With Bill 163, Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), 2016, the Liberal Government introduced its promised PTSD legislation. Amending subsection 13(4) of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, the bill aims to give first responders with post-traumatic stress disorder faster and easier access to benefits and treatment. Minister of Labour “Kevin Flynn acknowledged that ‘filing a claim through the WSIB is an evidence-based and onerous process that poses real challenges for first responders, who are forced to relive the trauma they’ve experienced’.” (CBC News Toronto, Feb. 18). Today’s legislation, like NDP MPP Cheri di Novo’s Bill 2 (re-introduced July 2014), would create a presumption that the PTSD is work-related so “claims will be automatically approved without that process.”
As detailed in the Ministry news release and backgrounder, the presumption will apply to new or pending claims and those under appeal, but not to previously denied claims that have exhausted the appeals process. The proposed legislation covers more than 73,000 emergency personnel in Ontario – police officers, paramedics, firefighters, emergency dispatchers, correctional workers and First Nations emergency response teams who, given the nature of their work, are at least twice as likely compared to the general population to suffer PTSD. According to the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, a PTSD support network, since January 1st 10 first responders with PTSD have died by suicide in Canada this year. (Toronto Star, Feb. 18). (Similar legislation in Manitoba has extended the presumption to workers in all occupations covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act who have faced traumatic experiences in the workplace and been diagnosed with PTSD)
Bill 163 follows the multi-pronged strategy announced by the government earlier this month, which includes research funds supporting prevention of PTSD, raising awareness of this debilitating injury and eliminating stigma that discourages first responders from seeking help.