No More Westrays

Five Years Later, Questions Still
Unanswered, Families Still Grieving

No More Westrays

Five Years Later, Questions Still
Unanswered, Families Still Grieving

United Steelworkers of America

27 August 1997

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In an article in the Financial Post, ultra-conservative columnist Diane Francis criticized the CBC for its "overkill coverage of a relatively insignificant inquiry – into the Westray Mines tragedy."

Francis also went on to describe the inquiry as a "nationally-inconsequential" event.

To the families of the 26 men whose 1992 deaths remain as vivid as the early-morning explosion that rocked Plymouth, Nova Scotia, the inquiry is anything but insignificant and inconsequential. It has yet to provide the families with what they are seeking through the inquiry process and the courts – some kind of closure, someone to take responsibility for this single, catastrophic event.

Instead, efforts by the public inquiry to hear testimony from two former Westray executives have been met with refusal by the men – former Westray owner Clifford Frame and mine supervisor Marvin Pelley. At press time, a judge had reserved decision on whether Frame and Pelley would have to testify. He said it was "inappropriate" to argue that their rights would be violated.

"What we are dealing with is the deaths of 26 men," said Justice Joseph Sheard. "That could be described as an infringement of liberty, too."

Arguments, delays and procedural dilemmas have left a wound that refuses to heal, despite some improvements to the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act and changes to staff and procedures in the Nova Scotia Department of Labour.


"Five lousy years" says a sign posted outside the gates of the abandoned minesite where a ceremony this year marked the deadly anniversary. The sign sat among little wooden markers bearing the names of all 26 men, many of whose bodies were never recovered in the daring rescue that followed the explosion. A few kilometres away, above-ground over the collapsed tunnels that still entomb 11 of them, the names of all 26 are etched on a permanent monument.

The victims came from across Canada to Pictou County, encouraged by the promise of 15 years of steady work. Along with local men, they worked the mine that was plagued by safety problems and political indifference to the dangers that lurked underground.

Nova Scotia journalist Dean Jobb has followed the tragedy and its lengthy aftermath, including the continuing involvement of the Steelworkers since the organizing campaign that was ongoing at the time of the explosion. Jobb's reports have helped bring public attention to the role of governments and the Westray owners in the events that led up to May, 1992.


Andy King, the Steelworkers' Health, Safety and Environment Director, told people who gathered for this year's candlelight memorial that in fact little has changed in five years.

"Thirty eight people have died in underground workplace accidents since Westray," King said. "Nobody goes to work to die. For that reason, Westray remains the strongest evidence for the need for justice, not just here, but in every workplace across this country."

The Supreme Court released its decision to reconvene the Westray trial, which was stayed in 1995 because of the prosecution's failure to disclose evidence to the defence. Gerald Phillips, mine general manager, and Roger Parry, underground manager, face charges of manslaughter and criminal negligence in the miners' deaths.

Phillips and Parry were the only mine officials ever charged. Curragh Resources, parent company of the mine, no longer exists as a corporate entity.

The new trial isn't expected to get to court before 1998.

Go To:   Westray Scrapbook Fifty clippings about the Westray coal mine disaster
Go to:   Main Westray Coal Mine Disaster page
Go to:   Westray Public Inquiry online transcript of testimony
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