Ontario could recognize PTSD as workplace-related illness for first responders
'I don't see any difference between a psychological trauma and a physical trauma,' ex-paramedic says
Ontario could follow Alberta and Manitoba's examples in recognizing post-traumatic stress disorder as a workplace illness for first responders, provided an NDP private member's bill moves through the legislature this winter.
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The MPP for Parkdale—High Park says she's hopeful Bill 2, which has been introduced five times, will move forward when it comes up for debate in February. The bill passed its first reading in July 2014.
The amendment would shift the burden of proof so that a first responder diagnosed with PTSD would automatically be considered for compensation if they needed to take a medical leave.
"What [it would] mean is that you wouldn't have to prove ... that you came down with post-traumatic stress disorder because of your work," MPP Cheri DiNovo told CBC News. "That would be something that is assumed."
Alberta has had legislation governing mental health and first responders since 2012. And a new law came into effect in Manitoba on New Year's Day that recognizes PTSD can be a work-related condition for any employee.
Burden of proof
As it stands now, first responders have to prove that it was their exposure to trauma at work that caused them to become ill. But since others may be exposed to the same crime scene and not be diagnosed with PTSD, insurers can deny there's a direct link between a paramedic or police officer's illness and their job.
"I think it's both insulting and inaccurate to think that people will fake this any more than they would any physical illness," DiNovo said. "You can do everything you can to prevent it but it will still happen to a few — and we have to protect those few."
Those in the Canadian Forces do not have to prove a connection between PTSD and the work they do in military to qualify for assistance, DiNovo said.
Last year, 12 members of the military committed suicide, according to statistics published by the Tema Conter Memorial Trust. In that same period, 38 first responders also killed themselves, the organization says.
The trust advocates for treatment and recognition of all first responders, both civilian and military, who have PTSD.
Private member's bill
Former paramedic Vince Savoia founded the organization years after he became diagnosed with the illness himself, after being called to a violent crime scene in Toronto where he found the body of 25-year-old Tema Conter in 1988.
The Nova Scotia woman looked like Savoia's fiancee and he began having nightmares and daytime flashbacks about the violence.
"I would sit down to have supper with my family and I would excuse myself and go into the basement and spend hours just sitting in a chair staring at the wall," Savoia said.
His organization has also put its support behind DiNovo's private member's bill.
"I don't see any difference between a psychological trauma and a physical trauma," the former paramedic said.
An Ontario provincial spokeswoman told CBC News that the length of time between first and second reading of the bill has been because, as a private member's bill, it can only be introduced on certain days.
DiNovo used her most recent opportunity, on Dec. 10, to debate Bill 137, Clare Graham said in an email.
"Members can introduce multiple bills [but must] debate the one of their choosing on their ballot date," Graham said.
Bill 2 is now slated for debate on Feb. 16. It would amend the current Workplace Safety and Insurance Act.