Canada Post is denying that at least seven of its employees in the Montreal region have taken their own lives in the past two-and-a-half years.
Reports of suicides in the postal service have raised questions about workplace stress and the impact of a modernization plan on workers at the crown corporation.
Quebec’s French-language network TVA News recently revealed the suicides of two postal employees in Montreal due to workplace stress, which prompted an outpouring of commentary from current and former workers who complained about long shifts, late evenings schedules, and harassment by management, CJAD reports.
But The Huffington Post Quebec has since learned that at least seven employees have killed themselves since November 2010, including:
- Two employees of the Longueuil post office committed suicide before the merger of their branch with another at St-Hubert Airport. One of the employees who committed suicide reportedly said he was “very afraid” of the new workflow caused by the merger.
- An employee of the Saint-Léonard post office committed suicide in the summer of 2012. In August of that year, a former employee of a post office in the city of St-Hubert also killed himself.
- There were two more deaths, one involving an employee from the Monterey office in Laval and another employee from the Leo Blanchette sorting plant in Saint-Laurent. In the first case, it seems the motive was personal. In the second, the cause of death is uncertain: some say it was a suicide; others say it was natural causes. "What I know is that he [the Leo Blanchette employee] was freaked out by the introduction of a timing system that evaluates efficiency, ranking the number of letters to employees," said Alain Duguay, president of the Montreal chapter of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).
- In March 2013, an employee of the Saint-Hubert airport branch took his life during working hours after being notified of a change in his duties. An investigating was opened in this case.
During this period, two other employees in Montreal had to be supported after suffering suicidal thoughts, HuffPost Quebec has learned.
"We can not say that all cases are work-related,” Duguay said in a French-language in an interview. “But I can confirm that our workers are under a lot of pressure. People are no longer able to cope."
UPDATE: Canada Post spokesperson Jon Hamilton told The Huffington Post the report of seven self-inflicted deaths in the Montreal area is "not true," but did not provide any alternate numbers or data on suicides in the organization.
"The information put forward by this union representative is not true. It is unfortunate and Canada Post will continue to respect anybody that goes through this situation and not comment on this further because we believe that it is inappropriate," he said.
Hamilton said in an email the postal service would refrain from saying any more on the issue "out of respect for the families and anyone who has experienced the suicide of a loved one."
Since 2007, Canada Post employees and their union have raised concerns about a $2-billion reorganization called “Modern Post,” which is meant to modernize how mail is sorted and delivered by the crown corporation. The changes include mechanized sorting of letters in major plants so carriers can spend more time delivering, and a change in the bundles of addressed mail that carriers handle while on the street. CUPW has warned Modern Post will result in longer hours, more night shifts and fewer jobs.
As well, many post offices have been closed or merged as Canada Post looks to cut costs in the face of declining revenues (Maclean’s reports the company is on track to report another annual loss for 2012, with a 6.4 per cent decline in letter mail, which contributes to more than half of its revenue.)
"The employees work between 10 and 12 hours per day, and there is pressure to work additional hours,” said Duguay. “When you're exhausted, it can push you to make decisions you would not otherwise make. "
Canada Post refused to confirm the number of deaths by suicide or provide more information on the cases above.
"It would be inappropriate for us to comment out of respect for the families,” said spokeswoman Anick Losier. “It is very sad.”
Asked for the number of suicides among Canada Post employees, Losier replied in French: "We do not want to share those numbers. There are always more factors that may explain (suicide). I think we need to be careful."
Losier suggested Huffington Post Quebec request the data through access to information.Are you in crisis? Need help? In Canada, find links and numbers to 24-hour suicide crisis lines in your province here.
Labour Day: A Canadian Invention
Few Canadians realize it, but Labour Day is as Canadian as maple bacon. It all began in 1872, when the Toronto Typographical Union went on strike to demand a nine-hour workday. When <i>Globe and Mail</i> chief George Brown had the protest organizers arrested, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald passed a law legalizing labour unions. Thus, a Conservative prime minister became a hero to the working class, and Canada became among the first countries to limit the workday, doing so decades before the U.S. The typographers' marches became an annual event, eventually being adopted by the U.S., becoming the modern day Labour Day.
The Winnipeg General Strike
The end of World War I brought social instability and economic volatility to Canada. On May 15, 1919, numerous umbrella union groups went out on strike in Winnipeg, grinding the city to a halt. Protesters were attacked in the media with epithets such as "Bolshevik" and "Bohunk," but resistance from the media and government only strengthened the movement. In June, the mayor ordered the Mounties to ride into the protest, prompting violent clashes and the death of two protesters. After protest leaders were arrested, organizers called off the strike. But the federal mediator ended up ruling in favour of the protesters, establishing the Winnipeg General Strike as the most important strike in Canadian history, and a precursor to the country's modern labour movement.
The Regina Riot
During the Great Depression, the only way for a single male Canadian to get government assistance was to join "relief camps" -- make-work projects set up by the federal government out of concern idle young men were a threat to the nation. The relief camps, with their poor work conditions, became breeding grounds for communists and other radicals. The "On-To-Ottawa Trek" was organized as a protest that would move from Vancouver across the country to Ottawa, to bring workers' grievances to the prime minister. The trek halted in Regina when Prime Minister R.B. Bennett promised to talk to protest organizers. When talks broke down, the RCMP refused to allow the protesters to leave Regina and head for Ottawa, and on June 26, 1935, RCMP riot officers attacked a crowd of protesters. More than 100 people were arrested and two killed -- one protester and one officer.
In May, 1938, unemployed men led by communist organizers occupied a post office and art gallery in downtown Vancouver, protesting over poor work conditions at government-run Depression-era "relief camps." In June, the RCMP moved in to clear out the occupiers, using tear gas inside the post office. The protesters inside smashed windows for air and armed themselves with whatever was available. Forty-two people, including five officers, were injured. When word spread of the evacuation, sympathizers marched through the city's East End, smashing store windows. Further protests against "police terror" would be held in the weeks to come.
Giant Mine Bombing
In 1992, workers at Royal Oak Mines' Giant Mine in the Northwest Territories went on strike. On September 18, a bomb exploded in a mineshaft deep underground, killing nine replacement workers. Mine worker Roger Warren was convicted of nine counts of second-degree murder. The Giant Mine closed in 2004.
The Toronto G20
The Canadian Labour Congress, representing numerous labour groups, participated in protests in Toronto during the G20 summit in June, 2010. When a handful of "Black Block" anarchists rioted through the city core, it brought an overwhelming police response that resulted in the largest mass arrests in Canadian history. More than 1,000 people were arrested, with most never charged with any crime. Numerous allegations of police brutality have been made, and the Toronto police are now the target of several multi-million dollar lawsuits. So far, two police officers have been charged with crimes relating to G20 policing, and charges against other police officers are also possible.
When Vancouver-based magazine Adbusters suggested the public "occupy Wall Street" to protest corporate malfeasance, New Yorkers took the suggestion seriously, and occupied Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. Canadians followed suit, sparking copycat occupations in all major Canadian cities in September, 2011. By December, most of the occupations had been cleared, all of them non-violently. Though the protests achieved no specific goals, they did change the political conversation in North America. What their long-term legacy will be remains to be seen.