Home Occupational Health & Safety Stewart family has final say on fate of WSIB appeal, caseworker says

Stewart family has final say on fate of WSIB appeal, caseworker says

By Richard Hutton | The Lake Report

It will be up to the family of a man who was injured while working as a seasonal agricultural worker in Niagara-on-the-Lake if an appeal of the denial of benefits by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board will continue.

That’s according to David Arruda, the caseworker from the Toronto-based Industrial Accident Victims Group Ontario community legal clinic who was to represent Jeleel Stewart at an upcoming appeal hearing.

Stewart, 51, was to have an appeal heard by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal but he died at home in Jamaica in January. Arruda said he could not shed more light on what may come next.

“At this exact moment I can’t give you too much information,” Arruda told The Lake Report.

“There has to be further discussion (with Stewart’s family),” he said.

”Considering everything that has been going on, those conversations haven’t happened yet.”

The WSIB has said it is up to the tribunal to decide on the Stewart appeal while a spokesperson for the tribunal said it could not comment on individual appeals.

Stewart was working at Mori Nurseries in 2008 when he was seriously injured in an accident involving a forklift. His left hand was crushed, severing tendons and nerves.

Jane Andres of Niagara Workers Welcome, the Niagara-on-the-Lake group that advocates for and provides support to seasonal agricultural workers, has followed Stewart’s case for years.

“We dared to hope that Jeleel would live long enough to experience justice,” Andres said in a news release announcing Stewart’s death.

“He was just 51 years of age and a few weeks away from having his appeal heard when he passed away.”

Previous appeals to the tribunal on behalf of Stewart were denied.

But last September, when ruling on another case involving four other seasonal agricultural workers, the tribunal said the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board was wrong to deny the compensation claims of the workers.

The all were hired under the federal Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program and the tribunal said the four workers were entitled to proper loss-of-earnings benefits and retraining support.

That decision prompted a new appeal on behalf of Stewart’s case.

The appeal was scheduled to be heard this summer but given the state of Stewart’s declining health, a request was made to have the appeal moved up.

Stewart had a stroke last summer and was left unable to speak. He also had a stent implanted in 2022 to alleviate ongoing heart issues.

Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates has taken up the cause at Queen’s Park with Bill 57, a private member’s bill he reintroduced late last year that would help seasonal workers receive compensation if they are injured on the job while in Canada.

Workers like Stewart are victims of what Gates referred to as “deeming,” which occurs when the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board decides a worker is able to earn money they are not actually earning, on the basis of suitable and available work they do not actually have.

Gates said it hurts workers and winds up costing taxpayers money when the injured workers are forced to apply for social assistance such as Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program.

“Fifty per cent of the people who are injured are living in poverty,” Gates said.

The bill, however, has yet to have come up for second reading at Queen’s Park and is currently collecting dust.

Andres agreed with Gates.

“We have been asking (the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board) to end the harmful practice of deeming and to provide proper compensation to Jeleel Stewart and his family since 2010,” Andres said in the release.

Meanwhile, Niagara Workers Welcome is raising funds to help cover funeral costs for Stewart’s family. Donations can be made via e-transfer to [email protected].

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