In the early morning of May 9, 1992, an explosion caused by a fatal buildup of methane gas and coal dust at the Westray Mine in Pictou County, Nova Scotia killed all 26 miners working underground.
Justice K. Peter Richard, who led the public inquiry into the disaster, 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 ultimately held responsible for the miners’ deaths.
The United Steelworkers lobbied for years and won changes to the Criminal Code so that employers could be convicted of criminal negligence. But since the Westray Law was enacted in 2004, it has led to just a handful of criminal charges and only one prison sentence, despite the thousands of workplace deaths and serious injuries that occur year after year.
On April 27, 2017, the federal government announced it is marking the 25th anniversary of Westray by committing 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.
That commitment is a crucial victory for all workers. The next step is ensuring urgent coordination among all levels of government.
Please join us in calling on the provinces and territories to work closely with the federal government on an urgent action plan that includes:
Training and directing Crown prosecutors to apply the Westray provisions of the Criminal Code;
Appointing dedicated prosecutors for workplace health and safety fatalities;
Training and directing police to apply the Westray provisions of the Criminal Code;
Ensuring coordination among regulators, police and Crown attorneys so that health and safety regulators reach out to police when Westray charges may be warranted.