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November 20, 2006
Tapes kept from workers
The Workers' Compensation Board has routinely withheld
video evidence from injured workers, despite legislation requiring full
disclosure, the Sun has learned.
The WCB is changing the policy after a complaint to Alberta
Ombudsman Gord Button was upheld and says after Dec. 1, it will release all
surveillance evidence to workers.
The revelation comes after local injured workers advocate
Kevin Becker discovered large sums paid to Edmonton-based private investigators
for surveillance of his clients - although no surveillance results were in the
In a May letter, Button told Becker he supports his
complaint and wants answers from the WCB. "I have written to the president and
chief executive officer of the WCB with my recommendations and asked him to
provide me with a response. When I hear from him, I will be in touch with you
again to provide my final conclusions on this investigation."
The Ombudsman's office is prohibited from discussing its
investigations publicly. But Becker says the issue is one more reason to fully
review WCB operations and contentious claims against the board.
"They just refused to put that investigative information on
file when I identified it," says Becker, a former WCB case manager. "You
couldn't do this in a criminal court. If you withheld that kind of information
during discovery, you'd be in big trouble."
Becker believes there's a culture of denying claims within
the WCB and it will go to lengths to hasten that process.
"They have a system of incentives where they pay people
more based on their performance, and one of the many criteria is cost. How do
you control costs? I can speak as a former case manager that there may have
been performance indicators, but when they reviewed performance, they always
came back to cost of the file and getting rid of it."
Becker says he was told by the WCB the investigations
proved irrelevant to the case. "If someone secretly surveils my client for two
months and they can't find any indication that he is faking his injury, does it
not stand to reason that might in fact support his claim?" he suggested.
Former appeals commission chair Rick Vermette, now a labour
rep, says he ran into a similar case.
"Back before the legislation split the appeals commission
off as a separate entity from the board, one of the registrars reported that
she was checking the payment screens for a particular case and noticed they
were paying for surveillance, but we'd heard nothing about it," he said.
Becker's client Ralph Teed, who fought the board for 20
years to get benefits, complained a video tape used in his case appeared
edited, with large time sequences removed. At one point, the investigators
appear to videotape the wrong man.
The WCB says it is against its policies for tape to be
edited. "We contract with professional investigation companies whose techniques
... are driven by the rules of evidence, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and
our own standard of investigative ethics," said spokesman Jacqueline Varga.
"The WCB special investigation unit does not allow editing to be done by our
At the time of the surveillance, Teed had no clue what was
going on. His neighbours, however, had a few ideas.
"The neighbours saw these people over there and someone
went over there and they said they were cops watching a drug dealer," says
Teed. "And this came back to me. And so here I didn't realize, the person
they're watching is me!"
There is also, Teed notes, a secondary question: can the
WCB release a client's information to an outside investigative firm without
contravening the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. "It's
one thing for them to have the information, because the worker has given them
permission. But my understanding is that they can't just give it out to some
outside company they're paying for a job."
Advocate Theresa Roper says WCB private investigators go to
lengths to misconstrue a client's condition, and did manage to catch one
behaving more energetically than expected.
"The problem is, he's on huge doses of morphine that WCB
paid for, and he's at his father's funeral. He'd advised them in advance that
he was going there, and that he was going to a pallbearer because this was the
last time he was going to be able to do anything for his father. The videotape
showing that he could lift weight was him carrying his father's casket. The
videotape that shows he could sit for 25-30 minutes instead of the 10 he claims
was shot in the funeral.''
The WCB then deducted from his benefits for the time he was
at the funeral and out arranging it.
"He says to me, 'I know I did that stuff. And for two weeks
afterwards I could barely move. But damn it, I was going to my father's
They won the case on appeal.