IAFF testifies for legislation to counter increasing violence against firefighters and paramedics

October 31, 2023
Arizona Firefighter

Push for harsher penalties

On Parliament Hill on October 26, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) asserted the urgent need for legislation with more stringent penalties in the wake of the escalating violence against fire fighters and paramedics throughout Canada.

The testimony took place before the federal Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, endorsing Bill C-321, which was tabled by B.C. Conservative MP Todd Doherty back in March.

This bill recommends adjustments to the Criminal Code of Canada, which would instruct judges to recognize an assault victim’s role as an on-duty first responder as a factor intensifying the offense when deliberating on sentencing.

Real-life encounters of violence

Paul Hills, representing the IAFF and also the President of the Saskatoon Paramedics Association IAFF Local 3270, gripped the attention of MPs across the board with personal accounts and tales of harrowing attacks on fellow first responders.

He shared: “I personally have had my life and my family’s lives threatened.

“I’ve had machetes and knives pulled on me and removed guns from patients while attending to their medical needs,” pointing out the alarming reality that paramedics in Saskatoon have been donning bulletproof vests for over a decade and a half.

Furthermore, incidents of violence against firefighters in various cities were brought to light.

From a Toronto firefighter being viciously attacked on the face with a PVC pipe during a recent intervention at a homeless camp to a Winnipeg firefighter being stabbed while on a medical call.

Hills also highlighted how patients, post overdose treatment, often turn aggressive toward the very first responders who saved their lives.

Root causes and lasting effects of violent confrontations

“The IAFF recognizes the essential need to confront the foundational causes of violent actions towards paramedics and fire fighters, which might originate from societal issues like economic disparities, substance addiction, and mental health issues,” expressed Hills.

Yet, he underscored the immediate necessity for the federal government to intervene and safeguard paramedics and firefighters from the imminent menace of workplace violence by reinforcing the Criminal Code penalties.

Hills also shed light on the long-term mental trauma these confrontations induce, referencing a firefighter’s decade-long disability, resulting from an episode where he had to barricade himself to escape a knife-wielding man at an emergency site.

Support for the bill grows

Post the introduction of Bill C-321, the IAFF spearheaded a political drive which received an array of support letters for the proposed legislation from local affiliates all over Canada directed at Parliament members.

The IAFF also endorses Bill C-345, presented by B.C. NDP MP Peter Julian, touching upon the same issue.

A survey in 2020 by the IAFF divulged that 13% of the departments experienced violence toward their on-duty staff at structural fires in the preceding five years.

In contrast, 40% witnessed acts of violence during medical interventions in the same duration.

Most respondents signaled a rising trend in threats and violence against firefighters and paramedics in their respective cities.

MPs from various political backgrounds expressed their support for the matter, concurring that legislations like Bill C-321 would effectively counter the mounting threats of violence against fire fighters and paramedics, underlining the federal government’s dedication to back our frontline heroes safeguarding Canadians.

The bill is currently under scrutiny at the committee level and will soon return to the House of Commons for more in-depth discussions.

FSJA Comment

The testimony of the IAFF is a timely reminder of the challenges our first responders face.

While firefighters and paramedics are always at the frontlines, ensuring the safety and well-being of the public, they are increasingly becoming targets of violence.

The statistics provided by the IAFF are a stark indicator of the rising threats.

The swift action by MPs across party lines shows the collective recognition of the severity of the issue.

As discussions continue, it’s crucial to remember that supporting such legislation is not just about protecting our heroes but preserving the very fabric of our society.

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