In the early morning hours of September 18, 1992 Roger Warren, a striking member of CASAW Local 4 at Yellowknife’s Giant Mine, surreptitiously entered the mine on his own and planted a deadly bomb that subsequently killed nine replacement workers. All evidence suggested that Warren acted alone and told no one of his plan. In 1994 Roger Warren was convicted of nine counts of second degree murder. The families of the nine miners were paid and continue to be paid WCB pensions because the miners were killed at work. In 1994 the WCB of the Northwest Territories commenced a civil action against a variety of parties, most significantly, CAW National, Pinkerton’s Security, Royal Oak Ventures and the Government of the Northwest Territories.
The WCB claimed that the defendants either caused or incited or failed to prevent Roger Warren from secretly planting the bomb and killing the nine miners. Nine years after the claim was filed, the trial of the matter began in Yellowknife at the end of September 2003. The trial lasted nine months and Justice A.M. Lutz issued his decision on December 16, 2004. In his decision, he found the CAW, Pinkerton’s, the Government of the NWT, Royal Oak and Roger Warren all shared in the legal responsibility for Warren’s murderous act and therefore shared in the liability for over ten million dollars in damages he awarded. Click here for the trial judge’s full decision.
Justice Lutz’s decision was extremely problematic for unions because he found that CAW was liable for Warren’s act, even though CAW was not the local union in Yellowknife at the time (as mentioned above it was CASAW Local 4) and had only provided some limited financial support to the local, had written some letters of support to federal and territorial politicians and had seconded a member of a B.C. CAW local to assist with the local’s strike efforts (completely at the direction of the local). The WCB had not named the local union in their lawsuit and this failure was no doubt related to the fact that the local union had little or no funds with which to pay any possible judgment.
CAW and the other defendants appealed the trial decision and in May of 2008 the Court of Appeal of the NWT issued its decision on the appeal, overturning every one of the trial findings of liability and leaving Roger Warren as the only party liable for the murders. Click here for the Court of Appeal’s full decision.
The WCB sought leave to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. Leave was granted and the Supreme Court appeal was heard in May 2009. The Supreme Court issued its reasons for decision on February 18, 2010.
The Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeal’s finding that no party other than Roger Warren was liable for the murders. In doing so, the Supreme Court specifically affirmed that:
- local unions are distinct from parent unions and must be treated as separate entities by the law;
- nothing that CAW did or did not do during the strike in Yellowknife was negligent and they were not legally responsible for Roger Warren’s murderous act;
- CAW was not automatically liable for Roger Warren’s acts just because Warren was a member of a union (CASAW) that CAW later merged with.
The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in this matter is final and this is the end of this long process and unions can take comfort in knowing that the Supreme Court affirmed the principles above. However, unions must always act reasonably and prudently in the course of a strike and in all matters or face the risk of enormously expensive and risky litigation.