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  • Madeline Kerr

O’Connors fined $70,000 for worker’s death

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

Daniel Dompierre was his family’s protector.


His mother, Chantal Labelle, remembers her son as a hard worker, a lover of the outdoors, a wonderful father, a doting big brother, and a loving son who always looked out for her.


“It’s hard for me to talk about him without crying,” she recently told the Low Down. “It’s still very, very painful.”


She said she misses her son’s smile and the sound of his voice — a sound she said she hasn’t heard in almost five years.


On Nov. 1, 2018, at the age of 31, while working in a sandpit near Farrellton belonging to Ronald O’Connor Construction Inc., Dompierre was killed by a landslide, which left his body trapped inside a backhoe for a week until authorities deemed it safe to remove him.


CNESST, the government agency responsible for upholding workplace health and safety regulations in the province, released the findings of an investigation into Dompierre’s death on Oct. 18.


The report states that O’Connor Construction pleaded guilty on April 19, 2023, to an infraction under the province’s workplace health and safety law and was found to have “seriously and directly compromised the health, safety or physical integrity of a worker” in the 2018 sandpit death. The penalty for this offence was a total fine of $70,108.


“I’m very disappointed,” Labelle told the Low Down. “I’m very sorry that all they got was a fine. To me, it’s like telling me that my son wasn’t worth more; he was only worth a fine, and then you get to move on with your company.”


The report named two causes of the landslide that led to Dompierre’s death: it found that “the method of extraction was unsuitable to the geotechnical characteristics of the sand wall, leading to a landslide,” and that the method the company relied on to detect warning signs of a sandpit wall collapse was dangerous.


The report clarifies that, when a sandpit wall has an inclination of more than 45 degrees, the wall should be tiered or made into steps no higher than three metres above the maximum height of the bucket of the machinery being used. In the case of the O’Connor sandpit, CNESST found that the sandpit walls were not tiered, and the inclination of the collapsed wall was 72 degrees and 18.7 metres high. Furthermore, the top of the wall that Dompierre was excavating was 12 to 13 metres higher than the bucket of his backhoe — four times higher than regulation. The sand that buried Dompierre had a volume of roughly 422 square metres.


CNESST’s report was completed in 2019, but communications spokesperson Allison Ouellet explained that “legal considerations meant that CNESST was not able to make this report public sooner.”


In 2021, the Low Down reported that Michael O’Connor of O’Connor Construction faced the maximum of life in prison if found guilty of criminal negligence causing death. Crown prosecutor Stéphane Rolland said at the time that the company could also face a fine and probation period of increased supervision to prevent another fatal accident.


However, in 2022, Rolland told the Low Down that the case was no longer criminal and had been transferred to CNESST.


The Low Down contacted Michael, but he declined to comment. His lawyer, Sébastian Gagnon of SCG Avocats, did not return our calls.


‘It will always hurt’


“I know every mother will say this,” Labelle told the Low Down, “but he was a great son.” She said she was proud of how he looked after his family and friends. “In some ways, he was like a father to his younger sister [Jessica],” she recalled. “He taught her to drive, he showed her how to fish…he was always very protective of her.”


Dompierre grew up in Hull and lived in Val-des-Monts during his 20s. Nine years ago, he became a father to a son named Tommy.


“He fell in love with his son,” said Labelle. Tommy was just four when his father died.

Dompierre moved to the Bouchette area in 2017, where he and his girlfriend, Claudia, had a small ranch with horses and dogs, his mother explained. He always made time to go hunting, fishing, and camping with family and friends. He leaves behind a sister, step-sister, son, his girlfriend and her three children, and several cousins, with whom he was very close.


“He had good friends that he liked to hang out with. Those friends are really missing him,” Labelle said.


CNESST may have finished its investigation, but that doesn’t give Labelle or her family any solace.


“It’s never going to be over,” she said, holding back tears. “It will always hurt.”


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