Today in the House of Commons, Peter Julian, MP for New Westminster-Burnaby (British-Columbia) introduced a Private Member’s Bill in support of the Union of Safety and Justice Employee’s longstanding call to ensure more federal public safety personnel have access to Worker’s Compensation for mental health related injuries.
Proposals in the bill tabled today include key revisions to the federal Government Employees Compensation Act, a piece of legislation that has not fundamentally changed since its establishment over 50 years ago, so that federal public safety personnel do not fall between the cracks.
Despite important changes by some provincial and territorial legislatures in recent years which have recognized workplace-related mental health injuries as occupational risks for largely first responders, the federal government’s own public safety personnel are not adequately covered. This is the case even though they are regularly exposed to traumatic incidents, materials, victims and criminalized persons.
This exposure can often create the conditions for occupational stress injuries, including Posttraumatic Stress Injuries among other mental health injuries. However, federal public safety and justice employees are regularly denied Worker’s Compensation by provincial/territorial boards for these injuries.
“Through the introduction of this Private Member’s Bill, C-357, crucial changes to the Government Employees Compensation Act have been proposed. USJE is seeking all party support as quickly as possible to adopt them in support of the thousands of federal public safety personnel who keep Canadians safe every day. It is urgent that the Parliament of Canada rectify a gaping hole in the presumptive injury coverage landscape for many federal public safety and justice employees whose mental health is severely compromised while on the job,” highlighted National President David Neufeld.
“It is time that federal public safety and justice personnel who work on the front lines and/or who are part of the crucial operational backbone of 18 departments and agencies under the jurisdiction of the Ministers of Public Safety and Justice are able to access Worker’s Compensation for presumptive injuries that are mental health related,” Neufeld added.
“My new Private Member’s Bill C-357 will fix the current inequitable system for federal government employees whose benefits and entitlements depend on where they live, regardless of whether they are doing the same work in different provinces and territories. No more inconsistent patchwork of coverage, benefits, requirements, and applications. Workers deserve better. We must fight hard to ensure all federal government employees are treated equally,” said MP Julian.
The proposed changes to the federal Government Employees Compensation Act introduced to the House of Commons today by Mr. Julian also respond to key recommendations from the House of Commons Public Safety study in 2016: entitled Healthy Minds, Safe Communities: Supporting our Public Safety Officers through a National Strategy for Operational Stress Injuries. Member of Parliament Pam Damoff (Oakville North—Burlington) who contributed to the report has been an important champion of these recommendations for many years, including in her previous capacity as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety.
The 2016 study called for better recognition of the risks faced by a wide array of public safety personnel, and an expanded definition of the term “public safety officer” so that it goes beyond traditional definitions of first responders to include thousands of other federal public service employees working across 18 departments and agencies.
“The significant toll that this work takes on federal public safety personnel is often invisible until it is too late. Individuals sometimes silently suffer for years – sacrificing their own mental health in order to keep Canadians safe. When these personnel finally seek care, they are frequently denied basic Worker’s compensation and are unable to take the time they need to access appropriate psychological care to get back on the job,” noted Andreanne Samson, Regional Vice President for USJE.
“The proposed revisions, to the Government Employees Compensation Act, begin to address a long-standing need among our federal public safety personnel. If enacted, these changes would mean incredible forward movement toward making mental health treatment and support accessible for an under-recognized but highly vulnerable population of federal public safety employees,” highlighted Rosemary Ricciardelli, PhD, Professor and Research Chair, Safety, Security, and Wellness, Memorial University of Newfoundland.
The Union of Safety and Justice Employees is very appreciative for the efforts of Mr. Julian today and plans to meet with all Members of Parliament from the House of Commons Public Safety Committee this fall to seek their support in advancing the proposed changes to the Government Employees Compensation Act as quickly as possible.
USJE has also written to new Minister Dominic LeBlanc urging him to work with USJE to close this gap. National President David Neufeld has also previously met with the Shadow Minister for Public Safety, Raquel Dancho (Kildonan—St. Paul, Manitoba) on this matter. Further, Bloc Quebecois Member of Parliament Kristina Michaud—who sits on the Public Safety Committee—has also delivered a statement in the House in support of the mental health of federal public safety personnel.