THIS TIME IT WAS PHONE CALLS THAT DID IT. Janice just had to do something. That’s the way it is with an irrepressible activist.
She started getting the calls on Christmas Eve. Retired miners called to ask her to help. They were getting strange, out-of-the-blue phone calls from the Ontario WSIB (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board). The calls worried and confused them.
The board callers wanted to know if the miners really wanted to go ahead with their individual claims for compensation due to on the job sickness or injury. This was strange because the men had all signed forms specifically provided by the WSIB authorizing others to share their medical information with the board. What was the board up to?
“I am struggling to understand how that is not a form of claim suppression,” says Janice.
You’d think a government agency charged with protecting the fair treatment of injured and ill workers would not do something like that. You’d be wrong. Nobody knows that better than Janice Martell. That’s why she had to write an Open Letter to the WSIB on New Year’s Eve. That’s why she posted it to Youtube.
Our kind of activist
Janice Martell is our kind of activist. She doesn’t wobble. She doesn’t waver. She doesn’t quit—not even when the man who triggered her activism died.
Janice began her activism for her father, Jim Hobbs. He was a hard rock miner in Elliott Lake, Ontario. One of hundreds who were forced to inhale an aluminum dust called McIntyre Powder every day, as a way to keep them healthy. It didn’t.
Jim believed the dust caused his Parkinson’s disease. Jim wanted the WSIB to award him compensation for what the poisoned powder had done to him. The board refused. That’s when Janice stepped in. That’s why Janice created the McIntyre Powder Project in 2015.
The project’s aim is to document affected miners’ work histories and health problems in later life. But it’s a race against time. The workers themselves are ageing and dying. Too many stories remain untold, too much data remains uncollected. Jim Hobbs himself died in 2017. The evidence linking McIntyre Powder to all kinds of health problems continues to mount. The WSIB will not relent. It still refuses to acknowledge McIntyre Powder as a health risk.
But Janice Martell, and the McIntyre Project battles on. Her Open Letter to the WSIB is her most recent salvo.
The Open Letter
The recent WSIB calls to ratttle workers who have filed claims are just another incident in a long sordid history of board assaults on injured and ill workers. Janice’s Open Letter lays out much of that history and calls for action to finally make the WSIB into what it should be: namely, an advocate for, and dependable defender of, the rights of workers who are injured or made ill because of the work they did,
Janice begins her letter by setting out “some of the background and systemic issues” the letter will address. She describes herself as an “in the trenches ally” of all the workers’ widows and families fighting for justice for their damaged loved ones.
“We are engaged in the same fight,” she says. “And we will work as allied forces to effect sweeping changes in the system of compensation that is failing workers widows and families.
She makes the simple point: “Workers exchange their labors for wages and benefits. Workers do not exchange their health for employment. It is a fundamental human right to be safe at work.”
Janice condemns the WSIB for failing workers by being “a bureaucratic system that is not designed to serve them well; a system that is not functioning to serve them well; a system that is not functioning to serve and support your own staff sufficiently enough to enable them to serve those workers well.
“Your system needs to change and I intend to see that change through.
Now I speak to you directly
In the second part of her Open Letter Janice speaks to the board directly.
She says what she thinks of the board and what it thinks of her doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the hurting workers and families, who need help, get it.
She says: “I am in a position to help them because I put myself there. I choose to fight for them. You are in a position to help them because you are legislated to do so. And I, and all of the other occupational disease cluster advocates and allies, will hold you to your duties under that legislation."
It is the WSIB policy-making and claims adjudication process, in conjunction with the WSIB legislative powers, that is “the heart of what must change”, says Janice.
Four important discoveries
Janice goes on to set out four of the “important discoveries” she gleaned from WSIB documents she obtained with Freedom of Information requests.
Number One: WSIB “operational policy” was to deny all claims based on exposure to aluminum dust. Thus, no claims for McEntyre Powder exposure were even considered between 1997 and 2016.
Number Two: For 19 years the WSIB did nothing at all to formally review the scientific evidence upon which that policy is purportedly based.
She says: “Despite the fact that you have a legislative duty to review that evidence; despite the gravity of the barrier that your policy posed for those workers and for their survivors. You did nothing.”
It is a failure that Janice says means the WSIB has “forfeited your right to be the entity charged with that duty. “
Number Three: “Despite the fact that the WSIB did not actually conduct a formal review of the scientific evidence on aluminum and neurological disorders, the WSIB indicated in media releases that they did.
“So you just keep telling us that you’re doing your job, but you’re not actually doing your job.
Number Four: The WSIB plays a double game to deny claims.
“So if the WSIB makes a decision on a worker’s compensation claim in accordance with its own operational policies—that the WSIB itself writes—that decision cannot be overturned by the [appeals] Tribunal. Their hands are tied.
“In the case of the McIntyre Powder miners the WSIB ... shut down the Tribunal after the first decision that granted entitlement to a worker for a neurocognitive disorder related to occupational aluminum exposure. That is not a fair system. That is not a just system. That is why I fight!
‘The behemoth that is WSIB'
Janice concludes her Open Letter by blaming a dysfunctional system.
She says: “When I speak critically of the WSIB I am speaking broadly of the system and the legislation that governs it. My criticisms are in reference to the organizational culture, the bureaucracy, the behemoth that is WSIB."
She goes on: “These are complicated cases and they deserve a comprehensive systemic response that in turn requires comprehensive systemic reform.
“Because if we are not looking at these workers as a whole, if we are not documenting what they are exposed to and what health issues they have, then we will never find the next benzine, we will never find the next asbestos and we will be dooming the next generation of workers to the same fate.
She ends: “If you had done that for my dad’s claim we wouldn’t be here.”
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