The National Day of Mourning was established in Canada at the urging of the Canadian Labour Congress in 1984, and is now recognized in over 80 countries around the world. The 28th of April is the day that workers and unions mourn for the dead and fight for the living. On this day, we find inspiration to redouble our efforts to keep workers both safe and healthy.
Unfortunately, the annual observance of this day has not made Canada safer for workers. Over the past decades, successive governments have pledged their support to workers and their unions. They have announced new workplace health and safety laws and regulations–some of the best in the world. Regrettably, the resources needed to enforce those laws have not always been provided.
Canada’s workplaces have been claiming a growing number of lives every year because our health and safety laws have not been enforced. In 2009, the most recent year for which we have statistics, 939 Canadians lost their lives as a direct result of their work.
The number of fatalities is staggering, but there is opportunity for action. Special prosecutors have been appointed in Nova Scotia and in Manitoba, while in Ontario and Québec, criminal charges have been laid, hopefully putting an end to reckless employers carrying on without consequences. We need more prosecutions to send a message.
It is the police that investigate these matters, and it is at the discretion of law enforcement officers to conclude what charges are laid if any. Provincial and territorial governments must appoint and train special Crown prosecutors to vigorously prosecute employers when their actions cause death or serious injury. It’s time for all levels of government to commit to law enforcement education and training.
As we take time to remember those who have lost their lives, have been injured, or have become ill due to their work, I ask you to call your local police chief to tell them that employers who kill need to have charges laid that result in convictions which include jail time.
It must be recognized that workers dying is not a product of neglect. Our brothers and sisters losing their lives are the direct and inevitable outcome of choices made in the pursuit of profit, choices to deregulate workplaces, choices to not have safe and healthy workplaces, choices that take lives–for which those responsible should be criminally prosecuted. We must stop the killing!
Ken Georgetti is president of the 3.2 million member Canadian Labour Congress.