Question re: Post-traumatic stress disorder support - November 25, 2014

Mr. Silver:   I have a question for the minister responsible for workers’ compensation. There has been a lot of attention paid to the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, as it pertains to military personnel. Another group of workers who are overrepresented with this illness are our first responders, including firefighters, paramedics and police officers. First responders who suffer from PTSD are not automatically eligible for workers’ compensation in the Yukon.

In 2012, the Government of Alberta changed its Workers’ Compensation Act to allow firefighters, police officers, sheriffs and paramedics to receive compensation for PTSD without having to prove that their condition is work-related. Alberta became the first province in Canada to provide such coverage.

Has the government or WCB considered making similar changes here?

Hon. Mr. Graham:     At this time we haven’t entered into any discussions with the Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board in relation to this issue. I won’t speculate on what we might do in the future, but at this time we have not begun those types of discussions.

Mr. Silver:   Just to inform the minister, other provinces, including Ontario and Alberta, have presumptive legislation for firefighters that covers certain types of cancers and cardiac events. Our own Workers’ Compensation Act was amended in 2011, as the minister knows, to include such coverage so there certainly is a precedent here for this type of legislation. Such changes would benefit first responders and are pretty straightforward.

How long does the minister believe that it would take to see legislation like this — these changes — introduced?

Hon. Mr. Graham:     As I said, we haven’t begun any kind of discussions with respect to presumptive legislation for first responders. I am very aware of what happened with the firefighters because I was a member of city council at the time and was a strong advocate on behalf of firefighters. Having said that, I won’t make any comments or commitments with respect to presumptive legislation for first responders until we have a chance to discuss it, first of all, with the Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board, and secondly, with my own colleagues. 

Mr. Silver:   I do urge the minister to get on those talks and I can’t wait to hear the members of the WCB here as witnesses.

Beyond changes to our legislation to ensure that first responders who suffer from PTSD get the coverage they deserve, there are other ways in which the government can help these individuals. After the deaths by suicide of several first responders in recent months across the nation, there have been new mental health awareness campaigns to shine a light on post-traumatic stress disorder among police officers, paramedics and firefighters. One such initiative is the “You Are Not Alone” campaign, organized by the Ontario Psychological Association, and the other is the “Helping the helpers” education campaign in Nova Scotia. Has the government considered a similar public awareness campaign, at least, here in the Yukon?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      It is a pleasure to rise here and just provide a bit of information to the member about some of the things we have done to increase the support that we are providing for our first responders, including EMS paramedics. That includes — as a result of feedback that we received from volunteers — we have extended counselling services automatically in the event that first responders have dealt with an experience that may be very troublesome for that first responder.

We have expanded the same type of counselling services to them as are available to Yukon government employees. We have continued to work with them in increasing the training that is available for rural EMS volunteers. In both the areas of fire and EMS, staff of Community Services are working very closing with the volunteers to identify additional needs and priorities to ensure that we are continuing to increase the support that we provide to our volunteers and, as well as in the area of EMS, to our full-time staff.