The BCGEU welcomes the provincial government's announcement that first responders including Sheriffs and Correctional Officers will receive greater access to mental health support.
On Wednesday, BC Labour Minister Harry Bains announced amendments to the Workers Compensation Act. These amendments -- called a presumptive clause -- will be introduced this week and, if approved by the legislature, will add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental disorders to a recognized list of presumptive conditions associated with specific types of jobs. This means that when first responders, including sheriffs and correctional officers, who experience job-related trauma are diagnosed with a mental disorder, they will be able to get assistance without providing proof that the injury was related to their work.
"I applaud the proposed amendments to the Workers Compensation Act announced by Minister Bains, building on the work begun by Minister Simpson and supported by Minister Darcy. Making mental health, including PTSD, a presumptive condition is a long overdue show of common sense and compassion for first responders," said BCGEU president Stephanie Smith.
Seven other provinces and territories in Canada, including Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, already have a presumptive clause to protect first responders suffering from PTSD and mental illnesses. "This change is an important step but there is more work to be done to protect the men and women that protect our province. So while we recognize and appreciate progress, it's critical that we also stay focused on the road ahead," added Smith.
BCGEU would like to acknowledge the work of long-time BCGEU member Robert Gagnon, whose efforts helped make this possible. Gagnon, a Corrections Officer and Canadian Forces veteran, walked from Prince George to BC's Legislature last summer to raise awareness and support for veterans and first responders who suffer from PTSD.
"It's important to stay focused on how this change happened. Make no mistake, we are here today because of the efforts of activists. Activists like Robert and everyone else who raised their voice, told their story, and kept the pressure on in their own way. Activists make a difference. I'm lucky to be surrounded and inspired by them every day," said Smith.
Read the government press release here.
Hansard script (recognizing the work of Correctional Officer Robert Gagnon):
Hon. H. Bains: I'm really pleased today to recognize a number of first responders seated in the gallery. Gord Ditchburn, of the B.C. Professional Firefighters Association; Cameron Eby, Robert Parkinson, Sophia Parkinson and Lindsay Kellosalmi, from the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C.; Jeremy Kerr, who's a sheriff; and Dean Purdy, who's a corrections officer.
Joining them is a special guest, another corrections officer who some of you may remember from last summer. Robert Gagnon has been called "the man who walked through the flames for PTSD" - and indeed he did. Robert is a former corporal with the Canadian Armed Forces, who now works as a corrections officer for Prince George.
Following his military career, Robert found himself struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, and through his own struggles, he became aware of how many others, including first responders, were also needing services and support. He decided to do something about it, and last summer, Robert set off on the journey of his life, as he walked solo from Prince George to the front steps of this building to raise awareness around PTSD.
He reached Victoria on July 25, after walking about 30 kilometres per day. Along the way, he raised funds to help support an equine therapy ranch for veterans in Quesnel and a facility in Kamloops that works with first responders and veterans with PTSD.
He's here to see some of the fruits of his labour, as we make an announcement related to supporting those kilometres per day.
Along the way, he raised funds to help support an equine therapy ranch for veterans in Quesnel and a facility in Kamloops that works with first responders and veterans with PTSD.
He's here to see some of the fruits of his labour as we make an announcement related to supporting those who develop mental disorders as a result of trauma in their workplaces. I thank him for his tireless efforts and wish him all the best as he travels the road to recovery. Would the House please join with me making him and all other heroes in the gallery very welcome.
Photos from Wednesday's event at the Legislature:
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