Push for mine safety inquiry continues – by Jonathan Migneault (Sudbury Star – September 19, 2013)

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

Vale Canada Limited’s plea bargain with the Ministry of Labour Tuesday, regarding deaths of two Stobie Mine employees in 2011, has created a stronger case for a provincial inquiry on mine safety, said Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas.

“Now that we’re not going to have our day in court it creates one more argument for an inquiry,” said Gelinas. Vale pleaded guilty to three charges under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act Tuesday, and was charged $1.050 million as a deterrent. The company made a joint submission with the Crown that it be fined $350,000 per charge.

Gelinas said the families of Jason Chenier, 35, and Jordan Fram, 26, who were crushed by a 350-ton run of muck at the 3,000-foot level of the Stobie Mine on June 8, 2011, would never have the chance to hear the full story surrounding their deaths.

“A trial is an opportunity for many people to gain closure because you get to the bottom of the story,” Gelinas said. The provincial NDP and the United Steelworkers have long called for an inquiry into the province’s mining deaths.

Mike Bond, chair of health, safety and environment for the United Steelworkers Local 6500, said he was disappointed with Tuesday’s outcome.

“We have stated from the beginning that this should have been a criminal investigation,” Bond said.

Bond said he was disgusted by the fine levied against Vale. “Vale would spend $1 million to fix a crusher or perform a repair to a piece of infrastructure,” he said. “One million, to a working guy is a lot of money, $1 million to a company like Vale is a drop in the bucket.”

In the first quarter of 2013, Vale’s international operating income was US$4.2 billion – a 41.4% increase over the same period last year. Its Canadian revenues were $310 million during the same period this year.

Vale said during Tuesday’s trial it was in the process of implementing 31 recommendations to ensure the situation that caused the Stobie Mine incident – a water build-up at several mine levels – would not reoccur.

Bond said the union has not had any conversations with Vale regarding the 31 recommendations.

While there are no current plans for an inquiry into the Stobie mine incident and other mining-related deaths, a coroner’s inquest will get underway.

“It’s a mandatory inquest,” said Craig Muir, the regional supervising coroner for Sudbury. “Things have been in place for it to proceed for over a year, but we can’t do anything with an inquest until all the court proceedings are done.”

Muir said the inquest will not be a fault-finding exercise, but will instead attempt to establish the facts and determine the causes of Chenier and Fram’s deaths. The goal, he said, is to eventually make recommendations to prevent future incidents from occurring.

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