05/31/2012 10:38 EDT | Updated 07/31/2012 05:12 EDT

Vale charged in fatal Ontario mine tragedy

Health and safety charges have been laid against a mining company and one of its supervisors in the deaths of two Sudbury, Ont., miners, provincial Labour Minister Matt Blajer announced in a news release Thursday.

Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram were killed when a torrent of wet mud and ore flooded the tunnel where they were working at Vale's Stobie Mine in Sudbury on June 8, 2011.

Vale has been charged with nine counts under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the unnamed supervisor faces six counts. Vale says there were a number of factors contributing to the fatalities, adding it's implementing measures to address those factors.

United Steelworkers International president Leo Gerard said the union believes the deaths of Chenier and Fram could have been avoided. The union claims Vale ignored documented problems with flooding in the mine.

"We believe this tragedy could warrant criminal charges and we need our government to investigate fully to determine if such charges are in order," Gerard said Thursday.

Rick Bertrand, president of USW Local 6500, which represents workers at Vale's Sudbury workers, said the charges against Vale are warranted.

"However, these charges against Vale fall far short of the urgent, comprehensive action that is needed to better protect workers," Bertrand said.

Chenier and Fram are among 8,000 workplace fatalities in Canada since the Westray Act became law in 2004, said Ken Neumann of the USW.

"The Westray Act amended our Criminal Code to ensure that corporations and their executives and directors would be held criminally accountable for putting workers' lives in danger," Neumann said. "Despite 8,000 deaths, not a single executive, director or manager has been jailed."

Vale called the charges a "very serious matter," adding it would not be commenting further while the matter is before the courts.

The first appearance date on the matter is scheduled for Aug. 14 in Sudbury.