Just over a month ago, Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn promised he’s preparing to unveil a new bill that would make it easier for traumatized first responders to get recognition and treatment.
On Monday, he announced an ad campaign to help first responders deal with the effects of post traumatic stress disorder. The long-awaited law to give first-responders the benefit of the doubt in making PTSD claims is coming, he said – but wouldn’t say when.
“We single first-responders out because these people have at least 100 per cent higher incidents of PTSD than anyone else,” Flynn told Global News. “We believe these are the folks that keep us safe so we are going to keep them safe.”
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One member of the Canadian military and four first responders killed themselves in January according to a group that advocates on behalf of emergency personnel and mental health.
Last year, 38 first responders and 12 military members killed themselves, according to The Tema Conter Memorial Trust. That’s about one tenth of all of Canada’s annual suicides.
In response to the growing mental health crisis, Ontario announced it’s launching an advertising to help first responders deal with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Flynn told the Ontario Professional Firefighters Association Monday the province’s strategy will aim to increase awareness of PTSD and reduce the stigma associated with it.
And a law is coming, he said.
“The Premier has asked me to bring in a process that deals with prevention and with the legislative side of things so that is how I plan to proceed,” he said.
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Groups representing first responders in the province were “cautiously optimistic” about the news.
“It’s something. It’s certainly not even remotely what we are looking for, but we are pleased to see that there is finally some sort of forward movement,” said Ontario Paramedic Association president Geoff MacBride.
“Unless it is followed up with some sort of concrete legislation … I will be very disappointed.”
MacBride likes NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo’s Bill 2, which would remove the onus on first responders to prove their trauma was caused by their work. That’s a tough causation to prove: People respond differently to potentially disturbing situations, and insurers can argue there’s no direct causation between trauma and a traumatized person’s job.
But as Global News has reported, that bill’s been stalled for months. The governing Liberals have promised to bring forward a more “inclusive” bill of their own.
Donna Ferguson, a psychologist at the Work, Stress and Health program at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, says Monday’s announcement is a “good first step.”
“We want to really ensure that we are opening the doors to provide more treatment and have it be accessible as possible, especially when it comes to PTSD treatment among first responders,” she told Global News. “One of the biggest complaints is just feeling that you are questioned and you have to constantly prove you have had work-related incidents.”
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Vince Savoia, founder of the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, says he was pleased by the Liberal’s announcement and hopes that whatever legislation is announced goes further than Bill 2, which does not cover all frontline first-responders like 911 dispatchers or correctional officers.
“We are cautiously optimistic,” Savoia said. “It’s something we have been asking for the last 15 years.”
Savoia, a former paramedic, founded Tema years after he became diagnosed with PTSD, after arriving at a violent crime scene in Toronto in 1988 where he found the body of 25-year-old Tema Conter.
MacBride says the urgency of the issue can’t be overstated.
“We have such great need for this legislation and that’s why we are pushing for it to finally be passed,” he said. “We have waited too long.”
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