The $1,050,000 fine imposed by the courts on Vale last week in the 2011 deaths of two miners should be directed to their families, said Steelworkers Local 6500 president Rick Bertrand.
Vale will be paying the fine to the City of Greater Sudbury. That’s because the company was charged and pleaded guilty to three offences under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which are tried in Provincial Offences Court.
Provincial offences were downloaded to the city in 2001, and as such, any fines meted out by the courts are paid to the city.
Jason Chenier, 35, and Jordan Fram, 26, were killed June 8, 2011 after they were buried by an uncontrolled released of muck, sand and water from an ore pass at the 3,000-foot level.
“With the $1 million that’s going to be coming to the city, the first thing that goes through my mind is that the families should be compensated somehow,” said Bertrand, whose union represents Vale miners.
“When they think about the young kids that Mrs. Chenier has, maybe it should go towards them or their education.”
In the wake of the miners’ tragic deaths, Local 6500 and a community committee called Mining Inquiry Needs Everyone’s Support (MINES) have been pushing for a full inquiry into mining safety in Ontario. The province wants to hold a less-extensive review.
Bertrand said he’d also like to see some of the fine money put towards the administrative costs of a mining probe.
“I also think that would be another good area that the money could be spent on,” he said.
But Ward 11 Coun. Terry Kett, who is the city’s budget chief, said while the Vale fine might sound like a lot for the municipality, it’s not as big a windfall as people might think.
Last year, the city took in about $2.3 million in provincial offences fines, but that was actually about $350,000 less than it spent administering the court, he said.
So if the same situation arises this year, “then again we could have the same problem,” Kett said. “So although it’s $1 million, in actuality, it’s like saying it’s $650,000, just getting us back to revenue neutrality.”
He said it’s up to city council what will happen to the Vale fine money in the end. Kett said he thinks the money should be put into the city’s reserves while officials figure out what to do with it.
“If we find something that’s good for our citizens, and that would be positive, and we could use it that way to honour our guys that we lost, that would be great,” he said.
“I don’t think it should be something you should rush into. I think we should quietly look into what we might do.”
Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume said his “heart says” that at least some of the fine money should go to the victims’ families.
“I’m just wondering what we’d be allowed to do,” Berthiaume said. “I’m not sure if we could do this or not. I would like to have the opinion of staff about what could be done.”
He said he’s also not sure what kind of precedent giving fine money to the Fram and Chenier families would set when the city receives provincial offences fines in the future.
Other victims could start asking the municipality for fine money, Berthiaume said.