The Northwest Territories Supreme Court recently awarded $10.7 million in damages to the surviving family members of nine strike replacement miners who were killed when the Giant Mine near Yellowknife, Northwest Territories was bombed in 1992 during a violent labour dispute.
In a 419 page judgment, the Court assessed the damages suffered by the plaintiffs as a result of the miners’ wrongful deaths, and apportioned the damages among various defendants.
Warren, the striking employee who planted the bomb and was subsequently convicted of nine counts of second degree murder, was found guilty of negligence. The Court held him 26% responsible for the damages resulting from the explosion.
As owner of Giant Mine, Royal Oak Ventures Inc., formerly Royal Oak Mines Inc., (“Royal Oak”) was found to be 23% responsible for the damages. The Court found Royal Oak had breached the duty of care it owed the miners by not keeping the mine secure from trespassers, by failing to warn the replacement miners that the mine was not reasonably secure, and by not bargaining in good faith with the union. The Court stated that a reasonable person would have foreseen the possibility of death occurring given the tumultuous and bitter labour situation.
The Canadian Auto Workers (“CAW”), although not the official representative of the striking employees, was found to have “beneficially absorbed” the striking Canadian Association of Smelter and Allied Workers (“CASAW”) by contributing money and personnel. CAW was found to have breached its duty of care and was held 22% responsible for the deaths. The Court found that harm to those employed by Royal Oak to maintain production was foreseeable since there was an intense hatred by the union and its members towards line-crossers and replacement workers. Further, criminal activity, including severe acts of violence and vandalism targeted at those invited to be at the Giant Mine, had increased throughout the dispute. The Court also noted that CAW paid fines and legal fees of some striking miners, provided resources to prolong the strike, and had failed to bargain in good faith. As a result, the Court concluded that CAW had incited or failed to control the union membership, thus placing the well-being of those at the Giant Mine at risk.
Pinkerton’s Security, the company hired by Royal Oak to provide security at the worksite, was found to be 15% responsible for the deaths. It breached its duty to keep the Giant Mine secure.
The Government of the Northwest Territories was found 9% responsible for the damages by failing to enforce mine safety legislation.
Two executive members of CASAW were found each to be 2% responsible for damages. They breached their duty of care by inciting and carrying out criminal activities, thereby fuelling increasingly severe acts of violence and vandalism by union members, which ultimately culminated in Warren’s bombing of the mine.
Finally, another striking employee who caused explosions at the Giant Mine prior to the fatal blast, and who had participated in other criminal acts, was found to be 1% responsible for damages. The Court found his acts materially contributed to the deaths of the nine miners.
This decision illustrates that liability for negligence during a labour dispute may be found where:
- an employer carries on operating and fails to ensure that the workplace is safe;
- a union, its executive, or its members incite or carry out criminal activities;
- a company hired to provide security fails to ensure the safety of those on the employer’s premise; or
- an employer or a union does not bargain in good faith.
In the event this significant decision is appealed, a summary of the Northwest Territories Court of Appeal judgment will appear on this site.