Steelworkers consider private prosecution in B.C. worker’s death

USW calls for stronger enforcement of Westray legislation
||Last Updated: 10/10/2013

The United Steelworkers (USW) is considering the pursuit of private prosecution after the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch opted not to lay charges in the death of mine worker John Wilson.

Wilson was killed in February 2008 when his excavator overturned into a tailings dam at Craigmont Mine near Merritt, B.C.

“We have legislation in this country to hold corporations and their executives criminally responsible when workers’ lives are put at risk, but this legislation is not being enforced,” said Stephen Hunt, western Canadian director of USW, in a statement.

A B.C. Ministry of Mines investigation into the incident determined the company violated several provisions of the Mines Act and the Health and Safety Reclamation Code for Mines.

The mine’s sump pond was not designed by a qualified professional to accepted engineering standards, a previously ordered survey of the mine site had not been conducted and there was no emergency response team in place at the time of the incident.

However, the Criminal Justice Branch ruled an emergency response team was not legally required because of the limited number of employees and could find no evidence that a survey of the site of better pond design would have avoided the circumstances that cause the excavator to overturn.

“The tragic death of John Wilson is further evidence that charges are required to ensure enforcement of the Westray legislation that was enacted in 2004,” Hunt said. “More than 8,000 Canadians have been killed at work since then.”

The Westray Bill, officially Bill C-45, was created in the aftermath of the Westray coal mining disaster in Nova Scotia in 1992. Methane gas ignited, causing an explosion and killing 26 miners. Leading up to the accident the company largely failed to address safety concerns raised by employees, union officials and government inspectors.

Bill C-45 amended the Canadian Criminal Code, establishing new legal duties for workplace health and safety and imposing serious penalties for violations that result in injuries or death. The bill also created new rules for attributing criminal liability to organizations and their representatives.

“After the horror of Westray, politicians of all stripes were eager to declare their support for the Westray Bill and promise that no more Canadian workers would needlessly lose their lives because of the negligence of corporations. They’ve failed to live up to their promises,” Hunt said.

“When a law isn’t being enforced, it’s incumbent on elected officials at every level of government to fix it. While politicians talk, 1,000 Canadians continue to be killed at work each year. It’s time for real action to protect the safety of every worker in every province.”

The USW announced its plans to spearhead a national campaign demanding stronger enforcement of the Westray legislation.

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