BEAUCEVILLE, Que. – The United Steelworkers union (USW) welcomes the decision of Quebec’s Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions to pursue criminal charges related to the Sept. 20, 2021, explosion at the Bois ouvré Beauceville wood-processing facility that killed three workers.
“Our thoughts are with the families of the victims, as this decision must certainly be stirring up deep emotions,” said François Cardinal, a staff representative of the Steelworkers union, which represents workers at Bois ouvré Beauceville.
“This prosecution will not bring back the three deceased workers, but it nevertheless brings hope that we will get to the bottom of what happened so that such tragedies are avoided in the future,” Cardinal said.
On the morning of Sept. 20, 2021, Mario Morin, Jean Lachance and Martin Roy tried to extinguish a fire that broke out while work was being done on the facility’s roof. An explosion occurred, taking their lives and injuring five other workers. Beauceville is located approximately 85 kilometres south of Quebec City.
Every one who undertakes, or has the authority, to direct how another person does work or performs a task is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person, or any other person, arising from that work or task.
Quebec’s Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions has launched criminal negligence proceedings under section 217.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada, also known as the Westray Law, which imposes a legal duty on employers regarding the safety of workers. The law requires all organizations and individuals who undertake or have the authority to direct how others work or perform a task, to take all reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to the person performing the work or task, and to any other person.
The Westray Law was enacted in 2004, after more than a decade of lobbying that was led by the United Steelworkers, in the aftermath of the 1992 Westray Mine explosion in Nova Scotia that killed 26 miners.
“While the Westray Act allows employers to be prosecuted for criminal negligence, it has been very rarely invoked. Unfortunately, the authorities do not always investigate workplace incidents through a criminal lens,” noted Dominic Lemieux, United Steelworkers Quebec Director.
“We salute the rigour of the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions of Quebec in this case and we hope this will open the door to a systematic analysis of cases based on the Westray Law, when the circumstances lend themselves to it,” Lemieux said.
“Too many employers across our country are not held accountable for practices and negligence that result in workers being killed or injured on the job,” said Marty Warren, USW National Director for Canada.
“We welcome these criminal proceedings and we will continue to advocate and campaign across the country to demand greater enforcement of the Westray Law and other Criminal Code provisions intended to hold employers accountable and to prevent workplace deaths and injuries,” Warren said.
The USW leads a national campaign, Stop the Killing, Enforce the Law, which calls on governments at all levels to ensure greater training, direction and co-ordination among workplace safety and law enforcement authorities to ensure greater enforcement of the law. The campaign has support from municipalities across the country, law enforcement officials and professional associations.
For more information on USW’s campaign, see www.usw.ca/stopthekilling.
The USW represents 225,000 members in nearly every economic sector across Canada and is the largest private-sector union in North America, with 850,000 members in Canada, the United States and the Caribbean.
Each year, thousands of workers choose to join the USW because of our strong track record in creating healthier, safer and more respectful workplaces and negotiating better working conditions and fairer compensation – including good wages, benefits and pensions.
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