Family has mixed feelings about Vale plea deal – by Heidi Ulrichsen (Sudbury Northern Life – September 21, 2013)

The sister of one of two Vale miners killed on the job in 2011 said in some ways, she’s glad lawyers representing the company and the Crown were able to come to a plea deal agreement for charges laid in the wake of the tragedy.

At least it saved her family the pain and stress of going through the full trial, Briana Fram said. Vale pleaded guilty to three charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and was fined $1,050,000 on Sept. 17 in the deaths of Briana’s brother, Jordan Fram, as well as his co-worker, Jason Chenier.

The company originally faced nine charges, while supervisor Keith Birnie faced six. The remaining charges against Vale were dropped as part of the plea deal. The charges against Birnie were dropped after the Crown received information as part of trial submissions, and felt there was no reasonable chance of conviction.

While in some ways she’s glad not to have to go through a full trial, which was due to start in late October, Briana said she would have liked to see Vale held to account on all the charges. “We are happy they pled guilty, but it’s hard, because those charges were just so easily dropped,” she said. “That’s the way the judicial system is.”

In terms of Birnie, Briana said it’s also difficult for her to understand how the charges against him were also so easily dropped. She said the families weren’t privy to the information which led to the Crown’s decision to drop the charges against Birnie.

Vale was represented in court by Kelly Strong, the company’s president of Ontario/UK operations. Hearing him say the word “guilty” was a bit of a relief, Briana said.

In a written statement released after the court appearance, Strong said Vale investigated the incident that led to the miners’ deaths, and is making changes to its safety practices.

“We hope that with them pleading guilty … in the future they’ll be more conscious of mistakes and be more conscious of safety,” Briana said.

“I know that they are making changes, and they’re happy with that. But let’s continue to make those changes and be proactive instead of being reactive.”

She describes Sept. 17 as an emotional day for her family.

Briana was among the family and friends of the two miners who delivered victim impact statements before the court, describing how much she misses her brother, friend and “guardian angel.”

“It brought back so many feelings,” she said. “It almost felt like it was the day that Jordan passed away again, going through everything, and that emotional timeframe. It was difficult.”

Jordan and Briana’s mother, Wendy Fram, said she thought the victim impact statements drove home to Vale what the families are going through. “They don’t understand it, because they haven’t been in that situation,” she said.

In terms of the fine laid against Vale — an amount that’s actually precedent-setting in Ontario and perhaps Canada — Briana said she can’t say whether it was appropriate or not, as nothing would compensate her family’s loss.

When asked if the Fram family plans on suing Vale, Briana said that’s something they’ve never wanted to do. She said she’s not sure about the Chenier family, as she’s never discussed the matter with them.

It’s also possible to lay criminal charges against companies responsible for the deaths or injuries of workers under the Westray Act, but that didn’t happen in that case.

The union representing Vale miners, Steelworkers Local 6500, has spoken out against the lack of criminal charges laid in this case.

Briana said she’d like to see a judicial system that’s more familiar with mining so they can “appropriately investigate and judge cases in this situation.”

The Fram family, along with Steelworkers Local 6500 and other community supporters, has been pushing for an inquiry into mining safety in Ontario.

Wendy said if Vale is really serious about improving safety, she’d like to have their support for a mining inquiry as well. “Why wouldn’t they want to support it?” she asks.