In 2010, Abdul Salam Rahimi, a professional painter who had immigrated with his family from Afghanistan to Canada, fell 40 feet from scaffolding as he was painting the ceiling of a building in downtown Vancouver.
“After my dad’s fall, they let us see him in the ICU,” said his surviving daughter, Sadaf Abdul. “I held his hand and I prayed and prayed. My father, my best friend, was leaving me and I had to say goodbye to him, goodbye forever.”
Abdul says every worker should ask themselves if the task they’ve been asked to perform is safe.
“Don’t hesitate to say ‘no’ if you don’t feel comfortable doing the job,” she said. “Your life is so important, more important than the job that needs to get done. You are irreplaceable.”
Abdul, who was 14 years old at the time of her father’s death, was one of the speakers at the Vancouver venue of the 2019 Day of Mourning, which took place at Canada Place on the city’s waterfront on April 28.
Some 250 people attended the ceremony, which was hosted by the BC Federation of Labour, Business Council of British Columbia, Vancouver and District Labour Council and WorkSafeBC.
April 28 has been designated across Canada as the Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace. Enacted by Parliament in 1991, the day is recognized today in 100 countries around the world.
In Ontario, in advance of the Day of Mourning, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) hosted a public ceremony on April 26 to remember people who have died, been injured or suffered illness in the workplace.
Speakers included Hon. Laurie Scott, Ontario Minister of Labour, Elizabeth Witmer, WSIB Chair; Tom Teahen and WSIB President and CEO.
Also speaking at the event was Renee Guay, whose father John died from mesothelioma caused by repeated exposure to airborne asbestos.
On the evening of April 28, several landmarks across Ontario were illuminated in yellow, the traditional colour of hope. They included the CN Tower and the 3D Toronto sign in Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto; Niagara Falls; the Peace Bridge; Kitchener City Hall; Guelph City Hall; and the HAMILTON sign at Hamilton City Hall.
Including the aforementioned memorial in Vancouver, there were more than 35 Day of Mourning ceremonies in B.C.
In the small North Okanagan city of Armstrong, 25 people marked the day for the second year in a row. The event was organized by Michelle Hudson, president of Integrity Traffic Control Training Inc. in nearby Vernon.
“In B.C., we’ve had 131 workers die in 2018,” said Hudson. “Of those, 66 deaths were due to disease or illness caused by their job. That’s 131 too many. And most injuries are preventable.”
Armstrong is the first community in B.C. to allow flagging and construction companies to set speed limits that they consider safe in their work areas.
Lui Garcea, director of marketing and strategic partnerships at the BC Construction Safety Alliance, said, “We support the Day of Mourning each year with a wreath at the event and open it up to all staff who want to attend, because we believe it is important to support the initiative. Senior management and members of our board of directors attend each year.”
In addition to B.C. and Ontario, there were numerous Day of Mourning ceremonies across Canada.
In Edmonton, for example, the Edmonton District Labour Council held its memorial on the afternoon of April 28 in Grant Notley Park at the Broken Families Obelisk.
In Saskatchewan, the labour councils around the province organized events in Moose Jaw, Regina, Saskatoon, Weyburn and Yorkton.
In Newfoundland, the Newfoundland and Labrador Construction Safety Association (NLCSA) attended the National Day of Mourning wreath laying ceremony, which was organized by the St. John’s and District Labour Council and held at the Newfoundland Confederation Building.
“Association CEO Jackie Manuel laid a wreath to pay respect and remember those who have lost their lives, been injured or become ill as a result of their work or workplace,” said Tammy McCabe, NLCSA manager of communications and industry relations.
McCabe herself attended the same ceremony, laying wreaths on behalf of Threads of Life – Association for Workplace Tragedy Family Support, and the Avalon chapter of the Canadian Society of Safety Engineers.
Threads of Life is a Canadian charity that supports families after a workplace fatality, life-altering injury or occupational disease.