House of Commons Hansard #284 of the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was work.


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I will take this opportunity to help the member understand my question. It is clear he did not. What I said was the legislation covered transit operators, and I wondered if he would take the consideration to all transit workers, which would include the people who are cleaning up in stations or anybody who is around the system. This gives him an opportunity perhaps to better understand my question and reflect on a more adequate answer.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, I am not familiar with Bill C-46, the bill that he is referring to. If he wants to talk about that further, perhaps as a PMB bill, another PMB he would like to put forward, I will work with him on that as well.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Pat Kelly Conservative Calgary Rocky Ridge, AB

Madam Speaker, the member's passion for the safety of first responders is a credit to him. We support his bill. I know there is only a moment left, and I would like to give him a moment to provide more emphasis or to talk about anything he did not have time to get to in his speech.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, I do not think we can say thanks enough to those who put their uniforms on every day knowing full well they are going to experience absolutely the worst of society. They put their uniforms on to serve us and our families. With the increasing rates of violence, they now have to be worried whether they are actually going to be able to return home to their families. Imagine the traumatic toll it takes on someone to worry they are going to be violently attacked over the course of their day when they are just doing their duty, just doing the job they want to do and serving their country. That is what they face each and every day, and it is horrible. We need to pass BIll C-321.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Niagara Centre Ontario


Vance Badawey LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Madam Speaker, first I want to thank the member for Cariboo—Prince George for bringing the bill forward.

I am honoured to speak to Bill C-321, an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to assaults against persons who provide health services and first responders, and to the amendments made by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

I also want to thank the committee for its work in developing the bill into a more inclusive and robust legislative measure, one that reflects our collective commitment to the welfare of health care workers and first responders, who put their life on the line each and every day to keep Canadians and our communities safe.

Bill C-321 seeks to address the increase in violence against those who provide health services and against our first responders. It was originally tabled proposing to do so by enacting inclusion of an aggravating factor that would apply to assaults against health care professionals and first responders, as well as cases involving the uttering of threats to the same people.

As a result of its deliberations, the committee concluded that the scope of victims who would be protected by this bill needed to be expanded in recognition of the diversity within our health care services sector. Bill C-321 was amended to replace references to “a health care professional or a first responder” with “a person who provides health services, including personal care services, or a first responder”. This change was made to the proposed aggravating factor, as well as to the preamble and to the title of the bill. This is the same language from Bill C-3, which the Government passed in 2021.

This change in language would ensure that all individuals involved in providing health services, from nurses and doctors to personal care workers, abortion providers and administrative staff, benefit from the same protection against assaults and the uttering of threats while in the performance of their duties.

The committee's amendments also align with the changes brought about by our government's former Bill C-3, which received royal assent in 2021. The amendments ensured that it would be an aggravating factor for any offence of assault or uttering threats to be committed against a person who, in the performance of their duties and functions, was providing health services, including personal care services.

Former Bill C-3 also enacted new offences prohibiting intimidating and obstructing conduct directed at those providing or seeking health services. Bill C-321's proposed changes would expand criminal law measures to include first responders. This reflects our denunciation of workplace violence in these critical sectors, whose workers should never fear for their own safety or feel intimidated as they are coming from and going to work.

The changes are about recognizing the diverse roles of those individuals who contribute to our safety in our health care systems, and about our recognition that they deserve to work in an environment free from the threat of violence. They should never be the target of death threats, whether in person or through social media campaigns designed to intimidate and frighten them, yet this is happening each and every day.

The need for such comprehensive protection is based on the statistics and stories emerging from various sources. For instance, the 2019 report by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health revealed that in just one year, 61% of nurses experienced abuse, harassment or assault.

Firefighters and other first responders have also reported an increase in acts of violence during emergency responses. Behind these numbers are real people facing real threats, impacting not only their physical safety but also their mental health and job satisfaction, as well as, may I add, their families and the people close to them, and their neighbourhoods.

Bill C-321's proposed amendment to the Criminal Code signals to the courts that sentences should be increased to further denounce assaults committed against persons who provide health services or who are first responders. It also acknowledges their invaluable service to society, which sometimes makes them vulnerable to violence while carrying out their duties.

Additionally, this bill, with a broader scope, would provide a clearer response to conduct that disproportionately impacts women and particularly racialized women. By extending protection to all health service providers, Bill C-321 also supports the larger goals of promoting gender equality and safeguarding the rights of minority groups.

The available information regarding violence against first responders, while not extensive, clearly indicates that women in these roles face a heightened risk of gender-specific violence, including instances of sexual harassment and assault.

Our first responders and those in health services are working selflessly in the most trying circumstances to save lives and care for critically ill patients. Their commitment to public service often comes at a personal cost, a cost that should not include violence.

I know that the government remains steadfast in its commitment to addressing the serious issue of violence against health service providers and first responders.

Supporting Bill C-321, as amended by the committee, is a demonstration of our commitment to protect the well-being and dignity of those who serve our communities.

I want to note that it is Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week. It is important to note that this legislation, as with the former bill, Bill C-3, will protect abortion providers. We have seen rises in attacks on abortion providers in various parts of the world and we want to avoid that here in Canada.

I am happy to see this bill provide another level of protection to those providers in Canada. Violence affects more than just the physical well-being of first responders and health care workers. It also has lasting consequences on their mental health. The challenges of the pandemic have intensified pre-existing problems, such as burnout and occupational stress injuries, which are often a result of traumatic experiences, including violence and abuse encountered in the workplace. These work conditions influence the decision of these crucial workers to remain in their jobs, and remain serving our communities.

This bill, in its amended form, is part of a broader conversation about how we, as a society, value and protect those who work in challenging and often dangerous environments. It challenges us to think about the kind of support and resources we provide and how to ensure that every worker in Canada can perform their duties without fear of violence or harm.

Let us honour the work of the people who provide health services, including personal care services and first responders, with actions that match their dedication.

We will continue to work to keep all Canadians safe. I urge all members to support Bill C-321 to pass, ensuring that our first responders and health care workers are protected, and that this goes to the Senate for its approval.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Madam Speaker, my mother was a nurse, my father was a volunteer firefighter, and I have a son who wants to be a police officer. I have been personally aware of the violence that we are talking about my entire life, so the bill introduced by my colleague from Cariboo—Prince George is very important to me.

Bill C‑321 seeks to amend the Criminal Code to consider the fact that the victim of an assault or an act of violence is a health care worker or a first responder to be an aggravating circumstance.

The Bloc Québécois has amply demonstrated its support for such a measure. It is clear to us that health care workers and all those who work to keep us safe every day must be protected in the line of duty. If their job can be considered an aggravating circumstance during a crime, if it can help to prevent offenders from attacking them, if it can serve as a basis for harsher sentences for offenders or if it can serve to dissuade offenders from committing such acts of violence, then we are in favour of this solution. Although Bill C‑321 is a partial solution, it is solution nonetheless.

I would like to talk about the principle of prevention, which I believe should also be looked at as a primary measure, an essential measure for protecting health care providers and first responders before even considering the rise in assaults that we have seen against them—in the hope that the this rise is only incidental and will not continue any further—or before even talking about aggravating circumstances, as we are currently doing with the study on Bill C‑321. Prevention also has its place.

Like all my other colleagues who have spoken in the House, I think that all workers have the right to work safely. I am talking about the security that protects their physical integrity, but also their mental integrity because violence takes many forms and is not just physical. It might be wishful thinking on my part and on that of my colleagues, but I think that we need to reach for this goal and strive for workplaces that are free from any form of violence. In my opinion and that of the Bloc Québécois, that is the heart of the problem: We need to focus on eliminating all forms of violence instead of just punishing those who commit or perpetuate it.

It is true that eliminating violence is a massive undertaking if we consider, as I just mentioned, that it has been on the rise over the years. Studies show that since the pandemic, it has just kept increasing. The problem has been exacerbated.

I want to share a few figures from the field of health care. I will stick to health. For example, data from the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail, or CNESST, and the Institut national de santé publique du Québec, are unequivocal. They show that 933 assaults or violent acts were committed against health care personnel in 2012 and that 1,994 were reported in 2021 in health care workplaces across Quebec.

I would like to add, as many have, including my colleague from Cariboo—Prince George, that this is just the tip of the iceberg. These are the cases that have been reported. As in many situations of violence, including partner violence, we have the numbers that correspond to what people have been willing to share, but we do not have them all.

We talked about prevention. My colleague also talked about the idea of opening up the discussion, making this subject public. Perhaps putting it in the public arena would make people aware that they have experienced forms of violence. It might also help them report violent incidents. In short, we are seeing a steady increase. In the figures I just mentioned, the numbers have more than doubled in 10 years. That is a massive increase.

I would also like to mention the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, which studied the subject and published a report in 2019, if I am not mistaken, on the issue of violence in health care.

During that study, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions mentioned that 61% of its members who participated in the survey said they had experienced violence. That is just among those who took part in the survey. The percentage may be higher. Still, that is 61% of members who have experienced harassment, assault or violence.

In 2014, 1,676 paramedics responded to a similar survey, and 75% of them reported being victims of violence. In 2010, according to the College of Family Physicians of Canada, one-third of survey participants said they had experienced this kind of violence.

Whether it is one-third, three-quarters or two-thirds, it is too much. My colleague also talked about a case of violence. I would like to share a story that happened when I was younger and has always stayed with me. As I said, my mother was a nurse. Even little kids realize when something is not right. It makes us reflect on this violence in the workplace and on the fact that some jobs may be higher-risk. A nurse was dealing with a patient who was agitated and aggressive and became violent. He decided to kick her. He kicked her in the stomach. This violence was entirely unjustified. The nurse in question was pregnant. She did not lose her baby, but she had to be hospitalized. Guess what? She decided to stop working as a nurse after that incident.

I wanted to put that on the record. All incidents we could describe here are shocking. They amount to gratuitous violence. They may all seem similar in many ways. This story illustrates the impact they can have on people's lives, on their integrity, physical health and mental health. We talked about this earlier. They also have an impact on the profession overall and on society at large. It really is a domino effect. No one is spared the consequences of such violence. As a child aware that her parent was exposed to risks at work, I experienced those consequences myself to some degree.

Although this should not be the only argument, the shortage of health care workers in the sector is a factor worth considering. Health care professionals and first responders have better things to do than worry about their safety on the job. They should not feel that they have to protect themselves, or worry that they might encounter this type of situation. It is hard to promote a profession when we allow violent situations like this to continue. How can we say that we value a profession if we stand idly by while the people who practise it are at risk?

The statistics I quoted are very real. These are the folks who work in our hospitals and suffer the consequences of this violence. Of course, the quality of the environment has an impact on the quality of care. I was talking about prevention earlier. The government has a duty to transfer money to Quebec. That is not the only solution, but when it comes to prevention, we need a properly funded and subsidized environment to be able to give all health care workers a break. Here, again, I am focusing on health care. This is not a justification, but we need to reduce the level of frustration that patients in the health care system are feeling.

I see my time is running out. I think I could talk about this for another 10 minutes. I must have prepared for a 20-minute speech. I am really interested in this issue. All this to say that we support Bill C-321.

I would like to use the last few seconds of my speech to express my deepest gratitude to all health care workers, to those working behind the scenes, and to firefighters and paramedics. I want to thank those who are known as first responders, who do just about everything. I also want to thank our correctional officers, many of whom live on the north shore. I would like to thank them for the work they do. They deserve more than just recognition. They need to be valued, protected and supported, and I will see to that.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

February 16th, 2024 / 2:10 p.m.


Lori Idlout NDP Nunavut, NU

Uqaqtittiji, I acknowledge we are on unceded Anishinabe Algonquin territory. I do so while representing my riding of Nunavut. I rise to speak to Bill C-321, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding assaults against health care professionals and first responders.

I thank the member for Cariboo-Prince George for tabling his private member's bill. Since I joined this house in 2021, I have observed that the member is passionate about mental health.

The content of Bill C-321 brings forward debate about the circumstances of health care workers and first responders. This amendment, if it passes, would require the courts to consider their position as an aggravating circumstance, therefore possibly impacting sentencing.

What does this mean? It means a few things. First, it means that there has already been a trial and the judge is now considering the length of a sentence according to an offence. In their considerations, the judge must consider both the aggravating and mitigating factors. There exist sentencing principles, including circumstances of the individual, evidence from different facts and similarity to other decisions. Much of these form the consideration in determining how long an offender may be sentenced for.

The other aspects of consideration are the mitigating factors, which are considerations to lower the sentences. These include, for example, if it is a first time offence or if there is an addiction or mental illness. If there are to be any amendments regarding aggravation in sentencing, there should be an equal consideration for mitigating factors.

Addressing violence must be improved. Using the courts is not the right approach. I question the potential effectiveness of this bill in protecting health care professionals and first responders. I question this bill and whether it addresses the increasing incidences in violence that we are told are occurring across Canada.

The criminal justice system in Canada is already flawed. It is a penal system that does not do justice for too many already. Currently, section 269 of the Criminal Code outlines the penalties for causing bodily harm to another person. The penalties can include, for example, imprisonment for up to 10 years, depending on the severity of the offence.

Before I begin the next part of my speech, I must first honour the memory, family and friends who knew Joyce Echaquan.

I struggle with this proposed amendment because there are too many stories like that of Joyce Echaquan's, an Atikamekw woman who livestreamed the abuse she experienced at the hands of hospital staff who should have been there to save her life, not abuse her. Later, it was learned that Joyce Echaquan died of pulmonary edema, an excess of fluid in the lungs. Ultimately, the Quebec coroner’s inquiry concluded that racism contributed to her death.

Joyce Echaquan's story is one of too many. According to the Government of Canada’s website, there are inequalities in health of racialized adults in Canada. The website says, “Racism influences access to health promoting resources. Populations who are racialized in relation to a 'white' or non-racialized social group experience stressors including inter-personal and systemic discrimination throughout the life course”.

In Canada, racialized people are more likely to be exposed as perpetrators in this system. According to the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, among those who were discriminated against, 21% of indigenous people and 16% of Black people said it was when they were dealing with police, compared with 4% of non-indigenous, non-visible minority people who experienced discrimination.

In his debate, the member for Cariboo—Prince George shared that some 92% of nurses have experienced physical violence during the course of their jobs. When I hear this, I hear the need for all of us to work better together to make overall improvements and to address violence as a preventative measure, not as a punitive one.

While I completely agree that health care workers and first responders must have a safer working environment, they, too, must play an active role in creating that safe space. The criminal justice system must not be the go-to for this solution.

I appreciate past attempts in addressing this area, including the work by the NDP. Unfortunately, those past attempts may not have been viewed from a trauma-informed lens. Those past attempts may not have considered that most of them enter the health care and the criminal justice system because of Canada's continued effects of Canada's genocidal policies. I do not disagree that health care professionals are not important. The criminal justice system protects them too. They are not excluded from protections through the criminal justice system.

Health care professionals and first responders can have any kind of reason to enter that workforce. They do so wanting to help people in pain and to help those who need treatment. As a caring field, we hope, as individuals, that all of us would be cared for. However, for racialized Canadians, unfortunately, this is not an automatic assumption.

When the House of Commons committee studied this area and tabled its report, “Violence Facing Health Care Workers in Canada”, I am not sure what contributing factors it explored that might be leading to the increases observed. I do not discredit any of its work, I only ask that there be closer attention paid to how Canada's lack of investment has led to increases in the exposure to these circumstances.

I only ask that there is an acknowledgement of how systemic racism might be perpetuated by accepting the bill before us. It would not address violence in the workplace, which is what the intent of the study tried to address. I would ask this Parliament and this government what they have done to implement the other recommendations made in the standing committee report.

I also highlight the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action, which has offered solutions, including calls to action 18 to 23. I would also remind parliamentarians about the MMIWG calls for justice. I highlight 10.1, which calls for the mandatory training of Crown attorneys, defence lawyers, court staff and all who participate in the criminal justice system.

I will conclude by sharing some quotes.

The Canadian Centre For Justice And Community Safety Statistics states, “Discrimination or victimization based on individual characteristics that are visible parts of identity can also have broader ramifications beyond the individual who is targeted.”

In a CBC article, the Minister of Indigenous Services said, “The systemic racism endured by Indigenous people in Canada's health care system exists because the system was designed that way.... Sadly this is not shocking to me.... Racism is not an accident. The system is not broken. It was created this way. And the people in the system are incentivized to stay the same.”

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.


Shuv Majumdar Conservative Calgary Heritage, AB

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-321, a bill which would amend the Criminal Code to protect and defend our men and women serving on the front lines.

The bill is led by my dear friend, a fierce advocate and the Conservative shadow minister for mental health and addictions, the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George. In my short time on Parliament Hill, I have seen his advocacy for the mental health and well-being of Canadians in action in our time at the health committee, from seeing him fight for Canadians with addiction issues to watching him bring in a life-changing program, the 988 suicide crisis line that will save thousands of lives. We know his legacy will be one of saving lives. I cannot think of anything more honourable or noble than that.

However, his work here is just beginning. Today he is bringing forward legislation to protect our nurses and paramedics, and all those on the front lines. They are the very people who risk their lives every day to protect us, and I could not be more proud to stand to shoulder to shoulder with him as co-sponsor of the legislation.

I have three reflections on the bill: the frontline heroes in Calgary, what the legislation brings to the table, and why it is needed now. In my city, there are thousands of people, from Bridlewood to Evergreen and all the way to Lakeview, who work in these jobs. Every day, they wake up and go to work, saving lives and supporting those who need it the most. Sometimes they have to endure the heartbreak of losing the people they care about. On top of that, these folks are barely scraping by due to an increasing cost of living and a gut-wrenching carbon tax. I know this because during my campaign and in the 24,000 conversations I had, I heard their stories. I saw the pain in their eyes. These are my neighbours, the heroes of Calgary Heritage. They work in some of the most honourable professions in our country, and Canada must do better in showing them how valuable they truly are.

This brings me to my next point: what the legislation brings to the table and how it would protect our heroes. The bill, if passed, would amend the Criminal Code to consider an assault against a nurse, paramedic, firefighter or other frontline worker, including health care staff, an aggravating circumstance upon sentencing. With this amendment, the legislation would give greater teeth to our prosecutors seeking justice for workers assaulted, abused or violated on the front lines. It would send a message to the bad actors thinking they can walk into an emergency room, an ambulance or a care home, and hurt our frontline workers. Finally, it would ensure that the perpetrators of these horrific acts are put behind bars.

What is the urgency behind passing the legislation? More and more of our people on the front lines are reporting increased abuse, violence and assault every year. In fact, we know from the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians that over half of emergency department nurses are physically or verbally abused in any given week, and 43% of hospital nurses will be sexually harassed or assaulted this year. The number of violence-related, lost-time claims for frontline health care workers has increased by almost 66% over the past decade.

The cost of this is absenteeism. Nurses often have to seek care or therapy because of the trauma they experience. This means that the people who care for us when we need it the most are unable to do so because of the abuse they have faced. We know that in 2016, the annual cost of absenteeism for nurses due to illness or disability was nearly $1 billion. For paramedics, 75% of them reported experiencing violence, many suffering from psychological wounds in the form of stress, anxiety and PTSD. Every time these heroes go to work, they know they may not come home. They should, at the very least, know they will not be subjected to violence or abuse from the people they serve, care for and protect.

It is time for us to do the same and serve them. Bill C-321 would do just that by protecting those who protect us. It is common-sense legislation and long overdue. To my colleagues across the chamber, this need not be a partisan undertaking. Let us come together to pass the legislation and change the lives of our heroes on the front lines.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George has five minutes for his right of reply.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.


Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague from Calgary Heritage. I have known him only a short time, but I value his friendship and truly respect the work that he does alongside all of us in this House.

We had an opportunity here, from all sides of the House, at report stage, where all parties unanimously supported Bill C-321. The bill is not the be-all and end-all, but sends a clear message to the public and the judiciary that the protection of those who protect us is important. It sends a message that we need to be standing up for those who stand up for us.

We know that 83% of Canadians support making assault against first responders a more serious offence in the Criminal Code. Eight out of 10 Canadians believe that violence against paramedics is a problem in Canada, including 31% who believe it is a major problem.

Rates of violence against nurses, health care workers and first responders are growing at an alarming rate. Bill C-321 will provide much-needed support for those on our front lines. This legislation is a tangible way that we, as parliamentarians, can show those on the front lines that we care, that we respect them, that we do not condone violence in their workplace. We need to let them know that we have their backs. We need to let them know that we are listening. Bullying, abuse, racial or sexual harassment, and physical assault should never and can never be considered just part of their job. These workers care for us at our most vulnerable time and I think we have the responsibility to care for them in return. We need to send a message that violence is unacceptable.

I really hope we can get this passed as soon as possible. We do not need to have an extensive study in the Senate. We have heard from witnesses. We have studied the matter extensively at committee. What we need now is action.

A good friend of mine sent me a text this morning. Do members know that Australia has adopted a very similar law to what we have as Bill C-321, except it is making it even stronger? It is setting mandatory minimums when first responders are assaulted. This comes out of the violent machete attack on a paramedic in Australia. Obviously, we do not go that far yet. This bill is just a start. It sends a message that we are listening. It sends a message to the judiciary that we take violence against first responders and health care professionals seriously.

I hope Madam Speaker and all my hon. colleagues will support this bill at third reading when we get back from the constituency week so that we can get it passed as soon as possible.

Before I close, I want to thank my colleagues from all sides of this House who have offered their support and their feedback. I value it.

We need to send a message that violence is not acceptable. It is not part of the job description. They do everything in their power to save our lives, to keep us healthy, but they are exhausted and fear for their safety and their lives. They need to know that we have their backs, that someone is fighting for them. They need to know they are valued. Passing Bill C-321 and ensuring its swift passage through the Senate toward royal assent is the very least we can do.

I am going to end with this simple message. Our frontline heroes are there when we need them the most. They answer our calls for help. Should we not answer theirs?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

It being 2:29 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

Accordingly, the question is on the motion.

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

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.


Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, I request a recorded vote.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Pursuant to Standing Order 98, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, February 28, at the expiry of the time provided for Oral Questions.

It being 2:29 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday, February 26, at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:29 p.m.)