Jun 172012

Jeremy Loome

First posted: Friday, October 23, 2009 02:24 AM MDT |
Updated: Friday, October 23, 2009 02:49 AM MDT

There is no amount of government corruption and ineptitude sufficient to make it acceptable to take hostages at gunpoint in an office building, as a city man is alleged to have done. That much should be obvious. It should also be obvious that there are systemic problems within the Workers’ Compensation Board leading to such grossly unfair treatment of injured workers that some are pushed to the brink.

Don’t just take our word for it, although a 2006 Sun investigation uncovered a litany of corrupt and dangerous practices within the organization: two separate provincial government reviews, including one led by a retired judge and the other by former MLA Victor Doerksen, concluded that there was a “culture of denial” within the WCB. As many as 80% of respondents in retired Judge Samuel Friedman’s review expressed dissatisfaction with the agency.

The Sun series introduced readers to normal everyday Albertans driven to the edge, including to suicide, others injured by WCB staff, and one man who was simply left to die with minimal help. Most had won the vast majority of appeals against WCB decisions but in some cases were still fighting the agency more than two decades after their struggle began.

The WCB’s response to all of this has been to suggest complainants are a fringe minority, although how that mitigates its past behaviour has never been explained.

The government, for its part, simply lied to Albertans. First, then Human Resources minister Clint Dunford said the issue would be fully addressed, then he delayed for two years, before the Tories casually pulled the plug-in the legislature — after furious lobbying from a business sector opposed to helping pay for potentially millions of dollars in retroactive claims.

The problems at the WCB are so broad that most media agencies won’t even report on cases unless something like yesterday’s incident occurs to push it into “spot news” territory. Simply put, they can’t handle the flood of public complainants against the agency any article draws out of the woodwork.

Wednesday’s drama was utterly unacceptable, particularly given that the vast majority of WCB employees, who are just trying to help people, are pawns of a corrupt system.

But it wasn’t surprising.