Canada·CBC Investigates

After 6-month wait, cheques land on doorstep of sick Ontario worker

Mitch LaPrade has been fighting the WSIB for 11 years, arguing his chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) was caused by exposure to a carcinogen called benzene. The highest level of Ontario’s workers’ compensation system ruled in his favour last fall, but his cheques only arrived this week after a CBC investigation.

Mitch LaPrade fought an 11-year battle to prove his cancer was tied to benzene exposure at work

Mitch LaPrade stands on the porch of his home in Long Sault, Ont., holding two envelopes from Ontario's WSIB, the result of an 11-year battle for a workers' compensation claim. (Submitted by Mitch LaPrade)

Mitch LaPrade was sleeping when the packages arrived — a daily necessity because of his extreme lack of energy in the afternoons. His wife woke him up with the news. 

Upon opening the mail, 14 cheques fell out — each for a different amount, with no explanatory paperwork or indication as to how Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) had arrived at the total.

"The FedEx guy just tossed the brown envelopes on our front porch," said LaPrade, who lives in Long Sault, Ont.

LaPrade has been fighting the WSIB for 11 years, arguing his chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) was caused by exposure to a carcinogen called benzene, a chemical in the solvents he used to clean the presses at the printing company he'd worked for two decades.

The cheques from WSIB are for loss of earnings (LoE), one of the forms of compensation to which injured workers are entitled, which pays out 85 per cent of a worker's take-home wages. LaPrade became too sick to work in 2006.

I didn't do this for the money; I did it because my life is ruined and no one is accountable.- Mitch LaPrade

But with no supporting documentation in the package, LaPrade says he has no indication as to how the WSIB made its calculation — and whether he can keep it all.

After he stopped working, LaPrade received employment insurance and a disability pension. But now that he's been granted workers' compensation, rules say he may have to pay back those amounts.

"It's still not my money," LaPrade said of the cheques, as he expects to now have to dedicate a significant portion of the funds to paying back the government.

Vindicated after a decade

Although LaPrade has fought for these payments for more than a decade, he said he can't help but think about how the early years of his illness could have been far less stressful if he'd been compensated sooner.

"When I got sick, I didn't know where I was going or what I was going to do," he said. "I got to a point where I couldn't work anymore. And so here I was, 45 years old, with a Grade 12 diploma. That doesn't get you much in the workplace."

Mitch LaPrade waits with wife, Peggy Bigelow, at the Ottawa Hospital to receive chemotherapy. (CBC)

He said the cheques feel like a slight vindication — that he didn't do all this fighting for nothing. But he admits there is a lingering feeling that they've come too late.

"I can't even spend this money," said LaPrade. He is far too fatigued to do the things he used to love, like golf and travel.

"I didn't do this for the money; I did it because my life is ruined and no one is accountable."

When contacted by CBC News, the WSIB declined to comment, citing privacy concerns.

Different rules for different jobs

LaPrade's lengthy battle with the WSIB was outlined earlier this week in a CBC News investigation, which revealed that while LaPrade was continually denied compensation, the board implemented legislation that automatically compensated firefighters if they fell ill with the same disease because of toxins they're exposed to on the job.

LaPrade took his case to the highest level of Ontario's workers' compensation system, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal. It ruled in his favour last November.

LaPrade's lawyer, Bernadette Clement, called the now-57-year-old's six-month wait for compensation "not uncommon."

While the tribunal's decisions are independent and final, she said the decision is passed back down to the WSIB to implement and it often results in further delays.

"It's bureaucracy and it's frustrating and it's happening to workers who are not well," she said. "There is a lot of anger and frustration. They feel their lives are so damaged by the work injury and then [they're] revictimized by the whole process."