Ms. Julie Dabrusin (Toronto—Danforth, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I would like to wish everyone in this place a happy new year. It is great to be back. I am happy to be here today to participate in the debate on the motion before us, introduced by the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska. It is important to begin our new year thinking about issues of health and how we can look out for one another.
The motion calls on us to do two things: equip all RCMP vehicles with automated external defibrillators, or as we call them, AEDs; and ask the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security to conduct a study to determine the availability of AEDs in first responder vehicles across Canada and make recommendations to the House in that regard, while respecting the jurisdiction of other levels or orders of government.
Obviously, the intent of the motion is good. It seeks to make positive change to improve public health, and I intend to support it.
AEDs are a valuable public health tool. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada estimates that 40,000 Canadians suffer from cardiac arrest each year, one person every 13 minutes. According to the City of Toronto's website, more than 2,500 people in the city suffer cardiac arrest in that city each year. In each of these instances, early access to a defibrillator can save a life.
Early exposure to cardiopulmonary resuscitation, which includes the use of AEDs, is critical for survival. Employing these actions one to three minutes after cardiac arrest can increase the chance of survival significantly. That is why their widespread public availability is so strongly advocated, and it is why it is important that front-line responders be authorized and trained to use them to help people in cardiac arrest.
There is no question that accessibility to and use of AEDs is an important public health issue. I am pleased that the motion calls for a study of this matter. I think that the study should come first so that we can ensure that we understand how to best deploy these devices, and in collaboration with provincial, territorial, and municipal partners, make sure that they are available in the best places so that we can save people's lives.
I would like to know, if we are going to buy a whole bunch of these defibrillators, whether police vehicles are the best place to put them, or would we save more lives by putting them in public places, such as malls, office buildings, and community centres?
In the community of Toronto--Danforth, which I represent, we have defibrillators in a wide range of places. We have them in all of our subway stations and at many of our parks, such as Dieppe Park, Monarch Park, Greenwood Park, Riverdale Park, and Withrow Park. We have them in community centres, such as S.H. Armstrong, Frankland, Matty Eckler, and Jimmie Simpson. We also have them in several schools.
An article published in the Toronto Star about a year ago referred to research done by two U of T researchers, Timothy Chan and Christopher Sun, that identified a top-ten list of prime locations for AEDs. It was interesting, because they are not the kinds of places one might normally think of top of mind. Their list included coffee shops, ATMs, and Green P parking lots in the city of Toronto. The research considered each of these locations, mainly because of the location of cardiac arrests but also because they needed to be somewhere people could locate them and access them quickly. Where would people know where to look quickly if they were trying to find one in an emergency? Just this morning I was searching on the website trying to locate where the AEDs are in my community, and they were not that easy to find if I were in an emergency situation.
While in my community of Toronto-Danforth we seem to have defibrillators in many public locations, I am asking people around the community if they know where they are and if they know how to use them. That is another piece we need to look at. We need to know not only that they are there but how to use them.
The motion refers to training. It is important to not only have defibrillators accessible but to ensure that people know how to find them quickly and use them so that they can save lives.
We should be open to the possibility that what the study called for in part b of the motion may change the way we approach part a. It is important to consider the study and to make sure we are making the right decisions as we go forward in making sure we buy defibrillators and put them in the right places.
Let me touch briefly on the existing use and availability of defibrillators within the RCMP, as that is something that is referred to specifically in the motion. The use of AEDs is approved in several operational policing areas, including by the emergency medical response team, in the divisional fitness and lifestyle programs, and where provincial policing standards require that one be available.
With respect to their availability in RCMP vehicles, that varies by division. A few regions have equipped some of their police vehicles with AEDs, but the number generally remains in the single digits. It is a very low number. At the same time, it is important to note that all RCMP members are trained in the use of AEDs found in public areas as part of their standard first aid training, and that is something they must retake every three years.
As the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska referenced in his motion, a study on the availability of AEDs in first responder vehicles across Canada would need to be mindful of the jurisdiction of other governments. As the police service provider for all provinces and territories, other than Ontario and Quebec, as well as some 150 municipalities, the vast majority of RCMP vehicles used for contract police services are paid for in large part by contract jurisdictions. Any equipment purchased by the RCMP for operational and officer safety requirements to deliver these services or as a result of police standards set by the contract jurisdictions are cost-shared under police service agreements. Given those facts, it stands to reason that provinces, territories, and municipalities would be front and centre in the discussion on whether to procure and deploy AEDs in RCMP vehicles within their jurisdictions.
In the interest of making a well-informed decision, it would also be wise to include other sectors in our study, namely health. Equipping first responder vehicles with AEDs is primarily a public health measure, so it is important to involve health as part of this discussion. We should do our due diligence in examining the worthy public health objective the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska has in mind through inclusive and comprehensive discussions with all stakeholders.
In my opening, when I was talking about what we have in Toronto and in Toronto—Danforth, I touched on the issue of the different needs that may exist and how they might actually vary from place to place. As it stands, there is a lack of empirical evidence about potential gaps in first responder needs as they relate to AED accessibility. We know that most RCMP vehicles do not have AEDs, but we do not know whether from a public health perspective it would be more effective to put a defibrillator in every police car or to increase the number of defibrillators in Canadian communities and continue to ensure that police know where they are and how to use them.
I wholeheartedly support the second part of the motion. A thorough study by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security would go a long way in informing the action proposed in Motion No. 124. It would give us a factual picture of the AED landscape in front-line vehicles across the country and their use and effectiveness, which would be a much-needed knowledge base. With that, the Government of Canada would be much better placed to develop new policies and standards and to understand the resource implications associated with the proposal to equip all RCMP vehicles with AEDs.
In summary, we strongly support the use of AEDs as an important life-saving tool. I am in favour of the proposal in the motion and the principles, and I look forward to the study it calls for. This is a wonderful way to start our session, thinking about how we can save lives and look out for one another across all of our communities.
Subtopic: Automated External Defibrillators