Photo by Tiffany Bowen
Five years ago, Radiohead drum technician Scott Johnson was killed when a stage collapse prior to the band’s scheduled show at Toronto’s Downsview Park. A year later, the Ontario Ministry of Labour brought charges against Live Nation, a Toronto scaffolding company Optex Staging and Services, and engineer Domenic Cugliari under the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act. After a series of delays in the case, an Ontario judge has stayed the charges against each party in the case, according to CBC News.
Judge Ann Nelson ruled the inordinate delays in bringing the case to come to trial violated the rights of those charged to a timely hearing. “This case was a complex case that required more time than other cases in the system,” Nelson said in her 21-page judgment (via The Globe and Mail). “After allowing for all of the exceptional circumstances that were in play, this case still will have taken too long to complete.”
“It is important to emphasize that timely justice is not just important to persons facing charges,” Nelson added. “It is also important to our society at large.”
As Nelson herself admits, the ruling is a devastating blow: “No doubt, this decision will be incomprehensible to Mr. Johnson’s family, who can justifiably complain that justice has not been done.” According to The Globe and Mail, even Live Nation’s lawyer admitted the ruling would be “brutal” for Johnson’s relatives.
There is, as Pitchfork points out, a possible silver lining in the case. Stayed charges can be “brought back to life” within a year, as opposed to charges which are withdrawn and can never be brought back.
Prior to today’s ruling, the case was set to wrap up in the spring after 40 trial days scattered over 14 months. However, presiding judge Shaun Nakatsuru declared he’d lost jurisdiction after being appointed to a higher court. As a result, a senior justice declared a mistrial in May. Following that decision, Live Nation and Cugliari argued for a stay in front of Nelson last month, with the agreement her ruling would also apply to Optex.
Back in 2013, Live Nation said in a statement, “We absolutely maintain that Live Nation and our employees did everything possible to ensure the safety of anyone who was on or near the stage involved in the tragic incident that led to the unfortunate death of Mr. Scott Johnson… We will vigorously defend ourselves and we are confident that through this process the facts will come to light and we will be exonerated.” As a result of today’s ruling, the company has accomplished just that.
Update – September 6th: Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke commented on the judge’s decision via Twitter, writing, “Words utterly fail me.” Caribou, who shared the bill with Radiohead on that fateful bill, tweeted, (As someone who was standing behind this stage when it collapsed and would have been on it an hour later…) This is complete bullshit.”