Ontario Government Must Protect Workers By Forcing Accountability For Death Of Community Service Worker

Richmond Hill, Ontario — On February 12, 2021, Ashiru Awoyemi, a beloved community service worker for New Leaf: Living and Learning Together Inc., a community agency which specializes in helping those with intellectual disabilities and a dual diagnosis’, was killed in a preventable workplace violence incident. 11 months later, on January 13, 2022, the Ministry of Labour has announced they are laying 10 charges in relation to this tragic death – four (4) against New Leaf and three (3) each against two different managers.

While these charges, which have come far too late, are a step in the right direction in holding employers accountable for the safety and well-being of their employees, the Ministry of Labour must follow through on them to ensure New Leaf, and all Ontario healthcare employers, take the necessary precautions to keep their workers safe.

In 2019, just down the street from New Leaf at Southlake Regional Health Centre, a workplace violence incident that saw a nurse and security guard attacked led the hospital to face nine charges totalling over $13.5 million in fines. This was plead down to just two charges totalling $100,000, a slap on the wrist for the hospital. Unsurprisingly, the hospital failed to make the appropriate changes to protect their staff, and now faces six more charges, including one against their CEO, relating to several other workplace violence incidents that have occurred since the original charges were laid.

After failing to protect Ashiru, who dedicated his life to supporting others, New Leaf must be held accountable for their negligence.

SEIU Healthcare is also calling on the Ministry of Health to not only increase the number of health and safety inspections done at healthcare facilities, but also improve the quality of them. The lack of inspections, and the blind eyes being turned during the ones that do happen, continue to contribute to workplace injuries and death. Instead of facing harsh punishments for their failure to protect their staff, patients, and residents, we’ve seen some of Ontario’s most problematic healthcare facilities, especially those operating for profit in long-term care, rewarded with multi-decade license extensions. This further ignores and contributes to the health and safety crisis in our healthcare sector.

“Ashiru – and his family, friends and colleagues – deserve justice for his tragic and preventable death,” said SEIU Healthcare President Sharleen Stewart. “Too many times we’ve seen the Ministry of Labour create big headlines by laying charges related to workplace violence, only to see those million-dollar fines turn into drops in the bucket for these healthcare employers. When they fail to hold employers accountable for their negligence, they are allowing workplace violence to continue. With New Leaf, we expect the Ministry of Labour to set a firm example that tragic incidents like this will not be tolerated and should they occur in the future, there will be harsh consequences.”