Gravelle calls for Westray application [in Vale deaths] – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – October 31, 2012)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

The Westray provision of the Criminal Code of Canada isn’t a useful law unless it’s applied, says the federal New Democrats’ mining critic, Nickel Belt MP Claude Gravelle.

If companies know charges are not going to be laid under the bill, “what have they got to lose?” asked Gravelle.

The Westray bill was created as a result of the 1992 Westray coal-mining disaster in Nova Scotia in which 26 miners were killed after methane gas ignited, causing an explosion.

Despite serious safety concerns raised by employees, union officials and government inspectors, the company didn’t make the changes necessary to avoid the tragedy.

That eventually led to the passage of the bill, under which company executives can be criminally charged if employees are injured or killed because of their failure to take action. United Steelworkers Local 6500 called earlier this year for charges to be laid under the Westray provision against Vale Ltd. executives in the June 8, 2011 deaths of two men at Stobie Mine.

Jason Chenier, 35, and Jordan Fram, 26, were killed when a run of 350 tons of muck — water and crushed rock — overcame them while they were working at the 3,000-level of the mine.

Chenier took the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to task Monday in the House of Commons, saying it was time the government stopped “mucking around with workers’ safety.”

Said Gravelle: “If a law is on the books and it is not enforced, then no wonder the companies ignore it.”

Nine charges have been laid against Vale and six against of its supervisors under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, but the union is calling for criminal charges to be laid against Vale officers in the two men’s deaths.

An extensive investigation by USW Local 6500 into the double-fatality showed Chenier had warned company managers as recently as the day before he was killed that water was causing safety problems in the mine.

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