05/07/2012 04:56 EDT | Updated 07/07/2012 05:12 EDT

Rare show of unity by government, opposition and labour on Westray anniversary

OTTAWA - The Conservatives, New Democrats and union officials will make a rare show of unity Tuesday as they mark the grim 20th anniversary of the Westray Mine disaster.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Nova Scotia NDP MP Robert Chisholm are joining members of the United Steelworkers in spreading awareness that companies are legally responsible for keeping their workers safe from harm.

They'll also be accompanied by Vernon Theriault, a Westray miner who worked on the rescue operation following the blast. Theriault is a recipient of the Medal of Bravery.

In 1992, 26 miners were killed following an explosion at the Westray coal mine in Plymouth, Nova Scotia.

An inquiry found that the owner and managers were responsible for dangerous conditions at the mine, but the Crown wasn't able to prosecute any of the employers.

The federal government introduced changes to the Criminal Code in 2004 that make it possible to charge corporate brass for their failure to protect workers.

But although 8,000 Canadians have died on the job since the law was passed, nobody has been prosecuted under the provisions.

"We want to put on a campaign that's going to educate or talk to the Crown prosecutors and the investigators with regards to what the Act was set out to do," said Ken Neumann, national director of the United Steelworkers.

MacKay, whose riding includes the area where the mine used to be located, was a supporter of the so-called Westray Bill when it was first tabled in 2003. The legislation passed with all party support.

MacKay's office said he would be reiterating the message that safe mining is good mining.