The death of Marcus Ooms' daughter Evelyn would be used against him by WorkSafeBC
By Spencer van Vloten
July 19th, 2021
Marcus Ooms had experienced many frustrations dealing with WorkSafeBC, but nothing compared to them trying to exploit his 9-year-old daughter's death
SMASHED TO PIECES
Marcus Ooms was hard at work when it happened. The gutter installer from Victoria was completing an assignment when he crashed 2-stories to the ground, smashing his heel into several pieces.
With the injury leaving him dependent on crutches, Marcus was hopeful that he’d make a quick recovery and be able to continue with his career.
But, despite putting his all into rehabilitation, it soon became apparent that his body wouldn’t cooperate; the break was too severe for him to return to his line of work, and, worse yet, his employer was unwilling to accommodate him by assigning him to other duties.
Marcus Ooms lost his job for being injured, and now entered the WorkSafeBC system.
THE FIRST FRUSTRATIONS
Marcus was initially told that WorkSafe would help retrain him for a new career, and that 2 years of education or training at any institution in Western Canada would be fully covered.
It all sounded good, but right out the gates he ran into a brick wall.
No matter what line of training or education he suggested, no matter what the program, his ideas were shot down, with people he hardly knew telling him that the programs he was interested in weren’t up his alley.
This frustrating process lasted a year, all while more pressure was being placed on him to come up with something that would be approved.
Then, finally some progress - or so he thought.
Always detail-oriented and good with numbers, Marcus honed in on accounting, and his plan went something like this: he would finish his undergraduate degree at the University of Victoria, earn a post-graduate diploma, and then complete a stint as an articling student, setting him up for a career in the field.
This time even WorkSafe seemed on board. They agreed with the plan, and Marcus was told to register at UVic straight away – everything would be funded as long as he did his part.
Marcus put all his effort into making it work – he headed to UVic the same day, he took preparatory courses in Microsoft Office programs, and he scheduled his life around completing the program and becoming an accountant.
Then, right before school started, he got bad news.
Then, right before school started, he got bad news
Things had changed: instead of getting full funding for his program, as had been agreed, he would only receive funding for 1 year.
For Marcus, the news was demoralizing. He was tired and didn’t want to fight anymore; he just wanted to move forward with a new career.
Determined to stay on track, Marcus decided to begin his studies despite the funding shortfall, but he’d soon face a new challenge.
Throughout the ordeal, depression had steadily chipped away at Marcus.
It got to the point where each day was a struggle: he felt exhausted and overwhelmed, and was unable to attend his classes any longer, obtaining deferrals and receiving a formal diagnosis of major depression.
But things just kept getting worse.
Already having been reduced to only a year of funding for his program, he was informed that he now needed to write up a plan on how he’d cover the remaining costs, and if the letter wasn’t satisfactory, funding would be cut altogether.
Infuriated by yet another questionable change of plans, Marcus refused to play along, resulting in his caseworker completely removing his program funding.
With the depression and frustration building, Marcus tried to go a different route. He hired a new rehab vocational consultant and trained to become a heavy equipment operator, but his depression continued to eat away at him.
Then the wheels fell off.
Marcus (2nd from right) smiles for the camera, but inside he was plagued by depression
His depression medication had recently been increased, but he experienced one of the med’s side effects –suicidal ideation— and the situation went from bad to worse.
He’d never had feelings that were so intense and so pervasive, running through his head at all times of the day.
It was at this time that WorkSafe started to question his major depression diagnosis and suggest that his problems simply stemmed from a pre-existing personality trait, which, if determined to be the case, would result in some of his supports being cut.
WorkSafe relentlessly pursued this outcome. They 'd interrogate Marcus for hours on the phone, and ordered him to appear in front of a psychiatrist of their choosing.
In less than an hour, the psychiatrist, focusing her attention just on how he was feeling that day, ruled that he had pre-existing depression—unrelated to his injury ordeal—and that he’d been getting funding he wasn’t entitled to.
Unwilling to accept what he called a ‘quackery’ of a diagnosis, Marcus appealed the ruling. It was found that the psychiatrist’s report was biased and relied on little evidence, and as a result the report was thrown out and removed from his file.
It was a win for Marcus, but the biggest battle was still to come.
EXPLOITING A TRAGEDY
On the morning of January 22nd, 2017, while travelling to Shawnigan Lake for a morning hockey game, Marcus’s 9-year-old daughter Evelyn died in a car accident.
The initial response from WorkSafe was sympathetic, but it wasn't long before they moved in.
Marcus was told that it was no longer possible to separate his compensable major depressive disorder from his grief over the loss of his daughter.
After having previously lost to Marcus on appeal, it was WorkSafe’s new attempt to have his supports reduced, on the basis that he was struggling with a pre-existing condition that was non-compensable.
Evelyn (left) with younger sister Vivienne
Next thing he knew, he was again ordered in front of a WorkSafe contracted doctor. The doctor had previously attended a meeting about the issue with the same people trying to remove Marcus’s funding, and his report was in agreement with them, matching their statements almost word for word.
But once again Marcus appealed, and once again the ruling came down in Marcus's favour: what WorkSafe had attempted was unjustified and improper.
THE FINAL DECISION
With another ruling in his favour, his case moved toward the final stage: a pension decision.
WorkSafe demanded that one of their doctors performed the file review to help determine the pension outcome, and that if Marcus didn’t agree to this he’d be ruled non-compliant and receive nothing.
Not backing down, Marcus requested the doctor’s name, background, and contact info so he could speak with them and know exactly who’d be dealing with his file - all he wanted was transparency.
Then, a funny thing happened.
After years of attempts to have his funding cut back or eliminated, after years of pressuring and pestering him, it was suddenly decided that Marcus would get a full pension for being competitively unemployable.
Why such a dramatic shift?
For Marcus the answer's simple: they ran scared when someone finally pushed back and threatened to pry into them the same way they do to workers.
Marcus ended up with a full pension, what some may call a happy ending when it comes to WorkSafe, so why’s he still fighting?
For the principle of it.
“The system’s set up to victimize and exploit people.”
“Some workers are brain injured and can’t advocate effectively for themselves, others just lack info about the way things work, and these people get left behind. With what I’ve learned being through all this, I’m trying to use to help people.”
With what I've learned being through all this, I'm trying to use to help people
What does he want most?
“Accountability's what's needed. Accountability's what keeps things all on the level. There needs to be processes in place where fair hearings happen and the rulings are enforced.”
“But WorkSafe's absolutely unaccountable, especially when it doesn’t want to be, and there’s almost nothing you can do about it. “
Whatever injured workers can do to stand up for themselves, even if it’s just a little, Marcus Ooms is there to help them do it.
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to email@example.com!