MPs urge Ottawa to help first responders with PTSD

An all-party committee of MPs is urging Parliament to take action for the sake of public safety officers and first responders who become ill after experiencing traumatic events on the job.

Committee hopes unanimous report from MPs of all parties will persuade government to act swiftly

A parliamentary committee report says more research needs to be done on PTSD among paramedics and other first responders. (Trisha Estabrooks/CBC)

An all-party committee of MPs is urging the federal government to take action on behalf of public safety officers and first responders who develop mental health problems after experiencing traumatic events. 

In a unanimous report the House of Commons public safety committee recommends the federal government come up with a national strategy for post-traumatic stress disorder and operational stress injuries.

The report also calls for a research institute and for Parliament to consider bringing in presumptive legislation so that federal public safety workers diagnosed with PTSD don't have to prove they got sick on the job.

​"This isn't just, in and of itself, about the mental health of those individuals," said Rob Oliphant, Liberal MP and chair of the committee. 

"Communities will be safer if our public safety officers are healthier. So this is a Canadian project to say it's part of the way we can keep our communities safe, by ensuring that we have the best possible services and resources in our firefighters in our paramedics, in our police officers and in those who assist them," Oliphant said.

The committee noted that in comparison with Canadian Forces members, there is little research or data on PTSD among public safety officers. The report recommends the federal government work with the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research to set up an institute for public safety officers. Among the institute's first tasks, MPs envisage, would be a national comprehensive survey of Canada's public safety officers.

In addition, the committee recommends that the Public Safety Department form an expert working group with employees representing different sectors, regions and Indigenous communities to collect and share data.

A committee of MPs says the federal government should come up with a definition of a 'public safety worker' that would include paramedics, police, firefighters and other first responders. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

"I think that the fact that [the report is] unanimous should help get it started," said Conservative MP Larry Miller.

MPs said the federal government must adopt a definition of a "public safety officer" that not only includes members of the RCMP and correctional officers but also firefighters and other first responders. The report notes that many public servants who support the work of first responders, such as dispatch officers and federal sex offender registry analysts, are also exposed to traumatic events.

Several witnesses who appeared before the committee recommended the federal government "explore the possibility" of following the lead of provinces such as Ontario, which have brought in presumptive legislation for their first responders.

The law ensures that when those workers are diagnosed with PTSD, it is automatically accepted that their illness is the result of trauma experienced on the job. Otherwise, first responders must spend time proving to their employer that their work made them sick.

In his mandate letter to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked the minister to come up with a national plan on PTSD.