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COVID-19 prompts Day of Mourning ceremonies to go virtual

Angela Gismondi
COVID-19 prompts Day of Mourning ceremonies to go virtual

The National Day of Mourning has a different meaning and format this year.

Marked annually on April 28, the day serves to remember and honour those who have lost their lives or suffered injury or illness on the job, but also to collectively renew the commitment to improve health and safety in the workplace and prevent further injuries, illnesses and deaths.

“The enduring theme of the Day of Mourning is mourn for the dead, fight for the living,” said Tara Peel, director of health, safety and environment with the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).

Because of the need to physical distance due the coronavirus pandemic, virtual events and vigils are being encouraged across the country.

“Some of the labour councils have done these events in person, in some cases the same way for 100 years, and we all had to shift our thinking about how to do this and come up with different things,” explained Peel.

“This year the activities are impacted and ceremonies in communities that are usually in-person where we gather and remember those workers and recommit our activism, we can’t do that this year. In order to do our part to help flatten the curve and make sure we follow public health advice and directives to not gather in groups we’ve had to rethink how we commemorate the  Day of Mourning.”

This year also has an additional focus – to shine a spotlight on and express gratitude to frontline and essential workers in the health care, grocery, transport and service industries. These sectors are helping to keep people safe and everything running during the pandemic, added Peel.

“The message of the Day of Mourning is very relevant to this pandemic,” she explained. “We need to make sure that essential and frontline workers who are going to work every day, and helping to keep us safe and supplied with everything we need, have every protection they need to be healthy and safe at work.”

Every year organizations, employers, workers’ family, friends and communities gather in different parts of the country to observe the National Day of Mourning. The day was started by the CLC and local labour councils typically organize local events in various municipalities.

Typically, gatherings are attended by many in the community who hear from speakers and family and friends of the victims and representatives of local labour groups. Many ceremonies include laying wreaths in front of worker monuments or city and town halls. Organizers are being encouraged to consider holding or supporting virtual events or vigils, pausing for a moment of silence at 11 a.m. or lighting candles.

“There is usually a commemorative aspect to many of the ceremonies where we remember the workers that we have lost in the past year. Then a very significant focus is that we make sure we learn from this and recommit to our activism to make sure this doesn’t happen again and prevent future deaths and injuries at work,” said Peel. “This year there are a range of activities happening.”

Some of the larger organizations are making videos and organizing livestream events with speakers. Local labour councils and groups are reaching out to local media and social media to get the message out and connect people in a virtual way.

The Canadian flag will flow at half-mast on Parliament Hill and all federal government buildings on April 28, states the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

According to Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU), Robert Kucheran, chairman of the CBTU and international vice-president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, will be speaking at the annual Ottawa and District Labour Council ceremony.

Usually held at Vincent Massey Park, the ceremony is being moved online this year. The 40-minute Zoom webinar ceremony begins at 12:30 p.m. on April 28, and will feature speakers and a minute of silence. The virtual ceremony is open to all and can be accessed through

The CBTU also has a special focus this year because of the pandemic, a release states.

“This year, April 28 comes at a time when Canada is facing an unprecedented time, and the need to protect the health and safety of frontline workers is paramount to stopping the spread of COVID-19. We urge you to donate any extra personal protective equipment to local hospitals,” adds Kucheran. 

“Practice and respect what the experts recommend around physical distancing. And take a moment, on April 28, to remember those we lost.”

According to the most recent statistics from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada, in 2018, 1,027 workplace fatalities were recorded in Canada, an increase of 76 from the previous year. Among these deaths were 27 young workers aged 15 to 24.

In 1991, eight years after the day of remembrance was launched by the CLC, the Parliament of Canada passed the Workers Mourning Day Act making April 28 an official Day of Mourning. Today the Day of Mourning is marked in more than 100 countries around the world.


The following are resources on the Day of Mourning:


Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.

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