Madam Speaker, it truly is an honour to participate in the debate on Bill C-224. I thank the member for Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne for bringing this important legislation to the House. We may disagree on a lot of things, but I know that she is equally passionate about serving and fighting for those brave men and women who serve our communities and our country.
If members will indulge me for just a moment, I would like to recognize a friend of mine and a champion in my hometown of Williams Lake, whom we lost far too soon last week. Des Webster served in the Williams Lake fire department for over 24 years. He retired as fire chief in 2018, after leading our community through the worst fire season and the largest mass evacuation our province had experienced during the 2017 wildfires. Des had literally just become a grandfather. My condolences go out to his family and friends back at the fire hall in Williams Lake. Des will be missed.
We are losing far too many of the men and women who serve our communities, either due to moral and mental trauma they experience or from exposure to the deadly substances and related cancers that they develop through their service to our community. I want to thank the over 26,000 Canadian men and women in the IAFF for their service to their communities and to our country. I would also like to thank the IAFF 1372 back home in Prince George.
All firefighters truly are heroes. They put their uniforms on every day, knowing full well they will experience human tragedy and may have to make the ultimate sacrifice. These brave men and women run into burning buildings. Let us think about that for a moment: They run into burning buildings. When every fibre of their being is screaming at them to find safety, they run toward danger. When people try to escape the tangled wreckage of car accidents, they dive straight in to save lives. They hold our hand as we take our last breath.
I believe we must fight for those who fight for us. I have dedicated the last seven years of my elected service to ensuring that we are fighting for those who fight for us, our silent sentinels who stand. They leave their families each and every day, not knowing whether they are going to return. Sadly, their families are far too often forgotten and left to pick up the pieces.
When I see legislation like this, it makes me proud to know that we can actually make a difference in someone's life. Simply put, Bill C-224 will save lives. More than 85% of all line-of-duty deaths among firefighters in Canada are due to occupational cancers. Can members imagine getting up every day and going to work knowing that there is an 85% chance they will die of cancer? How many members of this chamber would want to come to work if they were told they had an 85% chance of contracting cancer from our work in the chamber? Awareness and education are essential to help firefighters detect the early signs so that they can get screening early and treatment as soon as possible.
The increased use of plastics and resins in modern building materials means that the work environment for firefighters becomes more toxic with each passing year. While the average Canadian has a one-in-three chance of being diagnosed with cancer, firefighters are diagnosed with several types of cancers at rates that are statistically higher than in other occupations. Firefighters are exposed to both known and suspected carcinogens during their work. Although exposure is often for short periods of time, exposure levels can be high. Studies in fire chemistry show toxic levels of hazardous substances such formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide, benzene, toluene, and ethyl benzene, among other substances, in the smoke during the knock-down and overhaul firefighting phases, in structure fires as well as vehicle fires. With exposure, these hazardous chemicals coat their protective gear as well. They seep into every fibre. Incredibly, the gear that is designed to save their lives can also contribute to the exposure to these carcinogenic substances.
Cancer-related deaths are a growing concern among the members of the industry, and anything we can do as parliamentarians to mitigate that risk is an important first step. Bill C-224 proposes national standards for firefighting cancers, including measures to explain the link between the disease and the profession. It calls on the government to identify the educational needs of health care and other professionals and to promote research and information sharing.
There are so many things that we take for granted on a daily basis, moments that slip by us unrecognized, people, places, things that impact us without our even noticing. When we get dressed, have breakfast and leave for work, it never, in a million years, occurs to us that this could be the last day we see our loved ones, the last time we hug our wives or children, the last time we tell a friend or family member that we love them.
Firefighters have to live with this realization each and every time they put on their uniform. They go to work knowing that this could be the last time they see their families. They go to work each day to protect us. They go to work to literally save our lives and to fulfill their oath to serve our communities, to protect other families and mine, regardless of the threat to their own personal safety.
I attended the funeral of a fallen firefighter last year and I was given the Firefighter's Prayer. With the indulgence of the House, I will read it into the record:
When I am called to duty, God, wherever flames may rage,
Give me strength to save a 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 to 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 neighbor and protect his property.
And if, according to your will, I have to lose my life,
Bless with your protecting hand my loving family from strife.
Passing Bill C-224 and creating a national framework that will raise awareness of cancers linked to firefighting seems such a small price to pay, a small price that will have a major impact on this essential profession, a small price that will save lives. I believe it is incumbent on all of us as leaders within our country to do whatever we can to fight for those who fight for us, whether it is fighting for the mental health supports that they desperately need so they can be well and be healthy, or whether it is fighting for legislation such as Bill C-224, which would be life-changing and help those struggling beyond their career.
None of us know what the future will bring, but at the very least, we can provide those mechanisms, put those mechanisms in place to educate health care professionals and provide resources for the families and the firefighters who put their lives on the line every day. I hope that members of all parties will join me in supporting this important piece of legislation.
Once again, I thank the member for Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne for bringing it forward. She reminded me today that it was five years ago this day that she stood in the House in support of my bill, Bill C-211, making Canada the very first country in the world to develop legislation to fight PTSD for those who fight for us: our frontline heroes.
I thank all members of Parliament in this debate today and all who have come before us. I thank my good colleague from Barrie—Innisfil, who himself is a retired firefighter, as well as the member for Essex. I thank them for their service. I thank those in the gallery today.