Lethbridge residents gathered on April 28 to recognize the National Day of Mourning for people who have been killed, injured or suffered illness due to workplace incidents.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 70 and the City of Lethbridge organized a ceremony at the Workers Memorial Site, Mountain View Cemetery.
“This day is basically to honour those that have gone before us and to let the families know that we are there with them. It’s awareness to everyone, we want more people getting involved in this and spreading the word,” said Burt Green, a retired CUPE member who helped organize the event.
“It’s engraved into my heart, is what this day is so I am so lucky to have been a part of CUPE,” he said. “If I am not here, I am over there in my own plot and that’s the only way you’ll know that I have died, is if I am not here.”
Lethbridge West MLA Shannon Phillips, Lethbridge MP Rachel Thomas and representatives from the city spoke to a crowd to commemorate the day.
“Everyone deserves to come home safe from work everyday and it is to that end that over the past century and some, starting indeed with the response to the HIllcrest Mine disaster just some 200 km to the west of here, at occupational health and safety frameworks and workers’ compensation thereafter came to symbolize much of the work and the struggle of the labour movement,” said Phillips.
Paul Kinsmith from Lethbridge College, emceed the event and provided background information for those who attended.
“Unfortunately, workplace accidents, incidents, continue to affect the lives of Albertans and Canadians every year. In 2021, 178 Albertans died due to workplace injury or illness and the most recent statistics from the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada show 925 workplace fatalities across Canada in 2019,” he said.
“Beyond those tragic deaths, there were more than 271,000 workers compensation claims in 2019 — an increase of more than 7,000 from the year before. The fact that these statistics only include what was reported and accepted by the compensation boards means there is no doubt that the total number of workers affected every year is even greater.”
Thomas said the day is also to honour families of the people who have suffered in the workplace and is a reminder of work that needs to be done. “I think sometime what could prevent some of these incidents from taking place is using our voice, speaking up. But often out of fear of retribution we remain silent. I believe it is around this still that we have a great deal of work to do in terms of creating environments that are safe — that honour those individuals who work within those workplaces.”
The National Day of Mourning was officially recognized by the Canadian government in 1991, eight years after the day of remembrance was launched by the Canadian Labour Congress. The Day of Mourning has since spread to about 80 countries around the world.
Flags at city hall flew half-staff for the day.