Day of Mourning marks 25th year

April 28, 2009 is the 25th anniversary of the National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured as a result of their workplace.

Since the day was founded, it is estimated that 20,000 workers have died on the job in Canada. That’s a sum about equal to the population of many average Canadian small towns.

Recent CUPE fatalities:

Since the last Day of Mourning, the following CUPE members have died at work:

  • Patrick (Ollie) O’Rourke, 62 years of age, CUPE Local 7000, Delta, B.C. died as a result of a workplace fall from a height. He fell on February 8, 2008, and died on September 9, 2008. He was in a coma for the entire time and never regained consciousness.
  • Nicole De Lafontaine Demontigny, 56 years of age, section locale 930 du SCFP, Verdun, QC died after being struck by a car as she was working. She died on November 28, 2008.
  • Martin McEwen, 56 years of age, CUPE Local 407, Vancouver School Board, died on January 16, 2009. He had suffered a fall and broken hip on January 9.
  • James Robert “Jamie” Vecchio, 34 years old, CUPE Local 3, City of Sault St. Marie, ON was fatally crushed by a crane.

April 28 is part of CUPE’s history:

The Day of Mourning was based on a resolution written by CUPE’s National Health and Safety Committee. The committee recommended the creation of a remembrance day for workers killed or injured on the job in 1984. In the same year, the Canadian Labour Congress and affiliated unions quickly adopted the day across Canada.

In 1991, the federal government passed the Workers Mourning Day Act. It is a brief piece of legislation, the crux of which reads: “Throughout Canada, in each and every year, the 28th day of April shall be known under the name of Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace.”

CUPE proposed and adopted the canary in a cage as the internationally recognized symbol for the Day of Mourning. In the 19th century, miners would take a caged canary into the mines with them. Canaries are more sensitive to air-borne hazards and the absence of oxygen in the air than people. If the canaries were overcome by hazards, it was a sign to evacuate the mine, fast.

Relevant statistics:

  • In 2007, the most recent year for which we have complete figures, a total of 1,055 workers were killed on the job or from work-related causes. This is an increase from 976 in 2006.
  • On average, three Canadian workers are killed each day in the peaceful pursuit of a living. That’s according to conservative estimates calculated by provincial and territorial Workplace Compensation Boards. In a typical year, there are 1,000 workers killed, one million workplace injuries, and thousands of workers made sick or diseased by their work.