A court has awarded $10.7 million in damages to the widows of nine men killed by a bomb during a labour dispute at Yellowknife's Giant Mine, blaming the mining company and the union almost as much as the man who laid the explosives.

The N.W.T. Supreme Court released its decision Thursday in the wrongful-death lawsuit, setting what one legal expert had warned would be an "alarming" precedent.

The suit, filed on behalf of the families by the Workers Compensation Board, suggested that all parties to the labour dispute shared responsibility for the underground explosion on Sept. 18, 1992.

Justice Arthur Lutz ruled that none of the involved parties did enough to control the relentless and escalating violence on the picket line that summer.

He assigned almost equal blame to the union, Royal Oak Mines and Roger Warren, who was convicted of the murders.

Lutz also assigned a share of the damages to Pinkerton's security, two union activists and the N.W.T. government.

'Ludicrous' to say deaths weren't predictable: judge

Royal Oak had argued that it couldn't have predicted the deaths, but Lutz scorned the reasoning.

"It is ludicrous to advance a view, as Royal Oak persisted in doing, that no reasonable person viewing these scenes at Giant was able to appreciate the foreseeability of a death," he wrote in the 423-page decision.

The judge said violence and threats were rampant during the 18-month strike, including physical injuries, property damage and sabotage.

Strikers staked out the houses of replacement workers and stole explosives from the mine, setting off one blast that cut off power to a hospital.

"It would have been astounding if someone had not been killed," Lutz wrote. "The ugly incidents permeated the entire city."

Government, union, company to pay damages

The court divided the damages among a long list of defendants, including:

  • Warren, a striking miner who confessed and was convicted on nine counts of second-degree murder in 1995. Warren, who apparently set the bomb to deter workers from crossing the picket lines, is serving a life sentence.
  • Royal Oak Mines Inc., which owned the mine at the time. The company locked the workers out a day before they had planned to strike in May 1992. The company's owner, Peggy Witte, was not found personally liable.
  • The Canadian Auto Workers union. After the strike, it merged with the union that represented the mine workers, the Canadian Association of Smelter and Allied Workers.
  • Pinkerton's of Canada, a private-security firm hired to patrol the site.
  • The government of the Northwest Territories.

The damages will be paid to the compensation board, to reimburse it for money already paid out to the families.

The court also awarded additional damages of $600,000 to James O'Neil, a miner who was one of the first people to arrive at the scene of the blast.

Legal expert warns of 'alarming' precedent

Before the decision came down, Sara Slinn, a professor of labour law at Queen's University, warned that it could set a dangerous precedent.

"It would set a very alarming precedent for employers and unions in how to deal with industrial disputes," Slinn said. "It would increase their liability tremendously."