NOT ALL INDUSTRIES TREATED EQUALLY UNDER THE LAW The BC NDP’s environment critic has called for end to the double standard that sees safety violations in British Columbia’s mines treated differently than those in other industries.
That double standard has meant that, over the past 10 years, there hasn’t been a single fine issued under the Mines Act – the law that’s supposed to keep mines safe and healthy.
By comparison, between 2003 and 2013, the agency responsible for enforcing the worker safety law covering industries other than mining in British Columbia levied penalties totalling more than $31 million.
That agency, WorkSafeBC, also publishes a list of which companies received those penalties – a dramatic contrast with the lack of disclosure about health, safety and environmental violations at the province’s mines.
In an email, a ministry of energy and mines spokesperson explained the province’s mining inspectors don’t have the power to levy a fine without going through the legal system, requiring “prosecution by Crown Counsel and conviction by the court.” That’s a process WorkSafeBC doesn’t have to go through to levy its administrative penalties.
But mining inspectors who see a violation of the Mines Act can order the company to fix that problem. If that dictate is ignored, the inspector can order work stopped or the mine closed.
A 1997 research report prepared for the government stated Canada’s “mining fraternity” believed fines can damage the relationship between inspectors and companies, as well as management and employees.
By contrast, the “mining fraternity” believed that “cooperation in the workplace produces a safer working environment.” Indeed, according to the ministry spokesperson, “Today, mining is one of B.C.’s safest heavy industries.”
But it’s more dangerous than the petroleum industry, for example. In 2012, mining had an injury rate of 1.12 per 100-person years of employment, according to WorkSafeBC. By comparison, that rate was 0.8 in oil and gas.
When I told BC NDP environment critic Spencer Chandra Herbert about the difference between how worker safety is enforced in the mining industry versus most other industries in British Columbia, he said, “Surely there are violations that the companies should have to pay for if they break the rules, if they pollute, if they put workers at risk, if they put communities at risk.”
“They have to pay a price because, otherwise, what’s the penalty? A slap on the wrist, a nice gentle letter urging them to try next time not to harm people or harm the environment?”
That’s why, according to Chandra Herbert, “The government should have to explain why the mining industry should not face fines when they break the law or break the rules under the Mines Act. Because I don’t think anybody can believe all of sudden that everyone was perfect, that nobody broke the rules anymore.”
The BC Federation of Labour, which represents the province’s union movement, did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
LET MY CIVIL SERVANTS GO! The Halifax-based Centre for Law and Democracy has recommended Ottawa allow federal government employees “to speak honestly and openly with the public” – a position shared by the Canadian Association of Journalists.
The centre made that recommendation as part of its submission to the consultation process for the Harper administration’s second open government action plan.
According to the centre, “citizens should be presented with information which is accurate, complete and unfiltered, especial [sic] from subject experts [in the civil service]. Efforts to control or otherwise manage the message that the public receives seriously undermines this.”
You can read all of the centre’s recommendations here.
MORE HANDS ON CABINET SECRECY STAMP The Canadian Press has reported that the federal government has made it easier for its departments to classify records as cabinet secrets – protecting them from access to information requests.
In the past, that decision had to be made by the Privy Council.
But now, thanks to what the Canadian Press described as a “stealthy Treasury Board directive in the summer of 2013,” that responsibility rests with individual departmental lawyers.
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