Vancouver: Jenn Dawkins remembers the spring day in 2016 when she joined four other female firefighters at British Columbia’s legislature to lobby for the inclusion of breast cancer as a presumed occupational illness covered by the province’s health and safety agency for workers. Dawkins was diagnosed with breast cancer three years later.
“I went through a mastectomy and four months of chemotherapy during the early stage of the pandemic,’’ she said. Reconstructive surgery followed.
“This is an actual result of simply going to work and doing my job,’’ said Dawkins, who has since returned to fighting fires in Vancouver, where she has been employed for 22 years.
Dawkins now wants other firefighters to be protected with legislation that makes cancer a presumed occupational hazard because of exposure to known carcinogens. Her counterparts in Quebec have the least protection of any jurisdiction in Canada.
Dawkins was covered for workers’ compensation benefits because a year after her trip to the legislature, B.C. added breast cancer, along with prostate cancer and multiple myeloma, to the list of presumptive cancers affecting firefighters. That meant they no longer had to prove their disease was directly linked to a high-risk job.
British Columbia recently amended the Workers Compensation Act to include three more cancers ovarian, cervical and penile on a list that now totals 16 presumptive cancers.
Cancers affecting the reproductive system are being added across much of the country, as more women take on firefighting.Benefits kick in after a certain number of years on the job, between five and 20 years in B.C., for example, depending on the type of cancer.
Each province and territory has its own list of cancers that are presumed to be linked to firefighting because workers’ compensation legislation is not federally enacted.
The International Association of Fire Fighters and the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs are supporting Quebec member of Parliament Sherry Romanado’s recent introduction of a private member’s bill focusing on national standards for occupational cancers linked to firefighting.
It says raising awareness is crucial to helping firefighters identify early signs of cancer for testing and treatment and calls for regular screening for the disease.
Chris Ross, president of the Montreal Firefighters Association, said he’s hoping momentum from the bill that has garnered wide political support will help push the Quebec government to add more presumptive cancers.
By Camille Bains
The Canadian Press