Work That Kills

by GLORIA BERGEN

Canadian ship yard workers Sean Ironside, Dave Rowley, Kenneth Priddle, and Krzysztof Rosicki will not be joining the millions of workers in the February 15 War Resistence demonstrations. Neither will loading dockworker William Colbert, or roughneck Aaron Toms, nor truck operator Mike Enman. But, do not blame them for not attending this global outpouring of humanity seeking justice and peace–the fault is not theirs–they are dead. Killed on the job–victims of a capitalist system that puts profit before human life.

With the numbers of Canadians that die in occupational accidents and occupational related illnesses can be estimated at more than 11,000 per year, and with the International Labour Organization’s estimation in 1999 that annual global occupational related deaths are 1.1 million, it would not take a huge leap of faith to call these deaths for what they are: class-genocide.

Globally, work-related deaths outnumber deaths from traffic accidents, war, violence, or HIV / AIDS. And these numbers do not even begin to touch upon the issue of the deaths of working class children and fetuses exposed to carcinogens, teratogens, mutagens, explosives, corrosives, toxins and environmental poisons.

If it weren’t enough for the Ontario ruling class to stop releasing reports on occupational injuries and illnesses during our last Labour Government, the Conservatives have now come up with a new way to impede investigations into environmental health and safety accidents and deaths in the workplace.

A legal precedant was set in June 2001 that can severely restrict regulatory inspectors’ statutory powers to investigate contraventions of environmental and health and safety legislation.

Up until this date, the regulatory powers of inspectors has included the right to go to a workplace after an accident, access the property, interview witnesses, take measurements, and seize items and documents that could be used as evidence.

Then, there was an environmental accident at Inco Limited, one of the world’s largest mining and metals companies and the world’s second largest producer of nickel. It appears that a quantity of wastes was discharged from the company and the enforcement officers went in.

Against the objections of corporate lawyers, inspectors conducted interviews, asked for documents relating to the discharges, and requested copies of Inco’s own sampling analysis and shut-down operating procedures. With this data in hand, Inco was subsequently charged with offenses under the Ontario Water Resources Act (OWRA).

Yet what was really on trial was not INCO’s breach of the OWRA and potential harm to the environment, but the powers of inspectors as outlined in the legislation that is almost identical in scope and wording to the powers of inspection found in Canadian provincial and federal oh&s legislation.

The case was appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal, which determined that inspectors cannot use their statutory investigation powers to investigate the commission of an offence. The court determined that If an officer has a reasonable belief that there has been a contravention of a regulatory statute, and aims to gather information that can be used in a prosecution, then a search warrant must be obtained. To do otherwise is to violate a corporation’s right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, under s.8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedom.

But what of the rights of Sean Ironside, Dave Rowley, Kenneth Priddle, and Krzysztof Rosicki? What of the rights of the families of William Colbert, Aaron Toms, or Mike Enman? Who will assure them that their deaths will be investigated fully and without prejudice? What department of the state will assure families of workers killed on the job that any evidence that may be held by the companies on whose property they died will not be destroyed, or tampered with prior to the receipt of a search warrant and consequent investigation?

All workers across Canada must show solidarity on February 15 to demonstrate for peace–for justice–and for the end of working class genocide and cover-ups by corporations and their friends in power.

GLORIA BERGEN is an environmental health and safety writer and presenter living in Toronto, Ontario. She can be reached at bergengloria@hotmail.com

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