The company is facing nine charges with potential fines of $500,000 for each charge. An unnamed supervisor faces six charges, for which he could receive a maximum penalty of $150,000 in fines and six years in prison if convicted.
The company is accused of failure to ensure worksites at the mine were “free from accumulation or flows of water which might endanger workers in the area” for allowing work to proceed under hazardous conditions, among other charges.
United Steelworkers Local 6500, which represents Vale miners and smelter workers in the Sudbury area, conducted its own investigation of the deaths and released a report Feb. 29 calling for criminal charges against the company.
“We believe the charges against Vale are warranted,” said Rick Bertrand, president of Local 6500, in a May 31 USW media statement. “However, these charges against Vale fall far short of the urgent, comprehensive action that is needed to better protect workers and ensure justice for families whose loved ones are needlessly killed on the job.”
Vale released a statement the following day: “We need to consider the charges very carefully before we determine how we will proceed. Until that time, and as this is now before the court system, we will not be commenting further on the matter. … Our own investigation concluded that there were a number of factors contributing to the tragic deaths of Jason and Jordan. As a result, a plan of action, including more than 30 recommendations, is being implemented to put control measures in place to address the contributing factors identified through our investigation.”
“From what I’m told there are still a lot of water issues there four months after Vale reopened the mine and they are running muck through it,” Paul Theriault, who works at Vale’s smelter in Sudbury, told the Militant. “Not much has changed. About 25 years ago that kind of problem was fixed at the Creighton Mine. They have to spend money to save lives and they won’t do it.”
“I’d like to see the supervisor do maximum time so it sets a precedent that they can’t get away with it,” commented Tim Levesque, who works at Vale’s Coleman Mine.
In 2004 the criminal code was amended so that corporations and their executives and managers could be held criminally responsible for putting workers’ lives in danger. Ken Neumann, national director for Canada of the USW, told CBC News that since then “despite 8,000 deaths, not a single executive, director or manager has been jailed.”
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