BC Attorney Craig Paterson Was ‘A Fighter for Worker Health and Safety’

Images are not available offline.

Craig Paterson was a well-known figure in the investigations of coroners hired by surviving families to press for answers. In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, he was one of the first to question the safety of Canada’s blood supply on behalf of the family of a hemophilic factory worker who died of AIDS.

Courtesy of the family

Attorney Craig Paterson cut a swathe through the hitherto quiet complacency in British Columbia’s worker’s compensation decision-making process. For more than three decades, injured workers feeling hurt have had no tougher advocate than Mr. Paterson. He shattered precedents, took on cases that seemed hopeless, and shook up the status quo with a pit bull demeanor in his relentless pursuit of a fairer deal for his clients. He was equally passionate about the need for strict health and safety regulations to protect workers in the workplace and hold employers accountable when workplace fatalities occurred.

From his humble office in the historic, 13-story Dominion Building in what was once the heart of downtown Vancouver, the tall, burly attorney lashed out in all directions, pushing legal boundaries as far as he could, often with extravagant accusations of bias and conflicts of interest found in court cases were not always well received. But little deterred him. While some cases may seem quixotic, one of them received national attention when he unsuccessfully attempted to have alcoholism recognized as an occupational disease on behalf of a client who spent much of his working life in remote labor camps. Vancouver Sun columnist Denny Boyd wrote approvingly of Mr. Paterson, who died on January 26 at the age of 76 after several months of failing health. “He takes on cases that lawyers would not do in a hurry. It opens cans and releases legal worms.”

Longstanding practices by British Columbia’s Workers’ Compensation Board (now WorkSafeBC), the agency that oversees workplace safety and compensation for workers injured on the job, were a red flag for Mr. Paterson. Most notably, in 1981 he repealed a year-old WCB policy that did not allow disabled workers who appealed an award to see the files on which their award was based. Before the BC Court of Appeal and a public gallery full of disabled workers, Mr. Paterson asked how fair that could be. The judges also wondered, with one comparing the situation to Alice in Wonderland.

READ :  Crypto lawyers will be in demand as regulatory pressures reach boiling point

The story continues below the ad

They ruled unanimously in favor of Mr Paterson’s client, 55-year-old disabled railway worker Vincenzo Napoli, and asked the WCB to turn over his file. The Napoli case was fundamental for injured and disabled workers and definitively changed compensation procedures.

In another, more complex case, Mr Paterson claimed survivor’s benefits for the widow of Edward Schulmeister, who was permanently disabled in an industrial accident but drowned in a later boating accident. Her application was rejected on the grounds that his disability was not the only or even a major factor in his death. Mr. Paterson appealed the decision to the BC Supreme Court, which ruled that his injuries need only be “a significant factor” in Mr. Schulmeister’s fatal accident for survivor benefits to be paid. That too is now standard at the WCB. “It was a determining factor in how they treated people’s injuries years later,” said Janet Patterson, a former board appeals commissioner.

Mr. Paterson was also a well-known figure in the investigations of coroners hired by surviving families to press for answers. In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, he was one of the first to question the safety of Canada’s blood supply on behalf of the family of a hemophilic factory worker who died of AIDS. Mr Paterson subsequently withdrew from the case after the family’s legal aid application was denied. “When poor people die, their deaths are not investigated because they are poor,” Mr. Paterson said at the time.

He was at his best during the high-profile inquest into the horrific deaths of four carpenters who fell 36 stories when their fly form collapsed while constructing a downtown office tower. Well-prepared and with a solid understanding of the intricacies of construction, Mr. Paterson bashed the company’s witnesses over the flyform failure and lack of on-site safety inspections. The result was a nationwide study that led to fundamental changes in building practice. “He was a fighter for worker health and safety,” said attorney Candace Parker, who worked in his office for a time.

READ :  The administrators were warned about the students' lessons before he shot the teacher

The story continues below the ad

John Craig Paterson was born on August 30, 1946 in the canal town of Welland, Ontario, the first of five children to Doris and Jack Paterson. Doris was a registered nurse from Virginia. Jack was born in Scotland. The two met in Canada when Jack was in the Royal Canadian Air Force training mosquito bomb crews during World War II.

John ran a car dealership. His father-in-law owned a thriving metal foundry in Welland. “We all lived in this fairly middle-class neighborhood, very much 1950s and ‘Father Knows Best,'” said James Railton, a lifelong friend of Mr. Paterson. “There was no sign of his politics at the time.”

Mr. Paterson was smart and a good athlete. His fighting nature was evident early on, particularly at hockey games. “My mum stopped going to games because he was in the box so much,” his sister Janet recalled.

He received his law degree from the University of Western Ontario in 1970 and went on to earn a master’s degree in law from Harvard University. He was now married and had a young daughter. He taught law at the University of Windsor for a year before moving west to Vancouver after his marriage failed.

The story continues below the ad

He was quickly hired as a researcher at the WCB, where he became a student of board chairman Terry Ison, who was appointed by Dave Barrett’s new NDP government to overhaul the board to make it more representative of workers’ interests. Under Mr. Ison, it became the most modern Compensation Committee in Canada.

Mr. Paterson helped draft pioneering regulations to give employers more responsibility to ensure safer workplaces. When Mr. Ison was fired by the new Social Credit government, Mr. Paterson soon left the board in protest and went into private practice at a time when few lawyers were specializing in occupational health and safety and workers’ compensation.

READ :  Bill Murray Misconduct Allegations, New and Old, Surface

The bestselling author Dr. Gabor Maté helped with some of Mr. Paterson’s early cases and the two remained friends. “He was the nemesis of the WCB officials who minimized people’s injuries and denigrated their claims,” ​​said Dr. mate “It has become his passion and also his profession that their rights are recognized and adequately compensated.”

Mr. Paterson has never been shy about his opinions, no matter where he was. On a group trip to China, he questioned his hosts about the pitiful lack of safety and proper workwear he saw in their factories.

The story continues below the ad

His quest for social justice went beyond legal cases. He fought for civil liberties as an active member of the BC Law Union and threw himself into many protests, most notably Operation Solidarity, the mass populist movement that rose up against a series of regressive laws passed by then-Prime Minister Bill Bennett in 1983. He was very generous, regularly gave big bills to the homeless and invited friends and families to hockey games. When the COVID-19 lockdown took place, Mr. Paterson gave his barber $1,000 to help him make ends meet. He was also a quirky collector, amassing large numbers of mysterious books and filling his basement with chairs he scavenged from back alleys and second-hand furniture stores. He had an abiding love of art.

In later years, Mr. Paterson became increasingly difficult and unpredictable in dealing with clients. He was diagnosed with a mental illness and in 2010 he gave up his practice. Physical ailments also took their toll. But he didn’t lose his sense of mischief and upsetting the status quo. At one of the last hockey games he attended as a long-suffering Vancouver Canucks fan, Mr. Paterson reached out to Canucks staff and wanted to know why same-sex couples were never on Kiss Cam.

Mr. Paterson is survived by brothers Scott, Robert and Cameron; sister, Janet Ohlman; daughter Tamara; and grandson, Jack.