“A Conspiracy of Silence”: Peterborough Workers & Widows Share Their Story

A new documentary released earlier this month takes an intimate look at what happens when seriously ill former workers try to get justice for the suffering they believe was caused by the very company that sustained their city for generations.

“Together with other workers and widows, these advocates are seeking justice and challenging a system they say is stacked against them. With the power of many, these unlikely activists could change the legacy of Peterborough.”

Town of Widows” examines the legacy of the famed Peterborough General Electric plant, and how occupational illness has killed or disabled so many of the workers who spent their lives working there.

Prior to the plant closing in 2018, many locals were hesitant to speak out for the fear of losing their jobs, and this often left them isolated within their own community.  As one former worker puts it, “It worries me that a lot of people will think that because we’re fighting for compensation for the past employees, that … they’ll think we helped to close the plant, and … I don’t believe that.”

The documentary describes how workers and their spouses were chronically exposed to asbestos and other carcinogens, resulting in various types of cancer and other deadly illnesses. Many workers and their families have been fighting for decades to get proper compensation from WSIB, after countless claims have been rejected. A report from February of this year noted that 246 claims were filed between 2004 and 2018, and almost half of those were turned down.

It also shows how WSIB used a report commissioned by GE itself to discredit and deny the workers’ claims. As Toronto Star reporter Sara Mojtehedzadeh puts it, “This powerful corporation, with all the resources in the world, up against a worker who has a grade 10 education…certainly workers felt that their evidence was not given equal weight.”

This documentary is a remarkable look at the tenacity and resilience of workers and bereaved family members who refuse to give up their quest for justice and an acknowledgment that the company failed to keep them safe.