The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.
A man who fought all his life to improve workplaces so employees wouldn’t get cancer and other illnesses from working in them, and who battled to get people compensation if they did get sick at work, died Friday morning.
Homer Seguin, a long-time health and safety activist and occupational disease specialist with United Steelworkers, died at age 79.
Long-time friend Leo Gerard, international president of United Steelworkers, said Seguin’s death was doubly ironic. He died of lung cancer and he died the weekend that his union is commemorating the Workers’ Day of Mourning.
Gerard said his friendship with Seguin spans his entire union career. “Homer’s a pioneer in so many ways,” said Gerard. “There’s just so many stories we could tell.”
From his years of working in Elliot Lake uranium mines, Seguin became such an expert in radiation, USW sent him to France for a global radiation conference where Seguin made a presentation. When he completed it, he received a huge ovation and the master of ceremonies thanked “Dr. Seguin for his terrific presentation.”
In reality, Seguin dropped out of school in Grade 11 and lied about his age, saying he was 17 when he was 15 so he could get a job at Inco’s sintering plant.
He didn’t work there long, but it was enough time that he would later develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
While he may not have been a doctor, Seguin received an honorary doctorate of laws from Laurentian University in 2006 for his work in safety, health and the environment in mining.
Seguin was a pioneer in occupational disease, and an environmentalist “before being an environmentalist became sexy,” said Gerard, who is in Sudbury for meetings and to deliver a speech at Sunday’s Day of Mourning.
He will also deliver a eulogy at Seguin’s funeral Monday.
When Gerard was elected director of USW’s Ontario district, Seguin was “fixated” on stomach cancers that workers contracted in gold mines, said Gerard.
The two and other union leaders developed a manifesto that called for the building of a cancer treatment centre in Sudbury because the rates of mining-related cancers were so high in the North.
Seguin and another noted occupational disease activist, Johnny Gagnon, “became the loudest voices for building the cancer treatment centre in Sudbury,” said Gerard, “and I think many, many, many, many people, almost all of Sudbury, doesn’t realize that.”
They were tired of seeing members get cancer in mines in Sudbury, Elliot Lake and Timmins, and have to travel to Toronto for treatment.
They also worked to get stomach cancers induced by gold mining recognized by the Workers’ Compensation Board as a compensable illness.
Seguin was a fighter and he fought his own cancer until the very end, said Gerard.
He spoke with him recently, and Seguin told him: “Leo, we’re not finished fighting, as soon as I get finished with this, we’ve gotta do some other things.”
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