May 9, 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of the Westray mine explosion that killed 26 miners in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. The fatal explosion was caused by a buildup of methane gas and coal dust.
In the ensuing public inquiry, Justice Peter K. Richard uncovered “a complex mosaic of actions, omissions, mistakes, incompetence, apathy, cynicism, stupidity, and neglect.” Despite years of police investigations and public inquiry, no one was ever held responsible for the miners’ deaths.
“Thanks to tireless lobbying by the United Steelworkers, employers can be convicted of criminal negligence under the Criminal Code. Unfortunately, the Westray Law is rarely enforced, despite the thousands of workplace deaths and serious injuries that occur year after year. It’s not enough for negligent employers to simply pay a fine when a worker is injured or killed. Employers guilty of negligence must feel the full weight of Canadian law, including potentially facing time in jail for their crime,” said Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress.
Every year, over 1,000 workers die due to workplace incidents; thousands more battle illness and injury, through no fault of their own. But since the Westray Law was enacted in 2004, it has led to just a handful of criminal charges and only one prison sentence.
In 2017, the federal government committed to working with the Canadian Labour Congress and its members, with employers, and with provincial and territorial partners, to finally help ensure the Westray Law is effectively enforced. There has been some important progress made. Training for federal health and safety officers now includes specific training on the Westray sections of the Criminal Code of Canada, and how that impacts health and safety investigations. The RCMP have developed an introductory level online course, in consultation with unions, that is available for police officers across the country. That commitment was a crucial step, but it is not enough.
“The way to honour those 26 lives lost in 1992 – and all those lost across Canada since then – is to do more to protect workers and ensure they return home at the end of each day. Thirty years after the Westray tragedy, workers are still dying at alarming rates because of their job. When a worker dies or is injured at work, it must be reviewed for potential criminal negligence and the Westray Law must be enforced,” said Bruske.
Send a letter to the Prime Minister and all Premiers calling for enforcement of the Westray sections of the Criminal Code of Canada.