IN THE HOUSE ~ Speaking on my Private Member's Motion - M-153 -seeking full recognition for Canadian firefighters

38TH PARLIAMENT, 1ST SESSION
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP)

moved:


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should: (a) recognize all firefighters who have fallen in the line of duty in Canada; (b) support the proposed Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation mandate for the construction of a monument in the Parliamentary precinct containing the names of all Canadian firefighters who have died in the line of duty; and (c) send a message to the Senate acquainting the Upper House of the decision of this House.


He said: Mr. Speaker, it is with great honour to speak today to my private member's motion, Motion No. 153, which pays tribute to the sacrifice, dedication and heroism of firefighters and public safety officers who put their lives on the line so that our families, our children and our communities can live in a safer, more humane world.

Canada has not always been fair to its firefighters who had to fight tooth and nail for every bit of improvement, in addition to fighting fires and saving lives. Over 800 have died since before Confederation. Where is the monument for their sacrifice? Where is the support for their families?

Motion No 153 and my proposed amendment would help ensure recognition and financial security for the families of firefighters when their loved one is killed or disabled in the line of duty. Motion No. 153 is not my motion. It belongs to all the families of the firefighters. It also pays tribute to the 800 firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice.

As we speak in the House today, the family of volunteer firefighter, James Peter Ratcliffe, is mourning the death of their loved one in Hudson, Quebec last Monday, June 6.

This motion and the proposed amendment is supported by the International Association of Fire Fighters, the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation and by every one of the 180,000 full time, part time and volunteer firefighters from coast to coast to coast.

Our desire in this House today is to reflect what all firefighters and their families most certainly need and deserve. I would ask for the unanimous consent of the House to present the amendment to my motion that has already been circulated to every member of this House.

[Translation]

The purpose of this amendment is to provide more flexibility in choosing the site for the monument. It also seeks to include in the motion a national public safety officer compensation fund. This request is very dear to firefighters, their associations and families, and to all public safety officers.

With the endorsement of the House, this amendment will allow and encourage the government to provide true financial protection to the families of public safety officers who are killed or injured in the line of duty.

[English]

I seek the unanimous consent of the House for my motion to read as follows:


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should: (a) recognize all firefighters who have fallen in the line of duty in Canada; (b) support the proposed Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation mandate for the construction of a monument in a prominent position in the national capital containing the names of all Canadian firefighters who have died in the line of duty; (c) establish a national public safety officer compensation benefit which would also compensate the families of the fallen or permanently disabled firefighters by providing them with a one-time payment of $300,000 which would function as a direct index benefit and address their financial security; and (d) send a message to the Senate acquainting the Upper House of the decision of this House.


[Translation]

***
Mr. Speaker, it is sad to see that some members in the House are not supporting what firefighters and public safety officers have been wanting, needing and deserving for a decade. It is certainly not the time to play politics with the lives and well-being of firefighters and their families. I appeal to members from every corner of the House and to their sense of justice.

We are talking about firefighters and all public safety officers who put their lives on the line. Canadians want the House to work and this is a perfect opportunity to put politics aside. The amendment is what firefighters want, need and deserve beyond any shadow of a doubt.

We will be tabling an amendment to Motion No. 153 that reflects the spirit of my amendment and what firefighters want: a compensation system for firefighters killed or disabled in the line of duty that is fair and that reflects the needs of their families.

As I mentioned, as we speak in the House today, the family members of volunteer firefighter James Peter Ratcliffe are mourning the death of their loved one in Hudson, Quebec last Monday, June 6. As we speak, firefighters and their families are paying their respects before his funeral tomorrow. James Peter Ratcliffe died in the line of duty serving his community.

I would like to read into the record a passage of the report which I received from Dr. William Brooks, president of the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation. Mr. Ratcliffe is the story of specifically what we ask for in amended Motion No. 153. Mr. Brooks stated:

“The entire story is a story of Canadian firefighters from coast to coast pulling for the fire department. The flag will come from Toronto. Support from the Montreal Fire Department has been without compare. The fire departments surrounding Hudson have all pitched in to assist in this time when healing is vital”.

“The Hudson Fire Department is composed of a large group of young Canadians, the average age 25 or so. Men and women fill the ranks. Most are exquisitely bilingual. They have been amazing in their dedication to duty and to their fallen comrade. It has been one of my greatest privileges to be involved in a small way with their expressions of sorrow and growth”.

“Finally, Peter, Diane and Jessica, James' parents and sister, have been examples of the best that people could be as they have moved among those so torn by their loss. The entire community has acted as if it had one central nervous system dedicated to working to bring solace to each other and healing to all. It makes me so proud to be a Canadian and to see the very best of how we can all function together”.

There are countless other examples across this land. Firefighters also die from events that occur days, sometimes years before, due to chemical and toxic hazards. Even though they may seem all right at the scene of the incident, in them are the seeds of a premature and painful death.

For instance, in Saskatoon in the 1980s firefighters were called to put out a fire at a landfill site. It was later established that someone was dumping radioactive waste materials. Six of the twelve firefighters who were present have died. All the others have cancer, years later.

I will provide another tragic case. On March 6, 1987, the Kitchener Fire Department responded to a structure fire at a local industry called Horticultural Technologies Incorporated. Those at the scene reported “smoke and flame that was every colour of the rainbow”, which got into the skin and equipment of the firefighters. In total, approximately 69 firefighters participated in the fighting of this fire. The group developed a variety of cancers that were 10 times higher than the Ontario average.

Firefighters and public safety officers, police officers, correctional officers, air traffic controllers, commercial airline pilots and paramedics play an essential role in communities small and large across the country. The work these men and women are called upon to do is physically and emotionally extreme. It also carries with it many risks that few of us can imagine, let alone contemplate carrying day in and day out. Ten to twenty die every year.

Many of us saw first-hand or watched on TV the incredible work that firefighters do to protect lives, communities and property and some of the tragic consequences.The dedication of selflessness embodied by the men and women of this profession is remarkable. Firefighters are in many respects role models for us all. They rank at the top of the scale of professions They are important to the hearts and souls of Canadians.

(1340)

It falls upon the House that firefighters and their families, public safety officers and their families have the support they need.

Motion No. 153, and my proposed amendment that was circulated to all members of the House, covers an important aspect of the needs of firefighters and their families, not only the symbolic recognition of the ultimate sacrifice, a monument to fallen firefighters as a tribute to the bravery and courage, but also the creation of a public safety officer compensation fund.

In the United States the American government created a similar benefit to fallen firefighters' families after the horrific events of September 11. Three hundred and forty-three firefighters died on September 11. Shortly after that the American government compensated their families retroactively to the tune of $250,000 each. The American benefit that exists now for American firefighters and public safety officers is in the amount of $274,000. It goes a significant way in addressing the financial hardship that occurs when firefighters and public safety officers die in the line of duty.

I would certainly hope, despite some procedural games that are being played, that in the end members in all four corners of the House would support, and support significantly, Motion No. 153, as amended, with the public safety officer compensation fund.

While I have a few more minutes I would like to give members of the House some of the other examples of people who are struggling and the families who are struggling because of the fact that there is not in place a public safety officer compensation benefit.

For 12 years now firefighters from across the country have given up a day a year to come to Parliament Hill to talk to members in all four parties. Members in all four parties have said, yes, that they support the principle of a public safety officer compensation benefit. At that time no members of Parliament said that they would play procedural games. All members said that they would support the principle of the benefit.

I would like members to recall that they have met with firefighters and they have offered support to firefighters and public safety officers. I implore members not to play procedural games, but to allow this type of motion to come forward so we can finally provide to firefighters what they deserve.

I will mention a couple of other cases. When a Winnipeg widow's firefighter husband died, her family income dropped by 60%. There was some group insurance money, but it was all used for funeral expenses. She had to take on two low paying jobs to try to support her family and her oldest son could not go to post-secondary school. He had to get a job right after high school to support the two younger kids.

That is the situation we have been putting the families of fallen firefighters and fallen public safety officers through. For 12 years they have been asking for a compensation benefit. It is high time that we provide their families and their surviving spouses with some compensation to survive after their sacrifice to keep us safe. They make the ultimate sacrifice. Now it is our turn to take care of their families after they have taken care of ours.

I urge all members in all corners of the House to support this motion. I urge them to make it possible to pass Motion No. 153 with the amendment calling for the creation of a public safety officer compensation benefit. This will send a strong signal to the government. This will send a strong signal to communities. This will send a signal that firefighters and their families have been waiting for for so long.

For too long firefighters and public safety officers have thought only of their communities and waited to make life better for their families in the event of their line of duty death. They have been waiting for 12 long years for action while saving countless lives. It is time for the House to act and it is time to act now.

(1345)

***
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member well knows that it is not for him to determine whether a motion is in order or not. The amendment will come around and the amendment will be put on the table in the House of Commons. I certainly hopes he supports it when that amendment comes up. I appreciate his past work. I am sure many members in this House can say exactly the same thing.

It would have been simpler if we had unanimous consent at the outset, but it does not mean that this motion will not be amended. It does not mean that members of the House will not have the ability to judge the merit of the motion itself.

The reality is firefighters have waited for far too long. Public safety officers have waited for far too long. If we have to wait another 45 minutes before we get an amendment on the floor, we will do that.

I hope the member will support the amended motion when it comes forward and when we finally have the opportunity to vote on this, perhaps later this summer if this session is extended or perhaps early in the fall. I appreciate his comments and I hope that means he will be ready to support the motion as amended when it comes forward.