The Westray Disaster

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.

In 2017, the federal government committed 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. There has been some important progress made. Training for federal health and safety officers now includes specific training on the Westray sections of the Criminal Code of Canada, and how that impacts health and safety investigations. The RCMP have developed an introductory-level online course, in consultation with unions, that is available for police officers across the country. That commitment was a crucial step, but it is not enough.

There is still much to do to ensure that every time a worker is killed or seriously injured on the job, it is reviewed for potential criminal negligence. 30 years after the Westray tragedy, workers are still dying at rates that are not declining, and the Westray law is rarely enforced. 

Please join us in calling on all levels of government to take the necessary steps to ensure robust enforcement of the Westray sections of the Criminal Code. The way to honour the legacy of those 26 miners who lost their lives underground 30 years ago is to enforce the law today.

That includes:

  • Training Crown prosecutors to apply the Westray provisions of the Criminal Code;
  • Appointing dedicated prosecutors for workplace health and safety fatalities;
  • Training all police forces to apply the Westray provisions of the Criminal Code; and
  • Ensuring appropriate coordination among regulators, police and Crown attorneys so that evidence of potential criminality is not overlooked.

Demand the enforcement of the Westray Law

When a worker is killed as a result of employer negligence, it’s a crime. Not an accident.

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