Canadian government turns blind eye to worker deaths

Tue, Jul 9, 2013


Kathleen Ruff, RightOnCanada

The Canadian government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper is very keen on law and order. It constantly proclaims that it is tough on crime and determined to send more people to prison in order to protect the security of Canadians. This, in spite of the fact that the crime rate in Canada has been steadily declining since the 1990s and, in 2011, the crime rate was at its lowest level in 39 years.

In 2011, 598 Canadians were killed in acts of homicide. Appropriately, huge police resources were assigned to investigate these deaths and charges were laid under the Criminal Code.

When it comes to the deaths of workers, however, it is a different story. The Canadian government shows supreme indifference.

In 2011, 919 workers were killed at work. Countless more died from a disease caused by their work. Virtually no police resources were assigned to investigate these deaths and NO convictions were obtained under the Criminal Code. No convictions have ever been obtained under the Criminal Code for the death of a worker. This, in spite of the fact, that many of these deaths were caused by gross, willful negligence on the part of the employer. Police rarely investigate and, when they do, the investigation is token; consequently, not a single conviction has been obtained, no matter how appalling the negligence.

Just as police investigations of the deaths of women killed in acts of domestic violence and investigations of the deaths of aboriginal people have been token and inferior to normal investigations, the same double standard is applied with regard to deaths of workers. It is not a coincidence that these are groups that lack economic and political power in Canada and are thus often targets of discrimination and abuse.

If the Canadian government supported human rights, it would ensure greater legal protection was provided to disadvantaged groups, not inferior protection.

In the province of British Columbia alone, workers died when employers refused to repair defective equipment. Agricultural workers died when they were transported to the fields in horrendously dangerous vehicles. Some employers repeatedly exposed their workers to asbestos, which is the biggest occupational killer in the province. Every year, hundreds of violations occur when contractors fail to obey the law and protect workers from exposure to cancer-causing asbestos building materials. In one case, a company was repeatedly fined for exposing workers 19 different times to asbestos fibres or putting them at risk of exposure to asbestos fibres. No criminal charges were laid.

It is a heart-breaking injustice that the lives of workers are treated as disposable. When no action is taken under the Criminal Code for the deaths of workers who have lost their lives as a result of criminal negligence, this sends a message that their lives are less valued and that this deadly abuse of workers will be allowed to continue with impunity.

The Canadian government is being dishonest when it claims that it is determined to protect the safety of Canadians. It is practicing a flagrant and callous double standard. It has demonstrated no commitment to protecting the lives of Canadian workers.

* Read here a powerful article by Tom Sandborn, labour reporter for The Tyee: Negligent Bosses Go Undercharged for Worker Deaths, Critics Say. Law intended to hold reckless management accountable is woefully unenforced



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