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Ontario Grants Fast-Track Compensation Rights for Work-Related Illnesses

Bereaved families of firefighters who lost their lives to work- related cancers and heart attacks can heave a sigh of relief at last. Ontarios new labor laws state that they no longer need to prove the cause of death in order to qualify for compensation due the dead workers family.

The changes of regulations will identify eight types of cancer that will be presumed to have been work-related when contracted by full-time firefighters. Heart attacks suffered by firefighters within 24 hours of battling a blaze will also be presumed to be work-related.

There were visible signs of joy at what can be judged as a fair end to a long battle, by many grieving families, when the law was passed, Thursday.

For widow Rebeccah Erskine of Stittsville, the news means that her firefighter husband is finally at peace and that his death has a purpose. He died of colon cancer last April.

At the time of his death he was lobbying the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to cover firefighters who fall ill with colon cancer while on the job.

Says Erskine: Now no one else has to go through what we went through with this type of cancer. This means so much to me and Mark.

Without this legislation, the onus was on firefighters to prove they got cancer on the job in order to get compensation from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

In March 1987, 69 Kitchener firefighters rushed into battle against a chemical fire some say spawned a legacy of cancer, Parkinson's disease and birth defects. The deaths that followed the fire at the Horticultural Technologies warehouse were no mere coincidence, firefighters say. As the number of funerals rose (six firefighters and one police sergeant who fought the blaze have since died of cancer) attempts to get compensation for their widows from Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board failed.

Today, the surviving firefighters hope new legislation will c
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