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

In committee (House), as of June 22, 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.

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

June 22nd, 2022 / 3:50 p.m.
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Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Pursuant to order made on Thursday, November 25, 2021, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-224 under Private Members' Business.

The question is on the motion.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members’ Business

June 16th, 2022 / 6:30 p.m.
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Cape Breton—Canso Nova Scotia

Liberal

Mike Kelloway LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries

Madam Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House today to support my colleague, the hon. member for Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, and her Bill C-224, an act to establish a national framework for the prevention and treatment of cancers linked to firefighting.

I am equally proud tonight of all members in the House for their speeches and for sharing their personal experiences. It shows how important this particular topic is to all of us, so I say a special thanks to them.

Firefighters, as we have heard tonight, play a critical role in keeping our communities safe. We all depend on their training, skills and expertise when an emergency arises. That is why I am proud to support my colleague's bill.

In April of this past year, I sat down with firefighters in my community to discuss what their needs were when it came to being able to do their jobs safely and go home at the end of each shift to live happy, healthy and long lives. Each firefighter, to a person in the room, pointed to Bill C-224 to do exactly that.

This bill seeks to develop a national framework to promote greater awareness and education about occupational cancers linked to firefighting, and to support prevention and early detection of these terrible diseases all across the country. Occupational cancers, as we have heard tonight, are the leading cause of death among firefighters, according to the International Association of Fire Fighters.

It is impossible to imagine the number of carcinogens in the air as a firefighter bravely runs into a building that has gone up in flames. More than that, how many of these carcinogens follow the firefighters back to their stations and homes on their gear, trucks and equipment? This hazardous material cannot be easily washed away, as we have heard tonight, and can quickly lead to illnesses such as cancer among firefighters in the line of duty.

One of the goals of Bill C-224 is to explain the link between firefighting and certain types of cancers. It also provides measures that would explain the link between cancer and the profession to better identify the education needs for health care and other professionals to promote research and information sharing.

Without identifying and understanding the problem, we cannot fight the problem, so it is essential that we work to fully understand the way firefighters are put at different levels of risk than other first responders based on the nature of their work. This national framework would help us to better understand the real numbers behind occupational cancers among firefighters.

The words “national framework” are a very important part of Bill C-224. According to the International Association of Fire Fighters, and we heard this tonight, there were more than 400 deaths that were formally accepted as job-related. However, the association believes the true number of occupation-related firefighter cancer deaths is likely higher, considering that not all provinces and territories formally recognize all the same cancer types as occupational among firefighters.

For example, Manitoba recognizes 19 cancers as occupational cancers, while B.C. only recognizes nine. Quite frankly, and we have heard this tonight, our firefighters deserve better. By establishing a national framework, we could ensure that education, information and training to prevent occupational cancers could be shared across this country.

While this bill seeks to create standards across the country, we can learn from other provinces' successes and failures when it comes to supporting our fire services, and where the inequalities lie when it comes to recognizing occupational diseases. For example, women in the fire service continue to be left behind, with only five of our 13 provinces and territories recognizing that cervical and ovarian cancer can be caused by occupational health hazards female firefighters face in the line of duty.

I must say I am very proud of my province of Nova Scotia for announcing this year that, effective July 1, these cancers and 11 others would be formally recognized as occupational, bringing the recognized occupational cancers in Nova Scotia to 19, which is the highest recognized number in the country.

Speaking of Nova Scotia, as a member whose constituency is primary rural, I would also like to acknowledge that most rural communities in Canada rely on volunteer fire services. While professional fire departments may have state-of-the-art equipment for decontamination and gear storage, small and local volunteer firefighter operations may not have the same tools and best practices to keep them safe. That is why the ability to share standards across the board is so critical and so valuable.

Firefighters and their families deserve to know and to fully understand the risks associated with their careers, how to mitigate them and what the best practices are to keep them safe in the line of duty. We can help to make that happen.

I have spoken in the House quite a bit about my dad, Mick Kelloway. Dad was a first responder in mine rescue. I think back to the work we did as a country to support our miners' occupational health and safety, and I firmly believe that as a government and a group of individuals, it is incumbent on us to do the same for our fire service. Firefighting, we know, is a dangerous occupation as it is, let alone when we think about the toll that the work takes on people's bodies. Whether they are responding to a highway accident or dealing with hazardous materials, cancer continues to be an epidemic within Canada's fire service.

Firefighters, both career and volunteer, have the backs of our communities and have protected us when we needed them the most. Now, they need us and I have no doubt that each member in the House knows that, especially after listening to the speeches tonight. By working together, we can do what is right and what is fair, and I urge all members to join me in supporting Bill C-224 for the betterment of our fire services from coast to coast to coast.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members’ Business

June 16th, 2022 / 6:20 p.m.
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Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to start by thanking the member for Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne for proposing Bill C-224. I also want to thank the hon. member for Saskatoon West, because just 10 minutes ago, he gave up his time so that I could speak to this bill. I want to thank him for that.

In 1982, I was an 18-year-old kid. I had gone to Humber College for radio broadcasting. My first job was working the all-night shift at a country music radio station in Brandon, Manitoba. I had never listened to country music in my life. I grew up in Montreal and Toronto. I moved to Toronto when I was 12 years old. I realized very quickly, like most fledgling radio careers, that I was not going to make much money.

My uncle was a firefighter in Toronto. My Uncle Pete—

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members’ Business

June 16th, 2022 / 6:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Valerie Bradford Liberal Kitchener South—Hespeler, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the previous speaker for her very heartfelt interest in this bill.

I am honoured to rise in the House to speak about such an important bill. I would like to thank the member for Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne for the work she has done to create this bill and educate members and the public about how vital this legislation is, and for advocating for the protection of firefighters all across our country. I would also like to thank the International Association of Fire Fighters, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, the Kitchener Professional Firefighters Association and the Cambridge Professional Fire Fighters' Association for the work they have done lobbying for support for this bill and for the work they do every day to keep us safe.

The importance of Bill C-224, an act to establish a national framework for the prevention and treatment of cancers linked to firefighting, cannot be overstated. All across the country, from coast to coast to coast, firefighters put themselves in harm’s way for the safety of others. They regularly enter unknown and unfamiliar situations that pose an immediate danger to the public. However, long after the situation has passed, the long-term and lasting effects of their service are largely unknown.

As members of Parliament, we have a moral obligation to do everything in our power to protect those who so selflessly protect us and those we represent in the House. This bill would ensure that no matter where a firefighter is serving, at least some of the long-term threats posed to them will be recognized equally. Whether they are responding to a car accident in British Columbia, a structural fire in the Yukon or a hazardous materials incident in Newfoundland, the risk of cancers posed to them because of their service will be recognized.

It is heart-wrenching to consider how many mothers have lost sons and daughters, how many spouses have lost partners and how many children have lost parents because of occupational cancer. More than 85% of all duty-related deaths among firefighters are caused by occupational cancers, a prevalence of roughly three times more than the average Canadian.

Although progress has been made by the government to limit the chance of exposure to harmful chemicals that are known to be carcinogenic, a national framework is necessary, as it would help address, all across the country, the threats faced by substances when we do not know what exposure could lead to. For firefighters, exposure to a harmful substance can occur at any time of day, but a physical reaction to a substance can occur at any point in their lives. The recognition of occupational cancers for firefighters has been a struggle for far too long.

In the city of Kitchener, in March 1987, Kitchener firefighters were called to a structural fire. It was a large fire that occurred at a local manufacturing company. Multiple alarms were called, and there were only two units in the entire city that were not at the fire at one point or another. Some of the witnesses at the scene described “smoke and flame that was every colour of the rainbow”. The blaze continued through the night and into the following morning until it was finally extinguished. In total, 69 firefighters took part in fighting this fire.

At the time, the fire marshal reported that there were no significant injuries from the incident. The only exception to this was Captain Ed Stahley, who went to the hospital, as he had a green appearance. It turned out to be nothing more than green dye used in the manufacturing of Oasis floral foam. However, what no one knew at the time was that while it just seemed like a busy night for a mid-size fire department, the exposure to the chemicals used in the manufacturing of this foam would have tragic consequences for years to come.

It only took two years for firefighters to begin dying of cancer caused by their participation in this fire, with several fathering children with birth defects. Dave Ferrede was the first to pass, and tragically not the last, dying only six weeks after being diagnosed with primary liver cancer. He was 32 years old. Those who attended the fire experienced a wide array of physical ailments, with 23 of the 69 firefighters getting either cancer or Parkinson’s disease.

For decades, Kitchener firefighters fought to have their voices heard about the effect this fire had on their lives and the lives of loved ones. While many studies have now shown the correlation between cancers and firefighting, this has not always been the case and even now the recognition of cancers is clearly not equal.

This is a tragic story that happened in my community, but there are stories just like this in communities all across this country.

Recently, I met with two local firefighter unions, the Kitchener Professional Firefighters Association and the Cambridge Professional Fire Fighters' Association, to discuss this bill. The president of the Cambridge union, Steve McArthur, captured the sentiment of this bill perfectly, stating that every firefighter knows someone affected by occupational cancers. That is every firefighter, not just firefighters in Kitchener or Cambridge, not just firefighters in Ontario, but every single firefighter across Canada. In fact, mere weeks after saying this, Cambridge firefighters lost one of their brothers to cancer.

Many provinces, such as Manitoba and Yukon territory, have almost 20 cancers recognized as being linked to firefighting. Others are very behind, with some recognizing as few as six.

A national framework would also promote research and information sharing, so that the lessons learned from one tragic experience may result in it never occurring again in Canada.

We must ensure that those cancers affecting female firefighters are also acknowledged and recognized. This is particularly important as more and more females are joining this band of heroes. This means ensuring that cancers unique to women, such as breast, ovarian and cervical cancer, must be recognized everywhere in Canada and that all measures possible must be taken to protect them, such as having proper-fitting equipment.

While we debate many subjects in the House, I hope the need for occupational cancers to be recognized equally no matter where firefighters serve is not debatable.

This bill is not some abstract policy proposal. This is a bill that has many faces and many names of those who have served, those who continue to serve and those we have tragically lost. From 2012 to 2021, 400 Canadian IAFF members got cancer as a direct result of their duties. This is by far the number one cause of line-of-duty deaths in Canada. We must do more to prevent firefighters from getting cancer and to treat those who do get cancer.

People often think that the greatest threat facing firefighters is something they can see, such as a burning building, fallen debris, raging water, but it is more often the things they cannot see. That is why the other part of this bill is so important, designating the month of January as firefighter cancer awareness month.

This would help increase awareness and educate people about this most serious threat that firefighters face. The ability to identify symptoms early and provide knowledge about the occupational hazards present when performing duties is necessary for reducing the number of firefighters affected by occupational cancer.

By dedicating an entire month toward firefighter cancer awareness, we can help ensure there is a meaningful dialogue about this terrible reality and make sure the public prioritizes protecting firefighters everywhere from occupational cancers.

Firefighters are heroes. They run into danger while the rest of us run away. They put their lives on the line at great personal risk. Unfortunately, all the risks they are exposing themselves to are not known at the time and often the damage from unknown toxins, etc., only manifests itself years later.

Firefighters have our backs. I urge all members of this House to support Bill C-224 to ensure that firefighters know that Canadians have their backs.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members’ Business

June 16th, 2022 / 5:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Luc Thériault Bloc Montcalm, QC

Madam Speaker, today I am speaking to Bill C-224, sponsored by the member for Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne. This bill 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, while also designating the month of January as firefighter cancer awareness month.

This bill has some very good points that we fully agree with, as well as some that are not so good, even though they come from a good place. Since we are at the stage of passing the bill in principle, I would like to say from the outset that we will be voting in favour of the principle of Bill C‑224, so that it can be sent to committee to be studied and improved.

We fully support the idea of officially designating January as firefighter cancer awareness month. Firefighting is considered to be one of the most demanding professions, both physically and psychologically. It is important to recognize that and focus on it.

Ever since childhood, it has been ingrained in our collective imagination that firefighters are real-life superheroes, and for good reason. Firefighters endure extremely difficult working conditions. They are constantly surrounded by hazards such as fire, electricity, chemicals, and toxic fumes. There is the ever-present risk of injury and burns. They often have brushes with death, and some of them even die. They push their bodies to their physical limits. In everything that they do and every move that they make, they are in a race against time, and each passing second wreaks havoc and ratchets up the danger level.

To further complicate matters, a number of recent studies show that firefighters also face invisible threats in the form of toxic chemicals that can cause long-term occupational illnesses, including heart disease, lung damage and cancer, and it is easy to understand why. When firefighters battle a blaze inside and outside a building, they are exposed to dangerous toxic gases. Wearing a respirator helps protect them by minimizing exposure to inhaled chemicals, but particles can stick to and contaminate their protective clothing, mask, boots and gloves, meaning that by touching them, firefighters can become contaminated through their skin. This is a real problem that cannot be ignored and must be addressed quickly. That is why we will vote to accept this bill in principle.

We want firefighters to know that this issue matters to us, that we recognize the amazing work they do and that we are deeply grateful to them. The federal government can play a huge role in many aspects of firefighters' health, and this bill puts forward some very interesting ones, such as the following points that would be in the national framework:

(a) explain the link between firefighting and certain types of cancer;

...

(d) promote research and improve data collection on the prevention and treatment of cancers linked to firefighting;

(e) promote information and knowledge sharing in relation to the prevention and treatment of cancers linked to firefighting;

It is very important that the federal government fund research on these cancers and their treatments and make that information widely available. That really is an essential part of the equation that goes hand in hand with collecting data on prevention to increase our knowledge about illnesses related to this profession. What did we know 30 years ago about toxic residues being absorbed through the skin and how serious that could be? Very little.

The federal government also contributes through the memorial grant program for first responders, the heavy urban search and rescue program, and the plan to protect firefighters, which is based on managing and authorizing chemicals.

The problem with Bill C‑224 is that the strategy it proposes is flawed. The work of firefighters generally does not fall under federal jurisdiction, yet two of the bill's suggestions are outlined as though the government did have jurisdiction in these matters.

First, paragraph 3(3)(c) requires the strategic framework proposed by the member for Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne to include measures to “provide for firefighters across Canada to be regularly screened for cancers linked to firefighting”. The idea that professionals exposed to a cancer risk should have access to periodic cancer screening obviously makes sense. That is clear to us. That should happen. The problem is that the federal government has no jurisdiction here, and so it is difficult to imagine that this aspect of the bill would be of any use in advancing our firefighters' worthy cause.

If the federal government wants to ensure that firefighters' cancers are detected in time, it should give the Quebec and provincial health care systems the means to make that happen by increasing health transfers to 35%, with a 6% escalator. This would get the health care systems in Quebec and the provinces back on track and help them detect cancer in firefighters and other patients in time to treat them effectively. That is the federal government's responsibility.

Furthermore, paragraph 3(3)(f) requires the national framework to include measures to “establish national standards to recognize cancers linked to firefighting as occupational diseases”. Unfortunately, while the federal government does have free rein to set national standards for the firefighters under its jurisdiction, such as firefighters working in the armed forces, it cannot under any circumstances set federal standards that would infringe on the jurisdictions of the Quebec and provincial labour boards.

Under the Constitution Act, 1867, workplace safety is a provincial jurisdiction, excluding federally regulated businesses. In Quebec, the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail, or CNESST, has the authority to compensate workers who contract work-related illnesses. In Quebec, nine cancers are currently recognized as being linked to firefighting. That said, the Bloc Québécois agrees that this is far from perfect and that more needs to be done. Let us be clear: Nine is not enough.

We support these demands from firefighters and believe that what is recognized in other provinces for the same work should logically also be recognized in Quebec. However, that is not for Bill C‑224 to determine. These are recommendations and submissions that will have to be made to the proper authorities. The federal government has no role to play here. If Bill C‑224 were adopted as is, it could wind up causing a jurisdictional battle at the expense of firefighters. The last thing we want to do is exploit them.

According to the Constitution Act, 1867, municipal institutions fall under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. In Quebec, for instance, the responsibilities associated with fire prevention, fire preparedness and firefighting are clearly set out in the Fire Safety Act, which divides the responsibilities among citizens, municipalities, the provincial government and the various fire departments.

We recognize that progress has been made and must continue to be made to ensure that firefighters have better protections, but ultimately, we need to remember that the federal government has no jurisdiction over workplace health and safety or over occupational diseases among firefighters. Interference in jurisdictions is never an effective solution, in the short or long term.

Let us work together to advance this cause and reach out to the authorities who actually have the power to change things. We will vote in favour of the principle of the bill. We want to improve it in committee to ensure that the bill can meet its objectives and protect our firefighters.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members’ Business

June 16th, 2022 / 5:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

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.

God bless.

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.

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.
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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)