Paramedics urge more assault protection in law

Toronto paramedics are seeking to be classified in the same way as police officers while on the job.

Toronto paramedics are seeking to be classified in the same way as police officers while on the job.

The Toronto Paramedic Association is calling for changes to be made to the Criminal Code to better protect paramedics from assault.

Association president Geoff MacBride said that, ideally, he would like to see the code amended to include paramedics, not just police officers, in the definition of peace officer.

Doing so would afford paramedics access to stricter, peace officer-specific protections under the code, which MacBride said he hopes will act as a deterrent against future assaults or abuse.

“There already exists a charge for assaulting a police officer, and paramedics and other emergency workers are simply looking for parity in that,” he said.

MacBride said their proposal will be simple, for now, as fire services lobbying for similar reforms failed in 2001 and 2011. MacBride said those proposals were not successful because they became too complicated and tried to include too many elements.

“This has never really been tried for paramedics,” MacBride said.

“It’s a standard approach to changing legislation, but the focus is unique.”

Stephen Slessor, a communications officer with the Department of Justice, said that currently police see no special treatment or protection when it comes to offences related to assault, nor are their assault cases treated with any more seriousness or urgency.

“These maximum terms of imprisonment are the same in all cases, whether the victim is a police officer, a paramedic, or any other person,” he said.

The Association’s call for stronger legislation comes in the wake of a Jan. 17 assault that left Toronto paramedic Aron Sperling with a broken leg.

A 2011 study by St. Michael’s Hospital found the abuse of paramedics is a relatively common occurrence.

The study showed more than two-thirds of paramedics experience abuse, often in the form of verbal abuse, intimidation, physical abuse, sexual harassment or assault.

Blair Bingham, an advanced care flight paramedic for York EMS and provincial air ambulance service ORNGE, and lead investigator on the study, said that while legislation can be helpful, it is one of many angles that must be explored.

“It’s a complex problem and no two violent episodes are the same. One episode might best be managed by legislation, others might not,” he said. “You have to take a very broad, interdisciplinary perspective to address the problem. You’re not going to have a one-solution fix.”

Craig MacCalman, a professor in Humber’s paramedic program, said that much of the abuse that paramedics face is spontaneous, making it difficult to adequately address through legislation.

“I don’t think a law will change entirely violence against paramedics. I think it will make some people think about it twice, but I think most violence against paramedics is because of the psychology of the situation.”

The paramedic association is still in talks to name a politician that will champion their proposal.

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