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.