Our community is one that was built over generations on the backs of hard working women and men. We have a proud tradition of industry here in Pictou County, which of course includes a lengthy history in mining.
25 years ago today, this industrial legacy, and the community as a whole, suffered a blow so severe that it will never be forgotten. It is hard to contemplate how small my words must seem to the families that lost loved ones that day. For what it is worth, you continue to have my condolences, and those of the Government of Canada.
I was just seven years old when the Westray Mine exploded, but, like many members of our community, the memory sticks with me as though it were yesterday.
I remember sitting in Mrs. Williams class at Frank H. MacDonald Elementary in the days following the disaster, learning what had taken place. We spent days together in school watching the tragedy unfold and hoping the draegermen would find the miners alive underground.
Of course, our hopes would soon fade, as we learned the fate and unimaginable loss of the 26 husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, and community members that would never make it home.
I cannot begin to comprehend the sense of emptiness each of the affected families experienced after this unspeakable loss.
Our entire community came to learn in the most painful possible way that the most important thing to ever come out of a mine are the miners working beneath the surface.
The 25th anniversary of the Westray disaster provides us with an opportunity to honour those who are no longer with us and to commit ourselves to the cause of workplace safety to ensure no other community across Canada suffers the same fate.
The lasting impact of this tragedy continues to extend beyond our community, and has, over time, contributed in a positive way to changes in the Canadian workforce.
After the tragedy, advocates for workplace safety and family members of those who lost their lives lobbied for policy changes that would hold those responsible for tragedies of this nature accountable for their actions or negligence.
Since 2004, the Criminal Code of Canada has included the “Westray Law” which imposes legal duties for workplace health and safety, and imposes serious penalties for violations that result in injuries and death.
But we know that more can be done. Last month, on the National Day of Mourning for Canadians killed in the workplace, our Minister of Labour, Patty Hajdu, commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Westray Explosion with a commitment to do more to ensure the law is applied effectively.
Our government has committed to working with unions, provincial and territorial partners, and employers to raise awareness of the need for workplace safety. Specifically, we will work with partners to raise awareness among prosecutors and law enforcement officers so that they can make informed decisions about which laws should be applied when there are workplace injuries or fatalities.
We will ensure that Health and Safety officers are trained to understand the Westray Law, and will take necessary steps to inform the relevant legal authorities where it is warranted following a serious workplace incident.
Most recently, our government announced new changes to the Canada Labour Code that create stronger incentives for employers to comply with occupational health and safety rules.
On behalf of the Government of Canada, and the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, Patty Hadju, I wish to express my sincere gratitude to the United Steel Workers Union, our municipal partners, the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour and others who work to ensure that these lives were not lost in vain, and that the memory and names of each of the 26 miners are honoured.
Please know, that as long as I have the honour to serve as your Member of Parliament, I will remember Westray and you will have an advocate for workplace safety in Ottawa. Our community deserves nothing less.
To the families who continue to live without their loved ones that were lost in the mine 25 years ago today – Their Light Shall Always Shine.
The Westray victims:
- John Thomas Bates, 56
- Larry Arthur Bell, 25
- Bennie Joseph Benoit, 42
- Wayne Michael Conway, 38
- Ferris Todd Dewan, 35
- Adonis J. Dollimont ,36
- Robert Steven Doyle, 22
- Remi Joseph Drolet , 38
- Roy Edward Feltmate, 33
- Charles Robert Fraser ,29
- Myles Danial Gillis, 32
- John Philip Halloran, 33
- Randolph Brian House,27
- Trevor Martian Jahn, 36
- Laurence Elwyn James, 34
- Eugene W. Johnson, 33
- Stephen Paul Lilley, 40
- Micheal Frederick MacKay ,38
- Angus Joseph MacNeil, 39
- Glenn David Martin, 35
- Harry Alliston McCallum, 41
- Eric Earl McIsaac, 38
- George James Munroe, 38
- Danny James Poplar, 39
- Romeo Andrew Short, 35
- Peter Francis Vickers, 38