That, in the opinion of this House, the government should consider the advisability of establishing a public safety officers compensation fund to receive gifts and bequests for the benefit of spouses and children of police officers and firefighters who lose their lives in the line of duty.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the House today on Motion No. 306.
As members know, I have been quite active in the area of private members' bills and motions. In part of the activities that I have undertaken the issue of alcohol was one that caught my attention the most. As a result of some of the work I did on Bill C-222, which concerned putting health warning labels on the containers of alcoholic beverages, a personal initiative came out of this called Drink Smart Canada.
Drink Smart Canada is a public awareness and education campaign to make Canadians aware of the consequences of the misuse of alcohol. When I started this program and did the research and developed the statistics to deal with the consequences of alcohol misuse, I needed some help. I received a lot of support from my colleagues in the House, but I needed some external support.
I would like to read into the record the statistics dealing with alcohol misuse: 19,000 deaths each year, 45 per cent of all motor vehicle collisions, 30 per cent of fires, 30 per cent of all suicides, 60 per cent of all homicides, 50 per cent of incidents of family violence, 65 per cent of snowmobile collisions, one in six family breakdowns, 30 per cent of all drownings, 5 per cent of birth defects, 65 per cent of cases of child abuse, 40 per cent of all falls and 50 per cent of all hospital emergencies. The cost of this to Canadians in additional health care costs and social program costs is some $15 billion a year which is all directly or indirectly due to alcohol misuse.
When I look down the list at the tragedies associated with the misuse of alcohol, it became very clear to me that our police officers and firefighters are the ones who are acting on behalf of all Canadians to deal with the consequences of many of these tragedies. Whether they be fires, motor vehicle collisions, homicides or family violence, it is our police officers and firefighters who are there for Canadians during those times of emergency.
I needed that support and went outside and spoke with the police and firefighters. I am pleased to let everyone know that the
Association of Fire Chiefs representing the firefighters of Canada came forward and lent their support to Drink Smart Canada.
In its supporting statement on Drink Smart the The Canadian Police Association stated it was pleased to join the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs in supporting Drink Smart Canada.
The Canadian Police Association welcomes any initiative that will curb alcohol abuse and make our communities and roads safer for all Canadians. Police officers know too well the carnage and grief that is caused by alcohol abuse. We recognize that alcohol will not be eradicated from society but that it can be used responsibly and this type of program will be effective in reducing family violence and needless traffic deaths and injuries.
In its statement the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs said:
We are indeed honoured to be named as one of the honorary patrons of "Drink Smart Canada" and to work along with the Canadian Police Association and Members of Parliament on this educational project.
The fire departments across Canada are involved daily in incidents such as house fires and motor vehicle accidents whose cause can be attributed either directly or indirectly to alcohol abuse. The consumption of alcohol can impair judgment and cause drowsiness, which when combined with routine domestic activities, cigarette smoking or driving a motor vehicle can have serious if not tragic consequences.
Those are just two extracts from these two organizations.
When I needed help the police and firefighters of Canada came forward to offer their support and encouragement in an area that was important to me. As a consequence I have no hesitation whatsoever in bringing forward Motion No. 306 which proposes:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should consider the advisability of establishing a Public Safety Officers compensation fund to receive gifts and bequests for the benefit of spouses and children of police officers and firefighters who lose their lives in the line of duty.
I submitted that private member's motion. In addition, on June 17, 1996 I also submitted Bill C-314 which is a bill to bring to fruition the public safety officers compensation fund. That bill has not yet been chosen under the rules of the House but I am confident that today will start the debate on this issue and that with the support of all members of the House we will achieve the objectives of Bill C-314.
I want to say a couple of words about the memorial site on the Hill. The murder of a police officer triggered a nationally recognized ceremony. On July 11, 1977 a rookie constable, David Kirkwood, was killed in the line of duty. He had been with the force for some 11 months and was 21 years old. Following that senseless killing Ottawa police officers vowed to keep not only his memory alive but as well to ensure that the magnitude of his sacrifice and the sacrifice of others like him would never be forgotten by Canadians.
Accordingly, on September 24, 1978 a special service and tribute were held on Parliament Hill. The site selected was Parliament, the place where the laws are made that directly have an impact on police officer safety and on the quality of life of us all.
On March 22, 1994 the Prime Minister gathered with more than 700 police officers and relatives of slain officers at the site behind the Parliament buildings. The Canadian Police Association and the CACP dedicated the new Canadian Police Memorial Pavilion and a granite stone at the base of the pavilion that contains the names of officers killed in the line of duty.
During the last 30 years some 96 Canadian police officers have been the victims of homicide while on duty. All but eight of these were shot. On duty homicide rates, however, have declined somewhat during this period but it still is a large number.
At the time of the writing of the article I am reading here, 14 officers had been killed during the 1990s. A research study has been done of four large police forces which represent one-third of all sworn officers in the country. It found that during the period 1970 through 1990 two-thirds of police officer homicides occurred after police were dispatched to incidents or responded to calls for assistance while the remaining homicides arose out of police initiated contact. The majority of these were in responding to emergent needs.
I have read many of the stories associated with the deaths of courageous firefighters. I will not repeat them on the record because I think it is important to remember the positives and not the tragic stories. We should not forget those stories but remember the positives.
Firefighters have made a significant contribution to public safety. Over the last 10 years approximately 40 firefighters have lost their lives in the line of duty on behalf of Canadians. These include not only the firefighters we are all familiar with but in many communities across Canada there is a volunteer firefighter base that is very important to the safety of all Canadians.
To give an idea of the magnitude of the contribution made there as well in terms of risk, over the same period some 12,500 firefighters have been injured. I have looked at the statistics and found that firefighters and police officers were four times more likely to be the victims of homicide and 11 times more likely to be the victims of violence. That tells us that our police officers, our public safety officers, prison guards, jail guards and firefighters are in a high risk, dangerous situation.
This motion asks parliamentarians to consider what they feel when they see incidents in our country when public safety officers lose their lives in the line of duty. I can recall many times seeing news stories of police officers or firefighters from right across the country, hundreds if not thousands, coming together to mourn a loss. It is a loss that Canadians feel as well.
Public safety officers are police officers, firefighters, peace officers. Under the Criminal Code peace officers include jail and prison guards. The intent here is to include those who are in the public service.
Motion No. 306 and Bill C-314 proposes that a registered charitable foundation be established with a board of directors appointed by the Government of Canada. The board would receive applications for assistance and would assess need on a case by case basis.
On September 29, 1976 a public safety officers benefit program was established in the United States. It is now under the auspices of the U.S. department of justice. It provides a substantial benefit to the survivors of firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty. In fact, the amount currently paid is about $135,000 U.S. dollars. It is also an indexed fund. That gives an idea of the value and the level of concern that the United States has for those who provide these services to the citizens of the United States.
When a program begins it is not possible to fund it at that level. However, it is reflective of the level of concern.
A fund is being proposed which would be a registered charity to receive gifts and bequests from Canadians who want a tangible way to show their support for our police officers, firefighters and peace officers who lose their lives in the line of duty. The board of directors would assess each case on a case by case basis and would determine on the basis of need.
I found an interesting statistic. The average age of police officers killed in the line of duty is about 35. I do not have statistics on what their family composition was but I can reflect on what my family composition was some 14 years ago when I was 35 years of age.
I had an eight-year old, a six-year old and a one-year old. My wife was at home managing the family home and caring for our children and our family. We had a large mortgage. We had an old car. I had a job that offered group life insurance which would pay twice my salary if I should die. It was certainly not enough to discharge my debts. I had some additional insurance which was expensive but I carried it because of my family responsibilities.
If I am reflective of the kind of situations, and I am sure I am, that police officers and firefighters who are in the prime of their lives find themselves in, their families are probably filled but very young, their financial obligations are probably at their peak and they are probably getting into their highest income earning years when their lives come to an end.
The money would come from gifts or bequests from Canadians or from their estates in gratitude for the service provided, and that would be a major source of funds, and the unions and the associations of the police officers and firefighters across this country have let me know by literally hundreds of letters and petitions that they support this issue and that they are also prepared to support it financially.
The motion does not call for funding from other levels of government. However, as a registered charity it can receive any appropriations from any level of government should that happen, and I hope that would happen.
The last question I would rhetorically pose is why is the fund being proposed. Canadians are well aware of the daily risks that face our police and firefighters as they serve our needs. When one of them loses their life in the line of duty, we all mourn that loss. This fund would be a tangible way for Canadians to honour their courageous service and to assist their loved ones in their time of need.
The International Association of Firefighters comes annually to visit the Hill. I want to thank firefighter Marty Goodkey who came to my office last year to propose this public safety officers compensation fund on behalf of all public safety officers, including police, prison guards, firefighters and volunteers across this country. They made a tremendous impression on me. I was very grateful for the support they gave me when I asked them for support for Drink Smart Canada. It is the least I can do to rise in this House and to ask for the support of all colleagues to see if we can find a way to help establish a public safety officers compensation fund so that we can give all Canadians an opportunity to show how much we care and appreciate the contribution made by those public safety officers.