Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discussed occupational cancer, wildland fire fighting response, and other key issues with IAFF members and their families at a special Town Hall meeting March 16 hosted by the IAFF and the Mississauga Fire Fighters Association.
Dressed casually and seated in the middle of a large crowd at an events centre in Mississauga, Ont., the prime minister was greeted enthusiastically by fire fighters and their family members from across the Greater Toronto Area before fielding their questions for more than an hour.
“This is a really great privilege for me,” Trudeau told the crowd before thanking them for their service.
“As fire fighters, you chose to serve your communities, and your families are also serving alongside you. They make sacrifices because of what you choose to do in your life to keep others safe.”
Asked about PFAS, the toxic ‘forever chemicals’ used in fire fighter protective gear, Trudeau stated the government was studying them “very, very carefully right now” before pledging that, pending its review, the government would take appropriate measures to keep fire fighters safe.
He also cited Liberal MP Sherry Romanado’s Bill C-224, which proposes a national framework to address occupational cancers in fire fighters and is moving quickly through the legislative process.
“You are the folks who are keeping Canadians safe,” he said. “The government needs to make sure we’re doing everything to keep you safe.”
Answering a question about training for wildland response training, Trudeau confirmed his government’s commitment to train 1,000 fire fighters and noted the IAFF’s leadership and expertise on the issue in the United States. The IAFF has provided a funding proposal to use the Responding to the Interface (RTI) program to help the Canadian Government meet its training targets and is pressing to have it considered before next year when Trudeau said the government is expecting to entertain those submissions.
Trudeau also fielded audience questions about mental health supports for first responders, the opioid crisis, carbon pricing, and affordable childcare, and expressed his support for a current proposal that would make fire fighter safety an objective within the National Building Code.
IAFF Local 1212 President Chris Varcoe, who introduced Prime Minister Trudeau and cited a long list of fire fighter issues his Liberal Government has acted on since it was elected in 2015, said he was thrilled to host the event.
“This was a very special night for us and an important occasion for all IAFF members,” Varcoe said. “We’re grateful to Prime Minister Trudeau for listening to our concerns and speaking directly to us about his views on issues that are dear to us.”
IAFF General President Edward Kelly said the Town Hall was a testament to the International’s strong political ties on both sides of the border. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke to IAFF members 10 days prior at the U.S. Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.
“It was a great honour for the IAFF to host Prime Minister Trudeau and a terrific opportunity for our members to hear his views on issues affecting them and their families,” Kelly said.
Trudeau’s Liberal Government has proven an important ally for professional fire fighters in Canada.
After it was elected in 2015, the Liberal Government acted swiftly on several IAFF legislative issues, including a National Action Plan on post-traumatic stress injuries, renewed funding for the IAFF Canadian Haz-Mat & CBRNE Training Initiative, and establishing the Memorial Grant Program for First Responders, which provides $300,000 to the surviving families of fallen fire fighters as a recognition of their service and sacrifice.
In 2017, the Liberals also proclaimed the second Sunday each September as Firefighters National Memorial Day in honour of fire fighters who have died in the line of duty.