BY NED DMYTRYSHYN
VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Judge John Vertes May 5 sentenced Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) members Al Shearing and Tim Bettger to two and a half and three years respectively in jail. They will soon be transferred to a federal penitentiary.
Bettger and Shearing were recently convicted of breaking into Royal Oak's Giant mine in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, to paint anti-scab graffiti and setting an explosion in a ventilation shaft on June 29, 1992. Bettger was sentenced to six more months in prison for blowing a hole in a television satellite dish Sept. 1, 1992. These events took place during an 18-month strike against the company's attempt to bust the union. The two miners were members of the Canadian Association of Smelter and Allied Workers union (CASAW) Local 4 at the time. In May 1994 CASAW merged into the CAW.
In the courtroom Bettger said that "union members felt provoked into the labor dispute by management that abused its workers and disregarded safety. Then Royal Oak brought in union busters and thugs." At one point during the strike, Bettger continued, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) inspector Dennis Massey, "after showing us his gun, offered to use it on us. When the guys you are supposed to complain to are the bad guys, who do you complain to?"
CAW miner Amos Simon, who works at the Giant mine, told the Militant that the "sentences were way too harsh."
"This is a ridiculous sentence," said Kathy Hrynczuk, a member of the Union of Northern Workers. "There are wife beaters and child molesters that get less jail time or suspended sentences in the Yellowknife area."
Striking miners fought and eventually beat back Royal Oak's attempt to bust the union with replacement workers, Pinkerton goons, and police violence.
Bettger and Shearing previously spent eight months in the Yellowknife Correctional Institute on charges resulting from participation in the strike. The two miners were released on bail after a preliminary inquiry last June. The judge threw out five of eight charges against Shearing and three out of 11 charges against Bettger. Shearing spent an additional five months in jail earlier in the strike on other charges, including throwing a broom stick handle against a truck driven by a Pinkerton goon.
Severe bail conditions were imposed on the two union members for almost one year, including a 9:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. curfew. The judge restricted them from attending union meetings, visiting the union hall, or participating in any other union activities. At the time of their sentencing, one charge was dropped against Shearing and five were dropped against Bettger. They pleaded guilty to the remaining charges against them. Since no one was hurt during the events they pleaded guilty to, the serious charges of intending to injure were dropped.
In the courtroom, Bettger, speaking for himself and Shearing said, "There was an unreal environment at the time. Normal avenues to end the dispute were coming to nothing.- Everything was tilted. None of the rules of the world seemed to apply any longer. The fact that I descended to the company's level only contributes to my shame-for what it's worth I want to apologize to my family."
Bettger added, "Despite our forced removal from the intimacy of our friends and families, Al and I have resolved to continue the fight for justice for Roger Warren in whatever manner we are allowed. To that end we are intending to aid Roger's lawyer in any way at our disposal. We lived through the turbulent period in labor history and know many things which were excluded from the evidence at his trial. These facts should have been considered but as they would have decimated much of the Crown's proof for their theory, the court refused to allow them into evidence."
During the strike, an explosion occurred that killed nine replacement workers and union members who crossed the picket line. For 13 months after the blast, the RCMP harassed and interrogated hundreds of strikers, their families, and supporters. Telephones were wiretapped, and some had their houses searched.
The company used this "investigation" to wear down strikers and undercut community support for their fight. One year after the blast, Royal Oak owner Margaret Witte announced she would refuse to negotiate with the union until an arrest was made. In an attempt to help resolve the strike CAW miner Roger Warren falsely confessed to setting the blast. He was charged, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment January 25.
Warren is appealing the conviction, which was based solely on the contrived confession to police. The RCMP came up with no evidence linking Warren to the blast. In the trial, presiding judge Mark de Weerdt admitted that all evidence in this case was circumstantial.
An appeal written by union activists in support of Warren is now circulating in Yellowknife, according to a May 18 Vancouver Sun article entitled, "Gold-mine bomber `falsely convicted,' union activists say."
The article notes that the two page newsletter circulating in Yellowknife explains that Warren was falsely convicted of second degree murder and may not survive his 20-year sentence.
The Sun article is a reprint of a piece by Jim Farrell from the Edmonton Journal. It reports that the newsletter ends with the point that Warren is faced with a "sick, gross and unjust verdict. Roger is innocent. Please help."
Letters and messages can be sent to Roger Warren, Stoney Mountain Institution, P.O. Box 9250, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3C 3W9. Donations to his defense fund can be sent to: The Warren Fund, 228 Borden Drive, Yellowknife, NWT X1A 2R2.
Ned Dmytryshyn is a member of the International Association of Machinists Lodge 692.
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