Widows Giant Mine disaster claim denied

Elliott Special Risks LP has provided this sad conclusion to the court case made by the widows of the Giant Mine.

The Supreme Court of Canada has sided with the Northwest Territories Court of Appeal in overturning a lower court award of $10.7 million to the families of nine miners murdered in 1992. In May of 1992, a strike began at the Giant Mine near Yellowknife, N.W.T. The gold mine's owner, Royal Oak Mines, decided to continue operating and hired replacement workers.

The strike rapidly degenerated into violence, so Royal Oak hired Pinkerton’s for security services. In mid-June, strikers rioted, damaging property and injuring security guards as well as replacement workers. Royal Oak fired about 40 strikers and the police laid criminal charges.

Later in June, three strikers entered the mine, stole explosives and painted graffiti threatening replacement workers. In late July, strikers set an explosion that blew a hole in a satellite dish on mine property. In early September, strikers set a second explosion that damaged the mine's ventilation shaft plant.

On September 18, fired miner Roger Warren evaded security, entered the mine and planted an explosive device underground. When a man-car triggered the trip wire, the nine miners in the car were all killed in the explosion. In 1995, Warren was convicted on nine counts of second-degree murder and is serving a life sentence.

The miners' survivors sued Royal Oak Mines, Pinkerton's of Canada Limited and the territorial government for negligently failing to prevent the murders. They also claimed against members of the Canadian Association of Smelter and Allied Workers (CASAW) Local 4, the national union and some union officials for failing to control Warren and for inciting him. In 2004, Justice Arthur Lutz of the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories ruled that the negligence of the defendants inflamed the situation and failed to prevent the disaster. He awarded $10.7 million, plus interest and GST, to the families.

In 2008, the Court of Appeal for the Northwest Territories reversed Lutz’s judgment, saying that he had erred in three key areas:

  • Finding that Pinkerton’s and the government owed a duty of care in negligence to the appellants
  • Applying the wrong legal test for determining whether the wrongful acts caused the miners' deaths
  • Finding a national union vicariously liable for the acts of members of a local and finding that it had incited Mr. Warren's murderous acts.

The miners' families appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, but their appeal was dismissed in February of 2010.

"Although I would find that the security firm and the government owed a duty of care, my view is that the trial judge erred when he found that they had breached that duty," said the Honourable Mr. Justice Thomas Albert Cromwell, writing for the top court. "With respect to the claims against the union, union officers and members, I agree with the Court of Appeal that the trial judge's findings of liability cannot be sustained."

The ruling brings to an end the long, bitter legal legacy of the strike, which remains the bloodiest chapter in Canadian labour history. To read the complete decision, go to http://scc.lexum.umontreal.ca/en/2010/2010scc5/2010scc5.html.