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Bill C-45 – What Principals Need to Know

The passage of Bill C-45, known as the Westray Bill, has potential implications for school administrators. The bill, which came into effect on March 31, 2004, arose in response to the 1992 Westray mine disaster. It amends the Criminal Code of Canada to hold corporations, their directors and executives accountable for their criminally negligent acts in the workplace.

Bill C-45 states:

Every one who undertakes, or has the authority to direct how another person does work or performs a task is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person, or any other person, arising from that work or task.”

Under Bill C-45, school principals and vice-principals who fail to institute or monitor reasonable precautions to protect the health and welfare of their students and protect them from bodily harm can be held personally responsible and could face criminal charges in the event of a serious injury or death.

While the direct safety of their students is paramount in the minds of school administrators, there are certain potentially dangerous situations that could be overlooked – with disastrous results. Consider the following scenario:A school fundraising committee decides to sell cookie mix to help raise money to buy new playground equipment. The principal gives a cursory look at the program offered, and gives it her approval, based on the company brochure presented to her. The order forms are distributed; the cookie mix is ordered and delivered to the school on a particularly snowy day. The tubs of mix are placed in the foyer of the school, outside the kindergarten classrooms, for pick-up by parents. One of the students in the junior kindergarten class has an identified anaphylactic allergy to peanuts. Although the company brochure did not list any batter that contained nuts, the order form offered a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie mix that was ordered by several parents.

Given the weather conditions, the school buses are delayed and the kindergarten students are lined up inside the school to wait. The child in question, who is too young to read labels, opens up a tub of peanut butter mix and sticks in his finger…While the above could best be described as a series of unfortunate events, if a school principal failed to take reasonable measures to protect any child with an identified life threatening condition, he or she perhaps could face criminal charges under Bill C-45. Moreover, Bill C-45 is not paramount. In other words, administrators could face both criminal prosecution as well as regulatory prosecution at the same time.

To safeguard the welfare of students with potentially life-threatening conditions and protect yourself against potential criminal and regulatory charges, here’s a few suggestions:

  • Review incoming data on new students.
  • Make sure that the appropriate monitors are in place to identify any students or staff with potentially life threatening conditions, such as food allergies.
  • Review these monitors regularly.
  • Host in-service sessions with staff.
  • Ensure that epipens are kept in both homeroom and office for those children who require them.
  • Notify the parents of identified children of school activities where absolute control of food exposure cannot be guaranteed, i.e. bake sales, fun nights, hot lunch and school outings.
  • Obtain a printed list from suppliers of the content of any food products entering your school.
  • Institute a policy whereby any fundraising campaigns must be approved by the principal. Make sure that your school council and fundraising committee members are aware of this policy.

Read more information about Professional Legal Expense Insurance for Principals & Vice-Principals (PLEI).

© S. Elston, STERLON, 2005