Enforce Westray and Stop Tragic Workplace Deaths – Nova Scotia Federation of Labour

February 27, 2024



Nova Scotia – February 27, 2024 – The Nova Scotia Federation of Labour (NSFL) has voiced concerns regarding the enforcement of the Westray Law in the wake of two tragic workplace fatalities in the past week.

Danny Cavanagh, NSFL President, emphasized the urgent need for a comprehensive investigation into these incidents and the potential application of criminal charges under the Westray amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada, known as the Westray Law.

“First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the workers’ families, friends and co-workers affected by these devastating events,” said Cavanagh.

Cavanagh underscored the essential role of law enforcement in addressing these cases, urging the police and Crown to conduct thorough investigations to determine if criminal charges are warranted under the Westray Law.

Highlighting the historical context, Cavanagh emphasized the importance of proactive criminal investigations, citing the relatively low number of charges under Westray in the country.

The labour movement mobilized for new legislation – the Westray Law – following the tragic and preventable deaths of 26 miners in the Westray Mine explosion in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, on May 9, 1992.

Enacted in 2004, the Westray Law is designed to hold corporations, directors and executives criminally accountable for the health and safety of workers. However, the law is rarely enforced.

“Since the Westray Law took effect, we have seen plea deals, paltry fines and just one person has gone to jail,” Cavanagh said.

“We can do better,” he added, pointing to the alarming statistic that an average of 1,000 workplace deaths occur annually in Canada. This pressing issue demands a robust and proactive approach to enforcement and accountability, he said.

The NSFL supports the national campaign, Stop the Killing, Enforce the Law, which urges federal and provincial governments to take decisive action to ensure greater enforcement of Criminal Code provisions in cases of workplace accidents and fatalities.

The Stop the Killing campaign, initially launched by the United Steelworkers union, has been endorsed by unions, municipalities, and other groups across the country. The campaign aims to convince governments to adopt standardized training for law enforcement agencies and Crown prosecutors Canada-wide, to ensure workplace deaths and injuries are investigated and prosecuted as criminal acts when warranted.

“The Nova Scotia Federation of Labour is committed to advocating for the rights and safety of workers, and our call for stronger enforcement of the Westray Law reflects the federation’s unwavering dedication to ensuring a safe and secure work environment for all,” said Cavanagh.

“No one should be killed, just because they went to work.”

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