(Canadian OH&S News) — Following the death of a 22-year-old female miner east of Timmins, Ont., the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) has reached out to the province’s police and Crown attorneys, demanding more vigorous pursuit of criminal prosecutions for occupational fatalities.
In a press release dated May 26, the OFL stated that it had written to Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) detachments in Almaguin Highlands and Matheson regarding workplace deaths in those regions. On the previous day, the Federation had received a response from Detective Sergeant Stacey Whaley of the former detachment, saying that the OPP would review the file of a 2013 falling death at a mill near Parry Sound; this incident had resulted in a $90,000 fine and nothing more.
“We’re finding that all over the place, these employers are pleading guilty to the lesser charges by the Ministry of Labour,” said OFL president Sid Ryan. When the police get involved, he added, “they take a look, see that the Ministry of Labour is on the job, they investigate and see that there’s no foul play, and then they leave. Where, in fact, they should be looking at every accident from the perspective of ‘Was there negligence here?’ and if there was, then they have to be laying criminal charges.
“We’re just seeing too many deaths, and the only way it’s going to stop is when supervisors, CEOs, company owners – when all of them decide that it’s not worth the risk not to invest in health and safety.”
Ryan also wrote to Staff Sergeant Dan Foy of the OPP in Matheson, regarding the death of 22-year-old Alexie Dallaire-Vincent at the Holt Mine near Black River-Matheson on May 23. Dallaire-Vincent was the victim of an underground rail-haulage accident. This was the second work-related fatality at the Holt Mine in less than a year, according to the OFL.
“There’s nothing worse than a fatality in the workplace,” said Ryan. “So when this is the second time that a worker was killed in a particular site, obviously, there is something drastically wrong with the way that mine has been operated.”
The OPP’s Matheson detachment did not respond to COHSN’s request for an interview.
Ryan cited the Bill C-45 amendments to the Criminal Code, also known as the Westray Law, which has made employers criminally liable for negligence in occupational fatalities since 2004. About 80 workers die in workplace incidents in Ontario per year, he claimed; this would equal more than 800 worker deaths since enactment of the Westray Law.
“We’ve only had one case, which was Metron, where the police actively got engaged and actually laid some criminal charges,” said Ryan, referring to a case in which the negligent company had been fined $1,000,000. “Well, we’ve yet to see that kind of attention being paid to any other death in the workplace.”
The OFL is not the only organization calling for more aggressive policing of workplace fatalities in response to the Dallaire-Vincent tragedy. The United Steelworkers (USW) also called for more application of the Westray Law in a May 26 press release.
“Workers continue to be killed at an alarming rate across Canada,” said USW national director Ken Neumann, as quoted in the release. “Attorneys General must step up to the plate and demand full enforcement of the law we fought for to hold corporations, their directors and executives accountable for workplace death and injury.
“In this case, as in literally thousands of other workplace fatalities over the last decade, tears are definitely not enough,” added Neumann, referring to the Holt Mine incident.
“It’s a crime when a worker dies and negligence is involved,” said Ryan. “That’s the cultural change that needs to take place in the minds of employers and frontline supervisors.”