Report Back from Burns Lake Day of Mourning
More than 300 people gathered in Burns Lake to take part in the first Day of Mourning event amid growing concern and anger that the mill explosion that claimed two lives in Burns Lake was part of a pattern and not a one-time event. Just days before the ceremony, two other sawmill workers were killed in Prince George when, in a similar situation, the Lakeland Mill exploded and burnt to the ground. Several workers remain in intensive care battling for their lives.
The hall was packed as speaker after speaker, including representatives of the families of Robert Luggi Junior and Carl Charlie, spoke to the audience. They too implored the industry to find solutions and to stop the killing of workers on the job.
“The message has to be sent that safety is a top priority men and women,” said Luggi’s daughter, Danielle Ogen. “We can’t afford to lose anymore lives like this.”
Carl Charlie’s sister, Bernie Manual, also spoke about the pain of not knowing why the explosion happened.
“There are so many unanswered questions and without knowing each day seems more and more unbearable,” she said.
Chief Wilf Adam told the crowd that the loss is still felt every day. He said the WCB investigation needs to be finished, but cautioned that it should not be done until the real answers are found.
He called for all parties to keep work places safe for everyone.
“You owe it to the families and to the workers of British Columbia,” he said.
Bob Matters, president of the United Steelworkers’ Woods Council told the audience that the Day of Mourning was to mourn those who lost their lives at work, but also to fight for the living.
“It shocks a lot of people that every single day in Canada 3 or 4 men and women do not return home from work,” he said. “It is critical we stop this. Together we need to commit that if we come back here next year we are coming to a Day of Mourning where there are no names to remember because no one else has died.”
He told the audience that the fight for the living includes using the legislation the Steelworkers spearheaded, the Westray Bill, a piece of federal legislation that allows the government to take court action against employers who are in guilty of negligence leading to the death of workers.
He told the audience the legislation took years to win after 26 miners were killed in Nova Scotia in terrible working conditions.
B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair thanked the families for speaking up for all workers injured on the job. He said the community’s commitment to each other during this crisis is an inspiration to the entire province.
The courage and urgency of the workers in Burns Lake and Prince George, who rushed into burning mills to save their co-workers, is what is necessary for all of us to demonstrate if we are to stop the on-going deaths on the jobs, he said. What we find out in every single circumstance where a worker dies on the job, it is preventable.
Also addressing the audience was Minister of Labour Margaret MacDiarmid. She repeated her commitment to work towards safer worksites and once more said that the accidents are preventable and that should be everyone’s goal.
Several workers from the audience spoke about the pain they are all feeling and their anger at the fact another mill has exploded, two more are dead and until this explosion, there was no work done to clean up the dust in the mills across the province.
Following the meeting, the audience gathered together to eat lunch provided by Steelworkers Local 7619, the local representing the Highland Valley Copper miners in Kamloops. The local has a mobile kitchen they use to support community events. They drove up from Kamloops and cooked a meal for 300 people. The members who run kitchen are all volunteers.
Now, as the community continues to grieve their losses and wait for the WCB report, they also wait for word whether the mill, which is the largest employer in the community, will be rebuilt or not. Presently they are dealing with issues surrounding timber supply.