“If one of the managers had been killed in the mine, you wonder if things would have been different.”
That was the reaction of Betty Jean Sutherland, chair of the CUPE’s Nova Scotia Health and Safety Committee, to the “disturbing, but not surprising” decision by government prosecutors to drop charges against the managers of the Westray mine.
CUPE members, health and safety activists and workers across the country joined the families of the victims of the Westray disaster in their outrage.
The mine managers Roger Parry and Gerald Phillips had been charged with manslaughter and criminal negligence arising from the explosion at Westray that killed 26 workers on May 9, 1992.
The history of this case has been marked with half-hearted efforts and procedural bungling that parallels the shoddy track record of the provincial department responsible for occupational health and safety.
Releasing its decision on the eve of Canada Day to minimize news coverage, the Crown Attorney claims that given the evidence, there is no chance of a conviction.
Yet the report of the Public Inquiry into the Westray Explosion provides two volumes of documentation on mismanagement, violations of health and safety regulations and practices, and failure to protect the workers. Mr. Justice Richards described the behaviour of Westray managers as “willful blindness.” He goes on to recommend that the “crime of corporate killing” be included in the Criminal Code.
CUPE locals are encouraged to contact Russell McLellan, Premier of Nova Scotia, demanding an independent inquiry into the prosecution’s decision.