“The Westray story is a complex mosaic of actions, omissions, mistakes, incompetence, apathy, cynicism, stupidity and neglect,” said Mr. Justice Peter Richard in his report on the explosion and fire at the coal mine in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, that killed 26 miners on May 9, 1992.
Ottawa (17 April 2012) - This year the National Day of Mourning on April 28th marks the 20th anniversary of the Nova Scotia Westray mine disaster, where an underground methane explosion took the lives of 26 workers. Since then, the labour movement pressured Parliament to pass legislation, the so-called Westray bill, which amended the Criminal Code of Canada to hold employers, who failed to take steps to protect the lives of their employees, criminally liable. The Westray bill provided a new regime outlining the framework of corporate liability in Canada.
In the nine years since the Westray bill amendments and corporate manslaughter law came into effect, only two provinces have laid charges under the criminal code. If the provinces and territories were using the Westray legislation as intended, we could make significant inroads to protect workers health and safety and save lives.
Tragically, thousands of workers, every year, have their lives changed because of a major injury while hundreds more lose their lives because of their work. No job is worth dying for, yet 1,014 people lost their lives in 2010, the most recent year for which we have statistics. These are not accidents, they can be prevented. It’s important to remember that Canada still has one of the highest rates of workplace deaths in the industrialized world and even one death is still one too many.
Nothing can bring back those who have died but a message has to be sent that cutting corners on health and safety and employees being killed is not acceptable. If and when an employer willfully neglects health and safety, knowing that someone can be injured or killed, they should be held criminally responsible. Corporations and their representatives need to be held accountable. As workers, we need to pressure our governments to use the Westray legislation as intended.
Today should not be the day another worker dies at work.
NUPGE Takes Action
NUPGE urges Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley and Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson to establish a special prosecutor to investigate workplace deaths and serious injuries and provide training to law enforcement officers as the first person on the scene of a workplace injury or fatality.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE