Cranbrook teachers who claimed mercury poisoning get new hearing

Judge says 2010 decision in Mount Baker Secondary School mercury case was 'manifestly unfair.'

A group of six Cranbrook teachers who claim they were poisoned by mercury during their time at Mount Baker Secondary School were vindicated Tuesday as a Supreme Court Justice granted them a new court-ordered compensation board hearing.

In a tersely worded decision from a Vancouver Supreme Court room, Justice A. Saunders said the decision handed down by the Worker’s Compensation Appeal Tribunal in September, 2010 was unfair.

“It was manifestly unfair to the petitioners. The panel’s conclusion was patently unreasonable,” Saunders wrote in his ruling.

B.C. Teacher’s Federation president Susan Lambert is lauding the move that she says has taken too long.

“It’s a long time coming,” Lambert told the Townsman. “It’s a good ruling. It’s a strong ruling. That’s very strong language from a Justice.”

Saunders ordered the case be sent back to the WCAT for another hearing, where the teachers will go through the process all over again. The teachers spurred the Supreme Court case after filing a judicial review in June of this year.

The WCAT found in 2010 that the teachers did not suffer mercury poisoning at Mount Baker.

“The panel found that the evidence was insufficient to establish that the workers suffered from mercury poisoning,” the ruling said. “The workers did not have an occupational disease due to the nature of their employment.”

Lambert said the six teachers began noticing symptoms of mercury poisoning in 2004 and 2005, and have been fighting to be covered by the Worker’s Compensation Board ever since.

“You’re doing it in failing health and initially their concerns were dismissed,” Lambert said. “The impact was serious on their health and has robbed them of the ability to enjoy life.”

The symptoms of mercury poisoning include fatigue, headaches, joint pain, respiratory problems, tremors, weight loss, memory loss, insomnia, and irritability.

Lambert said the BCTF did an enormous amount of work to investigate the claims made by the teachers. Cranbrook and District Teachers Association president Wendy Turner said in 2010 that the teachers did not enter into these allegations lightly.

“It wasn’t a run of the mill case,” Lambert said. “It was a very unique situation – I mean I hope it’s a unique situation in the province.”

Lambert worries about the students who were potentially exposed to mercury as well, but said teachers spent a much larger percentage of their time in the classrooms.

“The teachers had to live in these classrooms, and had to live in them year after year,” she said.

Following the BCTF’s claims, School District 5 underwent a $200,000 investigation into the mercury situation at Mount Baker, and conducted some upgrades. Bill Gook, superintendent at the time of the allegations, said in 2010 that he hoped the WCAT ruling would prove that Mount Baker is safe for students and staff.

Lambert said the BCTF is “absolutely not” happy with SD5’s response, and said the federation should not have had to take their claims as far as they have.

“The fact that we had to go to this length – to the Supreme Court of B.C.,” she said.

Lambert said the teachers’ concerns were initially dismissed by SD5, and it was a struggle to get to this point. She wonders if the six teachers have any fight left in them after years of health issues and legal wrangling.

“I’m not sure how much energy they have left to work on this file,” she said.

If the WCAT hearing goes ahead without an appeal from SD5, the teachers will have to repeat a process they completed in 2010.

Just Posted

Kimberley Community Band in concert

The recent concert by Kimberley Community Band featured a number of soloists.… Continue reading

Upcoming Chamber events in Kimberley

The Kimberley Chamber of Commerce is celebrating Chamber Week (Feb. 20-24) with… Continue reading

Council discusses renewing MOU with BC Timber Sales

Kimberley City Council has voted to table a discussion about a Memorandum… Continue reading

Kimberley Youth Action Network asks for City’s help in becoming legal entity

The Kimberley Youth Action Network (KYAN) is requesting that the City of… Continue reading

Friends of the Kimberley Public Library celebrate another successful year

2018 saw over 10,000 books sold to about 3000 customers.

Regional news recap

A quick recap of the top news stories this week in Cranbrook, Creston, Fernie and Kimberley.

A Mother’s Wish: Ryan Shtuka’s mother wants her son to be ‘forever known’

‍‍‍‍‍“Let me tell you a story …. it all began with a boy named Ryan”

Sex abuse survivors to meet with Vatican summit organizers

Pope Francis has urged participants to meet with abuse victims before they came to Rome

Ex-FBI official: ‘Crime may have been committed’ by Trump

Andrew McCabe said FBI had good reason to open a counterintelligence investigation into whether Trump was in league with Russia

B.C. athlete takes home gold in freestyle aerials at Canada Games

Brayden Kuroda won the event with a combined score of 121.65.

Cabinet likely to extend deadline to reconsider Trans Mountain pipeline

New round of consultations with Indigenous communities is coming

B.C. government provides $75,000 towards salmon study

Study looks at abundance and health of Pacific salmon in Gulf of Alaska

Most Read