National Day of Mourning commemorates workers who have been killed, injured or suffered illness due to workplace related hazards and incidents.
Mourn for the dead. Fight for the living!
Written by Michelle Schryer - Executive Director, Chatham-Kent Sexual Assault Crisis Centre
On this National Day of Mourning I want to acknowledge, with deepest sympathy to his family, the
death of 24 year old Michael Cobb of Chatham who died April 12, 2018 as the result of an industrial accident.
After the workplace murder of Theresa Vince in Chatham June 2, 1996, I learned that I was sadly mistaken in my understanding that a coroner’s inquest was automatically called when a worker was killed on the job. Had Theresa's injury occurred on a construction site while using machinery, for example, an inquest would rightfully have been mandatory under Ontario law. A public inquiry into the workplace murder of a woman, who according to all news reports had lodged a sexual harassment complaint fifteen months earlier against her supervisor (found dead by suicide at the same workplace), was ‘discretionary’. Theresa’s grieving family and a coalition consisting of women's advocates and organized Labour, launched a successful petition for an inquest, and along with numerous others, began a decades - long fight for occupational health and safety reform towards improved workplace safety and equality. Theresa’s family was in the Ontario Legislature in June, 2001 when former Chatham-Kent-Essex M.P.P. Pat Hoy presented a Private Members Bill to amend Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act. By October 20, 2004, three more Private Members Bills to this end were presented. All four Bills died on the order paper.
On November 12, 2005, Nurse Lori Dupont was killed on the job by a physician with whom she worked at a Windsor hospital, and with whom she had previously ended an intimate relationship. After he murdered Lori he left the hospital, drove to another location and ended his life. A week later the Coroner's office announced that a public inquiry would not be held. Supported by Lori's family, women's advocates, organized Labour, academics, survivors, community groups and others, more than 10,000 signatures were garnered on another successful petition calling for a public inquest; this time into the murder of Nurse Lori Dupont. Jury recommendations at this inquest echoed those from the Theresa Vince inquest, once again illuminating the need for systemic, multi-sectoral change and reform in occupational health and safety laws. Moreover, they served as a painful reminder that both workplace tragedies were preventable. By December 2007, three more Private Members Bills for occupational health and safety reform had been introduced, bringing the total number to seven!
Through the Theresa Vince and Lori Dupont inquests we learned details about the gender-based harassment and violence they experienced on their jobs. Without the inquests, we wouldn’t know the full scope and truth of what they went through. We would not have learned that Theresa wasn’t the first woman to be murdered by a man who had harassed her at work. Information gleaned at the inquest into her death (and the man who murdered her), made it abundantly clear that sexual harassment is a dangerous circumstance in the workplace; the harasser/abuser - the hazard. The inquest into Lori’s death (and the man who murdered her), made it equally clear that domestic violence can spill into the workplace and when it does, it must be dealt with promptly and effectively. Bad behaviour, unchecked, will escalate and time has shown that, left only to the goodwill of employers, gendered harassment and violence have been allowed to continue in too many workplaces. Women have, and continue to, suffer stress-related illness, mental distress, harm, injury and even death as a result.
Two families, who determined the loss of their loved ones would not be in vain, and numerous others, kept up the fight for women’s improved safety at work. The Vince family, in partnership with others, spent years advocating legislative reform, conducting and participating in research and education to advance respect, safety and equality in Ontario workplaces. On January 10, 2008 following the inquest into Lori's murder, her mother - Barbara Dupont - and others, formed the Inquest Action Group and focused their attention on reform of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Two months after the formation of the Inquest Action Group, another tragedy… On March 8, 2008, the body of twenty-seven year old Brenda Healey from Newmarket was found. Brenda had been raped and murdered by a coworker when she went to pick up her paycheque. The two were employed by a transportation company. Although there was no inquest into Brenda’s death (and the murderer’s apparent suicide), news reports confirmed that the killer had been convicted of aggravated assault after he committed a violent attack on a woman nine years earlier.
In my view, there is no question about why we have seen the onset of the #MeToo movement!
Bill 168, passed in 2010, was a step forward in better addressing gendered harassment and violence in Ontario workplaces. However, the 2016 passage of Bill 132 - An Act to amend various statutes with respect to sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence and related matters, offers the promise of a safer workplace and more effective response for workers who experience harassment and bullying on the job. Recent reform of the Employment Standards Act, making domestic or sexual violence leave a job-protected leave of absence, is another encouraging sign that law makers are getting the message that positive, meaningful change is necessary to effectively protect workers from gendered violence.
Mourn for the dead. Fight for Living! Even if it takes twenty years, change is possible.