Still Dying for a Living: Shaping Corporate Criminal Liability After the Westray Mine Disaster

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Bittle, Steven
corporate crime , corporate criminal liability
This dissertation critically interrogates the assumptions, agendas and relations of power that shaped Bill C-45, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (criminal liability of organizations), revisions to the Criminal Code of Canada aimed at strengthening corporate criminal liability. Colloquially referred to as the Westray bill, the legislation was passed in the fall of 2003 in response to the deaths of twenty-six workers at the Westray mine in 1992, a disaster caused by unsafe and illegal working conditions. Using twenty-three semi-structured interviews with individuals with knowledge and insight into the evolution of Canada’s corporate criminal liability legislation, and transcripts from Canada’s Parliament regarding the enactment of this law, the dissertation critically explores the constitution of corporate criminal liability – the factors that produce legal categorizations of corporate harm and wrongdoing. Of particular interest are the official discourses that shaped conceptualizations of corporate crime and corporate criminal liability and how these discourses correspond to the broader social-political-economic context. Drawing theoretical inspiration from Foucauldian and neo-Marxist (Althusserian) literatures, the dissertation argues that particular legal, economic and cultural discourses shaped, but did not determine, corporate criminal liability in Canada. In turn, these discourses are constitutive of class struggles over the role of the corporate form in extracting surplus labour and accumulating capital, the results of which helped stabilize, reproduce and transform the class-based capitalist social formation. Overall, the dissertation suggests that the assumptions that animated Canada’s corporate criminal liability legislation and the meanings inscribed in its provisions throw serious doubt on its ability to hold corporations legally accountable for their harmful, anti-social acts. There is little reason to believe that the Westray bill will produce a crackdown on safety crimes, or seriously challenge corporations to address workplace injuries and death. While it will hold some corporations and corporate actors accountable – and thus far it has been the smallest and weakest – the primary causes of workplace injury and death (e.g., the tension between profit maximization and the costs of safety and the relative worth of workers/employees versus owners and investors) will continue.
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