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Sunrise had no green light for dangerous propane transfers: Crown

Aerial scene of Sunrise Propane Industrial Gases after it exploded early Sunday morning. A large evacuation was forced for an area a kilometre around the site of the

Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail

Sunrise Propane had no reason to believe it had approval to continue the illegal business practices that led to a catastrophic and fatal explosion that showered a Toronto neighbourhood in asbestos, a court heard.

Environment Ministry lawyer Nicholas Adamson completed his closing arguments in the propane explosion trial Thursday by hammering any assertion that Sunrise received a green light for dangerous truck-to-truck propane transfers.

He referred at length to testimony given by two witnesses he said may have had an interest in providing testimony that favoured Sunrise. Mr. Adamson said Ross Keys and Rob McCullough were among "a tight unit of people working together" for the company, adding that Mr. Keys had worked for Sunrise for more than 20 years, and Mr. McCullough did significant inspection work for the business.

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"Sunrise is an extremely valuable client for him.… In my submission, he is a witness inclined to be favourable to Sunrise," Mr. Adamson said.

He said both men were party to a crucial meeting with a Technical Standards and Safety Authority officer during which, Sunrise has suggested, the officer informed the company that it could carry on business as usual. The company wrongly took it as approval to continue the banned practice of truck-to-truck transfers, Mr. Adamson said.

Not only was the TSSA officer not authorized to green-light such activity, Mr. Adamson continued, he didn't know the transfers were going on. "Unless you're out doing inspections in the middle of the night or at the end of the day, you'll never see this happen," he said, noting those are the only times the company made the transfers.

Mr. Adamson said there was no discussion during that meeting that any exemption from a legal requirement could be made and added that Sunrise director Shay Ben-Moshe should have sought an exception from the law in writing.

"Mr. Ben-Moshe is clearly a successful business person.… Where is the written confirmation?" he asked.

Making matters worse, Mr. Adamson said there was no evidence that Sunrise was performing systematic annual inspections or properly supervising the truck drivers who were making the transfers. Lastly, he noted testimony that a hose which may have been the reason for the accident had repeatedly been seen lying around the job site.

"Sunrise propane is not a mom-and-pop operation and it is dealing with a dangerous substance," said Mr. Adamson, who rejected that the accident was an "act of God," or impossible to avoid. "It could have been prevented," he said.

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Earlier, Mr. Adamson said Mr. Ben-Moshe seemed to know the company was acting illegally. He said the director gave a "troubling" and "misleading" statement to police following the explosion in August, 2008. For example, Mr. Adamson said, Mr. Ben-Moshe told police that a safety audit of the plant had come out "perfectly good" when in fact it initially failed the review.

Parminder Singh Saini, a 25-year-old employee at the filling station, was killed in the blast, and a firefighter died of a heart attack while surveying the damage at the site. More than 10,000 people were forced to leave their homes when deadly debris rained down on the surrounding neighbourhood.

In addition to charges that they failed to follow regulations and protect workers, Sunrise and its directors face multiple charges under the Environmental Protection Act for allegedly failing to clean up after the explosion.

Closing arguments are scheduled to continue on Aug. 24.

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