Were workers in deadly fall illegal?
Men of Russian descent plunged 13 storeys after scaffold gave way
By CHRIS DOUCETTE, TORONTO SUN
Last Updated: 26th December 2009, 10:39am
Sat Dec 26, 6:18 AM
Investigators are trying to determine if four “migrant” workers who plummeted to their deaths in a Christmas Eve accident at a city-owned Rexdale highrise — and their critically injured co-worker — were in Canada legally.
If the ministry of labour — the lead investigator in the tragedy — concludes otherwise, then the company that employed the five contractors could face repercussions, sources say. And it could get even worse for the as-yet- unnamed company because it appears the five men were not wearing safety harnesses.
“I just know that they were migrant workers in Canada working on the building,” Toronto Police Duty Insp. Howie Page said yesterday in front of 2757 Kipling Ave., a Toronto Community Housing building.
While Page was unable to confirm whether the men were working illegally, a source said they are believed to be of Russian descent and at least one is a refugee claimant from Uzbekistan.
The five men were working on scaffolding, known as a swing stage, about 13 storeys up on the south side of the apartment building, a block south of Steeles Ave. W. when the deadly accident occurred around 4:30 p.m. Thursday, police say.
“They were repairing balconies when, for reasons that are unknown at this time, the scaffolding they were standing on suddenly gave way,” Const. Tony Vella said. “It's just tragic.”
Four of the workers plunged to the ground and one was left “dangling.”
Residents of the building saw the aftermath and called 911.
When emergency crews arrived, they found four of the men on the ground dead. The fifth man was rescued and rushed to hospital with life-threatening head injuries.
Residents said the repairs had been going on for about two months and the men were finishing up for the day when tragedy struck.
A still-shaken Joseph McDonald, 47, said he saw two of the men working on his 11th-floor balcony about half an hour before the accident.
“One of them wished me a happy Christmas and I said, 'Same to you,' ” McDonald said, adding the men told him they were going to call it a day around 4:30 p.m.
McDonald was unable to see the three other men who were using the same swing stage to work on the balcony next door.
But just after 4:30 p.m., he received a call from a friend in a neighbouring building telling him about the accident.
“I couldn't believe it,” said McDonald, who was in his apartment at the time. “I didn't hear or see anything, so I had no idea that this had happened.”
He said he had trouble sleeping because he couldn't stop thinking about the dead men.
The many people who stopped by the highrise to visit family and friends on Christmas Day were stunned by the news of what had happened.
The victims' names have not been released, but police said they are all between 20 and 40 years old.
The one still clinging to life yesterday is believed to be a father of two young kids from Uzbekistan.
Police were having some difficulties contacting his family back home.
Two of the bodies remained on the ground Christmas morning.
It was too dangerous to remove them because the scaffolding, which snapped into two pieces, was still dangling precariously overhead.
“At this point, (along) with the ministry of labour, we are assessing the situation to see what we can do with an engineer to make the scaffolding safe,” Page said.
He said while the ministry is investigating, police would take over if it's determined the accident was caused by criminal actions.