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Hedge trimming company director pleads guilty in death of young worker | CBC News

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The director of a hedge trimming company has pleaded guilty to a non-criminal charge brought against him after a worker died last year on the job in Manotick.

In May 2023, Nick Chenier, a 20-year-old employee for Best Green Hedges, was electrocuted after hitting a hydro line while trimming a hedge.

He was taken to hospital in critical, life-threatening condition and later died from his injuries.

In November, the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development brought charges against Best Green Hedges, company director Sheldon Bestgreen and supervisor Steven Deans.

According to court documents, the ministry charged Bestgreen with failing to ensure the company took all reasonable steps to comply with the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act while at the site of the hedge trimming.

Bestgreen pleaded guilty to that charge on Thursday afternoon.

‘My son is gone forever’

Chenier’s mother, Jennifer, said in a victim impact statement that her son’s death had deeply affected her life.

“I don’t feel I have the right to be happy when my son is gone forever,” she said.

In a separate victim impact statement, Chenier’s younger brother Michael told the court that he lost both his brother and his best friend.

Bestgreen also spoke in court Thursday, saying that Chenier’s death “was the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with in my life.”

“There’s little I can say to comfort you,” Bestgreen said. “But I have to say I’m truly sorry for what happened.”

Jennifer Chenier, left, said in a victim impact statement that the death of her son Nick, right, has changed her life forever. (Submitted by Alyson Fair)

Fined roughly $50,000

Justice of the peace Jennifer Robinson accepted a joint proposal from the Crown and defence to fine Bestgreen $45,000, plus a victim impact surcharge.

Crown attorney David McCaskill said while the total penalty comes to about $50,000, it’s not an attempt to put a price on the life of a young man.

Bestgreen also accepted responsibility, which sped up the file, McCaskill said, although he also noted the accident was avoidable.

Kevin Warning, who represents Bestgreen and the company, said his client was resolute from the beginning that he wanted to accept responsibility.

While Warning said the company had taken several steps to prevent this kind of tragedy — like offering training on the use of mobile elevated platforms — he added that those steps doesn’t mean the blame lies on Chenier.

Speaking to reporters after the sentencing, Jennifer Chenier said she was “really disappointed” with the outcome and that “the penalty should have been far, far worse.”

“I don’t understand how they’re just getting off with this slap on the wrist,” she said.

Jennifer Chenier, mother of Nick Chenier, outside Centrepointe courthouse, Ottawa, April 25, 2024
Jennifer Chenier, mother of Nick Chenier, speaks outside the courthouse, after the sentencing, on April 25, 2024. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Supervisor criminally charged Thursday

The ministry had also charged Deans with failing to take reasonable precautions for the safety of a worker.

But on Thursday afternoon, the Ottawa Police Service announced it had charged the 38-year-old with one count of criminal negligence causing death.

Because of the new criminal charge, his lawyer Fabienne Lajoie asked for a one-month adjournment so he could consider his options.

Jennifer Chenier said she was “extremely happy” to hear about the criminal charge and that it gives her a “little bit of hope after the disappointment today.”

“It was perfect timing,” she said.

But she also said she’s struggling to understand how Deans is facing a criminal charge while Bestgreen “walks away with a $50,000 fine.”

Best Green Hedges also faced three charges, including not taking all reasonable precautions to protect a worker. 

In particular, the ministry claimed the company failed to ensure tools that could conduct electricity were not used near live electrical wires.

The company was also charged with failing to warn a worker about hazards and failing to give information to a worker to protect their health and safety.

But those charges were withdrawn. McCaskill said it was not in the public interest to pursue them since Bestgreen took personal responsibility.

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