Canadian parliament enacts historic fire fighter cancer legislation

June 23 • 2023

General Secretary-Treasurer Frank Líma, Montréal Local 125 President Chris Ross, MP Sherry Romanado, and General President Edward Kelly presented MP Romanado with an honorary IAFF helmet at the 2022 Canadian Legislative Conference in recognition of her continued efforts to safeguard fire fighters against cancer.

In a major victory for the IAFF and its Canadian members, Canada’s parliament enacted historic legislation establishing a national framework for addressing occupational cancer in fire fighters.

Bill C-224, which was passed unanimously in a late-night Senate session Wednesday, establishes a series of measures that actively support research, education, cancer screenings, and knowledge sharing, all of which will help IAFF affiliates advance occupational cancer coverage at the provincial level and ensure fair and equitable compensation and support for fire fighters who contract the disease.

The legislation, which is now law, also proclaims January as Fire Fighter Cancer Awareness Month in Canada.

Introduced as a private member’s bill in January 2022 by Montréal-area Liberal MP Sherry Romanado, the legislation sailed through the legislative process with unanimous support from all parties. The IAFF worked with Romanado to support the bill through multiple House of Commons and Senate votes and two sets of committee hearings.

IAFF General President Edward Kelly hailed the bill’s passage as a major advancement in the battle against cancer, which is the leading cause of fire fighter deaths in Canada and the U.S.

He also thanked MP Romanado for introducing the bill and getting it passed; Senator Hassan Yussuff, who championed the bill in the Senate; Conservative Senator David Wells, who signaled early support for the legislation, and Montréal Local 125 President Chris Ross, whose friendship with Romanado led her to create the legislation.

Montréal-area Liberal MP Sherry Romanado speaks on behalf of Bill C-224.

“This historic legislation is a critical step forward in our fight against cancer and the toll it has taken on our members,” Kelly said. “The measures it puts in place will save fire fighters’ lives and ensure those who get job-related cancer get the compensation and support they deserve. This is a great day for our 27,000 Canadian members.”

IAFF Director of Science and Research Neil McMillan testified in favour of the bill before House of Commons and Senate committees, and IAFF members from Montréal, QC Local 125 and Ottawa, ON Local 162 attended Parliament Hill numerous times to witness the legislative proceedings.

Romanado – whose father and husband were fire fighters – said that while getting her bill passed was a long process, she was honoured to contribute to the protection of those in the profession. “Like I said many times before, they are always there for us, and we had the obligation to also be there for them.”

Officials from Health Canada have already scheduled meetings with the IAFF to begin working on the national framework.

In 2018, in the wake of a tenacious 25-year lobby by the IAFF, the Canadian Government established the Memorial Grant Program for First Responders, which provides a $300,000 payment to the surviving families of fire fighters who die in the line of duty, including fire fighters who die from recognized occupational illnesses like cancer. To date, the families of 278 Canadian IAFF members who have died in the line of duty since the benefit was established have qualified for a total of $83.4 million.

In the past 10 years, 431 Canadian IAFF members have died from recognized occupational cancers.