USJE Hosts Parliament Hill Breakfast on Improving Mental Health Supports for Federal Public Safety Personnel

On Tuesday, February 13, the Union of Safety and Justice Employees hosted a breakfast reception on Parliament Hill to highlight the urgency of its proposed changes to the federal Government Employees Compensation Act (GECA).

At the breakfast, USJE noted that its 18,000 members work in crucial public safety roles for various departments and agencies under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Public Safety Canada, the Minister of Justice and the Attorney-General of Canada.

National President David Neufeld emphasized to guests attending the breakfast that the work USJE’s members do every day is integral to keeping our communities safe. He noted that some of the roles USJE’s members play include, to name just a few: 

  • Parole and program officers with the Correctional Service of Canada;
  • Call-takers, dispatchers and transcribers for the RCMP;
  • Case Review and Hearing Officers with the Parole Board of Canada; and
  • Legal assistants with the Department of Justice. 

By virtue of the fact that USJE members are key contributors to Canada’s public safety network, they are regularly exposed to traumatic incidents, materials, victims and criminalized persons.

Despite this, Mr. Neufeld explained that the federal Government Employees Compensation Act (GECA), as it is currently written, leaves out thousands of federal public safety personnel who suffer from psychological injuries owing to their efforts to keep Canadians safe. Consequently, USJE’s members are regularly denied Worker’s Compensation by provincial/territorial boards for their injuries which is why it is proposing key amendments to GECA.

USJE invited four Members of Parliament (MPs) to speak at its breakfast event about the value of improving access to Worker’s Compensation and mental health supports for federal public safety personnel, including USJE’s members.

These MPs included: Jennifer O’Connell, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, CPC MP Todd Doherty (Cariboo-Prince George), BQ MP Kristina Michaud (Avignon-La Mitis- Matane-Matapedia) and NDP MP Peter Julian (New Westminster-Burnaby). Liberal MP Pam Damoff was also recognized given her long-standing support for and relationship with USJE.

All four MPs who spoke expressed their appreciation for the invitation, and their commitment to finding ways to modify the federal legislation and improve access to mental health supports. MP Peter Julian outlined that his Private Member’s Bill, Bill 357, captures many of the changes USJE is proposing to GECA, and that it can be actioned into law quickly if the Liberal government is willing to do so.   

As individuals representing four different political parties, these four MPs spoke about their willingness to identify solutions and better understand the work that USJE’s public safety personnel do.  

In addition, three members of USJE’s National Health and Safety Committee gave personal accounts during the breakfast of the impacts of their work on their mental health. These accounts were shared in order to further demonstrate why presumptive injury coverage is so critical to the well-being of federal public safety personnel. 

These individuals provided courageous first-hand experiences to MPs in the room and USJE sincerely thanks them for taking the time to share their challenges. These speakers included:  

  • JR Legault, Community Correctional Program Officer
  • Sandi Berthelotte, Case Review Officer with the Parole Board of Canada
  • Kirsty Havard who has served as an Institutional Correctional Program Officer

Throughout the breakfast, USJE’s panellists and National President David Neufeld also underscored that if its members are able to access Worker’s Compensation in a timely fashion, they are more likely to get the appropriate supports they need to increase their chances of returning to work healthy.

In so doing, it will reduce the high rates of turn-over in federal public safety personnel, and will help to sustain the corporate knowledge, training and expertise that has been developed.

From this perspective, facilitating access to presumptive injury coverage for federal public safety personnel is not simply about fairness, it is about fiscal foresight.

To conclude the breakfast, Dr. Rosemary Ricciardelli, Professor at Memorial University, and Co-Chair of the Clinician Network Advisory Council of the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT) offered her brief remarks. She spoke about the fact that her extensive qualitative and quantitative research has demonstrated that, without a doubt, all federal public safety personnel, not just first responders, are susceptible to an occupational stress injury. 

Dr. Ricciardelli’s research further reveals that repeated exposure to traumatic materials (i.e. photographic and video evidence, transcripts, family and social stories), to victim statements, and to criminalized persons can significantly erode the mental health of federal public safety personnel over time. Further, without access to professionally trained, trauma-informed psychological supports, the mental health of those doing this crucial work is likely to further deteriorate.  

Dr. Ricciardelli noted that when individuals have no choice but to resort to using long-term disability as the only way to recover from a mental health injury, the likelihood of them returning to work is significantly lower than it would be if they were able to access Worker’s Compensation. 

Following the breakfast, MPs approached USJE’s speakers about the opportunity to meet further with USJE about what had been shared. Additionally, several of the members of USJE’s Health and Safety Advisory Committee who attended USJE’s event were able to connect with some other influencial MPs, including Official Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre.