The families of nine miners killed in one of Canada's worst mass murders during the bitter Giant Mine 1992 labor dispute in the Northwest Territories have lost a $10 million judgment awarded to them by a lower court justice in 2004.
The Court of Appeal of the Northwest Territories ruled that Pinkerton's of Canada, the Government of the Northwest Territories, the National Automobile, Aerospace, Transportation and General Workers of Canada, and Timothy Alexander Bettger did not owe a duty of care in negligence to the surviving family members who were killed in a September 18, 1992, blast deliberately set by a striking miner.
The fallout from 18-month long strike, lockout, the killings, and one of the largest murder investigations in Royal Canadian Mounted Police History are still being debated in Canadian courts almost 16 years later. There have been two books and a television movie about the murders, which impacted the community of Yellowknife.
Years later, Roger Warren, the striking miner convicted of the murders, contends that he was forced to confess and is actually innocent. A rail car transporting replacement workers-Vern Fullowka, 36, Norm Hourie, 53, Chris Neil, 29, Joe Pandev, 55, Shane Riggs, 27, Robert Rowsell, 37, Arnold Russell, 41, Malcolm Sawler, 38, and Dave Vodnoski, 25-hit a trip wire the morning of September 18th, setting off a powerful explosion.
Warren said he intended only to frighten the replacement workers and cause those in authority to force them out of the mine, thereby preventing operations and bringing the strike closer to resolution
Eight miners' widows, Riggs' mother, and 17 children were directly impacted by the blast. Shelia Fullowka, Doreen Hourie, Tracy Neill, Judit Pandev, Ella May Carol Riggs, Doreen Vodnoski, Carlene Rowsell, Karen Russell, Bonnie and Bonnie Lou Sawler all filed suit. James O'Neil--a mine rescue team member who went into shock and suffered serious post-traumatic stress problems after investigating the blast and viewing the murder scene-- joined them.
Mining CEO Margaret Witte (now Peggy Kent, the Chairman, President and CEO of Century Mining Company) and Royal Oak Mines bought Giant in 1990 when the price of gold had dropped below the mining cost. Witte slashed costs and increased production as relationships with the mine staff and their union declined. The union complains that mine safety was being compromised in the process.
The miners had planned to strike on May 23, 1992, but Royal Oak had locked them out a day before. Royal Oak hired replacement workers and was transporting to the mine within hours. After a number of months, several union members crossed the picket line and resumed work. The RCMP provided a riot squad as Royal Oak hired Pinkerton's to provide security.
A group of miners, who called themselves the Cambodian Cowboys, would sneak onto the property at night and engage in sabotage. A planned protest on June 14 escalated into a riot.
The bitterness was so bad that Justice Arthur Lutz wrote in his 2004 decision that The son of one of the nine miners killed was told by a fellow student that he was pleased that his father had died in the blast as the latter crossed the picket line.
A strike settlement, ordered by the Northwest Territories Government, was imposed through binding arbitration in late 1993 and the tentative agreement was ratified in November 1993.
The Northwest Territories Workers' Compensation Board sued in 1994 to try to recover some money to help support the widows and their families.
In his decision, Lutz found that the union had endorsed much of the illegal sabotage engaged in by some of the striking miners. He ruled that Warren was encouraged to commit his crime by others, including union members.
He also found that Royal Oak had failed to protect the miners adequately and was negligent in keeping the mine open using replacement workers when it should have known it would lead to violence. Pinkerton's was liable for failing to take reasonable steps to keep Warren from entering the mine and planting the bomb. The Government of the Northwest Territories was found liable by Lutz because their mining inspectors should have used their powers to shut down the mine due to unsafe conditions created by strike violence.
Having found liability, the trial judge awarded $10,731,672 to the families of the dead miners and awarded O'Neil $586,736.
However, the appeals court found that two basic questions governed the case:
a) Did any of those parties who appealed the case owe a duty to take reasonable care to prevent Warren's criminal act?
b) If the answer to the first question is affirmative, was any breach of the duty owed by the appellants a cause of the respondents' damage or loss?
The appellant court allowed the appeals by Pinkerton's, GNWT, Bettger and CAW National, and dismissed actions and cross-appeals against them after these parties successfully challenged their liability.