Ontario has become the latest province to formally recognize the serious toll that working as a first responder can take on a person’s mental health.
On February 18, following considerable work by the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA), the province introduced legislation that recognizes post-traumatic stress as an occupational illness among fire fighters and other first responders, which will make it easier for those suffering from post-traumatic stress to access workers’ compensation benefits and proper treatment. The legislation will benefit the 11,000 members of OPFFA and thousands of other first responders in Canada’s largest province.
Dozens of OPFFA members crammed into the Ontario Legislature in Toronto to watch Labour Minister Kevin Flynn introduce the Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder), which will remove the need for first responders to link post-traumatic stress to the workplace, and which will also require those who employ first responders to implement post-traumatic stress prevention plans.
Ontario’s legislation is part of a broader strategy on post-traumatic stress that the Ontario government announced earlier this year, and follows in the footsteps of Alberta and British Columbia, which enacted workers’ compensation laws addressing post-traumatic stress and mental disorders, respectively, in 2012, and Manitoba, which enacted similar legislation for first responders last year.
OPFFA President Carmen Santoro thanked Minister Flynn and Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Yasir Naqvi for their action on such an important issue.
“The Ontario government is recognizing what we have always known - mental health is just as important as physical health,” Santoro said. “With this addition to our presumptive legislation, fire fighters suffering from post-traumatic stress will be able to focus on getting healthy and not on navigating a complicated bureaucratic regime.”
Santoro also acknowledged the hard work that OPFFA members have done in the political arena. “Our locals have done tremendous work building relationships with politicians from all parties. It’s really thanks to them that we have been able to get widespread support for the government’s initiative today.”
Minister Flynn said the legislation will give first responders “the peace of mind they deserve” and that the accompanying prevention, resiliency and research initiatives round out a comprehensive approach to post-traumatic stress that everyone can be proud of. “Given all that we ask of our first responders, it is only fair that we support them when they need us most.”
The Ontario Government says evidence shows that first responders are at least twice as likely compared to the general population to suffer post-traumatic stress, due to the risk of routine exposure to traumatic stressors.
Post-traumatic stress coverage is a welcome addition to Ontario’s existing presumptive laws for professional fire fighters, which were first enacted in 2007 covering eight types of cancers, plus heart disease. Legislation phasing in an additional six cancers was enacted in 2014.
Earlier this year, Ontario announced a post-traumatic stress strategy for first responders that includes an awareness campaign, an annual leadership summit, free online resources and research grants. Learn more ...
According to the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, a leading national post-traumatic stress advocacy group, 10 Canadian first responders have committed suicide so far in 2016. Last year, the group recorded 39 first responder suicides, including nine fire fighters.