Canadian Contractor

Alec Caldwell   

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

Permits & Legal

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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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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