Canada’s health and safety laws have more clout today, following a landmark court ruling in Ontario that saw, for the first time, a manager held criminally responsible and sentenced to prison for actions that resulted in the deaths of four workers under his watch.
Unions worked for years to convince the government of Canada to change the criminal code, so employers who endanger the health and safety of workers would face such a penalty. Inspired by the 1992 explosion and collapse of the Westray mine that killed 26 men, the decade-long campaign to change the law succeeded in 2004.
The Canadian Labour Congress welcomed the Ontario court’s ruling, saying it sends a strong message to employers as well as the managers and supervisors beneath them.
“Employers have a responsibility to ensure safe workplaces and safe work practices. It’s a responsibility that unions have always taken very seriously, but having strong laws that courts are willing to enforce ensures that everyone’s health and safety is protected,” says CLC President Hassan Yussuff.
Unions have worked hard to ensure Canada has some of the strongest laws and regulations aimed at protecting workers from preventable injury, disease, and death. And unions are constantly working to make those laws better.
“Knowing the courts are willing to apply those laws, and hold people to account when they put others at risk, is very good news, even though it took what was a preventable tragedy to make the point. It makes the work that so many people in the labour movement do to make workplaces safer and healthier worth the effort, although we take no joy in seeing someone go to jail. Nor can we forget that four men lost their lives and four families lost a loved one. May they rest in peace,” said Yussuff.