Sent via email to: Hon. Sylvia Jones, Solicitor General of Ontario and Hon. Doug Downey, Attorney General of Ontario
Re: Enforcement of the Westray Law
We are seeking action from the Solicitor and Attorney General on the enforcement of the Westray Law, that arose from Bill C-45 in 2004.
The Bill was named after a coal mining disaster where 26 miners were killed in a methane gas explosion after workers, union leaders, and the Ministry of Labour raised concerns countless times. Eleven miners remain buried there, never to be seen by their families again, but visited every year on the anniversary of their death, May 9th.
This May, it will be thirty years since that preventable disaster struck down those workers, impacting an entire community for decades. While the law is quite clear that a criminal investigation by police and crown attorneys – separate from the Ministry of Labour investigation – is required every time a workplace death occurs in Canada, only a handful of workplaces have been challenged, despite hundreds of deaths.
We send out a letter to the regional Police Chief, along with a package outlining their obligations under section 217.1 of the Criminal Code, every time a worker dies in the workplace. This past January, we sent out three letters in one month for eight deaths; a worker death almost every four days in one month. A United Steelworkers member named Kirk Moore died at Stelco in Hamilton after working there for 40 years, leaving two sons behind. A 27-year old migrant farmworker named Enrique Hernandez was killed at a Leamington greenhouse, leaving a young daughter behind in Mexico. And six workers were killed in the Eastway Tank explosion in Ottawa.
None of our follow-up with police services have rendered even the start of a criminal investigation, even where we have close contact with the families who have filed police reports. In our bids, we have found that:
- Police services do not reply to our bids for a criminal investigation; or
- Police services are not aware of their duty under the Criminal Code; or
- Police services pass the buck to another jurisdiction based on where the worker lived vs. where the incident that caused their death occurred.
However, we can somewhat understand their hesitation as Ontario police do not have protocols and policies in place to guide the investigations – unlike Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba, where attorney generals have worked with police, politicians, and the Westray families to ensure proper procedures are not only in place, but also that police authorities are trained on them. Training on these protocols and policies, once in place, is a key component of enforcement of the Westray law.
The Ontario Federation of Labour would like to see a commitment by the Solicitor General and Attorney General to create such protocols and policies within the year. We would like to receive such a commitment before the 30th anniversary of May 9, 2022. We believe enough time has passed where employers may have gotten away with murder because of a failure of our justice system to investigate the circumstances of workers’ all too many deaths. As penned in a July 2021 Toronto Star article, many workplace tragedies are preventable. We need to work together to stop the killing, and start criminal investigations.
These demands have been endorsed by the following labour organizations:
President, Ontario Federation of Labour
President, Canadian Labour Congress
President, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE Ontario)
Director, United Steelworkers District 6