A consulting engineering company in Alberta has been hit by a court decision that could have wide ramifications for other consulting firms.
The City of Calgary successfully prosecuted Williams Engineering for breaching the Alberta Building Code. The city says that it is a “landmark ruling because it appears to be the first time in Canada that an engineering firm has been convicted for breaching provincial Building Codes legislation.”
Provincial Court judge Heather Lamoureux gave her decision on November 3 after a three month trial. The case was about a 2011 project to repair a parking garage at the Rocky Mountain Court building on 6 Avenue SE. Sentencing will take place later this year.
The problems with the parking garage repair occurred because during the project to replace the topping, saw cuts made into a precast concrete hollow core slab had compromised the structure’s integrity. When city inspectors found the problems they evacuated seven businesses on the main floor and three parking levels.
The city has been aggressively pursuing any possible safety violations related to the construction industry.
Ola Malik, the City’s municipal prosecutor, said: “Today’s ruling sends a clear message: engineering firms, like other parties who are involved at the various stages of a construction project, have independent obligations to satisfy in the design and execution of a construction project.” He said Calgary appears to be the only jurisdiction in Canada that is actively prosecuting breaches of the Building Code and obtaining significant fines.
Jim Gilliland, P.Eng., regional director for Williams Engineering Canada, says, “The case is quite complicated technically and legally, and the civil suit is still ongoing so we can’t discuss many details at this point.” He continues: “We are taking the case very seriously and have taken steps internally to ensure this sort of situation does not happen again, such as changing internal processes and procedures that everyone must follow.” Meanwhile, he adds that Williams Engineering Canada has been in business for 36 years and has completed over 30,000 projects and this is the first project that has not been completed as was intended.
A few days after the ruling Gilliland stepped down from his role as the president of the provincial engineering body, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA), citing that it would be a potential conflict of interest for him to stay in the position following the ruling.
APEGA’s chief executive officer Mark Flint, P.Eng., said: “As CEO, I’ve worked closely with Jim over the past year and a half. I’ve come to respect him greatly both as an engineer and as a man of principle and integrity. It’s most unfortunate that his tenure should be concluded under these circumstances, but I completely respect and support his decision to put the needs of APEGA ahead of everything else.”
To read the City of Calgary press release, click here.
To read APEGA’s press release, click here.
This article was revised on November 11, 2014, at 3.15 p.m.