National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting Act

An Act to establish a national framework for the prevention and treatment of cancers linked to firefighting

Sponsor

Sherry Romanado  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Second reading (House), as of April 4, 2022

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-224.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

April 6th, 2022 / 4:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Majid Jowhari Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

First of all, I agree with what Dr. Ellis talked about. From this angle, from the lens that we've been looking at COVID with so far, we have gotten all the information. The fact that when we come back we'll have officials come back, who will give us an update so that we can plan going forward, really makes sense.

Also, I think there is agreement on how we should move forward. It's just on what those studies will be that I think there's a little bit of a different approach. I don't believe anybody in the committee is saying that we should stop the COVID study. From the lens that we were looking at COVID with at that time, we got the information that we needed. What we are saying is that at this time, we're going to get an update. Then we'll move on. In the meantime, let's change the lens that we are looking at COVID with.

We can definitely take the lens of looking at children. We can definitely take the lens of looking at COVID and children's mental health. That's still part of the study. It also supports what our colleague MP Davis is saying, that, look, we have a thousand things we can talk about when it comes to COVID. I think there is a general agreement between all our colleagues that we will continue on with COVID, but we will look at it periodically with a different lens.

Now, having said that, I have heard over the last half an hour about six different themes. I want to quickly tell you what my thoughts are on those, and then we'll move on.

The first theme I heard was let's continue on with COVID. We'll come back and have the officials back. I think our colleague MP van Koeverden talked about May 2. On point number one, I agree. I support it.

Then we heard about the fact that we should ensure that we are in a position where we could start giving the analysts enough time to be able to pull together the report for the human resources. On that one, I agree. The implication is that we have only two more sessions on that report. It will give them ample time for the initial report and do the translations so that we can look at it. That gives us at least one and a half sessions to be able to look at the report and make sure it's there for you to be able to submit it. Therefore, on number two, I definitely agree with what MP Barrett brought up.

We've also thought about, if I understood it, refocusing or repurposing or looking at COVID with a different lens. I've already talked about how we could look at it through a children's lens. We could look at it through a mental health lens, etc. On that one, I agree. I think we've gotten whatever we could get from that specific lens of COVID.

I also believe that we are going to get two PMBs. At least the data so far strongly suggests that we're going to get two PMBs. One is on opioids, on the NDP side, and another one, Bill C‑224, is coming in from the Liberal side. Those studies, depending on when they will come to our committee, will need to get scheduled. I believe when we vote on them, it will probably be either on the first Wednesday we come back or the second Wednesday we come back. Those will probably be referred in late May or early June if they're going to this committee, and we need to be able to schedule them.

Number four is the focus on children and specifically the mental health. You know me; I advocate for mental health, so I support it. I also definitely support the hotline. That's item number five.

Finally, I think there may be an opportunity for us to have two or probably three sessions, depending on how the report goes, on the human resources, and we could take either the NDP study or the Bloc study on the medical devices.

Thank you.

April 6th, 2022 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Thank you.

It's funny. We're talking about the agenda. The topic of this meeting is committee business and we're talking about how to best allocate our time.

Of course, prior to Mr. Lake's moving his motion, there were a number of comments made by his colleague, which I'm now responding to at the same time, because it all amounts to how we're going to best use our committee's time.

In terms of calling witnesses, what I would suggest to the Conservatives is that if they want to hear from a particular witness, whether that's the minister or Dr. Tam, or whomever they want, they have the full ability to put that on their witness list and have that person come forward.

I don't see any reason to deviate from the plan that this committee has adopted for between now and June, which centres on COVID and then on the two studies, one of which we've almost finished and one of which was identified by the Conservatives.

I'm not sure where we would have time to add another study on the suicide prevention number, which I agree is a laudable thing. I'm not even sure why we need to study it, because I'm pretty sure that everybody agrees with it. Our time is allotted right through to the end of June already, and that does not take into account legislation that could be coming to this committee, as I'm sure there is. In fact, this week, we debated Bill C-224, which is the bill that was introduced dealing with cancers in the firefighting sector. I anticipate that's going to pass, judging by the debate, and that it will come to our committee.

For all of those reasons, I don't think we need to be passing more motions on studies at this point. I think we should deal with the business that we have already before the committee, which is a full plate. Perhaps when we get to the beginning of June we can have a full meeting on committee business and maybe start planning our agenda for the fall.

Where I'll conclude, Mr. Chair, is that I've had conversations with my Conservative colleagues who don't necessarily agree with this as an equitable way to deal with things, but I notice that three studies have already been approved, one from each party—Liberals, Conservatives and Bloc. There has not yet been one agreed to that the New Democrats have put forward. I am going to be doing that and, in the interests of equity, I'm going to be pressing that each of us has an opportunity to put a subject before the committee that of course receives majority support.

Before we entertain the Conservatives' second study, I will be looking to conclude the Liberals', Bloc's, New Democrats' and Conservatives' studies before we start getting to the Conservatives' second priority before some parties have had a chance to have even one.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Health and Safety of FirefightersStatements by Members

April 4th, 2022 / 2:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Chris Lewis Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, this morning I had the honour to speak in support of Bill C-224 in the House, a bill that recognizes the importance of bringing awareness to certain types of cancers that firefighters face each and every day. As a former firefighter, I want to thank the brave men and women who protect us all. We appreciate everything that they do to keep our families safe.

It is hard for us to say goodbye to friends that we have lost and perhaps even tougher to say goodbye to someone like my friend, Darrell Ellwood, who passed away on Christmas Day 2011 from cancer and was laid to rest on January 14, 2012. Darrell's story is one of far too many, a life taken far too soon.

To the International Association of Fire Fighters, I say I will continue to work vigorously in the House to ensure that those who have sacrificed so much, whose spouses and families have lost so much, are not lost in vain.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members' Business

April 4th, 2022 / 11:50 a.m.
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Liberal

John Aldag Liberal Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this important discussion on Bill C-224. I would like to thank my hon. colleague, the member for Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, for sponsoring the bill, and I would like to thank all firefighters in Canada for serving our communities and for risking their lives to keep us all safe.

Firefighters face dangers and risk their lives to protect us and our communities. The hazards they face go beyond the bravery and self-sacrifice of running into burning buildings to save lives. Firefighters also put themselves in harm's way from exposure to toxic chemicals such as certain harmful flame retardants in upholstered furniture, mattresses and electronic devices, among others, when responding to fires.

While firefighters wear personal protective equipment for a level of protection, exposure to these harmful chemicals either through skin contact or inhalation are known to increase the risk of certain types of cancers and lung disease and to cause other adverse health effects.

That is why last summer the government announced a comprehensive action plan to protect firefighters from harmful chemicals released during household fires. Today, I am pleased to tell the House about the action plan and the measures already under way to protect these first responders in their life-saving work, but also to speak about why I feel this framework is so important as we move forward in the protection of our firefighters.

In the Government of Canada's firefighter action plan, the plan aims to protect firefighters from harmful chemicals with a particular focus on chemical flame retardants that are found in many household items, like upholstered furniture and electronics. Chemical flame retardants can save lives by slowing the ignition and spread of fire. However, they can also cause harmful health effects like cancer or impaired fertility when burned and inhaled.

The plan lays out five key areas of action. First, the government will prohibit harmful chemical flame retardants in Canada. To date, we have assessed over 150 flame retardants and have restricted or phased out those that are harmful to human health or the environment. Fourteen more chemical flame retardants are currently undergoing assessment, with even more to be assessed within the next two years to determine if they are harmful and require further actions.

Prohibiting or restricting harmful chemical flame retardants can help minimize firefighters' and other Canadians' exposure to these chemicals and their adverse health effects. I am really pleased to see the government has made this progress, because when I was on the environment committee, we looked at this issue under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. It is good to see that work is happening but more work needs to be done.

Second, we are working with industry to promote the use of alternatives to chemical flame retardants to comply with fire safety standards. To support the move away from harmful flame retardants, the government has updated five industry guidance documents on flammability requirements in consumer products. These updated materials emphasize ways that industry can comply without using chemical flame retardants and encourage manufacturers to design products differently such as using inherently flame-resistant materials like wool.

Third, our government is working with universities and firefighters to advance research on the health effects of chemical flame retardants and to monitor firefighters' levels of exposure to harmful chemicals. Monitoring the levels of these chemicals in firefighters, combined with new research data, provides important information that will help regulators target harmful chemicals. We will continue to share results of this research and monitoring with the scientific community and with the international community of firefighters to advance broader efforts to protect firefighters.

Fourth, we are going to use results of this research and monitoring to inform best practices for firefighters to help reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals. Our government has collaborated with universities and firefighters to research existing strategies, including personal protective equipment that reduces exposure to chemicals to determine their effectiveness. This important work will help improve existing best practices and identify new measures that can be implemented at the local, national and international levels.

Finally, we will continue to increase transparency and promote information sharing to raise awareness about the use of chemical flame retardants in products available to consumers. Empowering consumers to make informed choices can reduce exposure to harmful chemicals for Canadians, including firefighters.

Our government is committed to enhancing supply chain transparency and strengthening mandatory labelling of consumer products. To this end, in March, the government launched a national consultation asking the public to help identify, develop, prioritize and test innovative solutions for improving transparency about chemicals in products. This consultation will inform the government's future work on a broad strategy for labelling toxic chemicals in consumer products, including flame retardants in upholstered furniture.

These strengthened measures and increased awareness will make a tangible impact for firefighters. This is particularly true in my community where only 13 cancers in British Columbia are listed as work-related.

Last week I met with representatives from Surrey, Township of Langley and City of Langley firefighters who either have or know a colleague who has suffered from an occupational cancer. Richard from Station 1271 in Surrey told me that, in his 18-year career, he has seen nine occupational disease line of duty deaths. Of the nine, six have tragically lost their lives to occupational cancers, including Deputy Chief John Watt, battalion chiefs William Robertson and David Rivett, and captains Patrick Glendenning, Randy Piticco and Leslie Dionne. Most of these members worked at the same fire hall for most of their careers. Sadly, we know there will be more Surrey and Langley members added to this list.

One thing has stayed with me since speaking with firefighters locally. Richard told me that, in the case of occupational cancers, “If it is on you, it is in you.” This has never been so true.

Dan Gray from the City of Langley and Jordan Sparrow from the township also shared their insights, and all shared the hope that work will move ahead to continue creating national consistency in identifying occupational cancers across Canada.

The government's action plan is a comprehensive approach to protecting firefighters from harmful chemicals released during household fires. Significant progress is being made in its implementation through banning harmful chemical flame retardants and supporting the development and use of safer alternatives. As part of the firefighters action plan, the government is also conducting research, monitoring levels of exposure to chemicals and identifying practices that could protect our firefighter population from long-term harm. Lastly, the government is sharing information to help raise awareness about the presence of chemicals, including flame retardants, in consumer products.

All these reasons are why the government has done so much work, and I think we need to be aware of the work that has happened and that there is more work that needs to be done. That is why I so proudly stand here today in support of Bill C-224 and the work we are doing to identify a national framework for firefighters.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members' Business

April 4th, 2022 / 11:40 a.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I would first like to thank my hon. colleague from Essex who just spoke so passionately and powerfully. I thank him for sharing his experience and for his service. He is a tough act to follow.

Firefighters risk their lives every day to protect our communities. They have our backs when we need it most. In turn, we have a responsibility to take care of Canada's firefighters.

Cancer is an epidemic in Canada's fire service and by far the leading cause of line of duty death. New Democrats stand with firefighters in the battle to extinguish occupational cancer and all occupational hazards they face. We must take immediate action to reduce the risk of cancer for Canadian firefighters through improved awareness, prevention, screening and treatment, so this bill has our hearty support.

Bill C-224 provides for the development of a national framework designed to raise awareness of cancers linked to firefighting and to support improved access for firefighters to cancer prevention and treatment. I would like to take a brief moment to comment on the comments from my Bloc Québécois colleague. I will point out that having a national framework is not only constitutional but is also required in this country. There should be no barriers whatsoever, nor should we as parliamentarians let any barrier get in the way of taking measures that save lives and protect firefighters.

This bill also designates the month of January of each year as firefighter cancer awareness month.

The national framework does a number of things, but it must include measures to do the following: explain the link between firefighting and certain types of cancer; identify the training, education and guidance needs of health care and other professionals related to the prevention and treatment of cancers linked to firefighting; provide for firefighters across Canada to be regularly screened for cancers linked to firefighting; promote research and improved data collection; promote information-sharing and knowledge-sharing; and, establish national standards to recognize cancers linked to firefighting as occupational diseases.

By way of background, occupational cancer is now the leading cause of death among firefighters. We know firefighters are regularly exposed to concentrated carcinogens in the air, such as soot and tar, at a fire ground. A recent study by the University of the Fraser Valley, which drew on a decade of data from worker compensation boards, found that 86% of all firefighter workplace fatality claims were due to cancer, with an annual rate of a shocking 50 fatalities per 100,000 firefighters.

Firefighters are killed by cancer at a rate about three times higher than the general population, and cancer rates among firefighters increase dramatically with age, with the 35 to 39 year age group accounting for only 1% of workplace fatal cancer claims among firefighters and the 60 to 64 year age group accounting for 17%, while those 65 years of age and older making up nearly half the claims.

Unfortunately, there is inconsistent recognition of the occupational cancers of firefighters across Canada, which is why I think we need this bill so desperately. A firefighter's cancer may or may not be recognized as occupational depending on the province or territory in which they live. According to the International Association of Fire Fighters line of duty death database, 408 Canadian IAFF members died in the line of duty as a result of occupational cancers in the 10-year period between 2012 and 2021.

These were members whose cancers were formally accepted as job related by their respective provincial workers compensation boards, and in most cases, by presumptive legislation. However, the true number of firefighter cancer deaths among Canadian firefighters during that timeframe is no doubt higher, considering that not all provinces and territories formally recognize all the same cancer types as occupational among firefighters. Quebec recently enacted presumptive legislation for its firefighters, becoming the last province to do so, but it only recognizes nine types of cancer as occupational, when we know that there are at least double that.

I want to take a moment to speak about what I consider to be the best firefighters unit in the country, which is the Vancouver Fire Fighters union, IAFF Local 18. I want to give a shout-out to some of the finest Canadians I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with. These include Gord Ditchburn, Rob Weeks, Lee Lax, Chris Coleman and Dustin Bourdeaudhuy. These men are not only leaders in their workplaces, some of the finest firefighters in the country, and superb advocates and representatives of their firefighter sisters and brothers in the labour movement, but they are also excellent human beings, who give of themselves in every way, in the community, the workplace, the provincial legislature and the House of Commons.

Here is what they have explained to me over the years. As IAFF Local 18 has been a leader in the promotion and achievement of cancer presumption legislation here in British Columbia, I want to pause to say exactly what this legislation is. A presumption means, if a professional or a volunteer firefighter develops one of the listed cancers after a certain period of employment, it is presumed that the cancer arose from their employment. The firefighter is then eligible for worker's compensation benefits without having to provide evidence that the cancer is work-related, which can often be extraordinarily onerous, time consuming and especially hard on a firefighter and their family at a time when they are battling cancer.

B.C. first recognized certain cancers as occupational diseases for firefighters in 2005, very much due to the leading work of Local 18. In 2017, the B.C. government moved forward with an amendment to the firefighters' occupational disease regulation under the Workers Compensation Act to add presumptions for breast cancer, prostate cancer and multiple myeloma as occupational diseases for firefighters. At the time, cancer presumptions for firefighters were already recognized for the following cancers: brain, bladder, colorectal, kidney, ureter, testicular, lung, esophageal, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and leukemia.

In 2019, the B.C. NDP government introduced Bill 18 to extend presumptive conditions to forest firefighters, indigenous firefighters and fire inspectors, allowing them to more easily claim coverage for work-related illnesses like cancer, heart disease and mental health disorders. This is an example of what labour and a very active and informed firefighters union, working in concert with a government that is concerned about occupational health and safety, can accomplish. Once again, this leading situation in British Columbia is not the reality for firefighters across this country. That is why I think it is critical that we provide a national framework to lead all provinces and territories to achieve the same kind of progress made in B.C., recognizing of course that the job is not done even here.

I want to just shift for a moment to something that is a very practical step that we can and should be taking. The NDP caucus wrote a letter to the Minister of Environment and the Minister of Health last year. What that letter did was it expressed the IAFF's serious concerns over toxic chemical flame retardants in upholstered furniture and flammability testing standards for consumer products. Toxic chemicals are commonly used as flame retardants in a wide variety of household products such as upholstered furniture. They threaten the environment but, more importantly, they affect the human body, causing numerous health problems such as cancer.

Firefighters are at a greater risk of harm from chemical flame retardants because they encounter them in a combusted state and accumulate higher levels of exposure over the course of their careers. In the past the chemicals management plan acknowledged the health risk posed by select chemical flame retardants and banned their manufacturer, sale, import and use. However, banning only certain classes of flame retardants opens the door to loopholes and only facilitates their continued use. Additionally, there are no regulations currently under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act for residential upholstered furniture. This leave the onus on industry to choose how to meet flammability requirements.

The letter that we sent, generated by the IAFF Local 18, called for firefighters to be included in the classification of vulnerable populations when assessing chemical safety; called for regulatory and risk management initiatives involving chemical assessments to consider occupational standards like fire and emergency services when evaluating chemical safety; called for the introduction of regulatory measures that will prevent industry from replacing toxic chemicals with other similar chemicals that are just as harmful; and called for a complete ban on the sale, manufacturing, import and use of all chemicals that are used in flame retardants for upholstered furniture, given the toxic effects they have not just on firefighters but all Canadians. It also called on the federal government to investigate concerns about open flame testing while considering the merits of smolder resisting standards, and to include the IAFF on any future tests during chemical management consultations.

Let us pass this bill. Let us also protect firefighters by enacting protection against cancer-causing flame retardants immediately.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members' Business

April 4th, 2022 / 11:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Chris Lewis Conservative Essex, ON

Madam Speaker, it truly is an honour to stand here today. I am going to do my best to get through my speech in support of Bill C-224. I really had a remarkable and emotional weekend, diving into and having so many conversations with so many colleagues from the past.

I congratulate the member of Parliament for Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne for bringing this bill forward. Before yesterday I had never spoken to the member. In a short phone call, one quickly finds out someone's personality or where their heart is at, and I found out how alike we actually are. I send my congratulations to the member, and I thank her very much, not only for asking me to second the bill, but also for the opportunity to speak to this today.

Preparing for this speech brought back a ton of memories. It should be the easiest speech for me to make, but it is one of the toughest. The first thing I would say is that the service of the House, serving the people who sent us to the House, is completely like firefighters serving the people of their communities, in that just as firefighters run to put out a fire, so do the people of the House. It is truly all about service and not about the job.

I was a firefighter from 1995 to 2002. It is in my blood, being badge number 70. Some of my fondest memories were at the fire hall. In fact, the day I was married, I was dropped off at the church in a fire truck, and I wore these very same dress blues, but I will not lie to the House and say that they have not been taken out a little at the hips.

At my wedding, I was surrounded by many of my colleagues wearing their dress blues. I could not be much prouder to be standing here today, and I would not be standing here today if it were not for some of the amazing folks that allowed me the opportunity to get there.

I need to acknowledge Chief Sunderland, who hired me; Deputy Chief Dawson, who was a role model; Station Captain Kratz; Station Captain Brando; Captain Rankin; Captain Allsop; Captain Carther; Captain Stannard; Captain Boughazale; and many other fire department friends, the firefighters who I served with.

I would be remiss if I did not thank the member for Cariboo—Prince George. I really truly believe that his hard work moving this bill forward in the last Parliament got it to where it is today. I thank him very much for all his dedication and hard work.

I also want to thank the member for Barrie—Innisfil, who also was a firefighter, who gave me help in giving me an opportunity to speak to this. Of course, I have to acknowledge the IAFF, the International Association of Fire Fighters, as they are in Ottawa this week for their conference.

Just yesterday, I spoke to Chief Quennell. He is the fire chief for Kingsville, Ontario. I said, “Chief, give me some thoughts. Talk to me about what is going on.” He said that firefighters are too proud to let others know when they are suffering, so oftentimes, specifically in the times of cancer, we find out about their passing afterward. How true is that?

What they really care about is knowing that their family will be taken care of after they are gone. The advocacy to let their families know there is support and benefits for them after their death is vital. He also spoke specifically about the awareness, and, as was very eloquently said by the member who introduced the bill, that could be as simple as bunker gear.

We as volunteers take our bunker gear home with us. We leave it in the back of our vehicles. Our kids put our fire helmets on, and we wrap them up in our fire jackets, not even thinking about the carcinogens that may be in them.

At the end of the day, I think about one specific fire I was at with many of my colleagues. It was a plastics fire. The smoke was just above our heads, and there was no wind. It was stagnant. Some suggest a firefighter can wear SCBA, a self-contained breathing apparatus, for hours on end while fighting a fire, but it is quite frankly not doable.

We understand, as firefighters, everything that comes with the job and the consequences that come with the job. This bill will raise that awareness that Chief Quennell spoke about from the very beginning.

This is going to be a tough one for me, but I will get through it. I would like to talk about firefighter Darrell Ellwood. First and foremost, I thank his family for allowing me to share this story.

Darrell Ellwood was a Kingsville firefighter who then went on to serve in the city of Windsor. Darrell lit up the room everywhere and anywhere he went. He lived at the fire hall with his wife Kelly, who was the dispatcher. I remember many evenings sitting around what we called the Achilles, which is an inflatable boat, long after the fire was out. He would be making jokes and bringing us all to tears with his laughter and his smile.

I spoke to his daughter Jenny on Saturday. It was emotional for me and she was the tough one. She said, “Dad will be with you when you speak. I know this. He has shown himself to our family since his passing.” If Darrell is here, I would like to welcome him to the House of Commons.

In the fire department world, we have something called the right-hand rule or the left-hand rule. When opening a door, depending which way the door opens, we follow the left hand or we follow the right hand because the smoke is so thick and the fire is so hot, we do not want to lose our way. With that rule, we always put a hand on the shoulder of the person ahead of us. I know Darrell's hand is on the shoulders of firefighters across North America and, quite frankly, the world today.

He loved his job, but mostly, he loved the people who he worked with. Jenny told me he was a passionate champion for health and safety. Is that not ironic? He passed away from multiple myeloma on Christmas Day of 2011. He was laid to rest on January 14, 2012. He was young at the age of 50. I will be 46 pretty soon, and I keep that in perspective.

His celebration of life brought firefighters from many departments to say goodbye. I know because I was one of them. Ironically, this bill also calls for January to be named firefighter cancer awareness month. Darrell left behind his parents Bud and Marie, his wonderful wife Kelly, and his children, Jenny, Ian and Adam. His legacy lives on through them.

I also want to state that the spouses of firefighters are our support. I have a few last thoughts. Jenny also told me on Saturday that her father was asked, if he had known he would pass away at the age of 50, would he have done this job again? His very emphatic, simple answer was yes.

In closing, I want to recite the Firefighter's Prayer:

When I am called to duty, God, whenever flames may rage;
Give me the strength to save some life, whatever be its age.
Help me to embrace a little child before it's too late
Or save an older person from the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout,
And quickly and efficiently to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling and to give the best in me,
To guard my every neighbour and protect his property.
And if, according to your will, I am to lose my life;
Please bless with your protecting hand my children and my wife.

To my brothers and sisters, and their spouses or partners, we thank them, we respect them, we support them, we love them and we salute them.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members' Business

April 4th, 2022 / 11:15 a.m.
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Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

Madam Speaker, the practices used in Quebec are not necessarily in place in all provinces, which is why Bill C-224 is needed.

This is not only about best practices for prevention, but also about recognizing the various cancers that firefighters may develop as a result of their duties. Quebec, my home province, recognizes only nine such cancers, whereas Manitoba recognizes 19.

We therefore need to work together to recognize the cancers that exist and the research that confirms the 19 cancers that should be recognized and subjected to cancer prevention practices.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members' Business

April 4th, 2022 / 11 a.m.
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Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

moved that Bill C-224, An Act to establish a national framework for the prevention and treatment of cancers linked to firefighting, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to thank the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. Through their efforts in lobbying parliamentarians, I learned a great deal about the challenges facing firefighters.

I also want to thank my friend, Chris Ross, the president of the Association des pompiers de Montréal. Lastly, I would like to thank my friend Jean-François Couture, a firefighter with the Service de sécurité incendie de l'agglomération de Longueuil, for sharing his story with me and helping me understand this important issue.

I am honoured to be standing today in the House to speak about my private member's bill, Bill C-224, an act to establish a national framework for the prevention and treatment of cancers linked to firefighting. Firefighters put their lives on the line every day to keep Canadians and our communities safe, but they also do so when the fire is out. We have a responsibility, all of us, to do everything we can to keep them safe as well. As the daughter and wife of volunteer firefighters, this is a responsibility that I take very sincerely. It is very personal and very important to me. My father Dave and my husband Chris are always going to be my heroes.

Over 85% of all duty-related deaths among Canadians firefighters are caused by occupational cancers, and a firefighter's cancer diagnosis may or may not be recognized as job-related, depending on where they serve across this great land. In doing research for my bill, I was shocked to discover the disparity in the number of cancers linked to firefighting recognized across the provinces and territories. That one province would only recognize six cancers while another recognizes 19 makes no sense to me.

The memorial grant program for first responders was established by our government in 2018 to provide compensation to the beneficiaries of first responders, including firefighters who died as a result of their duties. It defines line-of-duty deaths as any any death attributable to and resulting from the performance of official duties, including death resulting from an occupational disease such as cancer.

A presumptive list of occupational illnesses and related years of service, based on established provincial and territorial practices, is established and maintained by Public Safety Canada. As there is no consistency among the provinces as to which cancers are linked to firefighting, the program itself is applied unevenly across the country. The research does not change when we cross into another province.

Exposure to smoke and toxic chemicals makes firefighters four times more likely to develop cancer than the general population.

Exposures can occur at any stage of firefighting, including during knock-down and overhaul and back at the station through contaminated personal protective equipment and equipment that may be off-gassing or through diesel exhaust. In fact, a 2017 study conducted by the University of Ottawa found traces of chemicals in the urine and blood samples of firefighters after a mere five to 10 minutes of exposure on scene, and that is with air masks on when nothing was actually inhaled.

As to female firefighters across Canada, while there may be few, only five of Canada's 13 provincial and territorial jurisdictions recognize that cervical and ovarian cancers can be caused by the occupational hazards female firefighters face in the line of duty. Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Yukon are the only jurisdictions in Canada that currently recognize that women's diseases, such as cervical and ovarian cancers, are linked to firefighting. Nova Scotia announced on March 22, 2022, that effective July 1 of this year, it too would add cervical and ovarian cancers and 11 other cancers, bringing the total numbers of cancers recognized in Nova Scotia to 19, the current maximum in Canada. Bravo, Nova Scotia.

While the number of female firefighters is quite low, the risk is just the same. Ill-fitting gear or personal protective equipment may expose women firefighters to a greater risk. How can a cancer diagnosis be considered occupational for a female firefighter in one part of the country and not be for another woman doing the same job and being exposed to the same hazards in another part of the country?

With regard to rural Canada, while Canada's major cities employ career firefighters, most rural areas of the country rely on volunteer fire services. The ability to share knowledge, tools and best practices is essential to helping protect all firefighters from preventable occupational cancers. While professional fire departments may have state-of-the-art decontamination and gear storage rooms, volunteer fire departments likely do not have those same resources.

I will give an example. Often a volunteer firefighter may have to keep their bunker gear with them and respond directly to a fire from their residence. After the fire is out, they may put their bunker gear in their trunk. They have now put that contaminated bunker gear in the trunk of their car where they put the groceries for their families. Not every firefighter knows they are putting not only themselves but their families at risk by having contaminated gear in their vehicles.

Let me be clear: A firefighter is a firefighter is a firefighter. Whether someone is a volunteer firefighter, a full-time career firefighter or a firefighter in the Canadian Armed Forces or in indigenous communities, the risks are all the same. Imagine if we could share information on best practices, like not storing that bunker gear in the trunk and washing off with wipes immediately after a fire to get the chemicals off the skin. What if we were able to share this data and the research so that all firefighters across Canada knew the risks and how to take those necessary precautions?

We need to promote awareness. We need to promote information sharing and education on best practices for prevention, and recognize that occupational-related cancers in firefighting do exist. That is why I have introduced Bill C-224. Cancer does not discriminate between our provinces and territories and nor should we. Federal and provincial collaboration and information sharing can facilitate this.

Bill C-224 would establish a national framework to promote the sharing of research, information and knowledge related to the prevention and treatment of cancers linked to firefighting. It would establish national standards to recognize cancers linked to firefighting as occupational diseases.

Bill C‑224 would promote education and awareness and designate the month of January as “Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month”.

Within the the International Association of Fire Fighters, January is already known as cancer awareness month for firefighters.

I have consulted with the International Association of Fire Fighters Canada, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and l'Association des pompiers de Montréal. I have had countless local fire departments across the country, as well as members from across the aisle, reach out to me to voice their support for this legislation and its aim of ensuring we work together across all jurisdictions to improve the health and safety of Canada's firefighters.

I want to personally thank all the firefighters in my hometown who served at the Greenfield Park fire department with my father and husband. They talk to me all the time about this.

My firefighter friends at the Service de sécurité incendie de Longueuil do too.

I want to particularly thank the members from the Conservative Party, the NDP and the Green Party who seconded my bill, demonstrating that we can work together across party lines for firefighters and their families.

This is very clear: The purpose of this bill is to save lives. The research is there. We know that cancer in firefighters exists. Why do we need to continue to argue about how many when the information is there?

Bill C-224 is about increasing awareness. We are doing that today by debating it and by identifying January as firefighter cancer awareness month so that not only firefighters across Canada but their families and various stakeholders, including the medical community, know that cancer in firefighting is real. We need to share the research and the best practices, including, as I mentioned, not storing bunker gear in the trunk, making sure to wash the hood after every fire and trying not to be the dirtiest firefighter coming out of overhaul. When my husband and father were in the department, they used to do overhaul without a mask or the SCBA. That is unheard of now. It is so dangerous. We need to prevent cancer and mitigate the risk, and we need to provide support to those who need it.

Firefighters from the International Association of Firefighters are here in Ottawa today and tomorrow. They are meeting with parliamentarians to discuss issues important to them. I know they are watching, so I want to take the opportunity to welcome all the delegates here to Ottawa.

I hope to see them soon.

I urge all members to meet with them to hear their stories. I have spoken with firefighters over the years since joining the House, and it is why Bill C-224 is here. Believe it or not, MPs do listen.

Firefighter line-of-duty deaths caused by cancer may not be as sensational as those caused by fire ground accidents. They may not make the same headlines, but the level of sacrifice is just the same. Firefighters and their families need to know what those risks are, how to mitigate them, what the best practices are and, should they develop an occupation-related cancer, that they have the supports they need.

I urge all members of the House to join me in supporting Bill C-224. Together, we can do what is right for our brave men and women in uniform.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActRoutine Proceedings

January 31st, 2022 / 3:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-224, an act to establish a national framework for the prevention and treatment of cancers linked to firefighting.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to introduce my bill to Parliament, and thank the member for Kingston and the Islands for seconding it. This legislation would establish a national framework for the prevention and treatment of cancers linked to firefighting and would designate the month of January each year as firefighter cancer awareness month throughout Canada.

Every day, firefighters put their lives on the line to keep Canadians and our communities safe, but did members know that over 85% of all line-of-duty deaths among firefighters in Canada are caused by occupational cancers or that a firefighter's cancer may or may not be recognized as job-related, depending on where he or she lives?

Awareness, education and information sharing are critical to the prevention and early detection of cancers linked to firefighting.

This bill is about saving lives, and I hope all members of the House will support it.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)