Nick Chenier Remembered at Canada’s National Day of Mourning Ceremony

Local mom Jennifer Chenier was among the speakers at Canada’s National Day of Mourning Ceremony, which was held Sun., May 5 at Vincent Massey Park.

Chenier, who now lives in Richmond, was there to speak about the tragedy that claimed the life of her 20-year-old son Nick, who died on the job working for Best Green in Manotick last year. He was electrocuted while trimming a hedge in Manotick, two streets over from where he, his mother and his younger brother were living at the time.

This year marked the 40th year since the first observance. It is also the 32nd anniversary of the Westray Mine disaster that saw the lives of 26 miners taken on March 9, 1992, as a direct result of the workplace. The disaster also brought forward changes to Canada’s Criminal Code in 2004 making it possible to prosecute employers for negligence leading to workplace death and/or injury.

Joining Chenier as speakers at the event were Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan, Canadian Labour Congress Vice-President Siobhán Vipond, and Ottawa and District Labour Council President Sean McKenny.

The day was especially difficult for Jennifer Chenier, as the ceremony fell on the anniversary of her son’s death. She referred to it as a workplace incident, saying she could not call it an accident. Her son, she said, was about to turn 21.

“Nick had been concerned about dangerous working conditions with his employer on a number of occasions, especially that morning before this tragedy occurred – concerns that his supervisor and employer ignored” she said as she addressed the crowd.

Chenier said she wondered why her son was even there that morning. She said the work order had a warning on it to be cautious of hidden hydro lines. She said when her son reached out to his supervisor at 7 a.m. about his safety concerns, he was brushed off.

“He was told to go ahead, and check back later,” she said. “But there was no checking back. Sadly, he was killed by contact with a 16,000-volt hydro line. And to find out later he was given an aluminum pole trimmer, an aluminum ladder to work amongst hidden lines in a hedge, capable of 16,000 volts, makes me angry.”

In court last month, the company’s owner, Sheldon Best Green, faced charges from the Ministry of Labour. He was fined just over $50,000. Chenier said it was a slap in the face, and left her feeling defeated.

“There were no words to describe how we felt,” Chenier said. “Only buckets of tears to fill a courtroom filled with disgusted onlookers, and friends and family.”

Chenier said that losing her son has left a void in the lives of her and her other son that will never be replaced.

“My life has changed,” she said. “I have changed. I’m no longer myself. I never will be again. I carry so much intense anger inside me. Knowing my son reached out that morning with concerns, and was “brushed off”, haunts me to this day. This will never go away. Knowing this could have been prevented if the people who were responsible for keeping him safe listened and did their jobs lives with me every day.

“My son died working hard, making a living doing what he loved. And unsafe working conditions ended his life that day. Carrying this anger with me every day is emotionally and physically exhausting. No parent should have to bury their child. I wake up every morning hoping it was a bad dream. Then reality sets in and I have to find a way to maneuver through every single day in a world I no longer know.

“I don’t know how I will ever feel joy or happiness again. Every day has been a horrible struggle to get through the day. Knowing I will never see him get married, or have his own children, or be a best man in his brother’s wedding.”

Chenier said she was honoured to stand with so many who have also lost someone in a workplace fatality.

“Please know that we know your pain and stand with you and your families and lost ones,” she said.

Across Canada close to one thousand workers die each year and many more are injured as a direct result of the workplace.

“There is a pronounced sadness and at the same time there is frustration – frustration that these needless injuries and deaths continue to occur day after day, month after month, year after year,” said Sean McKenny, president of the Ottawa and District Labour Council. “Sadness because over three people are dying each day in this country as a result of the workplace and that means somewhere there are children who will lose a parent, a husband who will lose a wife, and a sister who will lose a brother. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

The Ottawa and District Labour Council (ODLC) has been the voice of working people in the Ottawa area since 1872. The ODLC currently represents 90 local unions with a combined membership of 50,000 workers and is the largest democratic and popular organization in the Ottawa area.

Featured Image: Jennifer Chenier delivered a powerful speech about the impact that her family has felt since the death of her son, Nick Chenier, died in a workplace fatality May 5, 2023.