Supreme Court quashes $10.7 million award in Giant Mine bombing

Top court agrees with appeal court that mine owners, security firm and union weren’t liable for striking worker’s planting of bomb that killed nine miners

The widows of nine miners killed by a bomb set by a striking worker won’t be getting the more than $10 million from the mine owners and the security firm awarded by a Northwest Territories court.

On Sept. 18, 1992, Roger Warren, a miner on strike at the Giant Mine gold mine near Yellowknife, N.W.T., snuck into the mine and planted a bomb that killed nine replacement and contract miners. Warren was convicted of nine counts of second-degree murder and the territory’s Worker’s Compensation Board filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the miner’s families.

In 2004, the Northwest Territories Supreme Court ruled the security company, Pinkerton’s of Canada, the Northwest Territories government and the miners’ union had failed to take the proper steps to ensure the safety of the miners and shared liability for their deaths with the mine owner, Royal Oak Ventures, whose use of replacement workers opened the door to violence in the bitter labour dispute. The court awarded $10.7 million to the miners’ families. Pinkerton’s, the territorial government and the union appealed the decision.

The Northwest Territories Court of Appeal struck down the award, finding although the various parties were negligent in handling safety at the mine during the strike, their negligence did not contribute to the miners’ deaths. The deaths were the result of the single, independent action of Warren, the Court of Appeal said, which was extreme and unforeseeable.

The families took their case to the Supreme Court of Canada but had no more success there. Canada’s top court unanimously upheld the appeal court’s decision quashing the award. The court agreed Pinkerton’s and the mine owners owed a duty of care to the workers, particularly during the bitter strike, but found they had met that duty and could not have taken further steps to stop Warren from following through with his actions.

The court also found the national union could not be held liable for actions committed by an individual member during a strike.

“It was an odd case at the outset because we always knew who killed these miners,” Peter Gibson, the territorial government’s lawyer, told the CBC. “The proposition that somebody else could have and should have stopped him was a difficult one.”

It was no comfort to the deceased miners' families, however, who won’t be getting any damages but will have their legal expenses covered by the Northwest Territories Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission, who directed the lawsuit.

Though the commission was “disappointed” and many of the miners’ widows were “devastated,” CEO Anne Clark told the CBC she hoped the end of years of legal uncertainty would provide some comfort to them.

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