IAFF welcomes proposed legislation for stronger penalties against assaults on first responders

August 4 • 2023

MP Peter Julian addresses the press on July 5 to advocate for legislation to protect fire fighters and paramedics from violent attacks on the job. In the background: BCPFFA leadership and members of Burnaby Local 323 and New Westminster Local 256.

With violence against first responders on the rise in Canada, the IAFF is welcoming legislation that proposes new Criminal Code penalties and harsher sentences for assaults against on-duty fire fighters and paramedics.

Bill C-345 was introduced in the House of Commons June 19 by B.C. NDP MP Peter Julian, who held a press conference July 5 with leaders from the British Columbia Professional Fire Fighters Association (BCPFFA) and leaders and members from IAFF locals 323 Burnaby and 256 New Westminster to discuss why greater protections are needed.

“It has been disturbing to me to see an increase in the number of assaults and the violence against fire fighters and paramedics,” Julian expressed, citing examples of recent assaults.

The bill builds on existing Criminal Code protections for peace officers by adding a definition of first responders that includes fire fighters and paramedics, proposing the new offence of assaults against a first responder acting in the course of their duties. In addition, it proposes an increased maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment for assault against a first responder, and an increased maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment for aggravated assault.

The bill also proposes an automatic first-degree murder charge if an assault against a fire fighter or paramedic leads to their death, which carries the penalty of life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for 25 years.

BCPFFA President Todd Schierling told those gathered that he stands behind the legislation and the need to protect fire fighters and paramedics from on-the-job violence. “It’s time to include first responders in the same level of protection as peace officers,” he said. “Such provisions serve to help make emergency responders safer when protecting Canadians.”

New Westminster Local 256 President Shane Poole echoed the sentiment. “We know our job is inherently dangerous, but when we respond to calls for help, we shouldn’t have to be faced with the potential for violence or assaults.”

The IAFF has also declared its support for a separate private member’s bill that addresses the issue. Bill C-321, introduced by B.C. Conservative MP Todd Doherty in March, would require an assault victim’s status as an on-duty first responder to be considered during sentencing.