Union calls for enforcement of criminal liability on corporations

Call comes as charges are filed in Brazil against CEO for dam collapse that killed 250

Union calls for enforcement of criminal liability on corporations
In 2019, a Vale tailings dam collapsed in Minas Gerais, Brazil and killed 250 people.

United Steelworkers has called on Canadian legal authorities to properly enforce the Criminal Code amendments providing for the criminal liability of corporations for workplace deaths and injuries.

“Canada’s provinces and territories, who are responsible for law enforcement under the Constitution, are guilty of not responding to workplace deaths with investigations and prosecutions under Criminal Code amendments that the union fought to achieve,” said Ken Neumann, USW’s national director for Canada. “Workers across Canada have been killed at a rate of about 1,000 a year, and companies have mostly evaded criminal prosecution by agreeing to pay fines. Killing workers should never be part of the cost of doing business.”

This call to the country’s provincial attorneys general and labour ministers comes in the wake of the filing of homicide charges against the former CEO of global mining firm Vale and 15 others in relation to the Brumadinho disaster in Brazil, in which over 250 workers and villagers were killed when a tailings dam owned by mining corporation Vale collapsed in January 2019.

The amendments to the Criminal Code, referred to by Neumann, are collectively known as the Westray Law. The law came into force in 2004, around 12 years after the Westray Mine explosion killed 26 workers in Nova Scotia. The Westray Law effectively imposed a legal duty on, not only individuals, but also organizations who direct the work of others. Under the amendments, such organizations and individuals must take all reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to workers.

To ensure that workers and communities alike are not endangered by corporate negligence, Neumann called for the education and training of police officers and Crown attorneys, so that they may properly apply the Westray Law. He likewise called for the “greater co-ordination and protocols among regulators, police and Crowns so that health and safety regulators are trained to reach out to police when there is a possibility that Westray amendment charges are warranted.”

Neumann said that, in light of this recent catastrophic event, workers should be reassured that the parties responsible for such disasters will be penalized accordingly. “Our federal government should ensure that multinational companies operating in Canada have records that do not include putting profit over safety and human life anywhere in the world,” Neumann said.

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