NS: United Steelworkers mount campaign for employer responsibility in workplace deaths

Sueann Musick, The New Glasgow News
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A public meeting will be held March 10 in the council chambers of the Municipality of Pictou County to discuss the 'Westray Project' and the need to enforce the Westray law amendment of 2004.

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[PICTOU, NS] – The United Steelworkers want more action taken in finding bosses criminally responsible in the event of the death of an employee.

Sylvia Boyce, health, safety and environment co-ordinator for the United Steelworkers, said a public meeting will be held March 10 in the council chambers of the Municipality of Pictou County to discuss the “Westray Project” and the need to enforce the Westray law amendment of 2004.

“What is happening is that we have a law in place for the past decade and there have been 9,000 workplace deaths since that time,” she said — that number referring to nation-wide deaths. “There are 1,000 workplace deaths each year and not one CEO has been found criminally liable.”

Twenty-six died during the Westray Mine explosion in Plymouth, Pictou County, in 1992. The mine was owned by Curragh Resources Inc., which was initially charged with 52 non-criminal counts of operating an unsafe mine. The company went bankrupt in 1993 and the charges were dropped after a Nova Scotia judge criticized the way in which they were laid. The case went back to trial, was dismissed again, then the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial.

Charges of criminal negligence and manslaughter had been laid against mine managers Gerald Phillips and Roger Parry, but the Crown eventually stayed proceeding, saying there was not enough evidence to ensure a conviction.

The Westray Act, a federal law enacted in 2004, provided new rules for attributing criminal liability to corporations and representatives when workers are injured or killed on the job.

She said since 2004, only 11 charges have been laid under the Criminal Code and in the end these charges were either withdrawn or ended with a plea bargain that resulted in a fine.

“We are asking for the enforcement of the Westray amendment through a criminal lens,” she said. “We are asking for the legislation for training and co-ordination for all of the parties involved.”

Specifically, she said, the Steelworkers are seeking support and political will for specific actions such as to educate, train and direct Crown attorneys to apply the Westray amendments; to give responsibility for health and safety fatalities to dedicated prosecutors; to educate, train and direct police to apply the Westray amendments; to ensure greater coordination among regulators, police and Crown so that health and safety regulators are trained to reach out to police when there is a possibility that Westray amendment charges are warranted.

“We are the ones that are responsible, and lobbying originally, and insisting that there has to be legislation,” she said. “We went back to Pictou County during the 20th anniversary of the Westray Mine disaster and met with the family groups and we discussed the fact that it was clear we have a law in place that is not being utilized enough by our justice system.”

Boyce said the Steelworkers committee has been meeting with municipalities across the country as well as members of the public and justice system to promote the “Westray Project.”

For more information on the United Steelworkers campaign, check out: www.stopthekilling.ca

Organizations: Westray Mine, Curragh Resources Inc., Supreme Court of Canada Steelworkers Steelworkers committee

Geographic location: Westray, Pictou County, Nova Scotia Plymouth

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