(1) 250.472.8528
andrew.weaver.mla@leg.bc.ca

Mental Health

Bill 9: The Workers Compensation Amendment Act, 2018

Today in the legislature we debated Bill 9: The Workers Compensation Amendment Act, 2018 at second reading. This bill updates the Workers Compensation Act for eligible occupations (correction officer, an emergency medical assistant, a firefighter, a police officer, a sheriff or other as prescribed by regulation) who are exposed to one or more traumatic events over the course of their employment and are subsequently diagnosed with a mental disorder. The disorder will be presumed to have been caused by the nature of their work rather than having to prove that it was work-related. British Columbia is one of the last such jurisdictions in Canada to have such legislation.

In speaking to this bill, I articulate why I’m convinced that it doesn’t go far enough. I provide examples as to why I believe teachers, social workers, nurses, office workers, construction workers and others need to be included in the presumptive language. I will be introducing an amendment at committee stage tomorrow to extend this presumptive clause to all workers. Doing so would bring us up to the standards already in place in Alberta and in Saskatchewan.

I conclude by reading into the record (with permission) a tragic, yet illustrative, story sent to me by a 911 call receiver. I cannot understand, nor accept, the fact that when NDP MLA Shane Simpson (Vancouver Hastings) was in opposition he included 9-1-1 communications officers in his Private Members Bill (both in 2016 and on February 16, 2017,  just prior to last year’s election) yet now, when the BC NDP have the chance to update the legislation, they have not included them. I can only assume it was an inadvertent oversight and I will be asking the Minister about this tomorrow.

Below I reproduce the text and video of my speech.


Text of Speech


A. Weaver: Thank you to the minister for bringing this bill forward, Bill 9, the Workers Compensation Amendment Act, 2018 — a bill which I clearly strong in strong support of, with my colleagues in this House.

As was mentioned by my colleague from Chilliwack, this bill updates the Workers Compensation Act so that those working in eligible occupations — we’ll come to that in a minute — who are exposed to one or more traumatic events over the course of their employment and are subsequently diagnosed with a mental disorder…. We’ll come to that as well in a second. They will be presumed to have been caused by the nature of their work rather than having to prove that it was work-related.

Now, this particular bill is targeting the eligible occupations — namely a correction officer, an emergency medical assistant, a firefighter, a police officer, a sheriff or other as prescribed by regulation. Now, that’s important, that other as “prescribed by regulation,” and we’ll come to that as well.

The term, as I also mentioned in that introduction, “mental disorder” is actually a term that is defined by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Right now that’s in its 5th edition. It’s termed DSM-V. That fifth edition was published in 2013 and is presently in the process of being updated.

I’ll start here, because it’s a very important interjection that I’d like to do right off the bat to highlight one particular difference between the present legislation and that legislation which was brought in by the member for Vancouver-Hastings, the now the minister…. I’m having slight trouble with the title of the ministry. I do apologize. He brought in, in 2016, Bill M203, the Workers Compensation Amendment Act, 2016. It was a private member’s bill.

I sat in the legislature as the member then read it in. We passed first reading, of course. It wasn’t brought for discussion. Why that’s important is…. I’ve mentioned the eligible occupations already. If we refer to this previous bill and we look at the eligible occupations in that case, we see a number of differences. We see here, when we look at first responder it means the following: an individual who is a emergency medical assistant, licensed by the emergency medical assistants licensing board, a full-time firefighter or part-time volunteer firefighter, an individual appointed as a peace officer, police officer, sheriff or corrections officer. All of those are covered.

But most importantly, section 5.2(e) of the private member’s bill brought in by member for Vancouver-Hastings says this: “(e) a 9-1-1 communications officer employed by any of the above organizations or by Emergency Communications for British Columbia Inc.” That’s important, because that one distinction is a difference between the private member’s bill that clearly his party was supporting back in 2016. It does not appear here in Bill 9. It’s specifically excluded.

I suspect that the minister, through the Lieutenant-Governor, orders-in-council, will prescribe this profession, coming into the future. But I will be, as we move forward, proposing a number of amendments to this bill, and one of those will be specifically to deal with 911 dispatchers for reasons and rationale that I’ll describe shortly.

Only Quebec, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Newfoundland and Labrador, British Columbia and the federal government, Canada, do not already have some form of presumptive language or legislation for mental health concerns.

In particular, at the federal level, recognizing some of the concern with respect to our military coming home — the preponderance of PTSD and the unacceptable and sad rise in suicide amongst our military personnel, people who put their lives on the line for all of us — the federal government last year — done, actually, by a British Columbian…. The MP for Cariboo–Prince George, Todd Doherty, introduced a private member’s bill called Bill C-211, an act respecting a federal framework on post-traumatic stress disorder. He was looking to create this federal framework to address PTSD in general.

Right now — it’s actually good news; I’m hoping it follows through — it’s passed through the House of Commons. It was passed through third reading on June 16, 2017. It’s presently sitting before the Senate at second reading and is being debated this year, in fact. If we come to some of the language from the government’s backgrounder in the press release….

I think it’s important to read this into the record, because it highlights some of the background for why I will be bringing forth some amendments for discussion at committee stage. The backgrounder for the Workers Compensation Amendment Act states as following. It states: “Currently the Workers Compensation Act provides any worker with workers’ compensation” — the term “worker” is actually defined under the act, and I encourage people to see how it’s defined — “for a mental disorder” — again, that’s described in terms of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistics Manual — “caused by their work, including PTSD.”

There are two recognized situation for work-related mental disorders. This is critical. “There are two recognized situations of work-related mental disorders: (1) a reaction to one or more traumatic events at work, or (2) one primarily caused by significant work-related stressors, such as bullying and harassment.” In both of these situations, I’ll cite some examples of why I think that we need to be a little more inclusive in this legislation.

It’s quite clear to me that this legislation is targeting professions that you might get a lot of 1 — that is, a reaction to one or more singular or multiple traumatic events — but less so to No. 2, even though it still would apply to No. 2, which is primarily caused by significant work-related stressors, such as bullying and harassment. It would apply to those same professions.

It continues in the backgrounder and says: “In order for the claim to be accepted, medical and/or scientific evidence must be provided to establish that the condition arose out of their employment, in addition to a diagnosis by a psychiatrist or psychologist.”

That’s in the current one. That puts the onus of proof on the sufferer of the mental disorder. That, in and of itself, can be profoundly troubling and creates great mental anguish for the person who’s actually been exposed to the issue causing them a mental disorder.

In some cases, they might choose not to pursue it, because of having to relive the experience. In other cases, they might try to pursue it, to their frustration, and adding to the compounding of their mental disorder because of the fact they feel the system is not listening to them. Indeed, I have examples of that too.

A presumptive clause…. “A presumption under the act,” as here, “provides that, if a worker has been employed in certain occupations” — again, coming back, those are a correction officer, emergency medical assistant, firefighter, police officer, sheriff or others as prescribed by regulation — “and develops a disease or disorder that is recognized as being associated with that occupation, then the condition is presumed to have been due to the nature of their work unless the contrary is proved.”

So it switches the onus of burden. You still have to go through the process of meeting with doctors, qualified psychologists and psychiatrists, and having this condition professionally assessed and determined to be a result of a certain cause or causes or systemic problems in the work environment. Now, though ,with a presumptive condition, there is no longer a need to prove that a claimant’s disease or disorder is work-related.

“The proposed legislative amendments,” it further says, “will establish a new mental disorder presumption when the condition is a reaction to traumatic events at work.”

A secondary thing. I’ll very briefly touch upon another…. It’s a very welcome addition, and frankly, I think it’s an oversight to previous additions to this act. It’s not going to be the dominant discussion within this House, but it’s profoundly important, particularly for some of my friends who actually work on the Esquimalt DND firefighters. The amendments in this act will expand existing cancer presumptions to federal firefighters.

In our area, it’s very specific to DND. The DND firefighter comes in to help out, in Esquimalt, Victoria and elsewhere, when there are large calls, They are very active and, in fact, exposed to the same chemicals, particularly if they’re working side by side with Victoria or Esquimalt or View Royal or Colwood firefighters.

This new legislation is going to bring existing cancer presumptions to these federal firefighters employed on military. Federal firefighters currently who qualify for the heart disease and injury presumptions…. While they do already qualify for that that, they’re not qualified for the cancer presumption. So this is a good addition, because at present, it’s limited to local government firefighters under the provision.

This act, again, is a direct response, in my view, as was the previous private member’s bill, to a Union of B.C. Municipalities call for an amendment to the Workers Compensation Act to include a presumptive clause for first responders.

In 2015, the UBCM, the Union of B.C. Municipalities, which represents the local governments across British Columbia, specifically passed a resolution. I thank the good municipality of Central Saanich, embedded within the provincial riding of Saanich North and the Islands, where my friend who’s not here right now is from — my friend to my right here.

This is the motion that they put that was passed at UBCM. It says this. “Whereas first responders will include 911 operators….” Again, the motion specifically refers to 911 operators. They’re talking there about call receivers as well as call dispatchers. It says here, “Paramedics, firefighters, peace officers, police officers, sheriffs, correction officers and many first responders have been affected by mental health injury/disorder” — thus replacing “PTSD” with “mental health injury.” It says: “Whereas there is a need to change the Workers Compensation Act, under section 5.1, to add a presumptive clause as it is possible that within first responders’ duties, they will encounter horrific acts and develop a mental health injury.

“Therefore, be it resolved that a two-month maximum deadline be implemented when making a decision, at any decision point of the claim regarding a mental health injury claim, based on one psychologist’s and/or one psychiatrist’s report, and be it further resolved that upon receipt of a mental health injury claim, the worker should receive immediate financial benefits and treatment, with the understanding and agreement of the worker, their specialist and WorkSafe B.C., that if it is proven that the injury was not as a result of their duties of employment, there will be a repayment plan for the costs.

“Be it further resolved that when the worker is fit to return to work or retraining,” there will be a follow-up plan, to be agreed upon by WorkSafe B.C., the specialist and the worker.

“And be it resolved that under policy 97.34…” — Those of you who’ve been to UBCMs will realize that there are many, many policies. I challenge people to find this. They will, but there are a lot of them to go through. — “…a conflict of medical opinion, the probable difference of opinion shall be discussed with the physicians or referred to the treating physicians or specialists involved. If it is concluded that there is doubt on any issue, the board must follow the mandate of section 99 of the Workers Compensation Act and resolve that issue in a manner that favours the worker.

“And be it resolved that the province of British Columbia adds new legislative action to section 5.1 of the Workers Compensation Act, adding a presumptive clause for mental health injuries as set forth in the resolution to ensure the well-being of all first responders who have sustained a mental health injury.” Coming back again to that specific motion passed at UBCM in 2015, the first one that was included, for 911 operators.

Continuing back to the motion, it says: “A motion duly moved and seconded to amend the resolution by replacing the five enactment clauses with one enactment clause, reading: ‘Therefore, be it resolved that the provincial government work with WorkSafe B.C., first responders and other stakeholders to review and amend the Workers Compensation Act with the goal of supporting the well-being of first responders who have sustained a mental health injury….'”

That’s just getting complicated. It says it was not endorsed there. But that was a bunch of sub-motions within it. Nevertheless, we have that coming out of UBCM. It’s good to see that the government has responded to that.

But what’s more important as well here, of course, is that we have to ask the question: why is it that B.C. took so long to actually deal with this issue? We are really, other than Quebec, one of the large, major provinces to move forward with it.

We have two shining examples in Canada, those being the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan — we’ll come back to that in a second — who actually recognized, coming earlier to the government’s backgrounder, that there are two situations of work-related mental disorders: a reaction to one or more traumatic events at work and one primarily caused by significant work-related stressors such as bullying and harassment.

Recognizing that, the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan now cover all psychological injuries defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, and they do so for all professions. Why is that important? Most other provinces — Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Yukon, Prince Edward Island, for example — largely cover PTSD, although in Ontario, there’s some new legislation coming forward adding nurses as well. But why is it that we have more progressive provinces actually going further?

Let’s go directly to the Workers Compensation Board fact sheets from both Alberta and Saskatchewan. Alberta has two such fact sheets that are relevant here — the traumatic psychological injury fact sheet and the post-traumatic stress disorder fact sheet. That’s the PTSD fact sheet. Let’s focus on what it says is the difference.

Effective December 2012, Alberta actually covered firefighters with PTSD presumptive clauses as well as emergency medical technicians and police officers appointed under provincial regulation. Also, effective April 1, they’ve added correctional officers and emergency dispatchers too.

If we look at the traumatic, psychological injury within Alberta, we see that that extends…. Effective 2018, it says “All workers covered under the Workers’ Compensation Act who have been: a) exposed to a traumatic event during the course of employment that could lead to PTSD, and b) diagnosed with a psychological injury by a physician or psychologist are eligible for presumptive coverage through WCB-Alberta, unless the contrary is proven.”

This in Alberta applies to every worker in Alberta — whether you be a teacher, a nurse, an emergency dispatcher, or whether you happen to be a social worker. Let’s imagine some cases. We see this legislation here as a direct response to very effective lobbying by police, by firefighters, and we thank them for their lobbying. But as legislators, we must not stop there and say that those who have lobbied are the only ones who have the issue.

I would argue that they are very efficient and effective lobbyers, and they are lobbying not only on behalf of their profession but for the broader society as a whole. I have a cousin who is a firefighter. I understand what it’s like to…. I don’t understand to be there, but I want to understand what it’s like to witness someone come home after they’ve scraped someone off the road following a significant car injury.

Over the years I have done some expert witnessing myself in forensic meteorology, and I’ve seen horrific pictures. But I’ve only seen them as pictures. I cannot imagine what people — firefighters, paramedics or first responders — would actually see when they go there, and having to scrape this off. Or in Oak Bay, those police who had to show up at the home of the two young children who were murdered by their father — can you imagine what they went through? I understand this.

But let’s also think about that social worker, that social worker who has to go into a home, and goes into a home and sees systemic child abuse happening in a home. Suppose that social worker who’s seeing systemic child abuse tries to get their superior to take steps to deal with it, and they’re not. That can be a problem. That can lead to profound problems down the road.

What about teachers? What about a teacher who is standing up and teaching the class for years, and then all of a sudden, they have a child in the class that’s clearly coming from a troubled home. The teacher has a duty to report a corresponding report, and teachers are professionals. They will and do all the time. But there are times, and I’m dealing with some in my own constituency, when nobody listens. The administration is not supportive. The system starts to protect itself. Yet the teacher is the one who has to deal with this on the front line. This can lead to down-the-road and ongoing systemic issues with respect to depression and anxiety.

Again, I come to a case that’s going on in my constituency right now, a very serious case that falls right in that definition. Where is WCB for them? Where is WCB for the person who now has to prove that their illness comes from the work environment?

When the system is trying to protect itself, that can be very hard, because your superiors are not going to be writers of letters saying “yes, we understand this person.” This is why it’s critical to include the….

What about nurses, who are front-line responders in many cases? Why are they not included in this? They would be in Alberta — I’ll come to Saskatchewan in a second. They would be in Alberta.

What about heavy truck drivers working on-site, where a major accident, a construction accident, occurs? It can have devastating effects on the workers on that construction site. It could have devastating psychological effects, which can be, through proper medical intervention, assessed and attributed to that accident. But they’re not covered under workmen’s compensation. Yet in Alberta, they would be.

What about somebody working in an office in downtown Kelowna, in an abusive work environment? But that person happens to be a single mother or a single father, and they’re earning just enough to make ends meet, because at home, they have an autistic child, and they have no family in town. They’ve got this one job, and they can’t quit this job, because if they quit this job, they’ll be on welfare.

Yet they’re in a systemically abusive environment that leads to depression and anxiety disorders or other such mental illness. They go to their psychiatrist, they go to their psychologist, and it’s very clear that it comes from the recommendations there. But again, they have to prove this. And as somebody going forward to workmen’s compensation has to prove it, they have to relive everything. They have to relive all of those experiences as they try to prove that their illness is a direct consequence of their work.

Progressive jurisdictions like Alberta — and let’s go to Saskatchewan — recognize this. They recognize that it doesn’t stop the due medical process from still occurring. It doesn’t stop workmen’s compensation from challenging an assessment, but it does provide a presumptive clause that would ensure that workers actually don’t have to relive every incident in order to prove it before workmen’s compensation.

Let’s go to Saskatchewan, another progressive jurisdiction. Now, Saskatchewan has a two-page fact sheet. If you go to page 2 on this fact sheet entitled Psychological Injuries, it says this: “Does the psychological injury presumptive clause guarantee that my WCB claim will be accepted?” It says this: “The WCB” — that’s Workmen’s Compensation Board — “will gather information to determine if you’ve been exposed to a traumatic event or series of traumatic events that occurred during work and if it is acceptable under the presumption.”

So they’re still able to gather evidence. They’re still able to make an assessment and a potential challenge if they don’t believe this was a result, but the presumptive language is there. The presumptive language is in the legislation that would protect the worker from actually having to relive that experience.

This doesn’t cost a lot at all.  I suspect that government will step forward and suggest that in the case of some of them…. WorkSafe B.C. undertook these projections, and they suggested that the total cost for the presumption of the group of workers considered here would be $6.3 million a year across all of B.C.

It’s not clear if that’s going to have any effect on actual premiums, because WorkSafe B.C. doesn’t actually spend all the money they’re bringing in at this stage. So that could just be zero cost. And of course, any increases in WCB would actually go down to the local government and the municipal level, and the impacts depend on the size or the payroll.

For example, Terrace. Terrace is a small municipality, and it’s estimated that the presumptive clause, for all included classes, would have cost about $4,000 a year. That’s $4,000 for the entire city of Terrace. I think it’s worth it. Kelowna is a medium-sized city. In Kelowna, it’s $32,000 a year to cover all of these in presumptive clauses — $32,000 a year alone. It’s not a lot. In Surrey, it would be $86,000 a year — a large metropolis city there. So we’re not talking about a lot of money in these.

However, it’s critical to also think about not only the upfront costs but also the costs avoided — again, not only with the specific case of the people who are eligible workers but also with broader society. If you can avoid long-term costs of health care, long-term costs associated with frustration compounding mental disorders because of a lack of ability, feeling out of control from an inability to actually advocate for yourself when no one’s listening to the job environment, you could save money in the long term.

Not only that, but with a presumptive clause it gives WCB a little bit of power — a little bit of power that’s absolutely critical, particularly in larger institutions. Why that is critical is that if we come back earlier, to the two classes that are covered now in the present Workers Compensation Act, the two classes of coverage…. The two classes — I want to get them exactly right for Hansard so that I’m not misquoting. Here we go. The two classes — two, three…. I seem to be filibustering my own time here. I don’t mean to do that. Here it is.

The first one is, of course, a reaction to one or more traumatic events at work. That’s the first class. The second is one primarily caused by significant work-related stressors, such as bullying or harassment.

I’m the designated speaker, Hon. Speaker.

Coming back to No. 2, No. 2 is critical — one primarily caused by significant work-related stressors, such as bullying or harassment. Now, why is that important? We all know about people who work in larger institutions. Whether they be government, hospitals or hospital boards, universities, school districts or colleges, or whether they be large places of work — we all know, and have many a story to tell, about workplace bullying and harassment that goes on. In these institutions, very often, people feel that nobody is listening. The reason why they feel that nobody is listening is because you have to prove that a mental health issue would be a direct consequence of your work.

With the presumptive clause, the onus then comes on the employer: rather than to cover something up, to actually deal with the systemic problem. Otherwise, their Workers Compensation Board fees are going to go up. There’s an incentive to actually deal with workplace bullying, if you actually include a presumptive clause for all types of workers covered under the act.

I find it odd that I am the leader of the B.C. Green Party and that I’m arguing better labour policy to the NDP. This is a very odd situation. I can only hope that they see the light and recognize what Alberta and Saskatchewan did — that this is about incentivizing safe work environments. Two years ago now I stood in this House and introduced a bill that would require university campuses to add sexualized violence policies, to insist that they have them. The culture on campuses, from small to big, was one of: “It’s not our problem.” It’s one of not dealing with the problem.

These universities and colleges and smaller institutions want to be perceived as safe places for students. So if there’s an issue of sexualized violence, it’s kept under the table. It’s quiet, and policies aren’t really implemented. The Premier at the time stood up and agreed that this was an important issue, and we saw that legislation pass. It’s led to good policy being put in at many, but not all, institutions. All institutions have it, but not all have that as good policy, as we’ll hear about in the weeks and months coming, ahead.

Nevertheless, it required institutions to recognize that a problem exists. The ultimate penalty that they would have would be the stick of advanced education funding, which could ensure that they actually dealt with it.

In the case of workmen’s compensation, they too have a stick. If you are in an unhealthy work environment, one that’s conducive to bullying and harassment…. We all know examples of this going on. If your management does not step in to deal with it and workers start to go on leave and, following the presumptive clause, that reason for leave is actually pinned on the work environment — without having to relive it and prove it — then there’s an incentive to actually stop, to intervene, because your premiums will go up. You can bet that when it starts to affect your bottom line, it will make a difference.

I will not accept arguments from government that somehow this is going to cost, oh, so much to everyone. In fact, it should not cost anything. If institutions step up to deal with the problem, they should actually not cause it to rise. It’s there to protect workers. It’s there to save the health care system. And it’s there to ensure that institutions step in to deal with systemic bullying and harassment that too often is ignored in larger institutions across our province.

In Alberta and Saskatchewan…. Again, one government, an NDP government, and another government — well, Saskatchewan Party — is, let’s call it, the Conservative government. Across the spectrum. This isn’t a partisan issue. It’s a recognition of good public policy that employers need to be responsible and not everybody has the ability to quit a job and go somewhere else.

I want to come back…. I’ve talked about nurses. I’ve talked about teachers. I’ve talked about construction workers. I’ve talked about 911 dispatchers. And I’ve talked about office workers, but there are many other professions. I want to focus right now, a little bit, on 911 operators. I’m going to focus that on a story, because I think a story says it all.

I cannot accept that government has any rationale not to have 911 operators named in this act. I cannot accept that. We know, according to the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, that public-safety personnel — including paramedics, police, firefighters, dispatchers and correction officers — are four times more likely than the general population to screen positive for clinically significant symptoms consistent with one or more of the mental disorders that we’ve been talking about.

If we need the research on that for 911 dispatchers, I have some right here. It’s not a prop. It’s just white paper. I have in my hands a document that I won’t read in its entirety into the record, but it’s a thesis that was from the University of the Fraser Valley. A fine institution from down in the valley.

Interjection.

A. Weaver: Thank you to the member for Chilliwack-Kent. He recognizes it is a very fine institution.

It’s a master of arts in criminal justice. Actually, hon. Speaker, I suspect our Speaker might be aware of this particular article, because it was from his former department, there, at the University of the Fraser Valley.

Its title is “Prevalence of PTSD Symptoms in Canadian 911 Operators.” We have an entire study here — and it’s B.C. focused — that points out the obvious issues with respect to mental illness, particularly PTSD and others, that are associated with emergency dispatchers and call receivers.

Let me finish with a story that I’d like to read into the record. This is a story that I’ll read, and I’ve been given permission by the person who got it to read it. She or he has given me that permission. What I’ve done here is — I don’t want to give out any names — I’ve removed identifying markers in this. It’s a story that I can vouch to be true, from a very real person in a very real part of British Columbia that had very profound consequences. This person, now, has told me about how she or he has consulted at least six dispatchers from not committing suicide.

The stories I heard — not only from nurses, not only from teachers, but from emergency dispatchers. One of these stories was a caller, a caller who received a 911 call from a passenger who was in a car in motor vehicle accident, reporting that. That passenger sees a head rolling by, a dismembered head. Can you imagine that? The caller is on the phone, dealing with this passenger, as this passenger is in hysterics. That had a profound effect, because that person is the first responder.

I hope government listens to this story and reflects upon it, prior to us debating this in committee stage. The story goes like this:

“Mr. X was his name. He lived on the second floor of a four-storey apartment building, about a block or so away from ‘YYY.’ I don’t remember the street name anymore, although I do remember that it has exterior stairs that go up to each floor, because ERT used them” — that’s emergency response team — “and I remember hearing them stomp up them, clanging on the metal stairs outside his open window.

“I received a 911 call, where all I heard was a muffled sound of pain and then a hangup. When I called back, a male with a thick accent answered, and he didn’t want to talk to me, but clearly he was crying and/or in pain. I worked hard to establish a conversation with him to find out what was going on.

“Eventually, he trusted me and told me that he had already committed hara-kiri by stabbing himself in the stomach with a large knife and was currently sitting on his bed, with his entrails hanging out. He tried to kill himself and now was really scared and didn’t want to die alone — not that he didn’t want to die. He just didn’t want to die alone.”

“I created the priority-one call and advised the chief dispatcher, who then continued to listen, for a bit, off and on through the call.

“His apartment door was locked, and so this became a barricaded man with a weapon call, and ERT was called out. He refused to talk to the officer at the window, but when talking to me, he would go back and forth between wanting to live and wanting to die. I convinced him that I cared and that if he wanted to live, then he needed to come outside so the officers and the waiting ambulance could get him to hospital for help.

“He believed me and was going to come out. Then he heard the ERT officer ask for a member at the parking lot to bring him the spud gun. This set Mr. X off on a tangent of terror. He didn’t want to be shot. He wanted to live, but he refused to talk to the ERT member at the window.

“At this time, he was still bleeding, and the knife was still in his stomach. He kept telling me he was going to just pull out the knife and let himself bleed to death if the cop at the window wouldn’t leave.

“On my end, I had my team manager telling me to hang up — the chief dispatcher telling me to hang up. Common sense told me to hang up, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t be the person who caused this man’s death.

“I told Mr. X that he needed to talk to the cop at the window, that they were there to help him. He went really quiet and then wouldn’t answer me when I asked him if he was still there. So I clicked on my mute button so he would believe that I had hung up — and then just listened.

“All this time, I was typing as well, letting the officers know what was happening and the dispatcher was doing the same with their stuff. I saw, in the call, the request for the spud gun and that there wasn’t one on scene, but it was on the way. They were waiting and still trying to establish contact with Mr. X, trying to strike up a rapport with him. He kept crying and denying them, accusing them of trying to kill him and asking them to let him talk to me.”

Remember, at this juncture, she’s on the phone with the mute button, unable to speak.

“He blamed them for making me hang up and told them that he was going to die because of it. Car number, number” — I won’t say what number it was — “was there as well, and he asked the chief dispatcher where the call-taker was. He was advised that I was still on the line but was being silent on mute. They were also still waiting for a negotiator to arrive. He was at least another 30 minutes away at this point.”

Hon. Speaker, you’ve got the picture now. A man — knife in his stomach, entrails hanging out. Because he has a knife, we have an ERT team. We now have to wait 30 minutes for the ERT team to come because he’s an armed person in there.

And who’s on the phone? This one emergency dispatcher.

I continue with the story:

“I knew that Mr. X wasn’t going to live that long. If he was bleeding badly from his belly, then we didn’t have much time. I don’t know who it was, but I heard through my headset an officer yell at the dispatcher to tell me to hang the f… up.”

I’ll let Hansard fill that in if they choose to. I don’t think it’s parliamentary to do so, but I’m reading directly here from this thing:

“I do know, though, that it wasn’t car X because it wasn’t his voice. I know his voice. I felt the horror, the terror of impending death, the helplessness of having my hands tied, incapable of doing anything for this man, and I could not hang up. I was frozen. I was convinced that if I hung up, he was going to die. I also believed at that point that if I said anything more, I would be in big trouble. So I sat there for about ten minutes, listening, vibrating physically, and tears running down my face. I saw in the call that the spud gun had arrived, and I could hear the dispatcher’s comments that an ERT member was trying to get a clear shot from the window. They were going to shoot him.

“Now, common sense tells me that this won’t kill the average man” — it’s a spud gun, hon. Speaker — “but this man already had his guts hanging out of his belly, had already lost a lot of blood and was already traumatized by all this.” I’m quoting again: “F…!”

No need to fill it in. It’s in the text here. This is a direct quote that was given to a psychiatrist in terms of what happened.

“I looked over at the dispatcher, who was looking at me. She very slowly nodded her head at me in my tears. She knew that I could change this around if I was allowed to try. I think she was telling me to go ahead and do it anyways. At this point, I had created the call almost 40 minutes ago.”

That’s 40 minutes this woman, this call receiver, sat through this traumatic event. And there wasn’t much time left to get any help at all.

“I made the decision and typed into the call that I had established a trust with the man and that I was going to re-establish contact with him now. At this point, Mr. X was yelling at the cops to all go away and leave him alone to die, that he was going to die and it was their fault. I started saying his name over and over until he stopped yelling and he heard me. I started talking with him again, got him to listen to what I was saying and trust me again. I talked him into coming outside with his hands up and letting the officers get him the help he needed, and he did. I typed this into the call, and the chief dispatcher came back on the line. She coordinated it with the ERT while I talked to Mr. X. He was scared, but he did it. He unlocked the door. Then we counted to three, and he opened it and stepped outside.

“I heard the officers take him down and him screaming all the way through it. They got him into the ambulance and off to hospital. I then hung up and just about collapsed. I had to leave the room. But on my way out, I heard the chief dispatcher talking on the phone with someone that I could assume was car X. She was defending me, telling that person, ‘Well, she did, so it doesn’t matter….  Well, she did….’ as I walked past her out of the room.

“When I came back into the room about 20 minutes later, car X was there talking to my team manager. He was visibly angry and told me in a very stern voice: ‘I don’t ever want to hear of you doing that again. ‘ But then he stuck his hand out to shake mine and said: ‘Good job. You should take negotiator training.’ What? I was left with the feeling of not knowing whether I was in trouble or being congratulated, whether I was coming or going.

“I never found out whether or not Mr. X lived. I tried to find out a few months later. The officers didn’t know, and victim services was unable to confirm he survived — equals, he did not.

“I feel the guilt and responsibility for this young man’s death. It is a moral injury that I will likely never recover from. The kicker here: my employer and X inspectors wrote me an ‘attaboy’ for a job well done. They congratulated me for successfully causing a human being’s death. I didn’t sign up for that. I’m not a police officer. I was never prepared for this possibility.”

Now, that is just one of many, many such stories that I have received over the last few weeks. I’ve got stories like this from nurses, and I’ve got stories like this from teachers, and I’ve got stories like this from a diverse array of professions.

But one thing I cannot accept is that when in opposition, this government delivered a private member’s bill that included specifically 911 dispatchers and callers and now, when in government, they leave out 911 dispatchers and call receivers.

They are first responders. In many cases, they are the first responder and the last person to hear someone alive, the last person to be the first responder while someone’s alive. They listen to cases like this. There are many, many other examples.

I understand that some emergency dispatchers are paramedics and so would be covered and that some are police officers and so would be covered, but not all. Many are just civilians and need to be covered under this legislation.

So over the course of the estimates, I have a series of amendments to bring forward — one of which I hope is passed, which I’m putting in; it’s on the order paper — to extend this legislation across other jurisdictions, all other workers, as defined in the act, just like they’ve done in Alberta, just like they’ve done in Saskatchewan, to actually protect workers from abusive work environments as well as to provide presumptive clauses not only for systemic harassment and bullying but also for traumatic events.

That’s the first, and I hope government sees the wisdom in that. As people look at the order paper amendment that I’ll bring in at committee stage, you’ll note that I recognize that government may have done some back work. So royal assent with the amendment would remain the same now, as proposed here, but would be extended a year so that we would give government a time to have royal assent for all other workers not already defined in the amendment here.

That’s the first one. I have some subsequent ones, hoping it will not be necessary to raise, under the assumption that government recognizes that we can do better. We can do better, and at least, we’ve got to do as well as Alberta and Saskatchewan. We’re a western province.

We value our workplace. For the first time in a very long time, we have a progressive, democratic government here, a government that actually brought in private members’ bills to do this and, in my view, are timidly responding in a populist fashion only to those who have directly lobbied without thinking about the broader consequences and the broader opportunity that is sitting before us now.

I thank you for your attention, and I look forward to debating it further at committee stage.


Video of Speech


Comments on the Representative for Children and Youth Report

Weaver Comments on the Representative for Children and Youth Report
For immediate release
February 6th, 2017

VICTORIA B.C. – Today’s report by the Representative for Children and Youth, “Broken Promises: Alex’s Story”, tells the story of Alex, a youth under the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development who took his own life at age 18.

“The report speaks clearly of the gravity of the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s failure to provide basic supports, in keeping with their duty under the law,” says Andrew Weaver, MLA for Oak Bay – Gordon Head. “The Ministry denied Alex the chance to be taken care of by his extended family, and failed to provide him with desperately needed mental health services or the chance to find a meaningful connection to his culture.”

“It makes me sick to read that the government often referenced his ‘challenging behaviour’ as they cycled him through 17 placements, as if they were not complicit and aggravating all the challenges he faced.”

“That an abused and neglected 18-year old spent the last 49 days of his life in a hotel room, mostly alone, while the government waited for him to age out of care at age 19, is a horrific testament to the ways in which the Ministry is failing in its duty to protect and care for our most vulnerable children in BC”.

“The government’s subsequent news release claiming they intend to follow the report’s recommendations strikes me as horribly self congratulatory, considering many of the recommendations centre around the ministry neglecting to follow their own legislation to begin with. This isn’t something they should be telling us they plan to do, it has been their legal and moral responsibility to do so from the beginning.”

– 30 –

Media contact
Mat Wright, Press Secretary
+1 250-216-3382 | mat.wright@leg.bc.ca

Time for funding on home and mental health care

Time for funding on home and mental health care
For immediate release
January 30, 2017

VICTORIA B.C. – Home care and mental health are at a crisis point in B.C. and the provincial government continues to play politics with the wellbeing of British Columbians.

“The federal government has put new money on the table for mental health services and home health care,” said Andrew Weaver, MLA for Oak Bay – Gordon Head. “Rather than sitting down and negotiating a deal like Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the three territories have, British Columbia is watching the health care money be given away.”

Since Health Accord negotiations between the provinces and federal government broke down in December, four other provinces and three territories have since returned to the table and have reached bilateral funding agreements. Last week, Saskatchewan became the fourth province to reach a bilateral deal with the federal government on health care transfers. British Columbia has not resumed negotiations.

“Island Health is struggling with a budget deficit of between $10-million and $12-million dollars and our hospitals, designed to deal with acute care, are being used inefficiently for chronic care for which the federal home care money is targeted,” said Weaver, Leader of the B.C. Green Party.

“We are struggling to respond reactively to the fentanyl crisis, an approach that has come with a staggeringly horrific human cost. We need to be proactively supporting mental health and recovery services for which, once again, Federal money is already being offered.”

– 30 –

Media contact
Mat Wright, Press Secretary
+1 250-216-3382 | mat.wright@leg.bc.ca

Touring Vancouver’s downtown east side to learn more about the ongoing opioid overdose crisis

Today I visited Vancouver’s downtown east side to learn more about the overdose crisis plaguing British Columbia.

Earlier in the day, shocking statistics were released by the B.C. Coroners’ Service. Over the period January 1 to November 30 2016, there have been 755 overdose deaths in British Columbia with 128 of those fatalities occurring in November. Year-to-date statistics reveal a 70% increase from last year.

Those following my blog will know that we have written previously on this subject. On December 2 we outlined some of the steps that individuals could take if they encounter someone experiencing an opioid overdose. On December 15, we provided a more comprehensive analysis of the problem, and pointed out the need for a comprehensive, proactive approach to dealing with it.

During our tour today, Jonina Campbell, the BC Green candidate for New Westminster in the upcoming provincial election, and I were profoundly moved by what we experienced and the stories we heard. As Jonina noted in the statement we released after our tour (reproduced below), we witnessed “a grassroots effort of downtown eastside community members who have come together, because it is their friends and family who are suffering and dying.”

Thank you to Sarah Blyth, who is working with the Overdose Prevention Society, for taking the time to tour us around the downtown east side and educating us on the overdose crisis.

Later in the day I appeared on CBC’s On the Coast (starting at the 52:48 mark) in an attempt to convey what we learned from our visit.


Media Statement


Media Statement, Dec. 19, 2016
Statements from Andrew Weaver and Jonina Campbell following tour of pop-up safe injection site in downtown east side
For immediate release

VANCOUVER B.C. – B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver and New Westminster candidate Jonina Campbell released the following statements after touring a pop-up safe injection site near East Hastings and Columbia streets in Vancouver:

“I have been deeply moved by the dedication and commitment of those working at Vancouver’s pop-up safe injection sites – volunteers who are working with few resources to save lives that would otherwise likely be lost,” Weaver said. “Sarah Blyth, Anne Livingston and others who have acted so selflessly are to be commended for taking action in an incredibly desperate situation.

“Today, the B.C. Coroners Service reported that a staggering 755 people died from illicit drug use from January 1 to November 30 this year. The opioid crisis is out of control. Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott needs to immediately declare a national health emergency, which would give chief medical officers the power to deal with this crisis as a health issue. It is also critical that the federal government immediately repeal aspects of the Harper-era Bill C-2 that make it extremely difficult for cities to open safe-injection facilities like Vancouver’s InSite. Community members have been forced to pull together scarce resources to provide life-saving services on their own. It is unconscionable that our communities are barred from responding with the most effective, life-saving measures. The consequences are simple – the more we dither, the more people die.”

“The approach of the past, to treat drug use as a criminal issue, does not work. Drug use is a public health issue. Lack of treatment facilities has been a major contributing factor, while the systematic underfunding of mental health services has had broad reaching consequences. The scale of this tragedy forces us to ask some very difficult questions, including the question of decriminalizing illicit drugs. The Portugal model, where use or possession of illicit drugs was changed from a criminal to administrative offence, has proven to dramatically reduce STIs and drug-related deaths. These deaths can happen to anyone. As a society, we must respond accordingly.”

“I would like to call on all provincial leaders to come together on this issue,” Campbell added. “Andrew is the only party leader to tour a pop-up safe-injection site. While Premier Clark and John Horgan have stated that they will not visit one, I urge them to reconsider. We must put humanity above all else. The fentanyl crisis is a community health issue and therefore, local politicians must learn firsthand about what is occurring and what can be done to stop these tragic deaths.”

“We must not forget our responsibility to support first responders, frontline workers and volunteers, who are trying to cope with insufficient resources and the trauma of being on the ground. This is a grassroots effort of downtown eastside community members who have come together, because it is their friends and family who are suffering and dying. What I witnessed today was a tragedy of epic proportions. Few British Columbians understand the scale of what is happening. We must support those who put themselves in the middle of it, hoping to save one life at a time.”

– 30 –

Media contact
Mat Wright, Press Secretary, Office of Andrew Weaver, MLA
+1 250-216-3382 | mat.wright@leg.bc.ca

MLA Report: Fentanyl crisis shows need for comprehensive, proactive approach

As I sat down to write this article, with a dozen tabs open to fentanyl-related stories and studies, a new headline made its way to the front page and it hit me like a tonne of bricks. “Overdose deaths involving fentanyl fill Vancouver morgues to capacity.” One life lost is heartbreaking; the scale of this emergency can hardly be articulated in a way that respects and represents the grief felt around B.C.

The situation in Vancouver is particularly dire, but fentanyl-related overdoses are happening all over the province and our riding is no exception. The reach and magnitude of this crisis has been tragic. The fact that it has only continued to escalate since the B.C. Ministry of Health declared it a public health emergency on April 14 is horrific in its own right.

Also in the news at the time of writing is an article in the Vancouver Sun that reads “the B.C. government is almost doubling its advertising spending [to $15 million] five months before the provincial election, but the minister responsible says it’s to raise awareness of the fentanyl overdose crisis…”

People are dying. We need to help them, not make ads about them.

In 2009 when H1N1 hit B.C., the province put $80 million towards fighting the flu that killed 57 people. Illicit drug overdoses have killed 622 people in the first 10 months of this year, surpassing car crash fatalities to become the leading non-natural cause of death in B.C.

By their own, arguably generous, estimate the provincial government has spent $15 million to prevent and respond to overdoses. Yet even their plan to create 500 new addiction treatment spaces by 2017, a promise made by the premier in the 2013 election, remains unmet. So far only 220 new spaces have become available. And during the same period, the number of substance-abuse treatment beds for young people has dropped 25 per cent to just 89.

The government’s resources thus far have largely been focused on collecting data and distributing naloxone kits, a medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. They are important initiatives, to be sure, but they are reactionary. They kick in when someone is already in the throes of an overdose. If we want to get ahead of this crisis, we need to step in with a comprehensive plan to support people before they are that close to dying.

Reports released by researchers with the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research of B.C. (CARBC) provide evidence of the inadequacy of government responses to this emergency, but they also detail a path forward.

For Victoria specifically, they write that by delaying the implementation of supervised consumption services – despite the indications of a growing overdose epidemic and widespread reports of washrooms in social service agencies being used as unofficial and unsupervised injection sites – the province is ignoring the evidence.

As Dr. Bruce Wallace and Dr. Bernie Pauly, researchers at CARBC and faculty members at UVic, wrote in the Globe and Mail, “What is needed is a more comprehensive approach.

“This should include supervised consumption as well as increased access to treatment and opiate-substitution therapy. There is a wealth of evidence that supports the effectiveness of supervised consumption services in preventing overdoses, preventing the transmission of blood-borne disease and increasing access to referrals to treatment and opiate substation therapy.”

Last week Island Health finished the public consultation phase of their application to open a supervised consumption site in Victoria. I hope you will join me in imploring the provincial government to do everything in its jurisdictional power to support this process along, as well as follow CARBC’s recommendations to increase the number addiction-treatment facilities.