Chats with Charlie: Day of Mourning

We were half way down the street when Charlie stopped at one of his favorite hydro poles. It is used by a lot of his pals to leave messages for each other. Charlie sniffed around quite excitedly, then lifted his leg for a short spurt.

“What’s all this about the Day of Mourning?” he asked as we started walking again.

“It’s today,” I said. “A day set aside to remember the workers who have been killed or injured at work. Why? Where did you hear about it?” I needn’t have asked. I’m no longer even surprised when he hears about things like this. He always knows.

“Basil left a message,” he said. “His people are taking him down to the park for the gathering this afternoon. Will you take me?” Basil is a big old Airedale who always sleeps on newspapers. Sometimes he even eats chunks from them.

“I sure will,” I answered. “It’s an important day. Did you know there were five people killed in Guelph in the last ten years? One a year for the past three.”

“Yes, I heard that,” said Charlie. “Do you know who they were?”

“Some of them,” I said. “A machine operator named William Xu was crushed in a grinder in Linamar’s Ariss plant in October 2005 and Karoly Fekete was electrocuted in Linamar’s plant on Arrow Road in May 2006. Jennifer Kovach, a police officer, was killed while answering an emergency call in March 2013, a welder was killed in Polycon Industries in July 2014, and an electrician was killed in the same Polycon factory in August 2015.”

“Wow! That’s a lot,” he said.

“Yes it is,” I agreed. “Part of the tragedy is that four of them were young, still in their twenties.”

Charlie stopped and looked up at me. His head was tilted to one side, the way it does when he’s trying to figure something out. “Shouldn’t someone be doing something to stop the killing?” he asked.

“Yep, you’d think so,” I said, “and some people are. It was unions across Canada who started the Day of Mourning 25 years ago, and the unions in Guelph who organized the event you and Basil are going to this afternoon. They are leading the charge for better training and more effective prevention programs.”

“That’s good,” said Charlie as we began walking again. “So why didn’t they stop those five deaths, if they’re so smart?”

“That’s another sad part,” I said. “Of the five, only one belonged to a union. An investigation found that weather conditions, black ice, and the urgency with which Kovach was driving contributed to her death. None of the other four belonged to a union.”

Charlie walked over to the edge of the sidewalk and mumbled something about how they should have joined one. “If I was working there and saw someone get killed, I’d make a phone call pretty quickly,” he said.

“Yep,” I said. “Me too. But you know, this isn’t the half of it. There are many more who have lost limbs, or suffered other physical or psychological injuries from things that happened at work. Thousands more are dying from occupational illnesses. Mostly some sort of cancer brought on by something they might have been exposed to many years ago.”

Charlie shook his head in wonder. “What is it about you people,” he asked. “You’re always thinking up new ways to kill yourselves. At least you stopped putting those poisons in the parks. All my friends know someone who caught cancer from sniffing the grass.”

“I know,” I said. “We used them as arguments when trying to stop pesticide use. People like cute and cuddly puppies more than they like rough and ready workers.”

We walked on in silence until we were nearly home. Charlie stopped and looked up at me. “Tell me you didn’t call me and my friends a bunch of canaries in a coal mine,” he said.

“Well, er, um,” I started to cough, “I might have done, once or twice.”

Charlie came close to me, let out a low growl, lifted a leg, and peed on my shoe.