Canadian Manufacturing

USW considering private prosecution over 2008 B.C. miner’s death

Union mulling idea of pursuing charges under little-used criminal proceeding in death of John Wilson

BURNABY, B.C.—The United Steelworkers (USW) union said it is considering pursuing legal action under an outdated criminal process over the 2008 death of a miner in British Columbia.

According to the union, it is mulling the idea of a little-used private prosecution after the province’s Criminal Justice Branch decided against laying charges in the February 2008 death of John Wilson at a mine near Merritt, B.C.

He drowned after his excavator overturned into a tailing pond.

“We have legislation in this country to hold corporations and their executives criminally responsible when workers’ lives are put at risk, but this legislation is not being enforced,” USW western Canadian director Stephen Hunt said in a statement.

“The tragic death of Wilson is further evidence that changes are required to ensure enforcement of the Westray legislation.”

The legislation Hunt refers to was enacted in 2004 in response to the 1992 Westray coal mining disaster in Nova Scotia where 26 miners were killed in a methane gas-ignited explosion.

The legislation, Bill C-45, “created rules for establishing criminal liability to organizations for the acts of their representatives,” and “establishes a legal duty for all persons directing the work of others to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of workers and the public,” according to the federal Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) website.

Bill C-45 gives police and health and safety inspectors powers to pursue charges under the criminal code.

“After the horror of Westray, politicians of all stripes were eager to declare their support for the Westray Bill and promise that no more Canadian workers would needlessly lose their lives because of the negligence of corporations,” Hunt said. “They’ve failed to live up to their promises.”

Hunt and the USW allege the law “isn’t being enforced.”

According to the union, a B.C. Ministry of Mines investigation determined Craigmont Mines, the company operating the mine where Wilson died, violated several provisions of the provincial Mines Act and the Health and Safety Reclamation Code for Mines.

Among those violations, the union said the investigation determined that “the mine manager failed to ensure that the workplace was free of hazardous conditions, and specifically, failed to ensure that third-party affixments to mobile equipment did not pose a hazard to the operator when working in and near water.”

The USW’s announcement of a potential private prosecution comes just weeks after it voiced outrage over a $1-million fine levied against mining giant Vale Canada Ltd. for its role in the 2011 deaths of two workers in an Ontario mine.

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