Nfld. & Labrador

Suicides in Labrador West: Grieving mother says her son faced inhumane treatment

The mother of a Labrador man who took his life recently is blaming what she calls inhumane treatment from his co-workers at the iron ore mine in Labrador City for his suicide.

Lorne Winters took his life in August following tumultuous work experience at IOC

Elizabeth Rice stands next to the grave of her son, 36-year-old Lorne Winters, at a cemetery in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Friday. Winters is one of five people who have died by suicide in the Labrador West communities of Labrador City and Wabush over the past eight months. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

The mother of a Labrador man who took his life recently is blaming what she calls inhumane and racist treatment from his co-workers at the iron ore mine in Labrador City for his suicide.

Lorne Winters, 36, died nearly four months ago following what his mother says was a tumultuous work experience with the Iron Ore Co. of Canada.

He's one of five people health officials say have killed themselves in Labrador West over the past eight months, with a union official saying four of the five either worked for or had worked for IOC.

News of the suicide in the mining towns of Labrador City and Wabush surfaced in the House of Assembly in St. John's on Thursday, and that's what prompted Elizabeth Rice to share her story.

"I felt, 'I'm not alone,'" Rice told CBC News Friday during at interview at a cemetery in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, where her son is buried.

'This is my son right here'

Rice wants someone to be held accountable for her son's death, and is calling for an inquiry so she can get some answers. 

IOC has declined interview requests, saying in a statement that it is taking the situation very seriously.

At left is a memorial candle for Lorne Winters, 36, who took his life in August following a tumultuous work experience at an iron ore mine in Labrador City. The photo at right features Winters and his mother, Elizabeth Rice. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

At one point during the interview, Rice points to a white cross and says, "This is my son right here. This is my son Lorne Winters. Here he is. My granddaughter don't have her dad."

Lorne Winters was Inuit. He moved the roughly 550 kilometres to Labrador West in 2009, when the iron ore industry was booming and two mines were operating.

He took a full-time job with IOC a year later.

"He thought he had the whole world ahead of him. It was full of promise. It was for a while," she said.

Rice said things started going very badly for him two years ago.

She alleges he was harassed and mistreated by his co-workers, and was subjected to racist comments and jokes about his indigenous background.

Fell into depression

The situation boiled over two years ago when Winters was involved in a verbal altercation with a supervisor, Rice said. 

Her son was fired, and his case went before an arbitrator.

More than six months later, his dismissal was overturned, he was paid his lost wages, and he returned to his job in June 2015.

Rice said her son faced financial and emotional hardship during this time and became depressed.

She said her son purchased a home when the housing market was red-hot and paid a premium price. She said he struggled to make his payments, but managed to scrape by.

After his return to work, Rice said her son had trouble adjusting to night shift work, and was receiving professional help for his mental health struggles.

But she said the mistreatment continued.

An hour late for work

About three months after his return, Rice said, he arrived an hour late for a shift, and was again fired.

This time an arbitrator sided with the company in a ruling handed down in June.

On Aug. 6, Rice logged onto Facebook and noticed a message. Her son's house was on fire.

"I begged on his voice message for Lorne to pick up the phone. He didn't," she said, her voice breaking with emotion.

Rice said other families are going through similar grief, and she believes more could have been done.

"I don't want another parent to feel that type of sadness, grief and shock that could have been prevented and should have been prevented," she said.

With files from Bailey White