OHS Canada Magazine

Supreme Court finds in favour of medical workers claiming workplace cancer

June 24, 2016
By The Canadian Press
Health & Safety Occupational Hygiene Workers Compensation Health care occupational exposure occupational health and safety

OTTAWA – The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in favour of three British Columbia medical workers who argued they developed breast cancer as a result of their jobs.

Katrina Hammer, Patricia Schmidt and Anne MacFarlane, who worked in a lab at Mission Memorial Hospital, were among seven women at the lab who developed breast cancer.

The Workers’ Compensation Board originally denied their applications for compensation benefits on the grounds their breast cancers were not occupational diseases.

But rulings by the Workers Compensation Administrative Tribunal in 2010 and 2011 overturned those decisions and linked the cancers to the workplace.

The British Columbia Court of Appeal, however, said the tribunal’s decisions were “patently unreasonable” because there was no evidence that the women’s cancer was caused by their work environment and the tribunal ignored expert advice to the contrary. The court suggested the cases were a statistical anomaly.


On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled 6-1 in favour of women.

Justice Russell Brown, writing for the majority, said the tribunal’s finding was not patently unreasonable.

“While the record on which that decision was based did not include confirmatory expert evidence, the tribunal nonetheless relied upon other evidence which, viewed reasonably, was capable of supporting its finding of a causal link between the workers’ breast cancers and workplace conditions,” he wrote.

He said the law sets a lower burden of proof in such cases and must favour the women.

“The applicable burden of proof is not the civil burden of ‘balance of probabilities,”’ he wrote.

“Where the evidence leads to a draw, the finding must favour the worker.”

Justice Suzanne Cote disagreed sharply with the majority.

“In my view, the original decision of the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal is patently unreasonable,” she wrote in her dissent.

“On my reading, there is no evidence¬†– and certainly no positive evidence – capable of supporting a causal link between the workers’ employment and the development of their respective disease.”
Copyright (c) 2016 The Canadian Press


Stories continue below