April 28 marked the 21st year that the United Steelworkers observed a National Day of Mourning.
The day was established to remember the victims of workplace accidents and disease, and to recognize the supreme sacrifice they have been forced to make in order to earn a living.
The day has special significance for Northern Manitoba. Former USW Local 6166 president Dick Martin was instrumental in the Canadian Labour Congress initiative to designate April 28 as the National Day of Mourning in the 1980’s. In 1991, then Churchill riding NDP MP Rod Murphy, a backbencher in opposition, introduced a private member's bill that passed and led Parliament to officially recognize April 28 as a day of mourning.
Every year, more that 1,000 Canadian workers are killed on the job, and thousands more are permanently disabled.
Hundreds of thousands of more still are injured, and thousands die of cancer, lung disease and other ailments caused by exposure to toxic substances at their workplaces.
Last year in the United Steelworkers District 3, which spans from Manitoba to British Columbia, nine steelworkers were killed on the job.
National Day of Mourning is also a day to re-dedicate to the goal of making Canada’s workplaces safer, a goal that USW Local 6166 President Murray Nychyporuk says is relevant 365 days a year job.
“It’s always the endless pursuit of safer workplaces,” said Nychyporuk at an April 27 press conference.
Murray also made note of the long-term affects of things such as cancer developed due to workplace conditions, and the coincidence of the National Day of Mourning be on the same day as the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.
“We do participate in Relay for Life,” said Nychyporuk, “we’ll be there supporting and we will have our own table set up and be involved with the walk.”
The day itself, Saturday April 28, was a somber one, attended by family members of those who have perished in mining accidents. The names of those killed in District 3 in the past year were read, including that of Thompson’s own Greg Leason at Vale last October. Leason, a T-3 miner at Vale, was seriously injured in an accident at Vale's T-3 mine Oct. 7 and medevaced via Lifeflight Air Ambulance to the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg and succumbed to his injuries and died Oct. 19 – 12 days after the accident. Leason was operating a scooptram at the 3500 level of the T-3 mine. The accident remains under investigation.
Mayor Tim Johnston spoke, and Mennonite Pastor Ted Goossen of the Christian Fellowship Centre led prayers.
National Day of Mourning was officially recognized by the federal government in 1991, since then, close to 80 countries worldwide share in commemorating the day.