Do bystanders have a legal obligation to help in emergencies?

TORONTO – When a pedestrian was struck and killed in Scarborough Thursday afternoon, Sinan Yukselil said he was shocked some witnesses left the scene.

“Shame on them. Nobody stayed to help that person. There was a life,” said Yukselil.  “It was a human being.”

Legally, people are not obligated to help in an emergency.

But if they do, they are not liable if anything goes wrong. Ontario’s Good Samaritan Act protects people from any liability if they step in to help during an emergency situation.

Philip Griffiths is the executive director of St. John Ambulance in Toronto and estimates that between 90 and 95 per cent of people who end up in a bystander role, do not have any certification.

But even those with first-aid certification may question their ability to help, Griffiths said.

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“When you first come to something that is traumatic, you might have a tendency to question yourself,” said Griffiths. “You remind yourself you do have training, and you focus on that training. And what happens is that really helps you do the right thing.”

St. John Ambulance certifies 120,000 people in Ontario and 550,000 in Canada each year.

Shamez Kassam has been a Toronto Paramedic for 25 years and feels comfortable helping people.

But he has been in the bystander role when his neighbour suffered cardiac arrest while Kassam was off-duty.

“You don’t need to be a paramedic to make a difference.” said Kassam.  “As long as you’re there.  As long as you help, you can actually really make a big difference in someone’s life.”