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

Report stage (House), as of Dec. 14, 2022

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

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment provides for the development of a national framework designed to raise awareness of cancers linked to firefighting with the goal of improving access for firefighters to cancer prevention and treatment.
The enactment also designates the month of January, in each year, as “Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month”.

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.

Votes

June 22, 2022 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-224, An Act to establish a national framework for the prevention and treatment of cancers linked to firefighting

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 ActPrivate Members' Business

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

Frank Caputo Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise on behalf of the members of Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo. This legislation sounds like it is long overdue. I have one question, and perhaps I will invite my colleague to elaborate on it. I came from an occupation where post-traumatic stress disorder was something we saw in a lot of first responders, and I feel as though this is one step in recognizing the perils first responders really face.

Does the member have any ideas of where we may go in the future, in terms of helping our first responders? They put their lives on the line so that we can live as safely as possible.

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, I am delighted to answer that question. In fact, I was the first member on the government bench to publicly support Bill C-211 from his colleague for Cariboo—Prince George. As many members of the House know, I have two sons and a daughter-in-law who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces, and a husband and a father who served in the fire department, so PTSD has a seat at the table in our house. This is something we need to support all of those who serve our communities, in terms of making sure that not only their physical health is taken care of, but also their mental health.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members' Business

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

Mario Simard Bloc Jonquière, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague from Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne went into great detail about potentially contaminated firefighter equipment.

Quebec's Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail, the organization responsible for labour standards, pay equity and occupational health and safety, has addressed this issue. Quebec has procedures, such as properly cleaning equipment by pressure washing it before sealing it.

Does that not suggest these issues are provincial matters? The provinces are already implementing policies to address these concerns.

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 / 11:20 a.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to congratulate the hon. member on her bill. She has the NDP's enthusiastic support, and we will always be there to support our brave heroes in the firefighting profession in every circumstance. I want to ask her specifically about a particular aspect. 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 and cause numerous health problems, such as cancer.

The past chemicals management plan acknowledged the health risks posed by select chemical flame retardants and banned their manufacture, sale, import and use, but banning only certain classes opens the door to loopholes, and there are no regulations under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act for residential upholstered furniture.

Does the member support the IAFF's call to work with the Minister of Health toward 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 on all Canadians?

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members' Business

April 4th, 2022 / 11:20 a.m.
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Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

Madam Speaker, absolutely. We heard very clearly from the IAFF that the toxic chemicals that are used in flame retardants, especially on sofas, is a problem, and I know that in 2021 our government announced the action plan to protect firefighters from harmful chemicals, including banning harmful chemical flame retardants, supporting the development and use of safe flame retardants, etc. I firmly believe that there is much more to do, and in collaboration we can actually get things done, so I am looking forward to working with the member across the aisle to make this a reality.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members' Business

April 4th, 2022 / 11:20 a.m.
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Bloc

Mario Simard Bloc Jonquière, QC

Madam Speaker, to be perfectly honest, this bill puts me in an awkward position. Why is that? It is because if I were to challenge you to find one person who does not like firefighters, it would be impossible to find anyone.

I want to say right away that the Bloc Québécois will not be supporting this bill. However, this is not because we do not recognize the difficult and necessary work done by firefighters.

I will try to use a counter-example by way of introduction. If the Quebec government felt that our military personnel were not being sufficiently supported by the federal government, could it decide to establish its own standards for dealing with post-traumatic stress or soldiers who use chemicals that are hazardous to their health?

I am sure my colleagues in the House would be the first to point out that national defence is not a provincial responsibility. I therefore find myself in the awkward position of having to say no to a bill that could be described as being like apple pie, because it represents a consensus.

I know that my Liberal and NDP colleagues, who are often gripped by centralizing tendencies, will be quick to vote in favour of this bill. They are free to do as they see fit. However, I do not know if my Conservative colleagues, who have often claimed to be champions of the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, will vote the same way.

To my mind, this bill is a direct interference in provincial jurisdictions. I am afraid that although everyone likes firefighters and no one likes cancer, we will be voting against this bill. In short, let us say that the federal government is overstepping its jurisdictional boundaries with this bill.

The Bloc is against national framework legislation that goes against the standards and practices in Quebec and the municipalities. The Bloc Québécois believes that there needs to be more awareness and recognition of occupational diseases linked to exposure to cancer-causing particles and more research, but it is not for the federal government to order that. Quebec, the provinces and the municipalities know what to do and how to do it in the areas that concern them.

What is more, I would point out to my colleague that Quebec recently changed its practices and made it easier to access its labour standards, pay equity and occupational health and safety regime, which is overseen by a commission known as the CNESST, by adding provisions for occupational and oncological diseases. Quebec already has institutions that are capable of handling this problem.

The argument I am making is rather simple: The work of firefighters is not federally regulated. The municipal institutions that firefighters work for are the responsibility of Quebec and the provinces.

In Quebec, the department of public security is responsible for fire safety, and the Fire Safety Act establishes good fire fighting practices.

Quebec's department of public security is responsible for establishing general policies on fire prevention, personnel training, emergency preparedness and emergency response procedures. It must also issue certificates of compliance for fire safety cover plans, coordinate the fire safety actions of government departments and bodies, encourage its partners' fire safety initiatives, facilitate the formation of associations working in the field of fire safety, and help educate the public on fire prevention.

It is quite clear that everything to do with firefighters is actually under Quebec's jurisdiction, under provincial jurisdiction. As for municipalities, they have similar responsibilities.

I would still like to quickly mention the issue of workplace injuries. In Quebec, the CNESST deals with workplace injuries through its laws and regulations and compensates workers who have work-related illnesses.

As of April 2016, the CNESST recognizes seven types of cancer linked to firefighting. They are kidney cancer, bladder cancer, laryngeal cancer, lung cancer, mesothelioma, multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. This work has already been done in Quebec.

If I am not mistaken, my colleague said earlier that Manitoba recognizes more than eight types of cancer. It goes without saying that there are differences. A firefighter who fights fires in the oil and gas industry may face a higher level of risk. We need to keep that in mind. However, it is certainly not up to the federal government to intervene in this area of jurisdiction, as it is too far away from this reality.

After the CNESST made changes, the municipalities changed their practices, partly to respond to a complaint that my colleague raised about the need to protect workers from contaminants. To summarize, in Quebec, the CNESST now requires that equipment be decontaminated via brushing and rinsing and that it then be sealed until it is cleaned, even if the equipment does not have any obvious traces of contaminants. My colleague spoke a lot about equipment being stored in vehicles. That no longer happens in Quebec. The CNESST resolved that issue.

The Association des pompiers de Montréal, the city's firefighter association, has launched an occupational cancer awareness campaign among its members and is calling for the CNESST to recognize more cancers. This is something that will absolutely need to be done, maybe not in this chamber, but within Quebec institutions. This is in no way a federal government issue.

A number of associations in Quebec, such as the Association des chefs en sécurité incendie du Québec, which represents Quebec fire chiefs, and the municipal affairs section of the Association paritaire pour la santé et la sécurité du travail, a joint occupational health and safety association, have since held awareness campaigns to help their members reduce the risks associated with fire contaminants. There is clearly some public education to be done here, but we do not need federal legislation to do that.

Chris Ross says that the challenge for Quebec is not to get the CNESST to recognize the issue, but rather to make sure that workers who develop cancer are not required to prove that the cancer was caused by their work. The list of cancers recognized by Quebec also needs to be expanded.

On September 30, 2021, the Quebec National Assembly passed Bill 59, an act to modernize the occupational health and safety regime, which contained a number of amendments to make it easier for workers to access the regime, including the creation of a scientific committee.

Earlier, my colleague pointed out that studies to identify other types of cancers are required to ensure that firefighters are better protected. Quebec has already mandated the creation of a scientific committee on occupational illnesses, the updating of regulations on diseases, and the creation of a committee on oncological diseases.

I will close by saying that cancer is cancer. Everyone agrees with that; no one likes cancer. Whether it is a cancer affecting a firefighter or a cancer affecting a person working in an environment where they must handle chemicals, cancer is cancer. If we want to address the issue of cancer, the best way to do so is to have a robust health care system.

At present, COVID-19 is causing immeasurable delays, and the way to address them may be to have access to more resources. All stakeholders in the health care field are asking for health transfers to be increased to cover 35% of costs.

This morning, the Journal de Montréal published a letter signed by all the major unions in Quebec, including the CSN, FTQ, CSD, CSQ, FIQ and others, as well as several associations of medical specialists. All of them are asking for health transfers to be increased to 35%.

Last week, the federal government reluctantly acknowledged that there is a health care funding issue. It put up $2 billion to try to deal with wait lists. If the government acknowledges that there is problem, it should listen to all of the stakeholders, including the Conference Board of Canada and the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who is not, to my knowledge, a Bloc member.

All of these people say that the solution is to boost health transfers to 35% to ensure the system's long-term viability. That just might help us treat occupational cancers more effectively.

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 / 11:40 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 / 11:50 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 / noon
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NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

We only have two minutes left for this debate.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members' Business

April 4th, 2022 / noon
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Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, how do I sum up my support in two minutes?

This bill has to pass. We need to do more for our firefighters, for those who stand as our silent sentinels, for those who run into burning buildings and who run towards danger each and every day, for those who put their lives in jeopardy so that our families can sleep safely, be safe and be sound.

I will save the rest of my time for the next time this bill is up.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members' Business

April 4th, 2022 / noon
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NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The hon. member will have nine and a half minutes the next time this matter is before the House.

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. The order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

The House resumed from April 4 consideration of the motion 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.