck gas transfer.

Sunrise had been told almost two years earlier to stop truck-to-truck transfers but continued them as a matter of routine, the court heard.

“He runs away from the scene and lives,” Wilson said of De Leon in contrast to Saini who “runs into the middle of the cloud and was incinerated.”

The two employees reacted in opposite manners due to their training, which resulted in one surviving and the other dying, Wilson said.

Environment Ministry lawyer Justin Jacob said in his closing submissions that Sunrise had a “skewed sense of priorities” in regard to environmental protection and cleanup after the explosion.

The defendants effectively admitted that they did not comply with a provincial order to clean up the one kilometre radius debris site, citing that it was “vague and unenforceable” and relied instead on the advice of their lawyers not to comply with the order, Jacob said.

“The order is clear, it’s unambiguous and it’s enforceable,” Jacob said in his submission. “Simply by hiring a person to do the work of the order, Sunrise could have complied with the order.”

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Jacob said that one cleanup company was on site soliciting business to remove the debris but was not retained by Sunrise.

Financial statements obtained in a search warrant showed the company had the financial means to hire a cleaning company despite their claims, Jacob said.

“The very day after the explosion at least $240,000 was withdrawn from Sunrise,” he said, adding that hundreds of thousands of dollars had been transferred to continue business in the days and weeks after the explosion.

“After the explosion somebody had the ability to write and sign cheques on behalf of Sunrise.”

Jacob said there was evidence that the company had significant resources to enable carrying on business in the immediate aftermath of the explosion and could have aided in the cleanup, which was undertaken by the City of Toronto.

Defence lawyer Leo Adler, who represents Sunrise and its directors, said that Saini did receive training and that the onus is on the deceased and De Leon, who should have alerted the surrounding area.

Adler said Saini was trained and “he simply, unfortunately reacted in a bad way.”

“The deceased had been told to run toward the fence with Mr. De Leon but he chose to run the opposite way. So, not only was he trained but he was told specifically at that very moment where to go and he didn’t and that unfortunately is what led to his death.”

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The trainers themselves don’t keep records and the Sunrise head office where those records would have been held was at the site that was blown up, Adler said.

Adler will give his closing submissions on Oct. 2 ahead of a verdict in the case.

Sunrise and its owners face millions of dollars in fines if convicted of violating environmental and labour regulations.

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