On 20th anniversary of Westray disaster, Alberta unions call on Redford government to consider criminal prosecutions of employers responsible for worker deaths or injuries

Alberta has never used provisions of "Westray Act" even though it could act as an effective deterrent to corporate negligence

The president of Alberta's largest union organization today called on the Redford government to start making use of the nine-year-old federal Westray Act that allows investigators to launch criminal prosecutions against corporations and senior corporate managers who, through negligence or misdeeds, have caused their workers to be killed or injured on the job.

"The federal government has given the provinces the power to prosecute individual employers and managers under the Criminal Code, but the Alberta government has never taken advantage of those powers," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"That needs to change. Holding individual managers and CEOs personally responsible for workers deaths will provide a huge incentive for corporations to clean up their acts when it comes to workplace health and safety. Fines and civil prosecutions under the Occupational Health and Safety Code are not enough. If we're serious about promoting workplace safety, criminal prosecutions have to be part of the government's tool kit."

In a letter to Alberta's Jonathan Denis, Alberta's newly appointed Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, McGowan said that every workplace death and serious injury "should be looked at through the lens of Bill C-45," the law passed in 2003 that amended the federal Criminal Code (click here for Westray Act). Under the amendments, corporations and corporate managers can be found criminally liable if they fail to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of workers and the public on their worksites.

"Workers and their families deserve to know police have done more than rule out foul play," wrote McGowan. "Specifically, they need to know that authorities have investigated the possibility of criminal negligence. Indeed, it is now the law of the land in Canada. That law should be respected."

In addition to encouraging Denis to make criminal prosecution a regular part of the Alberta government's "tool kit" for promoting workplace safety, McGowan also encourage the Minister to direct police forces around the province to establish dedicated units to investigate worker deaths alongside investigators from the provincial government's occupational health and safety branch. Click here for the memorandum sent to all chiefs of police in Ontario by the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Corrections Services, dated March 30, 2004.

"Without dedicated units trained in the use of Bill C-45 provisions, I'm convinced that this important and powerful tool will never be used effectively as a deterrent to criminal negligence on the part of employers," said McGowan.

On May 9, 1992, 26 miners working underground at the Westray Mine in rural Nova Scotia were killed by a methane explosion. The company was found guilty on 18 non-criminal counts of operating an unsafe mine under the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act. Criminal charges against senior company officers were dropped because, at the time, the Criminal Code did not allow for such prosecutions.



For more information call:

Gil McGowan, President @ 780-218-9888 (cell) or 780-483-3021 (office)

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