Madam Speaker, as always, it is an honour to rise in the House and speak on behalf of my community of Peterborough—Kawartha.
The helpers need help from Bill C-321. That is why we are here today. I think it would be a real miss if I did not start this speech by addressing the horrible tragedy that happened yesterday in Manitoba, which involved first responders and health care providers. That is what we are here to talk about with this bill.
There was a horrific crash, and 15 people are gone. The first responders who answered that call are forever transformed because of what they saw. That is the work of a first responder or health care worker. Their eyes cannot unsee the tragedies that most of us will only ever see in movies. I thank everyone who arrived at the scene and served in such an unbelievable time of chaos and tragedy. The entire House is thinking of them, our thoughts are with them and with everyone impacted by that tragedy and in that community.
I worked in the media for almost 13 years, and I was often on the scene of horrific crashes first, with first responders. I can tell members that what they manage is very hard to describe. PTS, or post-traumatic stress, and PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, are very real consequences in this job.
Answering a call when the victim is the same age as one's partner or child causes extensive mental distress. Many would say that it is part of the job and that this is what one signs up for. The reality is that, as life has gotten harder for people, as addictions and mental disorders have increased and there are not as many facilities or treatment or recovery centres to go to, the incidence of violence against our protectors is increasing. This is another layer that is too much to handle.
Workplace violence is a rising problem in health care settings across Canada. Health care workers have a fourfold higher rate of workplace violence than any other profession. Because of a culture of acceptance, most workplace violence goes unreported. This was found in a report that was done in 2019 through the health committee, and recommendations have been put forth to the government, yet we have not seen any action. Today, we have something here on the floor of the House of Commons that will give action and help to our helpers.
It would be pretty difficult to debate the strong correlation between the increase in violence to first responders and health care workers and the decrease in recruitment and retention in these jobs. We have a shortage of health care workers at a time when we have a health care crisis. Recruitment and retention concerns are reported in all provinces. By approving and passing this bill, we will send a clear message that the government and Canadians value their work, and we need and want them. Their work saves lives, and their safety matters.
The member from Cariboo—Prince George, who put this bill forward, is a fierce advocate and fighter for mental health and equity, and this bill speaks to that from a Criminal Code perspective. Bill C-321 seeks to amend the Criminal Code by making assaults against health care professionals and first responders an aggravating circumstance for the purpose of sentencing.
I am going to read the specific wording into the record:
When a court imposes a sentence for an offence referred to in paragraph 264.1(1)(a) or any of sections 266 to 269, it shall consider as an aggravating circumstance the fact that the victim of the offence was, at the time of the commission of the offence, a health care professional or a first responder engaged in the performance of their duty.
I think most of us in the House, including me, have a personal connection to first responders and health care workers. Many in my family serve in this industry, and they have told me story after story of horrific incidents. There is also a video that I would strongly encourage people to watch online. I know the member, my colleague, has shared it, and the chief in my community, Randy Mellow, has shared it on Twitter. I strongly encourage people to watch this video and understand this.
Paul Hills is a paramedic who came to my office in Ottawa to talk to me about this bill. He has been a paramedic for 24 years, and he serves in Saskatoon. I think what left me most shocked was his telling me that he now has to wear a bulletproof vest to work.
These are the people who show up in the time of extreme chaos, the time when our lives are on the line, and now their lives are on the line. They are supposed to be the calm, but how are they supposed to self-regulate? How are they supposed to be calm when their own life is in danger? They do not know, when they show up, whether they are going to be stabbed, punched or kicked.
We have a duty and a responsibility in the House to pass legislation that not only says they matter, but that also actually puts the need to protect them into law.
Paul Hills is a fierce advocate, and his mental health has been transformed. He speaks really publicly about it, and I think that is really courageous of him. He was wearing certain socks when he came to my office. After we had our conversation, I asked him who was on his socks. He said it was Fred Rogers. I said, “Oh my gosh, Fred Rogers is my favourite.” He said, “My favourite saying is ‘Anything mentionable is manageable.’” That is my favourite saying too.
That is the reality of what we are dealing with: the most volatile culture and society we have ever had, probably in my history at least. We have nowhere for people with mental health problems and addictions to go. The people who have to deal with that, who are at the forefront, are our health care professionals, our paramedics, our firefighters, our police officers and our correctional officers. During my campaign when I ran to be a member of Parliament, I worked in an area of town where a lot of people who were struggling with homelessness were outside of my office. It was nothing out of the ordinary for first responders to be called five or six times in a day to a scene, after 911 had been called, and to be berated, yelled at, attacked and screamed at. Is that what they signed up for, to be abused, or was it to save lives?
This bill would do something we can be so proud of in the House, in a time when victims are being failed in this country and in a time when victims' families are being failed in this country. This is not just about the health care professionals and the first responders; it is also about their families. When health care professionals go home and are carrying this burden, their children are impacted; their wives, their partners, their spouses, their moms and their dads are impacted, and they are not the best partner and not the best parent. That is deeply impacting every interaction that happens. Our society is a spiderweb, and if the people who are here to protect us are not protected, what will happen to our society?
I want to read what Paul Hills, the paramedic from Saskatoon, wrote to me last night, when he knew I was speaking today: “It's proven that prosecutors and courts don't have a proper mechanism to hold assailants or perpetrators accountable because it's seen as part of our job to deal with or lessen the situation because of mental health, addictions, but what about the medics mental health. I have to take that black eye home, I may not be able to use my wrist or hand again after the tendon was torn from being kicked, I have to worry about the threats that gang member made to me and my family when I am not allowed anonymity and they can find out my name just by calling the office and look me up or follow me home in my small city. We have been told by prosecutors that they won't pursue charges because ‘they won't stick or it won't make a difference if you were a paramedic.’”
The reality is that this is a no-brainer bill. In a time when victims and victims' families are being failed in this country, the House could send a message today and follow up with concrete action that would protect our protectors. The helpers need help. Do members know how hard it is for them to ask for help? They did the hard part; now, let us do the rest of our part. This is our responsibility, so let us all vote in favour of Bill C-321. Let us go. Let us get this bill passed.