A tribute in memory of Katherine Lippel

Faculty of Law – Chair on Occupational Health and Safety Law

By Distinguished Research Chair on Occupational Health and Safety Law

Communication, Faculty of law

Katherine Lippel, Distinguished Research Chair in Occupational Health and Safety Law at the University of Ottawa and leader of the Partnership grant Return to work after a work injury: Challenging Circumstances and Innovative Solutions passed away peacefully on September 23, 2021 at the age of 67.

This tribute to Katherine was put together by her colleagues and friends to honour her and the legacy she has left behind, including this visionary research project looking at return to work experiences of precarious workers injured at work


Ellen MacEachen

You’ll be finding by now, and likely not to your surprise, that Katherine had a deep impact on the lives of so many people. In my own life, she was as an older sister. We worked so well together, had great discussions, lively arguments, shared ideas. And all the while Katherine was strong, kind—and a no-nonsense person. Even about her own final months.

Katherine has rightfully been lauded for her incredibly sharp intellect and her contributions to occupational health and safety law and practice internationally. The world is a poorer and more vulnerable place without her. As a Distinguished Research Chair in Occupational Health and Safety Law, she was guided by her very deep respect for working people and devoted to law reform that encompassed the right to decent work and health conditions. As a SSHRC Gold Medal winner, she was recognized for the impact of her research and her sustained leadership in the field. Her key areas of interest were women’s health, bullying and precarious employment. She was deeply concerned about the needs of injured workers, women, and vulnerable groups.

As a fully bilingual person raised in Quebec and working from the University of Ottawa, Katherine created an important research bridge between Quebec and the rest of Canada. This is an important component of our SSHRC-CIHR Healthy Productive Work Partnership, which passed its mid-term review just before she left us. Katherine moved with ease back-and-forth across English and French and created important links, especially with her trusted relationships with injured worker groups.

Looking through photos of Katherine, this one is a classic -- explaining with her hands and looking over her glasses to make a point.
Looking through photos of Katherine, this one is a classic -- explaining with her hands and looking over her glasses to make a point.

Katherine’s work wasn’t just abstract--she was always politically active. She worked closely with unions in Quebec to recognize in law the sometimes invisible and dangerous exposures faced by women. When a controversial bill supposedly modernizing Québec’s work health and safety regime – both prevention and compensation -- was tabled in October 2020, Katherine appeared before the Legislative Commission to ask for changes. She focussed on aspects of the Bill that few had the expertise to take on: amendments aimed at reeling in the role of Québec’s Tribunal administratif du travail, known to insist on the large and liberal interpretation of the law necessary to extend compensation benefits to workers in precarious employment, the criteria for recognizing occupational disease, as well as rehabilitation measures critical to stem the income loss -- and loss of dignity -- often associated with employment injury for workers in precarious employment. Katherine worked tirelessly with unions and injured workers’ groups when they organized in response to the injustices they observed on the ground for all injured or ill workers. Katherine also provided an important voice during the pandemic, including providing an op-ed in the Toronto Star called “Leaving no one behind with COVID-19” (Match 17, 2020). She was generous with her time, sharing her thoughts with journalists and speaking up about social justice issues.

I like that this was a recent photo showing Katherine’s sharing her knowledge and research findings with those leading the major regulatory reform of workers’ compensation law ongoing in Quebec.

Katherine helped a generation of international young scholars to understand the need to contextualize research data within broader legal and policy systems. Through the Work Disability Prevention CIHR Strategic Training Program (2003-2015), which attracted graduate students and early career researchers from around the world, she taught a course annually that prompted trainees to compare their systems and assumptions with those from other countries. Katherine’s lessons have been evident over the years in manuscripts prepared by program graduates.

Here, Katherine and I are at the 2019 WDPI conference in Denmark with two Work Disability Prevention CIHR Strategic Training Program graduates Asa Tjulin (left) and Elspeth Kilgour (middle right). Friendships and collaborations developing from the training program continued for years.
Here, Katherine and I are at the 2019 WDPI conference in Denmark with two Work Disability Prevention CIHR Strategic Training Program graduates Asa Tjulin (left) and Elspeth Kilgour (middle right). Friendships and collaborations developing from the trainin

Since her passing, many have commented on how Katherine was a marvelous human being with a huge heart—so true. She was genuinely interested in those around her. A former trainee remarked to me last week: “I am recalling with warmth and sorrow a conversation I had with Katherine in Dublin when we spoke about our personal lives and her plans for the future.” 

The first time I ever saw Katherine was in the mid-90’s when I was a doctoral student, and she was presenting at a Toronto conference. What impressed me at the time was how she was so composed, never flustered (despite some equipment glitches), cool as a cat. Then later, as a post-doctoral fellow, when I asked Katherine if she’d like to join me on a project, to my great delight she accepted. I had the privilege of working with Katherine across several projects as well as several student co-supervisions (she appears in my CV 66 times!), leading up to her current large Healthy Productive Workplaces SSHRC/CIHR Partnership study. Across our research initiatives, we developed a system where I would gather social and organizational data and she would identify key issues that mattered from a legal point of view and lead the legal analysis/legal reform aspect. We had the pleasure of attending many of the same conferences—we’d coordinate travel, meet for meals, take walks during conference breaks. Katherine was terrific to work and be with—always prepared, always with time to discuss. This is especially amazing given Katherine’s prodigious work pace and output.

In late June this year, Katherine was learning that her prognosis was difficult. She wrote to me from a place of peace one day, saying: “Sitting on my balcony with a friend drinking tea and listening and looking at birds, all and all I am a happy person, and blessed by my life.” I believe that Katherine will live on in many ways. So many of us, her colleagues, students, research partners have learned so much from her. It has changed how we think and do things. In that respect, Katherine will continue.

With thanks to Rachel Cox for her description of Katherine’s recent legal advocacy work in Quebec.


Anne Hudon

ll est plus que difficile d’écrire un message pour dire au revoir à une personne aussi unique, passionnée et humaine que Katherine. Katherine était une femme comme il s’en fait peu dans la vie, une personne parmi celles qui vous marquent après la première rencontre et que vous souhaiteriez suivre dans toutes ses aventures, tellement elle en est habitée et enthousiasmée. J’ai rencontré Katherine pour la première fois à Toronto au programme Work Disability Prevention où elle présentait et supervisait les étudiant.e.s. Déjà, ses enseignements passionnants, sa soif de justice sociale, son souci et sa préoccupation pour chacune des personnes que nous étions, même si elle nous connaissait à peine, m’avaient frappée. Les conversations que nous avions eues à propos des travailleurs, de la réadaptation, de l’indemnisation m’avaient déjà permis de voir à quel point elle était experte du sujet, mais également à quel point les personnes qui sont la cible d’injustices - les travailleurs et travailleuses - comme humains, étaient ce qui motivait son travail acharné. À la suite de ces premières rencontres déterminantes dans le cadre de ce programme de formation, j’ai su que je souhaitais apprendre à ses côtés et mener une infime partie de cette quête qu’elle menait déjà depuis le début de sa carrière.  

Ce dont je ne me doutais pas, c’est qu’en lui demandant d’agir comme co-superviseure de mes travaux de postdoctorat, au fil de nos rencontres mensuelles et de nos discussions, je m’attacherais autant à elle. Impossible de ne pas être émerveillée à chaque fois par son souci des autres et par la sincère attention qu’elle nous porte. Impossible de ne pas être attendrie par son sourire franc, chaleureux et accueillant. Impossible de ne pas être amusée par son regard vif et parfois espiègle. Impossible encore, de ne pas être impressionnée par l’ampleur de ses connaissances et la rigueur dont elle fait preuve à tous les instants. Impossible de ne pas être saisie par la créativité, la détermination et le feu sacré qui l’habitent. Impossible de ne pas reconnaître comment tous ses travaux, allocutions, enseignements et projets ont marqué et transformé les conditions et les droits des travailleurs et travailleuses. Impossible aussi de ne pas constater tout le travail qu’elle réalise pour soutenir ses collègues, étudiants et étudiantes, partenaires de recherche et ami.e.s, et la si grande générosité dont elle fait preuve, sans jamais demander en retour.  

Katherine était une grande juriste, une grande professeure, une grande chercheuse, une grande militante et une grande « advocate », mais avant tout, c’était une femme profondément humaine. 

Katherine savait rejoindre le cœur des personnes qui l’entouraient. Malgré toutes les vertus impressionnantes qu’elle incarnait, son humilité et son humanité resteront ancrées pour toutes les années à venir personnellement, mais également collectivement. 


Stephanie Premji

It seems impossible to put into words the love and gratitude I have for Katherine, my mentor for over 20 years. I consider meeting her a major lucky event in my life, and had the pleasure and privilege of working with her as a student and then as a colleague. She was a tireless advocate for injured workers, and just brilliant and amazingly kind. I remember when I was a student, as the possibility was raised that my research might generate controversial results, how Katherine made it clear that she had my back, even if it meant costing her some hard-earned relationships. It struck me is how easily and unconditionally she offered her support then, and over the years. I learned so much from her, not only about research but also about how to be in the world. I will miss her so terribly.


Sylvie Gravel

La première fois que j’ai rencontré Katherine Lippel, c’était lors de mon examen doctoral. Elle avait été invitée comme jury externe en remplacement de Diane Berthellette qui ne pouvait pas y participer pour des raisons de santé. La tradition est de laisser le jury externe commencer. Katherine a débuté en louangeant la pertinence de mon sujet et l’audace de mon approche théorique. Après les dix premières minutes, j’ai eu droit à deux heures et demie de « oui mais ». À l’écrit, cela représente neuf pages de « oui mais ». Ses critiques étaient à ce point pertinentes, bien argumentées et structurées que les autres six autres membres de mon jury se sont discrètement retirés, en se reculant de quelques millimètres sur leur chaise respective, pour laisser place à la grande Katherine. Contre toute attente de ma part, j’ai réussi mon examen. Par la suite Katherine a été invitée à joindre mon comité de direction, formé de trois codirecteurs et de mon directeur, tous aussi forts intellectuellement les uns et les autres. Chacun a tenu son rôle d’expert dans son domaine, sans mettre en doute l’expertise de l’autre. J’ai survécu à l’épreuve pour finalement me ranger aux côtés de Katherine comme collègue. Nous avons bourlingué dans les colloques, participé à des débats publics, rédigés des demandes de subvention, bref nous avons fait la vie universitaire avec les tous plaisirs que cela procure.  Masi Katherine n’a pas su ralentir. Nous en avons souvent discuté parce que moi, j’ai été frappée par un AVC. Si je regrette une chose, c’est de ne pas l’avoir convaincu de laisser le travail reprendre sa juste place, rien de moins, mais surtout rien de plus.

Au revoir Katherine, on se retrouvera dans l’au-delà.


Desai Shan

A tribute in memory of Katherine Lippel

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.


Maxine Visotzky-Charlebois

Merci Katherine, tu étais une véritable pionnière en recherche, une enseignante engagée dans sa communauté et passionnée. Ton travail, ta générosité, ton enthousiasme et ton dévouement vont nous manquer, mais continueront à nous inspirer pour les années à venir.


Daniel Côté

Katherine Lippel nous quitte, mais son nom reste bien vivant. Katherine, tu nous laisses avec de grandes réalisations dans le monde du droit du travail. Tu nous lègues cet esprit combatif et ce mépris des injustices et de l’arbitraire. Grâce à ton travail acharné, beaucoup de choses ont été accomplies et je suis certain que tu dirais qu’il y a encore plein de choses à accomplir. Mais rassure-toi, nous sommes là, meurtris certes par ton départ si rapide et imprévisible, on a même encore du mal à y croire, mais nous sommes là, déterminés à suivre tes traces et à poursuivre le combat, et à nous inspirer de tout ce que tu as fait pour les travailleurs les plus vulnérables. Ceux qui t’ont côtoyée n’oublieront jamais ta rigueur intellectuelle, ton intégrité et ta verve fracassante. Merci, Katherine, merci d’avoir été un phare pour nous tous.


Janet McLaughlin

I had the privilege of working under Katherine's leadership on a project examining return to work challenges for injured workers. Katherine indicated a desire to mentor and support junior colleagues like me, and offered us many chances to learn and grow as part of her team.

Katherine demonstrated tremendous leadership and vision in bringing all of us together for our research, but she was also incredibly kind and encouraging. She offered continual patience and empathy as we navigated child raising during the pandemic while juggling our academic responsibilities. She enthusiastically supported our projects, offering us opportunities to share and showcase our research.  Most importantly, she inspired us with her deep commitment to advancing workers' rights and protections through her community-engaged scholarship.

We will honour Katherine's legacy through our commitment to seeing this important project through to the best of our ability. In particular, we will do everything possible to ensure our collective work will be used to make a positive difference in the lives of injured workers and their families, as she would have wanted.

Katherine’s trailblazing research and advocacy have been an inspiration to me and to so many. It has been a true honour to have had the chance to work as part of her team.

This is such a tremendous loss on so many levels. I send my deepest sympathies to her family, friends, students, and colleagues. While we collectively mourn, I know the world is a better place for having had her in it, and her positive legacy will live on through her work and through all those whose lives she touched.


Monique Lefebvre

Katherine came into my life at a moment when I desperately needed someone to recognize me for my skills set and be open to a flexible work schedule. She offered me both, plus a friendship and guidance that I truly cherish. Thanks to her I was able to maintain my mental health while juggling my young family and my marriage. She didn’t just teach and research occupational health and safety, she practiced it with her employees and students. I have learnt so much from Katherine in the last three years, from how to deal with busy researchers and word smithing mid-term reports to managing my own guilt of not working my set hours because kids running are inside the house while outside a global pandemic is underway. Katherine, you are one of the most dedicated and intelligent individuals that I know and, more importantly, the most kind-hearted and patient person that I have had the privilege to cross paths with. I am keeping a piece of you in my heart, a reminder that we can be kind, patient and strong all at the same time. Merci pour tous! Je t'aime beaucoup xoxo


Elizabeth Kwan, Canadian Labour Congress (partner)

I’ve only worked and known Katherine for a handful of years.  She has made an indelible imprint on me as a worker and as a friend.  I hope she will forgive me for the clumsy tribute as I write this with much sadness and grief in my heart.

In my work in the labour movement, we often talk about treating workers with “respect and dignity”. Katherine truly and unquestionably lived these words in her work and in her friendships. She used her professional accomplishments to give voice to people rendered vulnerable by society; she used her academic stature to create change in systems that oppress, and to support others who she believed could exact change.

There are few that I know who lived and practiced everyday the fight for respect and dignity for people.  She listened and heard people – vulnerable workers, colleagues and friends – in doing so made us less alone and more hopeful. Katherine was strong and was always willing to have others lean on her strength. She gave of herself  - her compassion and  kindness - and always with such grace. Katherine was truly generous of heart.


Mircea Vultur

Je me souviens de Katherine comme d’une femme curieuse, avide de discussions intellectuelles, une femme réaliste et amicale. D’une culture juridique sans commune mesure, je l’admirais! On avait des idées différentes sur certaines choses mais elle ne laissait jamais celles-ci interférer avec ses sentiments d’amitiés. Une chercheuse accordant à l’effort une valeur importante, véritable modèle pour ses étudiants et collègues.  À ses amis et sa famille, mes condoléances, son souvenir restera toujours vivant.


Margaret Keys & Kevin Brown, Office of the Worker Adviser (Ontario)

Over the past decade, several of us at the Office of the Worker Adviser had the pleasure of meeting and working with Katherine Lippel. We were shocked and saddened to hear about her passing.

We admired Katherine’s wide-ranging and vigorous scholarship in the field of workers’ compensation and occupational health and safety. She was an inclusive and welcoming academic who prioritized connecting researchers to workers and worker advocates — she made us feel important. She led and encouraged investigations into the experiences of injured workers, especially vulnerable workers (temporary workers, migrant workers and workers with psychological injuries). In a world where their opinions and lived experience are so often disregarded, she spoke directly to injured workers and valued their input. She brought an organized mind to a large and under-researched field.

Her dedication to the work of uncovering the impacts of work injuries and the trauma of going through the workers’ compensation system and imagining ways to create a better system was inspiring. We have no doubt that Katherine made a real and lasting contribution to the cause of justice for vulnerable workers. Moreover, she raised up a generation of researchers who would continue her pioneering work. We hope that they continue her legacy.


Dana Howse

I am so thankful to have worked 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.


Barb Neis

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 (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.

Katherine with an international team of health and safety research colleagues and friends. (Photo: Philip Bohle)
Katherine with an international team of health and safety research colleagues and friends. (Photo: Philip Bohle)

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 organized by the Canada Research 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. 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 Fred in Portland, Bonavista Bay. (Photo: Peter Armitage)
Katherine and Fred in Portland, Bonavista Bay. (Photo: Peter Armitage)

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 research project focuses on policy and practice in return to work among precariously employed and mobile workers and the research is on-going.

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.