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OPSEU president says PTSD strategy needs legislative teeth


TORONTO – The President of OPSEU is pleased the Ontario government is moving to address Post‑Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among first responders. However, Warren (Smokey) Thomas stressed that legislation is needed to underpin any meaningful PTSD strategy.

“It’s great that the government wants to talk about PTSD,” said Thomas, “but talk won’t compensate past, present or future sufferers of PTSD. As the law stands, the burden of proof is on the injured worker, meaning many first responders have been unjustly denied benefits.

“The law needs to change so the onus is on the employer. The Minister of Labour says he’s ‘leaning towards’ legislation. Well, he’d better lean all the way, because without a change in the law, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board can keep traumatized workers jumping through hoops to prove they got sick on the job. And that just adds insult to injury.”

OPSEU Ambulance Division Chair Jamie Ramage agreed that the government’s proposed measures do not go far enough. “We welcome awareness campaigns and research,” he said, “but the WSIB needs to presume that PTSD is a workplace-acquired illness for first responders. That means putting presumption right into the legislation. It’s the only way a PTSD strategy will be truly effective.”

NDP Labour critic Cheri DiNovo has introduced three bills on the matter since 2010. Bill 67 received all-party support in February 2014. DiNovo introduced Bill 2 on July 7, 2014. If passed, it would follow the examples of Alberta and Manitoba in putting the onus on the WSIB to prove a case of PTSD was not caused at work. Since then, the bill has stalled.

Ramage said that OPSEU paramedics support Bill 2, but they believe workers in all occupations who experience traumatic events on the job should be presumed to have an occupational disease if they develop PTSD or other psychological injuries.

Thomas is urging the government to move forward on Bill 2. “Eighteen months ago, Cheri introduced a great bill to recognize the long-term effects of traumatic events on our heroic first responders. If this government is serious about addressing PTSD, then let’s pass Bill 2. It’s the right thing to do.”

For more information: Jamie Ramage, 905-730-9351