House of Commons Hansard #90 of the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was judge.

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National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members’ Business

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

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

6 p.m.

NDP

Bonita Zarrillo NDP Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, the NDP supports protecting firefighters from occupational health and safety risks. Firefighters risk their lives every day to protect our communities. They have our backs when we need it most and, in turn, we have a responsibility to take care of Canada's firefighters. With that in mind, I will reiterate the words of my colleague for Vancouver Kingsway: This bill has our hearty support.

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, which are all the things this bill proposes.

By way of background, occupational cancer is now the leading cause of early death among firefighters. Firefighters are regularly exposed to concentrated carcinogens in the air that can be breathed in as well as absorbed by the body. All firefighters are exposed to these realities, yet there is inconsistent recognition of occupational cancers among firefighters all across Canada. That is unfair. All Canadian firefighters should have the highest levels of protection, regardless of where they practise their profession.

Currently, across Canada, a firefighter's cancer may or may not be recognized as occupational depending on the province or territory in which they work. In addition, not all provinces and territories formally recognize the same cancer types as occupational among firefighters. For example, as the member beside me recently mentioned, Quebec recently enacted presumptive legislation for its firefighters, being the last province to do so. It only recognizes nine types of occupational risks, yet we know that there are at least double that number. With each province and territory having its own list of cancers that are presumed to be linked to firefighting, this alone is a reason to enact legislation to bring equity across the country.

British Columbia is one of the provinces that is leading in acknowledging the proven link between increased rates of cancer and the profession of firefighting. It leads in pre-emptive cancer recognition in Canada, recognizing certain cancers for firefighters since 2005. This is 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.

I am going to get upset. I ask my colleague to read it for me.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members’ Business

6 p.m.

NDP

Lisa Marie Barron NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

I thank my colleague.

“A very important woman in my riding was involved in that advocacy to include breast cancers as pre-emptive. Her name is Jenn Dawkins, captain and acting training officer, Vancouver Fire and Rescue”—

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I am sorry, the hon. member cannot take the member's speech. I would just give a minute to the hon. member to be able to get her breath again. I know that this is quite emotional, and I appreciate the hon. member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith wanting to give her colleague that support.

The hon. member for Port Moody—Coquitlam.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Bonita Zarrillo NDP Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, thank you for giving me a moment. I practised my speech, but it does not get easier. I am sure it does not get easier for anyone.

Captain Dawkins did not know back in 2016 when she was advocating for the inclusion of breast cancer that she would be going through it herself only a few years later. During COVID, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I am happy to say that she is now back to work after a mastectomy and four months of chemotherapy. She said, “This is an actual result of simply going to work and doing my job.”

Female firefighters are still a rarity in this country. There are very few like Captain Dawkins who have been with the service for 20 years or more, and there is little data about impacts unique to the sexes. San Francisco is further along on data collection. It began hiring women firefighters in the late 1980s. Today, the city has the largest population of female firefighters in the U.S., but unfortunately it also has a high rate of breast cancer among women 40 to 50 years old.

A few years back, it reported that of the 117 female firefighters, 11 had been diagnosed with breast cancer and one had died. That is six times the normal rate. These alarming stats are just another reason this national framework is important. Cancers that affect females need to be included and protected as pre-emptive across the country.

Jenn Dawkins is a constituent in my riding of Port Moody—Coquitlam, and not only did she advocate for the addition of pre-emptive cancer types for firefighters, but she is leading other women into the profession. She started a program called Camp Ignite many years ago. It takes place over four days each summer at different locations in metro Vancouver, hosting girls in grade 11 or 12 who are sponsored by their local departments in their own districts. Each day of the camp is different, with activities like first aid, rope training, aerial work, live fire handling and auto extrication. I think about how this bill could protect those aspiring firefighters.

Protection from illness by raising awareness about the risks of this profession is crucial to help firefighters identify early signs of cancer for testing and treatment. What this bill seeks to do is save lives. It is such important legislation.

Over a firefighter's career, they will go to hundreds of fires, and their risk of cancer increases as they move through their career. Although a firefighter's protective gear is made to withstand 1,000°C, it cannot fully protect from cancer-causing agents because the clothing has to breathe.

That is why the national framework 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.

Going back to the experiences of female firefighters in San Francisco, Anita Paratley was a battalion chief for the San Francisco Fire Department. She developed breast cancer in 2003 when she was just 46 years old. She said, “I remember when I raised my hand to swear-in (to the fire service), thinking ‘please be safe, don't get hurt’.... I never thought about cancer.”

In closing, the national framework would provide a number of things, including measures to bring equity to firefighters across the country as it pertains to certain types of cancer for all sexes so that no firefighter in any province is left behind.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I know how personal that was for the hon. member given her history and knowledge of what breast cancer does to women, so I want to thank her.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Kitchener South—Hespeler.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:10 p.m.

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

6:20 p.m.

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

6:20 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I will let the hon. member take a few seconds to catch his breath. I know this is a very emotional subject and I can certainly understand that many have personal stories that affect them as well.

The hon. member for Barrie—Innisfil.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

My Uncle Pete, who inspired me to be a firefighter, recently developed throat cancer. He spent almost 35 years on the job with the City of Toronto. In 1985, I got a job with the City of York Fire Department as a dispatcher. I had radio experience and naturally fit in as a dispatcher, but it was not enough for me. I saw the guys and girls on the floor. I saw what they were doing, and I wanted to be a firefighter.

In 1987, I applied to the Town of Markham Fire Department. It was the Town of Markham at the time. I got on the trucks. I actually became a firefighter. I could not believe it. I was 22 years old at the time, just turning 23. There I was, with five weeks of training, in the middle of January, training to be a full-time firefighter. It was never anything that I ever wanted to do. I had always wanted to be a radio broadcaster.

The equipment they gave us at that time was unlike the equipment today. We had hip-wader boots, basically. We had long coats. There was never, ever any protection for the groin area. Everything could come up. We actually got red fireballs gloves. For those who are here today, they were effectively made of plastic. If anybody got into a fire, they would actually melt on their hands. The equipment is nothing like it was with bunker gear.

Often there were times when we went to fires at that time and we would go back to the fire station and take a shower after a fire, and the whole basin of the shower would be black. The soot and the carbon that we took in would actually have been absorbed. Everybody thinks about the impact that inhalation has on a firefighter, but it is actually the absorption. We would be sweating. All of those materials that were burned, the carbon and the soot would actually go through our skin. We would go back and the whole basin of the shower would be black.

Just imagine what that was doing to our bodies, how it was impacting our bodies. I can tell the House first-hand how it impacted many of my colleagues.

There was a fire very early on in my career at Greenspoon, a demolition company on Woodbine Avenue. They would pack all of their materials and oils. I remember that day. I was not on the actual fire, but I did spend two or three days there. The first-in crews were talking about what they had seen. Literally, the flames were 100 feet in the air. It was black smoke. Just imagine oils burning. There was black smoke everywhere. It took literally three or four days to get that fire under control. Things were burning underneath.

At the time, the breathing apparatus that we had was known as a 2APD. It was not a Scott system or a regulator system, like we have now. We would actually have a hose dangling to an exterior regulator. We would attach the hose to the regulator. That is how we breathed with compressed air on our back.

Oftentimes, at that time, not knowing what we know now, and again, this was 30 to 40 years ago, we would take the hoses off. I spent two days there, and we would take the hoses off and let them dangle. All of that stuff we were breathing in, came in through the hose, which was a direct conduit to our lungs and to our bodies.

Because of that fire, Larry Pilkey, Paul Donahoe, Harold Snowball, Lorne Martin, Doug Kerr, who recently passed away, and Jason Churchill passed away. There were six people from that fire who passed away, because of an occupational-related cancer.

I remember Jason Churchill who died at 51 years of age. Nobody changed occupational health in this province of Ontario more than Jason Churchill did. This guy was a dogged advocate for health and safety for firefighters. I am sure his name lives on for many people in the fire service.

I worked with Jason for a while. I remember sitting in the washroom of the station. He came in and he had this giant lump under his arm. He asked me, “What do you think of that?” I said, “You have to get that checked out. That's not good.” He was literally dead within a year. There is no question in my mind, no question in my colleagues' minds that it was as a result of that Greenspoon fire that Jason Churchill died. I think of others as well. Gord Hooper is struggling with cancer right now. Bruce Zimmerman, my former captain, has been dealing with stomach cancer. All of them were at that fire.

I heard the hon. member for Kitchener Centre speak about the fire in Kitchener. I was at Ed Stahley's funeral. I know about that situation and how many of those Kitchener firefighters died. It is the same thing with the Plastimet fire in Hamilton. There are still firefighters today who are suffering from occupational illnesses as a result of those two fires, just like there are with the Greenspoon demolition fire.

This does not affect just the firefighters who contract cancer and eventually die. It affects their friends and families who live with the loss all the time. I can think of Luanne Donahoe and Larry's wife who have had to move on. I can think of the families that have to deal with this cancer. It does not just affect them emotionally; it affects them financially. For their entire lives they will have to deal with the financial loss of losing one of their loved ones.

I know there has been some discussion today about birth defects. I can tell members first-hand that for many of these firefighters and their families the greatest joy in the world is having a child, but many of the children suffer from birth defects as a result of what their parents contracted at these fires.

I am really lucky. I will share personally that I have a urologist who, when I retired at age 51, after I was elected to this place, took a baseline measurement because he has seen too many firefighters come through his office who have suffered from occupational cancer, whether it is prostate cancer, bladder cancer or brain cancer. There are 12 cancers that are recognized in Ontario right now as an occupational illness, at least at last count. He has taken that baseline on me every year I go for a check-up because he wants to know, because of my occupation, whether I am going to contract cancer as a result of all of those years of taking in, not just by inhalation but also by absorption, many of those carcinogens that are being created as a result of the materials today.

The equipment has improved; there is no question about it, but making sure that we are looking after our firefighters and their families becomes critical. With respect to that fire, the fire in Kitchener, as well as the one at Plastimet, we also have to think beyond firefighters, because there were police officers and EMS officers who were on the scenes who are suffering from those occupational illnesses as well.

Let me clearly and unequivocally state that I stand here as a former firefighter who loved every minute of my job every single day. There was not a day that I did not want to go in there. Maybe I did not feel like it the day after Joe Carter hit the home run to win the World Series in 1993. I am thinking maybe I should not have been at work that day.

This is an important piece of legislation not only for firefighters who have contracted cancer and passed on, but their families and friends as well.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:30 p.m.

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

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

Madam Speaker, I was not expecting the speeches tonight. I want to thank my husband Chris and my father Dave who are firefighters, my friend Chris Ross, and firefighters in Montreal and Longueuil for bringing this issue to us. There are now 338 members of Parliament who know that firefighting causes cancer. I am sure each and every one of us learned something over the course of this debate, and for that I am so thankful, because that is what this bill is about. It is about bringing awareness not only to firefighters, but to their families and the doctors who treat them so they know to ask those questions.

The member for Barrie—Innisfil had it right. He knows to ask about the firefighter in rural Canada who does not know not to put his bunker gear in the back of the car because it is contaminated. That is what this is about. This is about bringing the provinces, territories, indigenous communities and members of the Canadian Armed Forces who served as firefighters together to share that information.

The provinces and territories need to share all their information. For example, one province recognizes 19 cancers, while another recognizes only nine. What information can they share with us?

At the end of the day, the provinces and territories have the final say. I want to explain it very clearly to my friends in the Bloc: The purpose of this bill is to save lives, full stop.

I will not apologize for wanting to save lives.

A lot of my colleagues here who have had a chance to work with me know that I am a kind of pratico-pratique kind of gal. I like to GSD, or get “stuff” done, because I do not want to use unparliamentary language. We were sent here to do things, and this is something we need to do. We need to bring together our colleagues at every level of government to say: “How are we going to beat this? How are we going to prevent cancer in firefighters?”

Right now, when a firefighter passes, God forbid, depending on where they live, they may or may not be eligible for the memorial grant that we put in place, yet they may have died from the same cancer from doing the same job, and that is not fair.

To the firefighters watching, and some are here in Ottawa right now, I thank them. To the firefighters watching at home, I thank them. I thank their families who fear for them every time that bell goes off, and even worse, fear this is the year they will get that diagnosis, because that is the real killer.

Our government has put in place initiatives, whether changing the national building codes or looking at toxic chemicals in flame retardants on sofas, but there is more to do. We need to share that information, because before this, I am sure some of us did not know. All of those young boys and girls who want to become firefighters need to know about this so that they can take the proper precautions, so that they can make sure to decontaminate after a fire, and so that they can make sure to tell their doctors that they are firefighters and to ask for those tests.

What are the tests that provinces are using? This is what I am talking about with this bill. It is about sharing information about the tests and so on. How do we prevent this from happening, and how do we support those who put their lives on the line every single time that bell goes off?

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The question is on the motion.

If a member of a recognized party present in the House wishes to request a recorded division or that the motion be adopted on division, I would invite them to rise and indicate it to the Chair.

The hon. member for Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

Madam Speaker, I request a recorded division.

National Framework on Cancers Linked to Firefighting ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Pursuant to an order made on Thursday, November 25, 2021, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, June 22, at the expiry of time provided for Oral Questions.

(House in committee of the whole on Government Business No. 18, Mrs. Carol Hughes in the chair)

Global Food InsecurityGovernment Orders

6:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Chair NDP Carol Hughes

I would like to remind hon. members of how the proceedings will unfold. Each member speaking will be allotted 10 minutes for debate, followed by 10 minutes for questions and comments, pursuant to order made Wednesday, June 15. The time provided for the debate may be extended beyond four hours, as needed, to include a minimum of 12 periods of 20 minutes each.

Members may divide their time with another member, and the Chair will receive no quorum calls, dilatory motions, or requests for unanimous consent.

Global Food InsecurityGovernment Orders

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax, ON

moved:That this committee take note of global food insecurity.

Global Food InsecurityGovernment Orders

6:45 p.m.

Vancouver South B.C.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan LiberalMinister of International Development and Minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada

Madam Chair, first of all, I want to acknowledge all the firefighters who were here today and thank them for their sacrifice.

Vladimir Putin's unwarranted invasion of Ukraine has triggered the largest shock to the global food system in the past 12 years. It has caused global food prices to rise over 30% since January of this year, and over 60% since the beginning of the pandemic.

Just last month, when I was in South Sudan, I met with some of the people who are being directly impacted by the rise in prices, with over 75% of South Sudan facing severe food insecurity.

The World Food Programme estimates that an all-time high of up to 49 million people in 46 countries could be at risk of falling into famine or famine-like conditions in 2022. The humanitarian situation in Ukraine and its neighbouring countries, as well as the global food security crisis, are top priorities for me and our government. We continue to work closely with our allies and key international partners to respond effectively to this rapidly evolving, multi-faceted crisis.

Over the past weeks and months, I have spoken with my G7 counterparts, UN officials and the head of the World Food Programme to see what more we can do to help. We have been acting to support the most vulnerable during these unprecedented times.

In the Sahel, in April, I announced over $82 million to support United Nations agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and non-governmental organizations in their work to address acute malnutrition and food insecurity.

In the Horn of Africa, I announced $73 million for gender-responsive humanitarian and development assistance to meet the needs of people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia to respond to the severe drought conditions that could result in over 20 million people across the region needing emergency food assistance in 2022.

In Syria and the neighbouring countries like Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, we are seeing refugees fleeing from conflict who need additional support, including food assistance, which is why we announced over $169 million in humanitarian funding to help people meet their basic needs.

In Yemen, where years of conflict have caused the suffering of so many people, especially women and children, who bear the brunt of the crisis, we announced over $62 million to provide life-saving food and support for health care, clean water and sanitation.

We know that Canada cannot be an island of stability in an ocean of turmoil. Eventually, the ripples of conflict will reach our shores. We know too well that food insecurity and conflict are part of a vicious cycle. People who are desperate make desperate choices to feed their families, with poverty and food insecurity leading to political unrest and social tensions, and fuelling conflict.

Since the invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin, we have seen public demonstrations in many places, which have left us concerned about the risk of broader social unrest. Citizens are taking to the streets, protesting against the rapidly increasing food and fuel prices. These strikes and protests are happening against the backdrop of continuous conflicts and violence driving acute food insecurity in countries like Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

It is why we have been taking action and will continue to take action on food insecurity, because, at the end of the day, international assistance is conflict prevention.

As we speak today, millions of people cannot meet their basic needs for food and clean water, with women and children most severely impacted. It is why our feminist international assistance policy looks at the unique challenges that women and girls face. Women's involvement is essential in order to find long-lasting solutions for all. Our focus on the nexus between conflict and food security must be done with a clear understanding of gender dynamics and support of women as positive agents of change.

Given the rapid rise in food insecurity, especially among women and girls, we must respond to the immediate humanitarian needs while simultaneously supporting the resilience of vulnerable families and communities. This means investing in agriculture and food systems. While I was in South Sudan, I met with women farmers who were working on innovative, sustainable solutions for agriculture, feeding not only themselves and their families, but their communities, the surrounding regions and their country.

We are working to urgently implement long-term solutions, solutions that promote sustainable peace and break the vicious cycle of poverty, hunger and conflict.

Against this backdrop of large-scale challenges, we have been working with our partners in the G7, with multilateral organizations like the World Food Programme, UNICEF and UNHCR, and with non-governmental organizations like the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Save the Children and Nutrition International, so that we can make sure that we have a coordinated and effective response to this challenge.

We are already mounting a considered and comprehensive response to respond effectively to the growing food security needs. We are already providing over $514 million in humanitarian assistance in response to the global food crisis to address growing emergency needs, both in Ukraine and in more than 40 developing countries most affected by this crisis. Our funding is supporting activities such as the provision of emergency cash, vouchers and in-kind food assistance, as well as effective nutrition intervention.

In addition to providing emergency life-saving humanitarian assistance, Canada is also committed to addressing the root causes of food insecurity. Through development assistance, we work to support the resilience of agriculture in vulnerable countries impacted by the global food crisis. In the last fiscal year, Canada provided over $547 million to support the resilience of agriculture and food systems in developing countries.

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Canada has provided over $125 million to the African Development Bank to support small and medium-sized agri-businesses in Africa, and to the International Fund for Agricultural Development to support climate-smart agriculture in rural communities located in developing countries.

We are also doubling our investments in the Agricultural Market Information System, and we will work in close collaboration with partners to look into expanding it to monitor the fertilizer crisis. We believe that advocating for market transparency is crucial to keeping prices down, stabilizing price volatility and ultimately reducing poverty and food insecurity for the poorest and most vulnerable people who struggle to access food.

Canada will continue to provide both humanitarian and development assistance in response to this evolving crisis. We must stand in solidarity with Ukraine and those affected by this war. We must stand in solidarity with countries and communities in the developing world that are now facing the pressing food security crisis triggered by Vladimir Putin's unnecessary and inhumane war. We must strengthen the weaknesses in agriculture and food systems globally, in partnership with nations that need assistance. I also look forward to working with Canadian NGOs in matching and enhancing their efforts.

We must act urgently to address the immediate needs in this food insecurity crisis.

Global Food InsecurityGovernment Orders

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Greg McLean Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Madam Chair, I heard the minister's comments and I wanted to ask him about the amount of food we are producing in the world and how we are going to continue to produce that amount of food, given that we are cutting back on so many of the food inputs, which includes the fertilizer that we know is being cut off in the Ukrainian conflict with Russia. At the same time, we are actually talking about cutting back more of our fertilizer production here in Canada. I am talking about ammonia fertilizer, which is about 35% of the world's fertilizer. If we stop producing fertilizer, we will stop producing enough food in the world and we will have more hungry people. A world growing from eight billion people to 10 billion people will have less food.

Does the minister see this formula changing any time in the near future?

Global Food InsecurityGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Madam Chair, the member rightly points out that this is a multi-faceted problem. First of all, we have an immediate crisis to feed the hungry because of the food that Vladimir Putin is not allowing to leave the ports, like Odessa. That is the immediate need.

There is also an extra challenge now. The growing season for next year is going to be reduced because of the lack of fertilizer. We are now looking at how we can increase fertilizer so that we can have enough to grow. In addition to working with my colleague, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, and also working with multinational partners, we are looking at trying to increase the fertilizer so that we can have more.

The third most important step is to make sure that we have a different solution, a solution for agriculture, so that places in Africa can be self-sustaining. I have more to say about this later.

Global Food InsecurityGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Chair, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food is currently studying the emerging food crisis. One of the things that we have identified in relation to the Ukrainian conflict is the need to open up the ports so this year's crop can be exported. The crops are ready to go, but they cannot leave. It appears that the shelling also targeted critical infrastructure.

I would like to know if there have been any developments and how Canada is involved in these negotiations to open up the ports.

In committee, we have also discussed the urgent need for temporary storage facilities in Ukraine. Canada could provide significant assistance in this respect. Could my colleague elaborate on that?

Global Food InsecurityGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Madam Chair, as I stated, the grain is not allowed to leave the ports because of Vladimir Putin's war. His choice right now not to allow it to leave is creating a significant problem.

We are working with our European partners and looking at how we can get the grain out, but even by using alternative methods, we would not be able to get enough out. We need to get the ports open. I know there is active work taking place. I was talking to David Beasley, the head of the World Food Programme. I know that the Secretary-General of the UN is also in negotiations and that work continues.

I would like to say I am hopeful, but I will be honest that from what we have seen from Vladimir Putin, we cannot count on that. We will continue to work as hard as we can.

We are also looking at temporary grain storage and what support we can provide so that we can have that storage. That way the new harvest can also be stored so that when the grain can come out, we can eventually get it out. We are looking at all options.

Global Food InsecurityGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Madam Chair, I am really concerned about the situation where food and hunger are being used as a chip in Putin's war against the people of Ukraine, and now the world. It speaks to a larger destabilization that is happening. We are just learning about the Colorado River. With 80% of it going to agriculture, it feeds 40 million people, and the climate crisis in the southwest is now going to have severe impacts on agriculture. We depend on that agriculture as well. We have Putin blocking the ports, using food as a hunger weapon, and we can see increasing destabilization from climate change.

I want to ask the minister what steps Canada will be taking in the long term to ensure food security and to ensure that we can actually respond to this destabilizing global reality that we are living in 2022.

Global Food InsecurityGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Madam Chair, Canada has a lot to offer, given the agricultural heartland within the Prairies. I also mentioned that we have a lot of NGOs in Canada that we can work with. I know there are significant investments being made in agriculture technology and in finding new methods. That is something that we can continue to leverage.

We have to be mindful that the impact of climate change is real and we have to adjust to it. We also have to look at the supply chain. COVID has shown us that we have to look at supply chains differently. We have to look at the war that Putin has caused. As we look to increasing our own food production in our own country, we also have to look at what tools we can use to assist the global south. That is also very important. As we look at how the world is coming together over Ukraine, we need to send a very strong message to the global south that is suffering needlessly because of this war.

Canada has been there for them, but we want to look at how we can use our technology, look at water management systems, work with partners and get those regions of Africa to be more self-sufficient with technology within their own needs, so that we can change all the parameters around the supply chain and not have to rely on traditional systems.