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Villain or hero? Claimant becomes a thorn in the side of the Ontario WSIB

Frank Brunato, a manager at WSIB, sought a peace bond against a disgruntled claimant who had been denied benefits. Brunato said that Mike Spencer, a champion of claimant's rights, was ridiculing him on Facebook.


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March 24, 2015 by Alec Caldwell

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The stories about apparently legitimate claimants being denied Ontario WSIB benefits are sadly multiplying. (See my recent articles More slash and burn tactics against claimants from the WSIB  and The sorry tale of yet another legitimate WSIB claimant denied benefits.)

Now it seems that battle between denied claimants and the monopoly workplace insurance agency is getting personal. One of WSIB’s employees, Frank Brunato, a corporate safety manager has sought a peace bond against troublesome Mike Spencer, a champion of many other disgruntled claimants. Spencer was hauled into court for a two-day ordeal last week.

Here’s a summary of the events in The Windsor Star: Windsor’s self-described defender of injured workers fights peace bond.

The reporter, Trevor Wilhelm tells us that Brunato testified, in reference to Spencer’s Facebook campaign, that he felt singled out: “It belittled me, it demeaned me… It made me feel bad. A lot of stuff posted is very derogatory in nature and intended to put a mental toll on an individual.”

The Star article says Spencer “grew agitated and emotional on the witness stand Wednesday as he tried to stop an arm of the Ontario government from muzzling his online comments.”

Spencer said that “his comments (were) not meant to be threatening or incite violence.” He even admitted that “much of what he posted was meant to get him sued or otherwise hauled into court so he had another public forum to express his views.”

“This is all to humiliate and demean them,” Spencer said, “so disabled workers can see and they won’t be afraid.”

“I want these people criminally charged,” Spencer told the Star. “I want them tried, I want them convicted and I want them punished,”

First, I have to say that I don’t condone threatening behavior towards anyone, including WSIB employees. But I’ve also never made a claim to WSIB and been in the position that many disgruntled claimants have. They’ve had to sit across a desk from one of these well-paid employees – and watch the employee in question systematically close down their claim. I can only imagine the fall-out effects, both financially and mentally, that these denied claimants must be coping with. This could include loss of their homes, severe damage to their family relationships, loss of vehicles… How about, the complete loss of their dignity?

Take Spencer, for example. He suffered a workplace accident back in 2008. His leg was broken in three places. He had to fight WSIB tooth and nail all the way (and still is) and it caused him to sink into depression. WSIB stopped paying for his pain medication. And for those applauding that WSIB is trying to run a tight ship, consider that Spencer’s monthly WSIB pension is only $610. Obviously Spencer is hardly milking a good thing here. How can someone who has a disability survive on such low benefits?

Spencer has said that, in his opinion, WSIB’s inadequate benefits, combined with the pain of injuries, cause “heart attacks, strokes and even suicides.” He says that, every week, WSIB claimants in dire straights talk about suicide to him.

It’s a big issue that WSIB seems to be choosing to ignore, preferring to focus on reducing their huge debt over the health of real people; people who could be your spouse, sister, brother, child or even one of your parents.

Since I’ve not read any further comments from Spencer since the court case, I then assume he lost his case – and possibly his free speech. I say society needs people like Mike Spencer, people who are ready to fight against the odds, taking on giants like the WSIB.

Assuming Spencer is now muzzled, is there someone else willing to pick up the baton from this brave man and continue the fight?

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Alec Caldwell

Alec Caldwell

Alec Caldwell is the Founder of CARAHS, a Health & Safety Organization. We are approved providers by the Ministry of Labour (Ontario) to teach Working at Heights Training (Pro#34609) Visit the Ministry of Labour's web site to view our listing
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2 Comments » for Villain or hero? Claimant becomes a thorn in the side of the Ontario WSIB
  1. Erin Hawkins says:

    1. I recognize as an employer paying your premiums as you’re required to so, you unlikely do not know who to believe. I will summarize what WSIB has been doing for at least a decade but has accelerated their attacks on injured workers in the last 5 years. WSIB collects premiums from employers to protect themselves from lawsuits & to provide for workers who are injured on the job. Like a person buying a life insurance policy, $100,000.00 for your dependents to provide for their financial futures. Imagine that when that day came and your family tries to collect with your death certificate in hand. The response of the insurance company was to tell your dependents & beneficiaries that they will only pay them $20.000.00 or simply refuse payment altogether take it or leave it…file an appeal. If you appeal though we may refuse past benefits paid to you. How would you feel? This is how injured workers are feeling. How is this possible? WSIB is an arm’s length agency of the Ministry of Labour. WSIB; Don Marshall, Elizabeth Witmer & John Slinger tells the Labour Minister what he wants to hear but the reality is completely different for injured workers. The truth is in the details. WSIB has implemented discriminatory policies that completely overrides WSIA legislation. Such as “deeming”; deeming an injured worker well enough to return to work based on WSIB’s new policy & not based on medical evidence of the worker. Creating clinics to rubber stamp this false medical information that contradicts a worker’s specialist reports. Outright denial of all benefits to older & psychologically injured workers based on new policy not WSIA. Deemed 80% to 100% reductions to injured workers benefits based on “phantom” wages when a injured remains medically unable to work. Why should employers care if it keeps their premium rates down? Employers are paying twice for these worker injuries, through premiums and through their taxes as these now poverty stricken injured workers & their families fall onto various government programs since WSIB is not paying legitimate claims, arbitrarily reducing benefits & health care supported by lots of medical evidence. My own situation is supported by numerous medical reports from 5 doctors & specialists stating I remain unable to work for medical reasons but WSIB has cut my benefits by 80% through deeming. Taxpayers are paying for these workers & their families since WSIB has refused to pay but this hasn’t stopped WSIB from collecting premiums so where are these premiums going? Check out the Sunshine list, there’re hundreds listed from WSIB. WSIB is suggesting this is necessary to cover an unfunded liability or put another way to put enough in their savings account to pay for bills that do not come do for payment for another 10-30 years. These injured workers & their families are your neighbours but they may also be your consumers. Therefore forcing them into bankruptcy doesn’t help local businesses.

    This is some real statistics based on “real” people & their “real situation” after a workplace injury. This is 5 years old before WSIB stepped up its assault on Injured Workers’ benefits. WSIB is using information about injured workers’ outcomes post-injury from before 2000, today this situation is significantly worse.
    Injured Workers and Poverty Survey 2010
    A Community-based Participatory Research Project
    Many Losses, Much Hardship
    The Impact of Work Injury
    FAST FACTS
    • Before injury, 89% were employed full time; after injury 9%
    • Nearly one in five lost their homes after injury
    • Nearly one quarter had moved in with family or friends at some point after their injuries
    • One in five injured workers could no longer afford a car
    • Food bank use rose from 5 to 77 people after work injury
    • 20% reported an overnight hospital stay the last 12 months (most because of the work injury) compared with 7% for the general population of Canadians
    • Over half had not been able to afford medications in the past 12 months
    • 57% of injured workers in the study were unemployed
    For more information: wwwinjuredworkersonline.org
    If I were paying premiums to WSIB in support of programs that were to help injured workers and were to keep them out of poverty and not dependent on society. I would feel ripped off by WSIB with these statistics. When John Slinger talks of quicker decisions, he talks of quicker denials that may force injured workers spend the next decade tied up in WSIB’s appeals process. When WSIB, John Slinger talks of the same number of claims accepted, how many are actually receiving the full 85% as promised or have they been “deemed” working & counted as a WSIB success story when in reality they are receiving so little with WSIB, their family has fallen onto Welfare since they are still medically unable to work. The truth is in the details, employers are being ripped off but seriously, permanently injured workers are being forced into poverty and to commit suicide as a direct result of WSIB’s new discriminatory and illegal policies that are undermining WSIA. Despite the huge number of WSIB workers on the sunshine list, WSIB has been stashing away billions into savings through claims denials or seriously & illegally reduced benefits, this has been done on the backs of hundreds of thousands of the most seriously injured workers. Type “Injured Worker” or WSIAT into Google for true stories and the backlog of appeals that remain delayed for at least a year to be heard. Eventually this situation will be exposed. Premiums are artificially low while WSIB’s wasteful spending continues unabated. The government plans on having Mr. Don Marshall do the same for Ontario’s No-Fault Auto Insurance system, this will affect all Ontarians. The Denial of Legitimate Contractual Insurance Benefits is not good management of expenses. Like paying premiums for $100,000. Benefit of Life Insurance but the Insurance Company refuses to pay the Benefits as promised. No other Insurance company could get away with this….what WSIB is trying to do is illegal.

  2. Mike Spencer says:

    Dear Alec, we did not lose and free speech for all disabled workers was protected. Brunato did get a peacebond but Marshall and Witmer failed in their attempts to silence me and all disabled workers. Marshall was also on the petition and as noted in the discovery file by the detectives Witmer was behind the entire thing but didn’t want to be the face of it. Marshall begged the Crown to let off of it 3 days before the hearing commenced. They actually plotted to have me imprisoned for 3 years. The suicides they have caused is what scares them the most. We are far from done with them and will be at WSIAT in June finally and then we deal with the legislation which is our main goal and the Attorney General of Canada and Ontario as well as Human Rights will be involved. I was not aware of these articles and would have addressed your question much sooner. Wsib will never fall for the same trick again and I did cause Marshall to flee Wsib early. he didn’t want to have to answer questions about suicides. I do have the court transcript for the exchange between the Crown and I but we could not afford the entire thing as of this date. The Judge stated that she found my testimony self serving at times but “absolutely credible ” I handed over many of the suicidal messages I had received from disabled workers some of whom are now deceased.