Short jail terms for two corporate directors implicated in a workplace death are a step in the right direction but do not address the crying need to enforce the Criminal Code when workers are killed on the job, according to the United Steelworkers (USW).
"There is an average of 1,000 workplace deaths in Canada every year," said USW national director Ken Neumann. "But we rarely see enforcement of Criminal Code provisions that are specifically intended to hold employers responsible for workers' deaths and injuries."
This week an Ontario judge sentenced two corporate directors of New Mex Canada to 25-day jail sentences — to be served on weekends — for Occupational Health and Safety Act violations that led to a worker's death in 2013.
However, the directors did not have to face criminal prosecution or potential criminal penalties, despite Criminal Code provisions commonly known as the Westray Law that have been in effect since 2004.
"While we applaud the Ontario Ministry of Labour for seeking jail sentences in this case, we are disappointed that the Crown did not proceed with criminal charges," said USW Ontario Director Marty Warren.
The Westray provisions of the Criminal Code give Crown prosecutors the ability to hold corporations and their officers criminally responsible when their disregard for health and safety results in a worker's death or injury.
"Not only have we seen an average of 1,000 workers die annually since the Westray Law was passed, but workplace deaths have been increasing. It's clear that we need greater enforcement of the law to protect working people," Warren said.
The Steelworkers have launched a Stop the Killing, Enforce the Law campaign.
"Steelworkers were a driving force during a decade of lobbying that ultimately led to passage of the Westray Law, named in memory of the 26 workers killed in the Westray Mine explosion in 1992," said Neumann. "We are determined to work with governments, Crown prosecutors, health and safety regulators and police across the country to ensure the law is enforced to the full extent whenever a worker is killed or injured."
Steelworkers leaders have met with federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay, attorneys general and labour ministers from all provinces, as well as the RCMP and other police agencies. Dozens of municipalities across the country have officially endorsed the campaign and called for greater enforcement of the Criminal Code.
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