Letter to the Ministers of Justice and Public Safety

February 2, 2024

Hon. Hugh Alexander Flemming
Minister and Attorney General
Department of Justice
Sent via email: hugh.flemming@gnb.ca

Hon. Kris Austin
Minister and Solicitor General
Department of Public Safety
Sent via email: kris.austin@gnb.ca

February 1, 2024

Dear Ministers Flemming and Austin,

We are approaching the 32nd anniversary of the Westray Mine disaster. This incident was the catalyst that led to the Westray Bill and subsequently changing of the Canadian Criminal Code. The Westray Bill provides a legal framework for workplace health and safety and provides for serious penalties, including criminal liability, on employers where negligence led to a workplace death.

The New Brunswick Federation of Labour (NBFL) calls on your government to ensure that the Westray Bill is being enforced. When a worker is killed on the job, it is not an accident: it is a crime.

Ministers Flemming and Austin, I call on both of you to ensure that Crown Prosecutors and law enforcement officers are educated on the provisions of the Westray Bill and are enforcing the Canadian Criminal Code. Neglectful employers must be held to account.

The labour movement watched closely the outcome of the Jason King / Springhill Construction court cases. We were shocked and surprised that the criminal charges were dropped on Springhill Construction when the Crown and defence attorney agreed to charge the company under the health and safety legislation instead. We believe that criminal charges should be followed through in this case as well as in future cases, when warranted.

Many union leaders attended the two-day sentencing hearing last fall, for Jason King, in the Burton courthouse. We were moved by the victim impact statements that were presented to the court, outlining the impact of Michael Henderson’s death; his death, resulted from employer negligence. Eighteen-year-old Michael Henderson was just starting out in his dream career in construction when he was asked by his supervisor to work inside a confined space. Due to his employer’s negligence, Michael was pinned down and drowned in that hole. His brother, also working on the same construction site, tried to pull him out to save Michael. His brother held Michael’s hand as he drowned.

Criminal charges against Springhill Construction should have been considered by the judge in this case. The fact that the company was ordered to create a $100,000 education fund will not deter other employers to willfully neglect their legal responsibilities under the Canadian Criminal Code, as happened in this case. It also does little to ensure that workers come home safely at the end of the day. Workers and their families have this expectation of coming home safe at the end of their workday.

Nothing will bring Michael Henderson back now. Workers would nonetheless take comfort in knowing that employers, who cut corners on their health and safety obligations, who focus on the speed in which the job is completed rather than on the health and safety of their workers, will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Sincerely,

Daniel Legere
President, New Brunswick Federation of Labour

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