Episode 6: Frank Portman on Workplace Safety and the Family Farm / by Glen Jameson

Frank Portman reads case law daily, at a volume that few lawyers match once they leave law school. It's integral to his job, which is in an area of law that is considered relatively fluid when compared to most other areas of practice.

He also works in a more grizzly area of practice - not for the faint of heart - health and safety regulation. You may remember this mid-2000s WSIB spot about a young woman being scalded while working as a sous-chef in what I consider the most NSFL PSA ever broadcast on television. Well, those accidents actually happen and the crown generally has something to say about the workplaces in which they occur. This is what Frank does.

How does this relate to food law? Well, producing food is often dangerous, particularly farming.  There were several incidents last year in Alberta that led to a push by the province for greater farm health and safety regulation. This was received with gratitude amongst some communities, but with resentment and pushback from others. A particularly tragic event involved three young girls being suffocated by grain after playing near/underneath a hopper. In response to the tragedy, the girls' parents were steadfast in defence of their way of life: “Our kids died living life on the farm. It is a family farm. We do not regret raising and involving our kids … on our farm,” the officer read. “It was our life." At the same time, Alberta's provincial government passed Bill 6 - Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, a piece of legislation that seeks to bring insurance regimes and standard health and safety workplace rules to the agricultural setting. There's been significant pushback to the new legislation - the Wildrose Party even proposed recall legislation to try and enable Albertans to repeal it, but the cultural elements surrounding the traditional farm obfuscate the traditional discussion between workers and owners and the role of government in public safety, rendering something more complex. Have a listen to hear Frank's take.


Upton Sinclair - The Jungle
Louisa May Alcott - Little Women
Bill 6 - Enhanced Protection For Farm and Ranch Workers Act

#factchecking: it looks like we have two small corrections to make: (1) the Westray mine is in Plymouth, NS, not in Springhill. Springhill had 3 other, totally different, multiple fatality mining accidents. Frank comes hat in hand acknowledging that it’s tough to remember which Nova Scotian mining tragedy happened where. And (2) those amendments to the Criminal Code that we speak about - those took effect in 2004, not in 2002 #themoreyouknow.