Quebec clears path for farmers with Parkinson's to get workers' compensation

By adding Parkinson's to the list of occupational illnesses, it will be easier for people to claim benefits through the province's workplace health and safety board.

By adding Parkinson's to the list of occupational illnesses, it will be easier for people to claim benefits

Quebec's law will be in line with France, where workers will have to prove direct exposure to pesticides through contact or inhalation for a period of at least 10 years. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

For people working in the agriculture industry who have developed Parkinson's as a result of long-term exposure to pesticides, claiming benefits from Quebec's workplace health and safety board (CNESST) is about to get easier.

With Parkinson's added to the list of accepted occupational illnesses, people working on farms will no longer have to prove the disease is related to their work.

But, similar to the law in France, Quebecers who seek compensation will have to prove they have had direct exposure to pesticides through contact or inhalation over a period of at least 10 years.

Another limitation on the government's decision: The Parkinson's diagnosis must have been made within seven years after the end of exposure to pesticides.

According to a statement from the Labour Ministry, this change represents the government's acknowledgement of "the evolution of scientific advances" which show that "exposure to pesticides, without the prescribed precautionary measures, can have harmful effects on human health."

"By promoting better access to the compensation plan for the thousands of men and women who work daily to feed Quebec, we are ensuring that everyone is treated fairly," said André Lamontagne, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in a statement.

Quebec Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity Minister Jean Boulet, right, pictured with Quebec Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Minister Andre Lamontagne, centre. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

For 55-year-old Serge Boily, having his condition recognized as work-related is a major win.

"It changes my life. Knowing that I am recognized gives me hope," he said.

Boily worked as a pesticide sprayer throughout the 1990s in the Quebec City area. He developed Parkinson's disease and now suffers from memory loss, loss of balance, difficulty swallowing and sometimes even speaking.

He's not sure what kind of compensation he will be eligible for, but is optimistic that this decision could improve his life.

'This is a big breakthrough'

Elizabeth McNamara, 71, lived on a dairy farm in Quebec's Outaouais region for 24 years with her husband. They used two herbicides: glyphosate and atrazine.

He developed Parkinson's in 2012, the same year France officially recognized the connection between the disease and pesticide exposure.

McNamara developed Parkinson's four years later. 

She told CBC she suffers from tremors, low energy and finds it hard to walk any significant distance.

"You see your capacities diminishing," she said. "My speech is not affected yet but my husband's speech is very badly affected."

McNamara, who is a member of the Association of Quebec Pesticide Victims, called the government's decision "a light at the end of the tunnel."

"I was so happy to see that at least we have recognition of it today," said McNamara. "This is a big breakthrough."

The association has been lobbying hard for this change. They appeared in front of a National Assembly legislative committee hearing alongside Parkinson Quebec and the Union of Agricultural Producers.

We thought an employee would get hurt by a machine, not from an airborne pesticide.- Elizabeth McNamara

McNamara said her main goal is to get the word out about the harmful impact of pesticides and to warn the younger generation.

"My biggest quest was to inform people so that we can nip it in the bud."

She herself does not qualify for compensation since she did not pay health and safety premiums.

She says that most of the farmers she knew back in the day never paid into the CNESST for themselves.

"We did it for employees but we didn't do it for ourselves," she said. "We thought an employee would get hurt by a machine, not from an airborne pesticide."

McNamara also wants to see other conditions related to pesticide exposure added to the occupational health list, including Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, prostate cancer, Alzheimer's and fertility issues.

With files from Radio-Canada's Thomas Gerbet


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