IAFF leaders from across Canada lobbied MPs and Senators to take regulatory action against dangerous PFAS chemicals in fire fighter protective gear and to strengthen the nation’s airport firefighting regulations at the historic 30th Canadian Legislative Conference March 27-28 in Ottawa.
A record 160 delegates attended the conference and reported strong support for the two issues after conducting lobby meetings with their elected representatives.
In an address to delegates, IAFF General President Edward Kelly cited occupational cancer as a top priority of the IAFF. He commended the Canadian membership for their commitment to political action and for moving Bill C-224, which proposes a national framework to address occupational cancer in fire fighters, forward in the legislative process.
Kelly emphasized the need to fight together to win the PFAS battle and other vital issues affecting the profession. “Just like fighting a fire, when we go out the door, we do it together; we don’t do it alone,” Kelly said. “It’s when we fight together that we win.”
The conference included a PFAS roundtable discussion with Kelly and IAFF Director of Science and Research Neil McMillan, a PFAS legal forum with attorneys from the firm Motley Rice, and the Canadian première of the documentary film BURNED: Protecting the Protectors, which provides a hard-hitting and emotional examination of PFAS in fire fighter protective gear.
General Secretary-Treasurer Frank Líma, who introduced the film, said it was a stark realization that the very gear that’s supposed to keep fire fighters safe is now known to cause cancers and other health problems due to the PFAS they contain.
“It’s easy to see the reports and realize that this stuff was in our gear for years and get angry. But I suggest we put that anger aside and get motivated and energized for the fight,” Líma said. “We are in this together, and I can’t imagine a better, stronger group of people standing beside me as we enter this fight.”
Delegates also lobbied MPs and Senators to strengthen Canada’s airport firefighting regulations, which, unlike International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards, don’t specify rescue as a resourced function of airport fire fighters.
Conference speakers included Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh, Conservative MP Chris Lewis, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, and Bloc Québécois MP Kristina Michaud.
In a special moment, Montreal-area Liberal MP Sherry Romanado addressed delegates with an update on her private member’s Bill C-224, which now moves to the Senate after passing a Third Reading vote 322-0 on March 8 with unanimous support from all parties.
Romanado commended delegates for their advocacy on Parliament Hill and thanked the IAFF for its steadfast support of the bill addressing occupational cancer. She also said she was overwhelmed with the number of people who came forward in the past year and shared personal stories about firefighting and cancer.
“There are now 338 MPs who know that fire fighters are more likely to develop cancer, and that’s because of your hard work,” she said. “Everyone supports this bill, and hopefully, we can get it through before the end of June, and by this time next year, we’re talking about a new national framework for the prevention and treatment of cancers linked to firefighting.”
Romanado was joined on stage by Senator Hassan Yussuff, an IAFF ally and former Canadian Labour Congress President who has agreed to champion Bill-224 in the Senate.
Other speakers included Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs President Ken McMullen, Broadbent Institute Executive Director Jen Hassum, and Nathan Wright, National Indigenous Fire Safety Council Executive Director.
The conference also included the crowd-favourite Political Pundit Panel featuring noted political commentators and strategists Kathleen Monk, Tim Powers, and Carlene Variyan. It concluded with the IAFF Parliamentary Reception, where delegates mingled with MPs, Senators, parliamentary staff, and other guests.