A judge sentenced a Canadian subsidiary of a Chinese state-owned oil company to pay the maximum fine – after they pleaded guilty to charges related to an incident that left two foreign workers dead, and several more injured in 2007.

In a St. Albert court Thursday, the judge sentenced Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Canada Ltd. to pay $1.5 million – or $500,000 for each charge the company faced under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The charges stem from an April 2007 incident on an oilsands project near Fort McKay, north of Fort McMurray, where two temporary foreign workers from China died and a number of others were injured – when the roof of an oil container under construction collapsed.

The sentencing marked the largest-ever fine handed out for three charges under the act. Both the Crown Prosecutor and the defence on the case supported the fine handed down Thursday.

“The purpose of sentencing in these kinds of cases is general deterrence,” Crown Prosecutor Marshall Hopkins said. “The purpose of the court imposing the maximum penalty on each count was to deter other employers from allowing unsafe conditions on their worksites.”

“I think the fact that we’re getting up to maximums now has to send some message,” Kevin Flaherty, Executive Director of the Alberta Workers Health Centre said outside the courtroom Thursday.

Early Thursday afternoon, SSEC Canada issued a statement in response to the decision.

In part, the statement said the company accepted the decision by the Provincial Court of Alberta, and that the company ‘sincerely regrets the deaths’ of the two workers.

It goes on to say the company supports a proposal by the Alberta Worker’s Health Centre to use a $1.3 million portion of the fine to fund a training and education program:

“The program’s objective will be to educate temporary foreign workers and other new Alberta workers and their employers about their respective legal rights and responsibilities as they pertain to workplace health and safety in Alberta, and supporting them in the exercise of those rights and obligations.”

“They’re not faceless, they have families back home and people who love them,” Flaherty said. “We need to do a much better job of meeting their needs along with the needs of other workers in this province.”

The program is expected to be introduced in the coming months.

Two other oil companies were also charged in connection to the fatal incident.

A total of 53 charges were laid against the three companies back in 2009 – SSEC Canada Ltd. pleaded guilty to the three charges in September 2012.

With files from Ashley Molnar