Supreme Court of Canada Giant Mine Decision18-Feb-10
On February 18, 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada released its much anticipated decision on the lawsuit coming out of the Giant Mine explosion in 1992. The decision will be of great interest to employers who choose to carry on business during a labour dispute.
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 Northwest Territories (NWT) and Nunavut Workers' Compensation Board (now the Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC)) advanced a lawsuit on behalf of the widows of the killed miners against a number of parties, including Roger Warren, the employer, the union representing the striking miners, NWT Government regulators, and the security company engaged by the employer during the strike to secure the mine property.
In December 2004, the trial judge issued a controversial decision finding that all of the above individuals were in some way negligent and responsible for the deaths of the nine miners. More than 10 million dollars in damages were awarded.
Many of the defendants appealed and in May 2008 the Northwest Territories Court of Appeal set aside the findings of negligence against the employer, the union, NWT Government and the security company. The Court of Appeal found that none of these parties owed a duty of care to prevent the criminal acts of Roger Warren.
The WSCC appealed to the Supreme Court. Before the appeal was heard, the employer settled with the WSCC. As a result, the Supreme Court did not rule on the employer's liability.
The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the Court of Appeal decision. Although it differed from the Court of Appeal in finding the security company and the Government owed a duty of care to the miners who were killed, it also found in this case neither breached that duty of care.
With respect to the unions, the Supreme Court found that the local union was separate from the national union, and, in the circumstances, the national union could not be held responsible for the actions of the striking miners, including Warren. Although unions may be liable for the actions of their members, the Supreme Court found that absent incitement or other tortious conduct by a representative of the union within the scope of his employment, or a decision to conduct business in a tortious way, liability does not arise.
This decision brings to an end one of the longest, and most expensive legal actions in the Northwest Territories. The Supreme Court's findings, though not specifically addressing the employer's liability to the replacement workers who were killed, will nevertheless effect employers who choose to carry on operations during a work disruption. Employers would be well advised to be sure that they have taken appropriate steps to ensure the safety of their workers in these situations.