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.