rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Workplace deaths in Canada are a national disgrace

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

April 28 is the National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job. This is the first of a two-part series.

Every time a police officer is killed on the job, it makes front page news. The funeral is attended by law enforcement officers from across the country. The bravery of the slain officer is extolled in newspaper editorials, and condolences for the family flood in from government and business leaders.

These tributes are well-deserved. The police protect us from criminals. It is only fitting that, when one of them is killed in our service, they should be publicly acclaimed and their sacrifice recognized. We want their slayers to be severely punished.

The same outpouring of respect and sympathy, however, is not accorded the thousand or more Canadian workers who are killed every year while at work. Their lives are not considered as precious, nor their services as vital, as those of the police, so their deaths go unnoticed by all but their families, friends and co-workers. There is no public outcry that those responsible for their deaths be arrested, charged, and sentenced to prison terms.

On the contrary, because these fatalities occur in Canada's offices and factories, mines and forests, they are shrugged off as a regrettable but unavoidable cost of doing business. If anyone is blamed, it is often the victims themselves, because they were allegedly "careless" or "reckless." Rarely are their high-salaried bosses ever held accountable, much less the owners and big shareholders in their secluded mansions.

Most Canadians remain unaware that a workplace death or injury is a criminal offence if it is caused by managerial dereliction. And indeed most such "accidents" are attributable to unsafe working conditions, faulty equipment or practices, or to a lack of training.

Approximately 1,000 Canadians are killed on the job every year, and approximately another million injured. To assume, as many do, that the managers and chief executives are completely blameless is absurd and insupportable. When "accidents" occur that are clearly due to managerial nonfeasance, the employer should be held legally accountable -- and there is a law that says so.

Bill C-45

The law that imposes a responsibility on senior corporate officers to protect their employees from bodily harm was passed in Parliament in 2004. It took the form of an amendment to the federal Criminal Code, and it won the unanimous support of MPs of all the political parties.

Bill C-45 became law after years of lobbying by unions and the families of the 26 miners killed in 1992 in the Westray mine disaster in Stellarton, Nova Scotia. They died from an explosion ignited by the leakage of deadly methane gas that the mining company had failed to control. A subsequent inquiry found the company culpable, and urged that such unpardonable corporate malfeasance be criminalized, as it was 12 years later.

Unfortunately, despite this legislative achievement, avoidable workplace deaths continue unabated. Another thousand or so Canadians have continued to be killed on the job and another million injured in each of the 13 years that have elapsed since Bill C-45 was passed. Many of these incidents have been investigated by the provincial Departments of Labour, but rarely by the police. No prison terms have been decreed. Occasionally fines have been imposed, but not nearly heavy enough to deter further fatal safety violations.

In short, an employer whose failure to keep workers from harm results in their death is still being treated as a safety shirker, not as a criminal. It's as if Bill C-45 were never enacted. As with any other law, its effectiveness depends on its enforcement, which in this case is abysmally lacking.

Unrecorded, uncounted deaths not included

The approximate annual 1,000 workplace fatality statistics, though shocking on their own, cover only deaths reported by provincial Workers' Compensation Boards. The deaths of workers in occupations not covered by WCBs are not included. For example, in a recent year, 22 workers were killed on farms in Alberta, but, since they didn’t come under WCB jurisdiction, their deaths went unrecorded.

Then there are the uncounted deaths and disabilities caused by exposure to toxic substances in the workplace. The long, lingering deaths suffered by coal miners from inhaling coal dust ("black-lung disease") and by workers in asbestos mines and factories (mesothelioma) are well known. But the long-term effects of exposure to other deadly metals and chemicals are difficult to trace conclusively to the victims’ occupations, so their employers can usually escape blame.

Dr. Allen Kraut, a specialist in internal medicine in Winnipeg, has estimated that at least 3,000 and possibly as many as 6,000 Canadians die each year from diseases incurred on the job.

To put it mildly, the lack of safety in Canada’s workplaces is a national -- and international -- disgrace.

Ed Finn was Senior Editor at the CCPA and editor of the CCPA Monitor from 1994-2014. Formerly, as a journalist, he worked at The Montreal Gazette and for 14 years wrote a column on labour relations for The Toronto Star. He also served for three decades as a communications officer for several labour organizations, including the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

Image: Flickr/OFL

Please chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.