Katherine Lippel, Distinguished Research Chair in Occupational Health and Safety Law at the University of Ottawa and leader of the policy component of the On the Move Partnership, passed away peacefully on September 23, 2021 at the age of 67. This tribute/homage to Katherine by her colleagues and friends, seeks to honor her and to convey our deep respect for, and gratitude to, this outstanding colleague, friend and mentor who sadly has left us too soon.
I had the privilege of knowing and working with Katherine for more than two decades. We first met when she was at the University of Québec at Montréal, through Karen Messing and others at CINBIOSE (Accueil – Centre de recherche interdisciplinaire sur le bien-être, la santé, la société et l’environnement – UQAM). As co-director of the SafetyNet Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Research at Memorial University – the Centre that supported the development of the proposal for On the Move – I often turned to CINBIOSE, and to Katherine, for advice and support related to health and safety and workers’ compensation law and policy.
Around 2010, Katherine agreed to join the team we were assembling for the national program of research on employment-related geographical mobility in the Canadian context: that became “On the Move”. She built her own team of legal and policy scholars including Dalia Gesualdi-Fecteau, Sylvie Gravel, Jill Hanley, Martha MacDonald, Delphine Nakache, Stephanie Premji, Eric Tucker, Leah Vosko, David Walters and others and shepherded their research, and that of their students and postdoctoral fellows, throughout its duration.
Over the course of the next decade, she became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and, in 2017, recipient of the Gold Medal of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). Starting some years ago, and motivated by concerns about succession, Katherine and her international network of colleagues (all doing injured worker and union-centred research on occupational health and safety and workers’ compensation) organized at least two conferences/workshops I had the privilege to attend. They designed these conferences/workshops to support the development of a network of younger scholars and community organizations with similar objectives and approaches to their own.
Over the years, I had the privilege of co-supervising postdoctoral fellows with Katherine. This gave me the opportunity to observe her gentle, supportive and rigorous guidance of their work. I watched her tell them regularly about its importance and saw her delight in their success. The tribute from her Dean at the University of Ottawa indicates that more than a thousand students benefitted from her support over her career. Some of her former students and postdoctoral fellows pay tribute to her below.
Through Katherine’s various projects, and organized by the Chair in Occupational Health and Safety Law, I caught glimpses of her work with many union and other community partners in Québec and elsewhere. I observed the deep, respectful collaborations and friendships among them. Katherine discusses some of the origins of a career focused on workers’ compensation regulations and injured workers in a recorded interview with Steve Mantis, a leading member of the injured workers movement in Canada. The interview was recorded last January. It is available here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKdUImsql08&t=6s. Recordings from multiple conferences she organized, and many other resources she built, can be found on the website for the Distinguished Research Chair on Occupational Health and Safety Law (University of Ottawa).
Katherine and I became close friends and colleagues. We connected on a regular basis. She and her partner Fred, who supported her work over many years and lovingly cared for her over these past few months, visited us in St. John’s and in Portland, Bonavista Bay. On one of her visits to Portland, over a two-day period – while I fed her, acted as a sounding board and watched in amazement – Katherine wrote the first draft of a successful SSHRC/Canadian Institutes for Health Research Partnership grant application. That application focused on policy and practice and return to work among precariously employed and mobile workers and the research is ongoing.
Over the past few years, Katherine and I co-edited a special issue of New Solutions, on health and safety and the mobile labour force, and co-authored papers and book chapters on COVID-19 and mobile workers. She did this work on top of many other things, in the midst of the pandemic, and right up until symptoms of what we now know to have been a brain tumour stopped her, in the spring of 2021. The following translation (taken from a tribute to her written by her Dean, Marie-Eve Sylvestre) provides an indication of the extent of her contributions, including during the last year:
… Katherine left us a monumental body of work, distinguished both by its profoundly interdisciplinary nature, at a time when this was not at all the norm in law schools, and by the lasting impact she had on the development of public and social policies in the area of occupational health and safety in Québec, Canada and elsewhere in the world. Passionate about social justice, she devoted her entire career to defending the rights of vulnerable workers, women, migrant workers and youth, with particular attention to the links between precarious work and systemic discrimination and occupational health. In the past year alone, Katherine intervened on numerous occasions to defend the rights of health care workers exposed to infectious diseases in times of pandemic … [She] was at the forefront of the work surrounding Bill 59 on occupational health and safety reform in Quebec …
The remainder of this Tribute is comprised of a series of reflections from members of the On the Move team as well as other colleagues and friends who wanted to add their voices to our own. They appear in alphabetical order.
Katherine was a brilliant researcher with an unusual range of skills, both academic and personal. By blending legal expertise and OHS insights, she made a massive contribution to our field. Perfectly bilingual, Katherine was able to bridge the gap between language groups within Canada, as well as between English Canada and Francophone Europe.
Katherine’s impassioned energy for careful and humane scholarly work was a model. Whenever I want to give up on trying to understand policy in relation to people and practice, I think of Katherine and tell myself to buck up. I know that this is only one small instance of the many and multiplicative positive effects she had on people while she walked this earth.
I first met Katherine over 40 years ago, as young lawyers in the injured worker and occupational health and safety movements, her in Quebec, me in Ontario. I see her so vividly in my mind, it really seems impossible that she is gone. Katherine played a major role as a lawyer and academic researcher on many issues, including asbestos disease, occupational stress and, more recently, the health and wellbeing of mobile workers. She was perhaps the hardest working person I have ever met, able to move multiple, complex projects forward at the same time. She was tough minded and compassionate. She had a deep and abiding commitment to working people. Through her work, she broadened the understanding among policy makers, governments and stakeholders about workplace and working class realities. She put a special focus on the most vulnerable workers, including especially injured workers and occupational disease victims.
There will be a time to celebrate Katherine’s brilliant and committed life, for now I am mourning along with her many friends and colleagues.
Katherine was an exceptional woman who was kind and supportive. I fondly remember her at conferences taking the time to talk with me about my research over a meal.
Her pioneering work sought to take into account other disciplines in order to understand the pitfalls and shortcomings of OHS regulations. It has inspired a generation of young academics to follow a path she paved with passion and rigour. Throughout her career, Katherine demonstrated the social and scientific relevance of partnership research. She leaves us with a model of generosity, commitment and integrity that will long outlive her.
I, we are saddened by this immense loss to our community of researchers and our community of friends. Others have spoken well of Katherine’s skills, determination, energy, leadership. She was, without any qualification, an outstanding scholar and teacher. In her presence, I was always aware of how glad I was that someone could describe and assess the laws and policies that would, often in unseen and unanticipated ways, define the life chances of all those who hope to provide for themselves and their loved ones.
Every memory I have of Katherine is of an incredibly bright and vibrant academic; of someone passionate and fully engaged with her research, advocacy, and students; of someone so full of life. No matter how challenging the topics, she always approached them with an upbeat and positive attitude, working to build understanding and support for change.
I worked especially closely with Katherine through the course of my doctoral program when I was a research assistant on two of her studies and more recently when Katherine co-supervised my post-doctoral research. Katherine was a generous colleague, supervisor and mentor who gave her time and expertise freely. As she oversaw my work, she was patient, motivating and supportive, and a brilliant scholar who challenged me to understand and question things in new ways. As a mentor, Katherine modelled compassion, integrity, ambition and fervour. She steered me toward meaningful opportunities to pursue research, present and publish, and gave me the confidence and support I needed to follow through. As I call up fond memories of Katherine, I think of her warmth, sense of humour, and unique turns of phrase. I think of all that she accomplished, and all the lives she touched, and I feel immensely grateful to have known her and to have benefited from her guidance and influence. I will miss Katherine profoundly, but I take heart in knowing she has left an indelible mark on the field and all those who knew her.
Bill Hynd, NL Federation of Labour
I must say I froze when I read this (the email about Katherine’s death). I can never understand or accept how such vibrant people can pass so suddenly. What impressed me about Katherine was her accessibility. She always responded to questions or queries expeditiously. Also, she understood her audience. Her writing was clear and helpful.
I did not know Katherine well, but the few interactions I had her with were always lovely. My first memory of her is during my masters when I presented for the first time at CAWLS and was in her session – she went out of her way to make me feel comfortable – I am sure she could tell how nervous I was. I will always remember that and the effort she made. What a loss.
Katherine was a gem. I met her when I was doing my PhD and thought, yup, this is who I want to be in 20 years. She was a brilliant legal mind with a heart of gold, equally comfortable as a conference keynote and at an injured workers’ meeting. She could distill her argument and research so that all could understand. She seamlessly went from English to French and back again. It was a joy to sit beside her at a meeting because she always had stories to tell and ideas to share. She was critical (in a good way) and fierce (in a great way). Her warmth radiated. She took many a student, postdoc and research assistant under her wing, and helped them to soar. Thank you, Katherine, for your work and your passion; you will be missed by all who had the honour of knowing you.
I have known Katherine for a long time, a couple of decades. Like all who knew her, I have respected and admired her distinctive, unique way of framing the most important issues in worker health protection. On the news of her passing today, I noticed something. I have been carrying a little piece of Katherine, in my head, for those two decades. When I needed to work through one of those tough issues, I would ask myself: What would Katherine say? And the answer was pretty much always right. I will keep counting on that advice.
Katherine was the first academic to « open her arms to me » 23 years ago. I was, at the time, an international student in a precarious financial situation and I needed someone to “trust” me enough to offer me my first RA position; to let me enter into the Canadian world of research. Although I was not very familiar with her field of law, Katherine did not hesitate to hire me and I learned so much from her, during the time we spent in her small office at UQAM. During the years that followed, we always stayed in touch, but the On the Move partnership provided us with the opportunity to collaborate closely on issues surrounding employment standards and migrant workers’ working conditions. We met many times in her (much bigger!) University of Ottawa office, and I appreciated every moment of those meetings. We worked, of course, but we also had intimate conversations about life, death and family life, and laughed a lot … Katherine was a great academic mentor and a very kind, generous, and compassionate human being who supported me in every single aspect of my life. I will always remember her large smile and her beautiful blue eyes. Katherine, “ta chouette;” t’embrasse très affectueusement et te serre très fort dans ses bras….
This is a very great loss. I remember Katherine for her warmth, compassion and insight. She was a rigorous scholar who brought careful analysis to her research, was always aware of policy, but was also always aware of the people involved in her studies. Her disciplined thinking brought clarity to complex issues without ever losing sight of the human implications of the issues she studied. But I remember most her gentle compassion and humour and I will miss her, as will we all.
Our paths crossed at research meetings and conferences over the years. Katherine’s work makes an important contribution to the field of OHS, and I will remember her as a generous and supportive colleague.
It is hard to articulate what Katherine means to me. I came from circumstances where I never dreamed of accomplishing what I have been able to accomplish. For more than 20 years, Katherine has opened doors for me, encouraged me, believed in me and supported me unconditionally. She was so kind and so brilliant; I am so sad and I will miss her so terribly.
Katherine was a dear colleague and extremely generous friend over many years. It is impossible to list all the wonderful things that flowed from this but they included wise counsel, important insights, helping me embrace bilingual scholarship, a new circle of friends/colleagues and enriching my soul. Katherine was an outstanding researcher and advocate for the vulnerable combining skill-sets across a range of disciplines that is rare and she managed to juggle an awesome array of commitments with good humour. A significant number of emerging scholars in Canada and beyond benefited from her engagement – that is just one of her important legacies. It was a privilege to collaborate. It was a privilege and honour to count her as a friend and immensely enjoyable to spend time with Katherine. Working communities and those that represent them as well as academics in occupational health and safety and many others are the poorer for Katherine’s passing. Far too soon.
I have a vivid memory of the first time I met Katherine at a large meeting. She introduced herself and mentioned that Barb Neis was trying to get her involved in this budding new project and that she very much wanted to participate but was concerned about not having time due to her other projects. We were so fortunate that she did become one of the central pillars of On the Move. The other projects proceeded apace but you would not have known it based on what she always brought to our collective. Katherine’s keen attention to others’ research and to the whole of the world shone through in every context, from large conferences to small meetings. In addition, her responses to what others said always seemed to come in the form of initial wise thoughts and, then, tremendous energy and dedication directed toward a series of new initiatives. Her wisdom and commitment will be an ongoing inspiration.
I worked with Katherine on several projects, notably the study led by Ellen MacEachen on OHS and workers comp issues for workers employed by temp agencies. Katherine was very systematic and thorough in her work, and brought great insight to the policy implications of research findings, as well as real concern for vulnerable workers. She will be missed.
I was deeply saddened by the news of Katherine’s passing on September 23rd. Katherine was such a great mentor and teacher, a wonderful colleague and friend. She was always kind, supportive and generous. I had the privilege to be her student, trainee, and junior colleague, and I learned so much from her about the world of health and safety. I have many lovely memories of Katherine. The most vivid is from when I was a second-year PhD candidate in Cardiff University. She came to visit my supervisor, Professor David Walters, and we had a very long discussion about the barriers for seafarers to claim workers’ compensation in China. She was smiling all the time, very patiently listened to me, and asked me many inspiring questions. In 2017, with the support of the On the Move Partnership, I had the opportunity to conduct my postdoctoral research under Katherine’s supervision. She was such a caring, inspiring mentor and her research Centre at the University of Ottawa was filled with passion for research on occupational health and safety and labour law. Her legacy will be profound and lasting.
She was so very dear — kind beyond belief, as well as brilliant. I count myself lucky to have been her friend and colleague.