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Toronto Paramedics Call for Better Protection from Assault

TORONTO -- Kicking. Punching. Spitting. Hurled insults and expletives.

Abuse against paramedics is too common, says the Toronto Paramedic Association. On the heels of a recent attack against a veteran paramedic, the group is calling for changes to Canada's Criminal Code to give emergency workers the same special protection as police officers.

On Jan. 17, 46-year-old paramedic Aron Sperling and his partner, Glen Gillies, were called to Ninki Japanese restaurant on Richmond St. Staff had alerted the police after a customer was refusing to pay his $35 tab, and paramedics were called after the man began complaining about having a seizure.

Sperling and Gillies arrived, determined that the man was fine, then waited for police.

According to the paramedics, as soon as a police officer walked in, the man turned and attacked Sperling.

"I looked over my shoulder to talk to the police officer, and this gentleman got up and lunged toward my partner," Gillies said.

"There was a scuffle happening on the floor, and my partner was screaming in agony."

"I tried to move off the ground, and I just couldn't," said Sperling.

"The only thing I could do was to try and hold one of his legs and keep my head back so he wouldn't kick me in the head."

Dale Sawanas, 42, was charged with assault causing bodily harm, fraudulently ordering food and failing to comply with probation. He appeared in court on Wednesday, and was remanded into custody until a bail hearing next week.

Paramedics go out in pairs, meaning only one is in the back of an ambulance while the other is driving. That small area can become "quite volatile" when you're alone with an aggressive patient, Sperling said.

Instead, they're seeking changes to the Criminal Code so paramedics are considered public officers and assault against them warrants stiffer penalties. They believe this could deter violence.

There is a specific charge for assaulting a public officer or peace officer in certain circumstances, according to Brendan Crawley, spokesperson for the provincial Ministry of the Attorney General.

Punishment may include significant imprisonment. Aggravated assault of a peace officer, for instance, can bring a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

"Ideally, we would get that same protection for everybody - police, paramedics, firefighters, ER nurses, doctors, things like that," said Geoff MacBride, president of the paramedic association.

A 2011 study led by a St. Michael's Hospital researcher found that two-thirds of 1,381 paramedics from Ontario and Nova Scotia reported they had been verbally, physically or sexually abused on the job within the previous year.



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