Commemorations took on a new dimension this year amid the current pandemic
Every year, Canada’s Day of Mourning honours those who have been impacted by devastating workplace deaths, illnesses or injuries.
The Day of Mourning is recognized in around 100 countries globally and is also known as Workers’ Memorial Day.
A whole array of events are being hosted around the country to commemorate the Day, most of which will be digital to comply with current pandemic guidelines.
This evening, for example, various landmarks across Ontario will be illuminated in yellow (traditionally the colour of hope), including the CN Tower, Niagara Falls and the 3D Toronto sign in Nathan Phillips Square.
In “normal” times, employers, unions and workers observe the day by lighting candles, laying wreaths or holding in-person vigils. This morning, workplaces were encouraged to observe a moment of silence at 11am to remember and reflect. The Day of Mourning is also a time to listen to victims and loved ones share their stories.
“We hear their stories, stories of bear hugs that will never be. Stories of the loves lost. Stories of the grandchildren never met. And we try to feel and understand for a few moments the anguish and loss they experience every day.
“It is up to all of us to use these moments of empathy, to renew our commitment to preventing these devastating occurrences from happening to others,” said Elizabeth Witmer, WSIB Chair, at an event today.
The Canadian Labour Congress established April 28 as the National Day of Mourning in 1984. The day was chosen to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the day the first Ontario Worker’s Compensation Act was approved by government. The Day was enshrined in national legislation in 1991.
According to recent statistics from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC) in 2019, 925 workplace fatalities were recorded in Canada. 95 per cent of these fatalities were male workers, and include 29 young worker fatalities (aged 15 – 24).
“People often refer to workplace deaths and injuries as tragic accidents, as if they could not have been prevented. But in the vast majority of workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses, part of the tragedy lies in the fact that they could have been prevented,” said WSIB’s Acting President and CEO Tom Bell during a livestream this morning.
This year, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) of Ontario hosted a digital livestream on its YouTube channel.
Before solemnly marking a moment of silence at 11am, those watching heard remarks from Witmer, Bell and CEO, Hon. Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour as well as a particularly emotional speech by Virginia Campeau, a speaker from advocacy group Threads of Life.
Campeau spoke about her husband, Paul, who died on January 6, 2015 after a fatal work accident.
“National Day of Mourning for me is a time to light a candle, to reflect and remember my husband, Paul, and all the other families who have been affected by a workplace tragedy. It’s also a time to remember that these people have names and they are just not a number on a statistics board,” said Campeau.
At 11am, Witmer and Bell laid a wreath of remembrance before marking a minute of silence.
Particularly poignant this year, the Day of Mourning was also a time to think about all the workers who have been affected by the pandemic.
“For the second year, the COVID-19 pandemic has added another tragic layer to our Day of Mourning […] This pandemic has reminded us that preventing any illness or injury has to be the top priority of any workplace not just today, but every day,” said Witmer.
“The need to protect people at work did not begin with the onset of this pandemic, nor will it cease with its end,” said Bell.