WCB investigators rebuked

Mike Schwartz knows what it's like to be spied on. The Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board sent undercover investigators to his home in rural Alberta, posing as out-of-towners looking for recreational property.

Mike Schwartz knows what it’s like to be spied on.

The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board sent undercover investigators to his home in rural Alberta, posing as out-of-towners looking for recreational property. He welcomed them in, not knowing that they were snooping for evidence to support their suspicion that he was faking his disability.

The board later cut Schwartz’s payments and ordered him to repay $72,000.

But, after almost three years of fighting, the board was ordered last month to reinstate Schwartz’s benefits.

It’s a big embarrassment for the board, which likes to boast about the work it does to bust fraudsters. But this time it was the board, rather than Schwartz, that was breaking the rules, according to a decision last month by an appeals tribunal.

“This had just been a nasty nightmare,” said Schwartz from his home, two and a half hours north of Edmonton.

Schwartz crippled his hand while guiding a horseback hunting trip in the Kluane region in 1995. His client had bagged a ram and they were returning to camp, when Schwartz’s pack horse “blew up.”

Schwartz knelt down to pick up a pack. The horse kicked him, crushing his hand.

His right wrist was fractured so badly it needed a metal plate to shore it up. One finger was so seriously dislocated that some doctors recommended it be amputated.

They saved the finger, but after undergoing several surgeries, his hand likely won’t ever return to normal.

In fact, its grip strength and range of motion has gotten significantly worse, according to an evaluation by an occupational therapist last year.

In 2001, the WCB deemed Schwartz unable to work as a hunting guide and gave him a monthly wage-loss supplement. He thought that was the end of it, and he went on with his life.

Unable to return to guiding, he bought land in Alberta and relocated there.

The injury had taken a psychological toll. Schwartz turned inward.

“I pretty much turned into a hermit,” he said. “I prefer dealing with horses to people.”

For several years he lived a quiet life. But that serenity was shattered when he got a he got a letter from the WBC in 2009.

The board accused him of lying about the extent of his injury. It stopped paying benefits, and it demanded that Schwartz pay back what he had already received over eight years.

“I thought they were there to help me. But wow, I got a surprise,” said Schwartz.

Unbeknown to him, investigators had videotaped him from across the road. And when they knocked on his door, saying they were looking to buy recreational property, he let them inside for a chat.

The investigators later reported that Schwartz bragged about hunting, and that they saw a long rifle leaning in the corner.

But Schwartz said he hasn’t hunted since the accident in 1995 – something easily checked with the Alberta Fish and Wildlife Division.

As for the gun, it turned out to be an air rifle Schwartz uses to scare coyotes away from his horses.

In a bizarre twist, Schwartz later caught the WCB’s investigators spying on him when he visited traveled to Whitehorse to appeal the board’s decision.

When questioned about it, the compensation board denied they did it. But, after filing an access-to-information request, Schwartz found proof that the board was lying: he obtained 10 photos taken in 2011 of him in the Whitehorse Wal-Mart parking lot.

Two weeks ago, the appeal tribunal lambasted the WCB for its handling of the case.

“There is no reason for the board to undertake surveillance two years after they have closed his claim,” states the decision.

In its 32-page decision, the tribunal concluded that the investigator overstepped his authority and wrote a report “rife with conjecture, personal opinions and incorrect reporting.”

“We do not give any weight to the investigator’s statements,” states the report. “The appeal committee finds the investigator did not follow the board’s policy and conduct himself in a professional manner.”

The board has been ordered to pay Schwartz back, with interest, for the three years they withheld his benefits, and to assume the costs he incurred for any medical and psychological reporting.

Schwartz isn’t celebrating his victory.

“The process just absolutely eats you up,” he said. “Losing my career was a big adjustment.

“That was bad enough in itself, but dealing with the conduct of the board … I consider it to be negligent.”

But he’s happy that his case exposed the board’s questionable conduct. He says he’s not the only one to be treated this way.

“People are afraid to come forward,” he said.

The board has the option of appealing the tribunal’s decision but is not commenting on the case until after its board of directors meets next month, said spokesperson Richard Mostyn.

Schwartz still doesn’t know what prompted the investigation of his claim in the first place.

“There’s no explanation for that at all,” he said. “I wasn’t made aware or educated or told that these guys could come up and hide in my bushes.”

While it has been a long and arduous fight, Schwartz considers himself lucky.

“What bothers me is that they’re beating up on injured people, vulnerable people,” he said. “If I had a family and a mortgage to worry about, there is no way I could have brought this forward.”

Contact Josh Kerr at joshk@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Whitehorse and Carcross will be among seven northern communities to have unlimited internet options beginning Dec. 1. (Yukon News file)
Unlimited internet for some available Dec. 1

Whitehorse and Carcross will be among seven northern communities to have unlimited… Continue reading

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before conducting a test with it on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
An inside look at the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre

As the active COVID-19 case count grew last week, so too did… Continue reading

Conservation officers search for a black bear in the Riverdale area in Whitehorse on Sept. 17. The Department of Environment intends to purchase 20 semi-automatic AR-10 rifles, despite the inclusion of the weapons in a recently released ban introduced by the federal government, for peace officers, such as conservation officers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Environment Minister defends purchase of AR-10 rifles for conservation officers

The federal list of banned firearms includes an exception for peace officers

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The K-shaped economic recovery and what Yukoners can do about it

It looks like COVID-19 will play the role of Grinch this holiday… Continue reading

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Karen Wenkebach has been appointed as a judge for the Yukon Supreme Court. (Yukon News file)
New justice appointed

Karen Wenckebach has been appointed as a judge for the Supreme Court… Continue reading

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and senior management (CASM) meeting about CASM policy in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. Constable highlighted research showing many municipalities require a lengthy notice period before a delegate can be added to the agenda of a council meeting. Under the current Whitehorse procedures bylaw, residents wanting to register as delegates are asked to do so by 11 a.m. on the Friday ahead of the council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Changes continue to be contemplated for procedures bylaw

Registration deadline may be altered for delegates

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Most Read