Wendy Fram said she was overwhelmed by the turnout at a forum examining the need for a mining inquiry at the Steelworkers Hall Oct. 1.
About 150 people, many of them friends of her late son, Jordan Fram, packed the hall, and stood at the back when the chairs ran out. Jordan, along with his co-worker Jason Chenier, died in a mining accident at Vale's Stobie Mine last year.
“I find that there's already support to help us deal with this inquiry,” Wendy said. “Hopefully this is going to work for us. I'm going to try to stay as positive as I can and work hard and get this going.”
During the event, Wendy was elected chair of a new group called Mining Inquiry Needs Everyone's Support (MINES), which will push for a mining inquiry.
Her daughter, Briana Fram, was elected the group's secretary. Miner Jodi Blasutti along with Cheryl Dufoe, whose son, Lyle Dufoe, died in a mining accident in Timmins in 2007, will act as co-vice-chairs.
Those at the event were invited to sign up as members of the group.
“It's my first time ever being a chair of a committee,” Fram said. “I'll do my best. I have my daughter for support, which is a great support. My husband works at Vale, so he has a lot of great input as well.”
She invites those interested in joining the committee to email her at [email protected]
Dufoe said she and her husband, Ephraim, have been fighting for changes to the mining sector for the past five years, and they were starting to feel as if they were “all alone in this.”
“Five years had been a long time to feel as if we didn't have any results,” she said.
“It's a long time to have no one in government care about our son. It's a long time to be lonesome. Tonight, seeing people stand at the back for like an hour and a half, it was incredible. We're so grateful to those people who did that, and to everyone who came. I think now the momentum is going.”
An inquiry into mining practices in the province was one of the recommendations made by Steelworkers Local 6500 in the report into Fram and Chenier's deaths the union released earlier this year.
The province has stated it's not planning to launch such an inquiry at this time.
Rick Bertrand, president of Local 6500, said he was also very encouraged by the turnout at the forum, but he said the union isn't going to stop there.
“If we have to hit every little town in the north, or cities in the south where they have salt mines, that's what we'll do,” he said. “They have to start listening.”
Every day there's reports of injuries and occupational health disease in the province's mines, “and the fatalities that are happening, it's incredible,” Bertrand said.
“We need to stop people from getting killed underground, and hopefully we'll be able to get some positive outcome after this inquiry,” he said.
I'm going to try to stay as positive as I can and work hard and get this going.
mother of mining accident victim Jordan Fram
“The inquiry is going to tell us what the best practices are, and what are the bad practices. Let's find out.”
Lougheed Funeral Homes managing director Gerry Lougheed Jr., who hosted the event, urged those who were there to contact the leaders of the province's political parties about the need for a mining inquiry.
He even handed out a sheet with their contact information.
The forum pinpointed six areas the mining inquiry would focus on. At least one guest speaker addressed each point:
-The fact that there hasn't been an inquiry into mining practices for 30 years;
-Mining technology has significantly changed how mines operate in Ontario;
-Ownership of the mining sector has become international;
-Environmental issues from mining operations have been identified in workplace diseases and community health;
-Recommendations made from previous inquests and investigations are not established as policies;
-Review of relevant legislation and criminal liability in the workplace.
Perhaps the most poignant of the guest speakers were Wendy and Cheryl themselves, who pointed to recommendations from previous inquests into mining fatalities which might have prevented their sons' deaths.
For example, recommendations stemming from the inquest into the August 1993 death of Raymond Gibeault at the Fraser Mine in Onaping included bumper blocks and red flashing lights being placed in front of hazardous areas.
“Our son was driving a scoop tram,” Cheryl said.
“He went down an open stope. The entrance to that stope was protected by a piece of plastic orange snow fence attached to a rope with a sign. If they had done what they should have done 19 years ago, and made made improved barriers and bumper blocks mandatory, Lyle would be sitting here tonight.”
Jordan Fram and Jason Chenier were killed after a run of muck unexpectedly came out of the ore pass close to where they were working at the 3,000-foot level of the mine, burying them and killing them instantly.
Clifford Bastien was killed in a similar accident in the same mine in 1995. A coroner's inquest resulted in 33 recommendations, six of which were pinpointed in the Local 6500 report as being relevant in Fram and Chenier's deaths.
These include actions which would have prevented plugged drain holes, which led to water leaking into the ore pass, management not taking action on the concerns of workers and a dangerous location for the ore pass control valves.
“This is why we are pleading with Mr. McGuinty to have an inquiry into the mining practices in Ontario,” Fram said.
“We feel recommendations like these should be law and not recommendations that may or may not be implemented. We want to save lives of the present and future workers.”
Steelworkers lawyer Brian Shell recalled the last mining inquiry, which was released by mediator-arbitrator Kevin Burkett in 1981.
As part of this report, Burkett set up the joint health and safety committee system, where both workers and managers were responsible for mine safety.
But this system has broken down in recent years, Shell said. That's why Local 6500 wants more provincial mine inspectors to ensure safety rules are being followed, he said.
“One of Burkett's recommendations was that there be a followup inquiry into the adequacy of safety practices and arrangements in Ontario,” Shell said.
“There was never a follow-up inquiry. We've got to look at are these safety practices and arrangements working? Are they adequate? Do we need more?”
MP Claude Gravelle addressed the issue of foreign ownership of mines.
He said the problem with this is not the fact that they “come here to mine our minerals or cut our lumber or export our water,” it's the attitude towards workers they bring with them.
“It's an attitude that's not Canadian,” Gravelle said. “They treat Canadian workers in such a manner that it's detrimental not only to the workers but to the communities they live in.”