Islanders gather to recognize National Day of Mourning

Front left, Reverend Martin Garniss, assisted by AOK Chief Patsy Corbiere, Mayor Austin Hunt, Sheshegwaning Chief Joe Endanawa and Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin, light a candle of remembrance on behalf of all deceased workers and grieving families.

AUNDECK OMNI KANING—Residents from across Manitoulin gathered at the Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation band office last Tuesday to pay tribute to individuals who have been killed or injured in workplace related incidents in honour of the National Day of Mourning.

“National Day of Mourning ceremonies are being held across the nation today and on a local basis, in Sudbury at both the United Steelworkers Hall and at Laurentian University,” began Colin Pick, president of the Manitoulin and North Shore Injured Workers Group. “As we are here today to pay our respects to deceased workers and their families, let me explain what is set up before you. On the table, set up as an altar, lies a cloth of three colours. The colour black represents those workers who are deceased as a result of a workplace fatality or an industrial disease that has taken a worker’s life. The colour yellow represents all those who continue to suffer from workplace injuries or industrial diseases of all types. Yellow represents all living injured and diseased workers. The white cloth denotes that no matter what happens, life must go on when a worker is killed, dies of an industrial disease or is critically injured. Life seldom returns to what it was before the incident, but we ourselves, for the sake of our mental well-being and others who depend on or care about us, must move on with life and hope for better times ahead.”

Mr. Pick also pointed out the birdcage on the altar, stating that it is a symbol of workplace deaths throughout the ages. “Where our First Nation peoples, other Canadians born here and landed immigrants all paid a heavy price to try and ensure better working conditions, better workplace safety and items of personal protective equipment, that are in used today because of the sacrifices made and the lessons learned as a result of the deaths of those past,” he explained.

“Some people wrongly assume that injured workers are being well compensated and looked after by the WSIB,” continued Mr. Pick, noting that this wasn’t the case. “Believe me as one who knows the battle for fairness and justice, no one willingly goes to work to get hurt, and when a debilitating injury stops one from going to work and earning a living, it becomes a devastating experience for that person and members of the whole family. It is a life changing experience for the whole family trying to feed and clothe their children, upkeep a home, pay the bills and afford to run a vehicle.”

Mr. Pick welcomed the first speaker of the day, Michael Shain, a legal aid lawyer who, “has helped many injured workers both here on Manitoulin and elsewhere to other surrounding areas,” he remarked.

“This is the second year that we have held this ceremony for the National Day of Mourning on Manitoulin,” said Mr. Shain. “I was hoping to give you a progress report on all the positive changes over the last year, but unfortunately the changes have been all negative. Workers continue to be killed in this country. Juries continue to make recommendations that are ignored and factories open up the next day and crews are sent back to work. It baffles me that things do change.”

Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin and injured workers Dan Hawke, Sharon Montgomery and Tari Smith lay a wreath in honour of injured or killed worker from Manitoulin.
Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin and injured workers Dan Hawke, Sharon Montgomery and Tari Smith lay a wreath in honour of injured or killed worker from Manitoulin.

“Since 2009, there has been a 30 percent reduction in payouts to injured workers,” continued Mr. Shain, “nor has there been a single policy made since 2009 to improve things for or in favour of injured workers. Injured workers aren’t even on the political agenda of the Liberals, Conservatives or even the NDP. Change must come, justice demands it, but it will take people coming together, like today. The greatest tribute we can provide to injured workers is to see that justice is done.”

Mr. Pick noted that Joanne Wade, a Sheguiandah mother who lost her son Brent in a workplace death, was unable to attend the ceremony, but that she had written a letter that would be read by injured worker Sharon Montgomery.

After the reading of Ms. Wade’s letter, Reverend Martin Garniss, assisted by Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin, Sheshegwaning Chief Joe Endanawas, Billings Mayor Austin Hunt and AOK Chief Patsy Corbiere lit a candle of remembrance on behalf of all deceased workers and grieving families, followed by Reverend Garniss reading the names of killed or injured workers from Manitoulin and the area and wreaths were laid in their memory.

The ceremony concluded with closing remarks from Injured worker and a retired member of UNIFOR (Union for Canadians) Gary Hrystsak.