A veteran member of the Estevan Police Service (EPS), diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), has won his appeal to receive benefits.
Const. Jay Pierson had appealed to the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench, following a decision of the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) appeals tribunal in 2018 that denied Pierson’s claim for benefits. The tribunal’s decision reversed an earlier ruling by the WCB appeals officer in October 2017 that approved Pierson’s claim.
His case was against the Estevan board of police commissioners and the Workers Compensation Board.
“The central issue in both decisions was whether the applicant sustained a psychological injury that arose out of or in the course of his employment,” wrote Court of Queen’s Bench Judge Richard Elson in handing down his decision.
He noted that Pierson is a long-term member of the Estevan Police Service (EPS) who has been diagnosed with PTSD by multiple medical professionals.
“His caregivers, as well as an independent psychologist selected by the Workers’ Compensation Board, opine that the diagnosis arises from circumstances relating to his employment with the EPS,” the judge wrote.
Elson noted that much of the argument in this judicial review is based on the tribunal’s consideration, or lack of consideration, to a presumption set out in a recently-enacted provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act that states – unless the contrary is proven – where a worker is exposed to a traumatic event, is diagnosed with a psychological injury by a psychiatrist or a psychologist, the injury is presumed to be one that arose out of and in the course of the worker’s employment.
That provision came into effect on Dec. 20, 2016. It holds PTSD as a psychological injury, and that Pierson would fit under the description of a worker because he was exposed to a traumatic event or is in an occupation that is prescribed in the regulations.
Pierson has been a member of the EPS since July 1998. During his early years of service, he successfully completed a training program at the Canadian Police College in forensic examination. In 2001, he joined the Criminal Investigations Department of the EPS, where he worked primarily as a forensic examination technician (FET).
He remained with the CID until 2015, when the EPS transferred him to a traffic services officer position. Pierson moved to a community services officer role in 2017.
The assertion of psychological injury arises from his years in forensics.
Duties as an FET included conduct of criminal investigation, processing crime scenes and the preparation of reports on the outcome of investigations.
Pierson submitted a request for benefits on May 12, 2017, and a mental health evaluation was submitted on July 26, 2017.
Pierson described six particular scenes that contributed to his injury. Those incidents led to flashbacks, nightmares and otherwise caused him to relive the experiences. Events that prompted these experiences tended to be fairly innocuous, such as his son’s nosebleed or reading a newspaper article about similar events.
He also described physical symptoms brought on by these experiences, including increased blood pressure, a feeling of being very hot and numbness from the back of his neck to the top of his head.
While Pierson was still in traffic and community services, he was still finishing up some of the investigation reports from his previous work. One of case was a high-profile missing person case in the community.
While Pierson did not feel traumatized by the case, he often found himself staring at the notes and feeling unable to do a report. He then had an argument with Deputy Chief Murray Cowan on Feb. 16, 2017, about the file that needed to be completed, and Cowan warned him it might go to discipline due to the tardiness of the report.
“This upset the worker (Pierson) greatly because of his years of service and standard of work produced,” Elson wrote in his findings.
Pierson had a stress reaction with physiological symptoms, such as heart pounding, sweating and trouble calming down.
When he went off work, he began having more recollections of traumatic events he experienced over his career with the police, and some hypervigilance in regards to his young son’s safety and health.
Elson noted it does not appear Pierson sought medical care for these issues until Feb. 16, 2017, immediately after his interaction with Cowan. He went to the emergency department at St. Joseph’s Hospital, and had high blood pressure. When he returned to work on Feb. 21, 2017, he experienced the same symptoms, and asked for and received more time off. He went to the Weyburn Mental Health Centre for the first time on March 3, 2017. He has since been diagnosed with PTSD.
Following the initial appeals officer’s decision in 2017, Estevan Police Chief Paul Ladouceur expressed concern that in allowing the claim, little input had been sought from the EPS. He also expressed his belief that the cause of the stress and anxiety related to employee-employer relations and not PTSD.
Ladouceur also included a statement of facts memorandum from Deputy Chief Murray Cowan, along with correspondences and an internal investigations report. Cowan pointed out the history of high blood pressure, a desire to remain in the CID and no changes until Pierson was presented with work performance issues. The tribunal sided with the EPS.
Elson ruled that the tribunal did not distinguish between events that cause a psychological condition from those which trigger it.
Ladouceur said he and the police board will not comment on internal human resource matters or matters relating to the physical or mental health of staff. After an initial appeal made by the employee, the police board exercised their legal right, under legislation, to a final appeal to the Workers’ Compensation Board appeal tribunal.
The police board, along with the chief of police, say they support the process of appeal and the important decisions the tribunal is entrusted to make.
The police board, and the chief also fully support the new “presumptive” legislation relating to PTSD and emergency services personnel.
An appeal has yet to be filed regarding the Court of Queen’s Bench decision.