Canada’s unions celebrate federal announcement on Westray Law

April 28, 2017

Canada’s unions are celebrating yesterday’s announcement by the federal government that it will act to ensure effective enforcement of the Westray Law, provisions in the Criminal Code allowing for the criminal prosecution of employers whose negligence puts workers at risk.

“This is an important victory for all workers in our country, and a tribute to the Westray families and families of other fallen workers whose determination made this possible,” said CLC President Hassan Yussuff. “The next step will be ensuring urgent coordination among all levels of government.”

The announcement comes on the eve of the National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job, and just days before the 25th anniversary of the May 9, 1992 Westray Mine explosion that claimed the lives of 26 miners.

Years of determined lobbying by the miners’ families and their union, the United Steelworkers, won new Criminal Code provisions in 2004 making it possible to prosecute employers for negligence leading to workplace death and injury. However, families and health and safety advocates have long reported issues with enforcement.

On Thursday, 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 will include:

  • doing more to ensure that labour inspectors and law enforcement officials are properly trained in the provisions of the law, and are coordinating effectively to ensure the possibility of a charge for criminal negligence resulting in serious injury or death is not overlooked;
  • sharing of best practices in investigating workplace fatalities across federal, provincial, and territorial jurisdictions.

The CLC has an online petition at 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, and training and directing police to apply the Westray provisions of the Criminal Code; and
  • ensuring regulators, police and Crown attorneys are coordinating. Health and safety regulators must be reaching out to police when Westray charges might be warranted.

“When criminal negligence results in injury or death of a worker – that needs to be treated as a crime, not an accident. We are counting on governments at all levels to work together so we can prevent future Westrays,” said Yussuff.