Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


April 19, 2018

Bill 9 — Workers Compensation Amendment Act, 2018

Hon. S. Simpson: I’m very happy to join the debate on Bill 9 related to the Workers Compensation Amendment Act, related to the issue of presumptive clause for first responders. I’m really pleased to have the opportunity to spend a few minutes to add my voice to this debate.

What Bill 9 does is establishes a presumptive clause for a group of workers, including first responders, paramedics, firefighters, police, as well as Corrections and sheriffs. It says that under WorkSafe coverage, those workers, should they face a mental health injury or PTSD, will now be deemed to have incurred that illness, that injury, in the workplace.

They will be able to move immediately to receive services related to that injury. That’s important, because we know that around mental health injuries, around PTSD, the ability to intervene quickly and to support people early in that process will lead to getting healthy again and to people getting back their lives.

We certainly know — from the tragic stories that we’ve heard across the country about first responders in terms of the inordinately high numbers of suicides, the numbers of the incidence of mental health injuries — that first responders are impacted in ways that are dramatically different than other workers in the workplace. That’s the reality of what the research tells us.

I’m very pleased that our government has brought this legislation forward. It’s something that has been important to me for a number of years. I had the opportunities while sitting on the opposition benches to bring a private member’s legislation — in a couple of instances, to in fact call on the government to introduce legislation that would have put a presumptive clause for first responders in place.

To be fair to the government, the government never opposed the legislation; they simply never brought it forward. They never allowed the private member’s bill to come to the floor of the House. As a consequence, we didn’t have a presumptive structure for first responders.

The argument at the time was that WorkSafe B.C. in fact provided services to people struggling with mental health injuries, and that’s true. But it still required those workers to go through a long — sometimes far too long — and inordinate amount of hoops to get to the point where they in fact were accepted for service, moving forward.

One of the things that happened around that…. Of course, one of the big issues as to why the current system that this legislation will change didn’t work is because what we know about mental health injuries and about PTSD — and what we know about it particularly for first responders — is that it’s hardly ever the cause of a single incident — unlike if you have a roofer who’s up on the roof and falls, who falls off the roof and breaks their leg. We know what happened, and we know when it happened. They can go to WorkSafe, and they can receive appropriate supports then.

What we know about mental health injuries is that it is often a question of cumulative impact. It’s a question of spending ten or 15 or more years on the job delivering very essential and critical services to British Columbians — in the case of our first responders, delivering those critical services and always facing the pressure of what is a very, very stressful job and often a job where you are going to scenes where there are trauma, fatality, horrific injuries. It’s your job to go, to step up, whether you be a firefighter or a police officer or a paramedic, and take action to protect people, to save people’s lives, to support people who are facing these often-catastrophic situations.

As a paramedic said to me at one time, and it resonated very well with me: “It’s kind of like the backpack theory. Every time you go to one of these situations, you put another rock in the backpack, and you keep doing that. At some point, there’s a consequence to that if you don’t figure out how to take some rocks out of the backpack.” I’ll talk a little bit about that in a minute.

The challenge here is that it is so often a cumulative situation of years of critical service to the people of British Columbia. What we know is that because of the nature of the departments, whether it be police departments or fire departments or the Ambulance Service, they are challenged in the ability to document those situations, so we don’t have the records to be able to make the argument, often, about that cumulative impact. And sometimes those impacts may not be evident when the situation is happening.

This legislation says that the evidence that we have…. And the evidence is supplied; it’s supplied in many, many ways by different folks. What it does show, as the national survey that was published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry in 2017…. What that survey did….

It was a survey of 5,800 participants, and it showed — these are first responders — the evidence, in that Journal of Psychiatry, that 44½ percent of those people who were screened, screened positive for clinically significant symptom clusters with one or more mental disorders. In contrast, Statistics Canada will tell us that, in the general population, the rate is about 10 percent of the population.

We also know, because the statistics are there and they’re tragic, of the inordinate numbers of suicides among first responders — just enormously higher than the general population.

This comes back to the issue that I believe we’re discussing today, which is traumatic mental health injuries that are faced by people who do this work, who are involved in these professions that are so very important to us, as British Columbians, every day and are particularly important when you need to call 911 because there is something happening in your life that you desperately need help.

When you make that call, you are looking for that person or that team to show up at your door, whether they are police, fire or ambulances, to give you the help that you need. There are consequences to that all too often for people who are in that profession.

There has been a great amount of momentum building over the last number of years for this presumptive clause. We have seen it with the unions that represent first responders. We have seen it with the departments themselves that those professionals and first responders work for, as they’ve stepped up. We’ve seen it with individuals who are struggling with the challenge of PTSD or other mental health injuries who have stood up and been articulate and persistent advocates for the kind of change that this legislation will bring today for people in these areas.

It’s important for a whole range of reasons. We know, as we deal with mental health issues, stigma is always a consideration and always a concern. It’s my hope that this legislation will add another piece to the plan to reduce the stigma around mental health injuries and around mental health disorders, that we will understand it and be better at it.

Also, I’m very hopeful that this legislation, when it passes and becomes law, and with other supports, will add to the supports that we need to bring to the table to support preventative services for first responders.

This legislation will go a long way to supporting an individual — a paramedic or a firefighter or a police officer — who’s struggling. It will go a long way to support them. But what we need to do is to put in place the tools and the programs. I know there’s a lot of work going on in these fields today, but we need to put in place the tools and the programs to support our first responders as they do their work.

We need better tools to support the debriefing that has to happen after traumatic situations. We need to have better tools to support the documentation of the incidents that the first responders go out and respond to. We need to be able to support first responders and their colleagues to recognize those situations when they begin to see it in their co-workers. And we need to support spouses and families of first responders.

We need to have a place for the wife or the husband of a first responder to go when they see that their loved one comes home and maybe has a couple of more drinks than they used to have, or they come home and they seem to always be angry with the kids or angry with their loved one. They’ve got to have a place that they can go, and they know it’s a safe place, to say: “There’s something going on here, and we need some help.”

It has to be able to happen in a way that’s safe for everybody, because what we know is that for a number of first responders, they buried these issues, and they buried them for a couple of reasons, I believe.

First of all, people who decide to go into these professions will tend to be alpha personalities to start with. They tend to kind of suck it up because that’s what they do. They also, though, have fear that should they come forward, they might put their careers in jeopardy. We need to be able to assure them that that’s not going to happen, that we’re going to reach out and support them to get better and to be able to go back to work, continue their careers and continue to have healthy lives because they were able to step up and say “I need help” and to do that with the security that they’re not going to put their careers at risk. That’s an important part of the learning process that bringing this legislation in, I believe, supports.

There’s been talk about the question of who’s included in this list of first responders and who’s not. I respect very much the comments of the Leader of the Third Party. I have heard from professions that believe they should be included, too, and I respect that. I very much appreciate that the Minister of Labour, when he prepared this legislation, was very thoughtful about that and included the ability in the legislation, by regulation, to include more classifications and groups of workers. I think that’s really important.

I think, though, that what we have today is a foundational piece of legislation. I’ll remind the House…. I can go back to when we first adopted a presumptive clause for cancers for firefighters. That was after many, many years of professional firefighters coming and making their case to governments and to legislators that this Legislature unanimously passed legislation that brought a presumptive clause for firefighters as it related to cancers and heart conditions.

Now, what we know, though, is that when that was first passed, I think there were two or maybe three cancers on that list. Then every year after that, more work was done, more evidence was provided, and cancers and conditions were added to that list. I believe there are now eight or nine cancers on that list. The foundation was put in place. There was no longer the need to kick the door open on this. That was done. It was now a question of providing the evidence.

I’m confident that those same conversations can go on in terms of any future consideration about adding other professions that provide critical services, whether they be public services, non-profit service providers or private sector service providers, where it makes sense. I think we can do that. And I know that the minister who is responsible for this legislation is keenly aware that those conversations will go on, heading into the future, as they should.

This legislation today puts the fundamentals in place. It creates the opportunity for us to be able to have that conversation with other groups of workers who can bring legitimate concerns about their need to be included. The thing to understand about this is that it is WorkSafe. There’s a scope around mental health injuries relating to health care that we need to respond to. The responsibility of WorkSafe is to respond to those workplace injuries that may be of a mental health nature.

We need to also be careful, because there is great potential here, once you broaden this out…. I very much appreciated the Leader of the Third Party talking about two other jurisdictions. There are seven jurisdictions in the country that have comparable legislation to what we’re debating here today, and there are two of those seven that have broader interpretations around broader groups of workers. I respect that, but it has to be about the workplace if it’s WorkSafe.

We can find other ways to approach individuals who are struggling with mental health injuries, and we need to do that. But when it comes to the workplace, the distinguishment between whether it is a work-related injury or it’s related to some other part of your life is going to be a point of debate. We need to do more work to understand how to distinguish that in ways that don’t essentially create a situation where a worker coming forward — should you broaden this legislation, which I think is a fair point of discussion moving forward…. But being able to distinguish as to whether this injury was related to their work situation or related to some other aspect of their life.

You’re going to have those debates and those questions raised by a workers compensation board. That’s what their job is. I think, though, that there is a great amount of evidence with the groups that have been identified in this legislation as first responders and sheriffs and corrections officers that we can confidently say that those workers are captured by a very difficult job that they do, a job where they face, every day, personal risk to them.

They face situations that you and I would never want to have to deal with and be exposed to. It is their job. But just because it’s their job doesn’t mean that we don’t have to step up and support them when they’re struggling because they’re helping us and they’re doing the work that we’ve asked them to do.

I’m really pleased to have the opportunity to say a few words, and I do want to say some real thank-yous. I’ve been working on this issue for a few years now. I know that I’ve talked to chiefs of police, and I’ve talked to fire chiefs. I’ve talked to senior officials in the paramedic service. I’ve talked to the unions that represent those bodies and their leaders. They have all evolved and grown to the point where they have been strong voices for these changes.

I’ve met many, many individuals who have come forward and struggled personally with these issues. Part of their challenge of getting through the struggle of PTSD or a mental health injury has been to become a strong voice, an advocate for themselves and for their colleagues who are facing those challenges.

I think of my colleague the Minister of Labour when he identified some of the individuals. You always face the risk that you will leave people out. I know I’ll do that. But I do want to acknowledge people who, for me, have been strong voices, who have never let me forget the importance of this and have been on my case pretty much every day since the conversation started. I thank them for that, because it was a good thing to keep me motivated on these issues. That includes Lisa Jennings. It includes Darren Gregory. It includes Rae-Lynne Dix. It includes Terrance Kosikar and others, many others. I’ve heard from lots of people over the years on this.

We have an opportunity now to do something important here, to put the foundational pieces in place to support people who need our support at times. We all know that if you need the police, if your house is on fire, if your loved one has had a heart attack, and you pick up that phone and call 911, the person you want to see coming through your door is the person who’s going to help you with this crisis in your life at that moment. We count on them every day, in every part of this province.

We know now, without doubt, that they struggle in doing the very difficult job that we task them to do, and that they pay a large price, often at a personal level. They need our help. We stand up for them; they stand for us when we desperately need them.

These first responders, these sheriffs, these corrections officers need our help. This legislation goes a big way to do that. It’s not just our obligation. We should do it proudly, because they certainly stand up proudly every day to support British Columbians.

I’m very hopeful and I’m expecting that we will have unanimous support to bring this forward when it comes to a vote. I’m very pleased that we’re finally getting this done.

https://www.leg.bc.ca/documents-data/debate-transcripts/41st-parliament/3rd-session/20180416pm-Hansard-n115#115B:1540

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018 - 1:00pm - 2:00pm
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