“Stop the Killing, Enforce the Law” is the name of the United Steelworker's drive to have more charges laid under the Westray Amendments, passed 10 years ago in the wake of a mining tragedy in Nova Scotia. An inquiry found that 26 miners died in the underground mine explosion in 1992, largely because of mismanagement, poor safety practices and lack of oversight.
Criminal Code amendments approved in the wake of the tragedy permit laying criminal charges against mine managers and owners if they are found to be responsible for a fatal workplace accident. However, the Steelworkers say since the law was passed in 2003, 9,000 workers have died on the job, but only 11 criminal charges have been laid.
“Canada has one of the worst records in the developed world,” Sylvia Boyce, the union's health and safety co-ordinator, told council. “Not one corporate executive has faced a single day in jail … They are simply not being held to account because the law is not being enforced.”
Boyce played a video focusing on the Sudbury mining deaths of Vale employees Jordan Fram and Jason Chenier, who were killed in 2011 after they were buried by an uncontrolled released of muck, sand and water from an ore pass at the 3,000-foot level. In the video, Jordan's mother, Wendy, and sister, Briana, question whether the tragedy would have happened if Vale feared criminal charges would result, rather than fines.
“I definitely think someone should have been held accountable,” Wendy Fram says in the video. “The company, supervisors, management who were aware of the situation, and knew about it for years.”
Briana Fram said a similar accident had taken place before at the Stobie Mine mine site, but nothing was done.
“The management at knew there were issues with water, and those issues had never been rectified,” she says in the video. “If companies were held criminally responsible, this never would have happened. People would have taken more responsibility to make those changes if they knew their lives were on the line as well.”
“Simply paying a fine means nothing to them.”
Ward 1 Coun. Joe Cimino, who moved the motion to support the Steepworker's campaign, declined to say after the meeting whether he thinks Vale should have faced criminal charges in connection to the 2011 tragedy.
“I'm not going to comment on past cases,” Cimino said. “This isn't about the past, it's about the future. It's about prevention and using (the tools) in place now.”
Cimino said current laws allow a criminal investigation to take place alongside an investigation by the Ministry of Labour. But that's not what's happening.
“If there's a law on the books, it shouldn't be ignored,” he said. “If it warrants a criminal investigation to work its way through, then it happen … This isn't a witch hunt. If there's nothing there, there's nothing there and it ends.”
The Steelworkers want special prosecutors devoted to investigating whether charges should be laid, as well as training for police to treat accident scenes as potential crime scenes, with evidence properly collected and preserved.
Outside of workplaces, Boyce said if someone is killed, police automatically assume it could be a crime, and treat the area as a crime scene.
“They collect evidence, and they examine things with an eye on possibly laying charges,” she said. “The public expects to see the guilty go to jail.”
Ward 5 Coun. Ron Dupuis, a former miner, said it's "unbelievable how many people have lost their lives" underground. He said car drivers are responsible for their actions -- employers should be no different.
And Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk spoke about the need for health and safety training for students in high school, so they are better able to protect themselves when it comes time to enter the workforce.
When she was a health and safety professional, she was shocked to see how little young people knew about health and safety.
“They should know what they should be doing in the workplace,” Matichuk said. “As a health and safety professional, you have my full support.”