A Labour & Employment Law Update
On September 19, 1992, during a highly charged strike, nine miners were killed when their mine car blew up underground at the Giant Mine in Yellowknife. Roger Warren, a striking miner, was subsequently convicted of their murders.
The NWT and Nunavut Workers’ Compensation Board advanced a lawsuit on behalf of the widows of the killed miners, who had received WCB benefits. That lawsuit named as defendants:
- the security company engaged by the employer during the strike to secure the mine property;
- the Government of the Northwest Territories, who had the responsibility for inspecting mines;
- the union representing the striking miners;
- the CAW, who provided support to the union, and who subsequently merged with the striking union; and,
- several individuals who were either officials of the union or who had been involved in previous explosions on the mine property during the strike.
In December, 2004, the trial decision in that action was released. In what many considered a controversial decision, the trial Court found all the above individuals were negligent, and were in some way responsible for the deaths of the nine miners. It was not surprising that the Court found Roger Warren responsible - he placed the bomb. More surprising was the Court's determination that each of these other entities owed a duty of care to prevent Roger Warren’s placing of the bomb underground in the mine. The Court also found that because the employer had been found to have failed to bargain in good faith, that failure also supported a finding of negligence. More than 10 million dollars in damages were awarded.
The employer, the security company, the government, the unions and the individual who had been involved in previous explosions all appealed that decision. Roger Warren and two others who had been union officials did not appeal. The basis of the appeal was that the trial judge made an error in finding that there was a duty of care owed by each of these entities to the striking miners.
On May 22, 2008, the Northwest Territories Court of Appeal set aside every finding of negligence against every one of the defendants who appealed.
In a very detailed decision, the Court found that none of these defendants were liable for the illegal actions of Roger Warren. None of them had any right to exercise legal control over Roger Warren. The fact that Roger Warren was an employee of the employer; when at work worked at a mine that was being protected by the security company; worked at a mine that was regulated by the government; and was a member of the union, was not enough to create a responsibility on the part of any one of these entities for Roger Warren’s illegal actions in placing the bomb.
This update is a general overview of the subject matter and cannot be regarded as legal advice. Please contact Vicki Giles at firstname.lastname@example.org, Tom Ross at email@example.com, Glenn Tait at firstname.lastname@example.org, or any member of our Labour & Employment Law Practice Group for advice on this or any other labour & employment law topic.