DAY OF MOURNING
`Mourn the dead, fight for the living' message hits home
“When will you be back?” Don Affleck asked his son, Wayne, as the young man left their Leamington home for a work project near Port Perry.
Reflecting, Affleck says sadly: “Well, Tuesday never came.”
The Affleck family experienced the loss every family fears. Wayne, a 27-year-old apprentice electrician, was killed in an accident on the job on Dec. 13, 2013.
The first indicator that something awful had happened was when Affleck and his wife Marlene received an early morning phone call that Friday from authorities asking if Wayne had medical
You hear other people's stories, and how they are coping and dealing with it all on a daily basis.
- DON AFFLECK
issues. The couple called hospitals and police to find out where their son was, then immediately drove to a Port Perry hospital. “All the hospital staff said was Wayne had been electrocuted, that he passed,” Affleck remembers.
It took almost four years of legal processes for the grieving parents to learn just what had happened.
An Ontario Ministry of Labour investigation eventually led to charges being laid against Wayne's employer, Enerquest Services Inc. A court judge fined the company $110,000, deeming Enerquest had failed to establish and implement written measures and procedures for complying with the regulation to ensure that workers were adequately protected from electrical shock and burns, and failed to make a copy of the written measures and procedures available to every worker on the project.
Sitting through the coroner's inquest for a day and a half, the parents heard Wayne was part of a crew working in the electrical room of a solar farm construction site in Sunderland. Power to a transformer was supposed to be shut off.
“Wayne backed up against it, not knowing it was live. And that was it,” his father says.
Wayne later died in hospital. “It's not like Wayne was sick or old. He showed up for work and didn't make it home,” says the father.
“Wayne had a goal in mind and was working toward it. He was the apple of his mother's eye. He was brought up to be respectful toward other people and their feelings. He was dedicated to his sister, Tina Mcloud, and his two nephews. His friends remember him as being fun to be around and enjoying life.”
Affleck appreciates condolences but observes that some well-intentioned people who suggest it is time for the family to move on “don't seem to understand. Yeah, you do have the memories, but it is the future that you don't have and never will have.”
The second year after Wayne's death, the Windsor and District Labour Council contacted the Afflecks and invited them to the National Day of Mourning observance held annually on April 28 to honour local people who have suffered illness, injury and disability or died of a consequence of their work.
Pre-pandemic, loved ones, coworkers, union sisters and brothers, politicians, employers and other community supporters would attend a commemoration in St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church, then march to Coventry Gardens at 4714 Riverside Dr. E. and lay flowers at the Injured Workers Monument.
“We went there and did the walk,” Affleck says.
The family found “it is a place to go where you don't have to hear any negativity. You hear other people's stories, and how they are coping and dealing with it all on a daily basis.”
Attending the ceremony became a yearly ritual for the Afflecks, where they could find solace among compassionate people uplifting the nationwide call to “mourn the dead; fight for the living.”
Last year, Windsor-essex County was under COVID-19 restrictions and the Day of Mourning observance had to be hosted safely online. The same measures are necessitating this year's observance to take place virtually at noon, Wed., April 28 at windsorlabour.ca and facebook.com/windsordistrictlc.
The Afflecks understand but will miss being physically amongst other mourners and supporters.
Inspired by the Windsor injured workers' memorial, the Afflecks are currently finalizing details for one in Leamington. “We hope it will be ready for next year's Day of Mourning,” the dad says. “In a short period of time, there have been three more young guys in Leamington who have been electrocuted on the job. I feel for their families.”
Affleck is mindful of occupational risks when he is at work at Cavendish Farms in Wheatley, where he has served on the health and safety committee for 20 years. He believes that in every workplace, both employers and employees have responsibilities to safeguard themselves and their colleagues by following rules appropriately and proceeding with caution.
First Responders: Wayne Currie
Firefighter Wayne Currie agrees. “We rely on our training and one another” when battling a blaze, he says. “It's scary as hell, but we know we have one another's backs.”
As the vice president of the Windsor Professional Firefighters Association and co-chair of the joint health and safety committee, the 28-year Windsor Fire & Rescue Services professional laments that half of his group class is down. “I've lost two to cancer, one to suicide and one paralyzed by a fire truck rollover.”
Multiple cancers are the number one cause of disease and death in firefighters, who are 10 times more likely to develop cancers than other people. “Our protective gear is treated with chemicals that leach into our bodies. The foam we use to practice and when putting out fires is cancer-causing,” Currie explains.
Post traumatic stress disorder triggered by firefighters' experiences is “huge. What we've seen breaks the strongest of the strong. We fought hard for legislation to recognize PTSD in regard to our profession.”
Then there are the trips, falls and other usual hazards when combatting fires.
“We read our oath, to put our own lives on the line for somebody else. We put a second oath on that: if something happens, we owe it to the firefighters' families and those people who passed away from occupational illness or death in the line of duty that no one else ever experiences this. So we fight to ensure protections are in place.”
Acknowledging that “we signed up for doing things that put us at risk,” Currie notes, “our families inherit those risks. When we kiss them goodbye, they don't know if we will come home. No one should die on the job.”
Healthcare Workers: Rema Langlois
Battling COVID-19 in hospitals and longterm care homes, frontline healthcare workers realize just how precarious life can be.
The early weeks of the pandemic exposed Canada-wide shortages of personal protective equipment, ventilators and other tools needed for the fight. St. Clair College, businesses and other community partners raided their own inventories to supply local healthcare sites in need.
At Huron Lodge, a longterm care home operated by the City of Windsor, personal support worker Rema Langlois has felt supported throughout the pandemic. “The employer went above and beyond expectations and provided employees with proper PPE to protect not only ourselves but the residents, as well. We were very lucky in the aspect that we had an adequate amount of supplies that were available to us at any given time,” says the member of CUPE Local 543, which represents municipal, social services and environmental workers in and of the City of Windsor.
During Langlois' 10 years of service, the regular part-time PSW has never seen anything like the past one. Screening at the door and daily temperature checks coming into and exiting the building, wearing surgical or N95 masks, and being swabbed twice weekly are now routine.
Personally taking care of residents who tested positive for COVID-19, Langlois says, “it was definitely a rollercoaster of emotions.”
When residents recovered, the whole team was overjoyed. “We were given a sense of hope for everyone else trying to recover. But for the ones that we had lost due to COVID, you couldn't help but feel defeated, sad and frustrated. You were trying everything in your power to keep the resident healthy but felt like you failed.”
During the previous outbreak, Langlois said, “my co-workers and I felt exhausted mentally and physically. It took an emotional toll on all of us. We couldn't see our families or friends; we couldn't celebrate birthdays and holidays. All we had was our work family. I'm very thankful to have had a great team to work with during that difficult time.”
Frontline healthcare and all other essential workers and their families continue to make sacrifices. “This pandemic has reminded us to cherish our loved ones. Although technology is great, it's not the same. It is hard when all you can do is call, text or Facetime and not actually get to spend quality time with your loved ones. I missed my family very much, but I couldn't see them for fear of potentially spreading the virus,” Langlois says.
COVID-19 is teaching Canadians important lessons that should influence attitudes and processes post-pandemic. Langlois is crossing her fingers that “PSWS receive the recognition they deserve. This pandemic has highlighted the critical shortage of PSWS. I believe wages should be increased and I am hoping that we see a growth in the PSW community in the near future. Personally working in longterm care, I strongly believe there is no `I' in TEAM. We need to give recognition to every department from nursing, dietary, cleaning services and management. Without everyone pulling together, we could not beat COVID -19!”