Suicide not a workplace injury, rules tribunal

On Sunday, January 23, 2005, Detective Sergeant Denis Matteau told his wife that he had to go to the office, even though it was his day off, to prepare his testimony for a high-profile murder trial involving Michel Usereau, a former police officer turned private security firm director accused of shooting a business competitor.

Matteau, who forged over the course of a career spanning more than twenty years a reputation as a perfectionist, led the investigation in the Usereau case. It was a case that “perturbed” him. In the weeks that preceded the trial, Matteau’s manner had changed. He closed up, and concentrated on the Usereau case, day, night and weekends. He avoided family gatherings, no longer worked out, and barely slept.

At the office, Matteau called his brother-in-law and told him that he had made a mistake, and that as a police officer he had no right to commit such an error, and that he was going to commit suicide. The veteran Montreal police detective then called his supervisor and told him that he redid his notes of the murder investigation, and that the defence lawyer knew. After the call, Matteau killed himself using his gun. Three days later, Madame Justice Carol Cohen of the Quebec Superior Court called jurors into the courtroom , told them about Matteau’s death, dissolved the jury and declared a mistrial. (Months later, Usereau was found guilty in a new trial).

On March 2006, Quebec’s workers’ compensation board, the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CSST), turned down a claim that sought to establish the suicide as a workplace injury. The decision was appealed before the Commission des lésions professionnelles, a tribunal that hears appeals of decisions made by the CSST.

In a ruling that confirmed a decision rendered in November 2007, the tribunal held that the detective’s suicide was not a workplace injury. Even though the worker was at his workplace when he took his own life, the evidence failed to demonstrate that it was conducted “in the execution of work,” held the tribunal in Matteau (Succession de) et Montréal (Ville de) (Serv. Administratif), 2008 QCCLP 5134

An industrial accident is a “sudden and unforeseen event,” attributable to any cause, which happens to a person, arising out of or in the course of his work and resulting in an employment injury, according the Quebec Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases (Act).

The commissioner upheld the finding that the suicide was not an a “sudden and unforeseen event” since it was a premeditated and wilful act. He held that a single stressful deemed to be out of proportion and exceeding the worker’s capacity or preparedness may be considered the cause of an employment injury.

But in this case the commission held that the detective did not face abnormal stress. The detective’s trepidation was subjective, and not objective as called for by jurisprudence.

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