IAFF testifies in support of bill addressing violence against fire fighters, paramedics

October 30 • 2023

Local 3270 President Paul Hills and MP Todd Doherty

The IAFF testified on Parliament Hill Oct. 26 that legislation proposing tougher penalties is needed in light of increasing acts of violence against fire fighters and paramedics across Canada.

The testimony was heard before the federal Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in support of Bill C-321, introduced by B.C. Conservative MP Todd Doherty in March. The bill proposes amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada that would require judges to consider an assault victim’s status as an on-duty first responder as an aggravating circumstance during sentencing.

Appearing on behalf of the IAFF, Paul Hills, President of the Saskatoon Paramedics Association IAFF Local 3270, captivated MPs from all parties with accounts of his own experiences and of frightening assaults against other first responders.

“I personally have had my life and my family’s lives threatened,” Hills testified. “I’ve had machetes and knives pulled on me and removed guns from patients while attending to their medical needs,” he said, adding that he never thought bulletproof vests would become part of paramedics’ safety ensembles, but “we have been wearing them in Saskatoon for over 15 years.”

Hills also described how a Toronto fire fighter suffered a brutal assault to the face with a PVC pipe while responding to a recent fire at a homeless encampment, how a Winnipeg fire fighter was stabbed in the back during a medical call, and how overdose patients often become aggressive with first responders after they’ve rendered care to save their lives.

“The IAFF understands and supports the overarching need to address root causes behind violent acts towards paramedics and fire fighters. These may stem from societal issues, such as economic inequality, addictions, and mental health,” Hills stated. “But in the meantime, we agree there’s a role for the federal government to play in protecting paramedics and fire fighters from the real threat of workplace violence in the form of tougher Criminal Code penalties.”

Hills also emphasized that the consequences of violent calls extend beyond physical injuries, underscoring the potential for enduring mental health injuries. He highlighted the case of a fire fighter who has been on long-term disability for 10 years after he was forced to barricade himself in a room after being chased by a man with a large knife while at an emergency scene.

Shortly after Bill C-321 was introduced, the IAFF led a political action initiative that garnered numerous letters of support for the legislation, sent by local affiliates across Canada to members of Parliament. The IAFF also supports Bill C-345, introduced by B.C. NDP MP Peter Julian, which also addresses the issue.

An IAFF member survey conducted in 2020 found that 13 per cent of those departments experienced at least one act of violence toward on-duty personnel at structure fires in the past five years, while 40 per cent reported acts of violence toward personnel during medical calls in the same time period. A majority indicated that the incidence of violence and threats against fire fighters and paramedics is increasing in their city.

MPs from all political parties expressed support for the issue and agreed legislation like Bill C-321 would constitute a meaningful way to address the growing threat of violence against fire fighters and paramedics, and would further signify the federal government’s commitment to standing behind our frontline workers as they protect Canadians. The bill is now awaiting further review at the committee stage before returning to the House of Commons for further debate.