Madam Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise today to speak to Bill C-321, which was introduced by our hon. colleague from Cariboo—Prince George. Before I proceed further, I would like, on behalf of 838,000 Hindu Canadians, to again acknowledge and thank the hon. member for his support for my private member's motion, which enabled November every year to be recognized as Hindu Heritage Month across Canada.
Bill C-321 seeks to denounce and deter violence against nurses, paramedics, firefighters, police officers, including transit officers or special constables, and other frontline health care staff. It would amend the Criminal Code to require a court to consider as an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes the fact that the victim is a health care professional or first responder who was acting in the performance of their duties.
As highlighted in the 2019 report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, entitled “Violence Facing Health Care Workers in Canada”, health care workers have a four-times higher rate of workplace violence than any other profession, despite most of this violence being unreported. The report also noted that 61% of nurses who participated in a cross-country survey reported experiencing abuse, harassment or assault in the previous year, and 74% of the paramedics reported experiencing multiple forms of violence annually.
The men and women who serve as health care professionals and first responders play an invaluable role in our society. They are the heroes who rush toward danger while others flee, the ones who provide critical medical care in times of crisis and the ones who maintain law and order to keep our communities safe. They face countless challenges and risks, working tirelessly to protect and preserve life, often at the expense of their own well-being. It is deeply troubling to witness an alarming increase in assaults against these dedicated individuals. They are subjected to physical violence, verbal abuse and threats while carrying out their duties. These attacks not only pose a direct threat to their safety, but also undermine the integrity of our health care system and emergency services.
It is essential that we take a strong stand against such heinous acts and provide a higher level of protection for those who selflessly dedicated their lives to serving others. By amending the Criminal Code, we would send a resounding message that assaults on health care professionals and first responders will not be tolerated. We are acknowledging the unique challenges they face and recognizing the importance of their contributions to society. When passed, the bill would serve as a deterrent, discouraging potential perpetrators from engaging in acts of violence against these essential workers.
Furthermore, by considering assaults against health care professionals and first responders as an aggravating factor during sentencing, we would acknowledge the broader implications of such attacks. These assaults not only cause physical harm to individuals, but also have far-reaching consequences for public safety and the provision of essential services. By recognizing this as an aggravating factor, we would ensure that those who commit these crimes face more significant penalties, reflecting the gravity of their actions and the impact on society as a whole.
Some may suggest that existing laws already provide adequate protection for health care professionals and first responders. However, the stark reality is that assaults against these individuals are on the rise and we must respond with targeted measures that explicitly recognize the unique vulnerabilities they face. By enshrining their protection within the Criminal Code, we would send a clear and unequivocal message that their safety and well-being are of paramount importance.
Moreover, this bill reflects our commitment to creating a safe and supportive environment for health care professionals and first responders. It demonstrates that we value their selfless dedication and are committed to ensuring they can perform their duties without fear of violence or aggression. By enacting this bill, we are standing in solidarity with those who risk their lives to protect ours.
In addition to deterrence and enhanced protection, this bill has the potential to foster cultural change. It sends a powerful message to society, urging us to reflect on the value and respect we afford to those on the front lines of service. It encourages a broader shift in attitudes, promoting a collective sense of responsibility to safeguard those who dedicate their lives to safeguarding us.
The amendment proposed in Bill C-321 is similar to Bill C-3, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Canada Labour Code, which included as an aggravating factor evidence that the offence was committed against a person who was providing health services. Bill C-3 received royal assent on December 17, 2021. Our government continues to show support to first responders, including with the recent passage of a private member's bill, Bill C-224, the national framework on cancers linked to firefighting act, which passed on March 8, 2023, at third reading.
Bill C-321 applies to the performance of any duty by a first responder or health care worker, not just to cases where the victim was providing health services at the time of the offence. Amendments will make the legislation consistent with the terminology used elsewhere and will provide broad protection so that it does not apply only to health care professionals. As citizens, it is our duty to advocate for the safety and well-being of those who dedicate their lives to caring for us in times of need.
In conclusion, the proposed amendment to the Criminal Code represents a significant step forward in ensuring the safety and well-being of our health care professionals and first responders. By recognizing assaults against them as aggravated offences, we are reaffirming our commitment to protecting those who selflessly serve our communities.
Let us come together as a nation to support this legislation, sending a strong message that we stand united against violence and aggression toward those who sacrifice so much to protect us.