Labour Federation calls for renewed action to end workplace deaths and injuries today – the 20th anniversary of the Westray Law

March 26, 2024

Today, the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour (NSFL), stands with the United Steel Workers (USW) as we solemnly mark the 20th anniversary of the Westray Bill. This legislation, Bill C-45, was once hailed as a beacon of hope, promising to hold corporations criminally accountable for negligence leading to the unthinkable – workplace fatalities.

We recognize the Westray Bill’s importance, but the stark reality of its lack of enforcement is a painful reminder of its failure. Nova Scotia Federation of Labour president Danny Cavanagh spoke at an event in to address the issue.

“The Westray Bill was meant to be a shield for workers, a promise of justice. Yet, despite the devastating loss of workers in Nova Scotia, we had just one charge under the Westray Bill and it led to one charge and it was acquitted. What’s the value of a law if it’s not enforced or respected?” asks Cavanagh.

Cavanagh’s words echo the anguish of workers across the province, underscoring the urgent need for change. The Westray Bill was born out of the ashes of the 1992 Westray Mine Disaster. The Westray Bill, or Bill C-45, was enacted on March 29, 2004. It was designed to impose criminal liability on organizations and their representatives for negligence and other offences. Yet, the law has resulted in only a few charges since its inception, with no conviction in Nova Scotia and a mere handful nationally.

The law must be enforced with an iron fist, and the federal government must allocate funding to train police in applying the bill.

“Police are often the first responders at workplace accidents, and they need to know that they have the authority to launch a criminal investigation under C-45,” Cavanagh asserts.

The NSFL demands restructuring the Westray Bill to ensure it serves its purpose – to deter negligent employers and safeguard workers.

“Employers must understand that our laws, including legislated occupational health and safety requirements and the Westray Law, will be enforced with ruthless pursuit. On average we see 25 workplace deaths annually in Nova Scotia, some 460 workers have died at work since 2004, and on average 1000 workers die on the job in Canada with just one charge in our province under the Westray Law. 

“As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Westray Bill, the NSFL reaffirms its pledge to battle for enhancements in workers’ Occupational Health and safety and to ensure that laws like the Westray Bill are not reduced to mere political rhetoric. “We will not rest until we see proper charges laid in the event of a workplace death. Workplace safety culture needs a revolution, and it’s high time we ignited it,” says Cavanagh.

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