Sous-fonds MsC-156-7 - Shirley Petten

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Shirley Petten

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  • 1979 - 2007 (Creation)
    Petten, Shirley

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Biographical history

Shirley Petten was born March 20, 1941 in West Wabana, Newfoundland and Labrador, and grew up in Sydney, Nova Scotia. She worked as an air force fighter control operator, owned a courier business in Toronto, and worked for the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia in Victoria.

On December 9, 1991, Beverley Holmwood, Petten's partner of 20 years, died of liver failure due to what was thought to be a a hepatitis B or C infection. The disease was thought to have been the result of Holmwood accidentally coming into contact with a contaminated needle while working as a nurse at the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria. Petten applied to the British Columbia Worker's Compensation Board for spousal compensation benefits. On August 13th, 1992, her application was denied. A letter from the board stated that sections 17 and 19 of the Workers' Compensation Act do not recognize same-sex spouses. Petten filed a complaint with the British Columbia Council of Human Rights, and in November of 1992, she was awarded a spousal pension of $1,363 a month, becoming the first person in Canada to receive same-sex benefits from board. The Greater Victoria Hospital Society, Holmwood's employer, appealed the board's decision, claiming that it was not certain that her death was caused by an injury received at work. In March 1998, the board found in favour of the hospital. Petten again appealed this decision, bringing the case to the Appeal Division of the Workers' Compensation Board. Petten argued that Holmwood's death was, in fact, caused by a work-related needlestick injury, and that she did die of hepatitis. In November 1999, the Appeal Division found that the most likely cause of Holmwood's death was either Hepatitis B or C contracted from a needlestick injury at work, and Petten was awarded her pension.

In February 2009, Petten received a left ventricular assist device as treatment for her progressive heart failure. When Petten died on May 22, 2014, she was the longest surviving recipient of such a device, having had it for 5 years.

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