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Sentencing in propane explosion trial likely to stretch trial past six-year mark

Presentencing arguments in the Sunrise Propane trial will extend into the fall, stretching the court case past the six-year mark since the company's north-end Toronto facility blew up in the middle of the night.

The company, Sunrise Propane Energy Group Inc., was convicted last summer of violating Ontario environmental and labour regulations in connection with the 2008 explosions that rocked its Murray Road property, killing an employee and forcing thousands from their homes.

After a previous postponement, government lawyers began submissions for sentencing on Tuesday, but the deliberate pace of the hearing, which was highly technical and slowed by the need for simultaneous translation, made both sides realize they needed to seek more court dates.

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Additional days of presentencing arguments were scheduled for Oct. 27 and 31.

At the same time, defence lawyer Leo Adler filed an application to re-open the trial on some of the charges, a move the government said it will oppose.

Environment Ministry lawyer Nicholas Adamson started Tuesday's hearing by bringing a witness, Daniel Beaudoin, a production manager at Pro-Par (1978), a manufacturer of propane tanks based in Sherbrooke, Que.

Mr. Beaudoin's testimony, which was in French and translated by an interpreter, revolved around what he could surmise from inspection reports of a tanker truck called Unit 861.

The government contends that tanker trucks involved in the Sunrise explosion were not properly equipped with a passive emergency shutdown system.

Such a system would have automatically cut the gas flow if the hose failed.

The trial previously heard that employees were doing an unauthorized tank-to-tank transfer of propane from Unit 861 to another vehicle, Unit 1, when propane vapours caught fire at around 3 a.m. on Aug. 10, 2008.

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A massive fireball rose in the summer night sky over Sunrise's facility, followed by numerous smaller detonations as other tanks were ignited by the first blast.

About 12,000 residents of the Downsview community had to flee in the middle of the night as asbestos-laced debris rained down on homes, businesses, schools and cemetery.

One Sunrise employee, 25-year-old Parminder Singh Saini, was killed in the explosions.

Last June, two years after the trial began, Ontario Court Justice Leslie Chapin found Sunrise guilty on multiple counts of breaching the Environmental Protection Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Two company directors, Shay Ben-Moshe and Valery Belshov, were also found guilty of failing to take proper safety measures.

"The defendants failed to prove that they were duly diligent in the ongoing oversight of their truck drivers involved in the transport and distribution of propane," the judge said in her ruling.

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" Although there was some evidence of a preventative maintenance system, in my view, it was woefully inadequate."

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