Widow fears bankrupt company won't face justice for mining death

Romeena Kozoriz was in the process of building a dream house with her husband Norm Bisallion when he was killed in a mining accident in 2014.

Widow seeks justice for husband's mining death, but the company accused hasn't even shown in court

Marc Methe, 34, and Norm Bissaillon, 49, were killed on the job early on May 6, 2014. The mine's owner, First Nickel, has since declared bankruptcy. (CBC)

Romeena Kozoriz was in the process of building a dream house with her husband Norm Bisallion when he was killed in a mining accident in 2014.

Bisallion was caught under a fall of material in Sudbury's Lockerby Mine, which was followed by a seismic event.

The owner of the mine, First Nickel, along with Taurus Drilling, who employed the mine workers, are facing a total of 12 charges under Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act.

But First Nickel declared bankruptcy soon after the death, and are not in court to represent themselves, in proceedings that Kozoriz calls "a joke."

"We haven't had justice from day one," Kozoriz said. "From the time I got the knock on my door to where we are now."

Underground activities at Lockerby Mine suspended 2:45

Kozoriz has been in court every day, sitting through sometimes graphic descriptions of the tragic event.

"It was very hard to listen to the conditions that the guys were working in," Kozoriz said. "And to realize that they went into that every day risking their lives knowing the conditions weren't the best."  

"I could actually picture [Norm] in the position he was when the rocks came down."

She finds it difficult to accept that First Nickel, now bankrupt, won't face justice.

"What is the hardest to accept is that our system allows an accident like this to happen," she said. "Then they allow the actual people or company responsible to walk away and have no accountability."

A fair trial? Not quite

Dave McCaskill, the lawyer representing the Ministry of Labour, says the trial itself raises interesting questions about fairness.

"Does it result in a fair trial as far as First Nickel goes? No," McCaskill said. "But they've chosen not to be here, so they've dug their own grave."

Even without the presence of the company, McCaskill says the case still proceeds.

"We still call all the same evidence and the evidence comes out in the same way," he said. "I think where [the families] are going to be disappointed at the end of the day, is if First Nickel is found guilty and the penalty becomes an empty penalty since no one is held to account."

Kozoriz wonders what motivation there is to go through the process, if the company is indeed found guilty.

"Why even bother wasting the court's time at this point, when the ones who are truly responsible aren't there," she said.

Romeena Kozoriz , widow of Norm Bisallion, finds it difficult to accept that First Nickel, now bankrupt, won't face justice for his death. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

A matter of general deterence

But McCaskill says it's important to play it out until the end.

"One of the key components of our work is general deterrence," he said. "If a company is convicted of something, a message gets sent to the industry at large that if you engage in this behaviour and something fatal results, these are the kinds of penalties you'll face."

"So we will ask if First Nickel is convicted, that the judge impose a penalty of some significance that will send out a message of general deterrence, to the extent of saying that if you can make the same mistakes, you can expect a penalty of this nature."

As for Kozoriz, she still sits every day in court when it is sitting, hoping that there can be some kind of closure at the end of the trial.

A panel has been convened, and sits through court, with the aim of making recommendations at the end of trial.

"I would like to see the young kids coming through have an apprenticeship, teach them the right tools, and told what their rights are."

"If you don't feel safe you don't go in."

With files from Samantha Samson


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