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Breaking Barriers: First Responder Mental Health Symposium

Event Details

On Saturday, September 8th 2018 we hosted the 3rd annual Breaking Barriers: First Responder Mental Health Symposium at Rodd Royalty located at 14 Capital Dr. in beautiful Charlottetown, PEI. Attracting almost 100 professionals from across the country our 3rd annual Breaking Barriers Symposium was open to all first responders, allied professionals and students!

Registration is only $40 for non-members & Now FREE for PAPEI Members!

Click here to download the brochure which includes event schedule, presenter biographies and information on our sponsors.

Schedule of Events

07:45-08:30 Trauma-Informed Yoga, Dianne Birt (Optional)

07:30-09:00 Registration, Vendors

09:00-09:15 Master of Ceremonies Amanda Brazil - Opening Remarks

09:15-09:45 Phil C Ralph - CD Captain (Ret'd), Wounded Warriors, CAF Chaplain

09:45-10:15 Jamie Fox - Former Police Officer, Former Military, Politician

10:15-10:30 Morning Break

10:30-11:00 John Garth MacDonald - Paramedic, PTSD Survivor

11:00-11:40 Michelle MacDonald - Nurse, Spouse of Paramedic John Garth

11:40-12:00 Joe Driscoll- CRFD Firefighter, Father of late Jason Driscoll

12:00-13:00 Hot Lunch Buffet

13:00-14:00 Dianne Birt - Counseling Therapist, Yoga Instructor
14:00-15:00 Janice Landry - Author, Journalist, Educator, Daughter of Firefighter

15:00-15:15 Afternoon Break

15:15-16:15 Grant Matheson - Non-Practicing Physician in PEI, Author

16:15-16:45 Todd Doherty - Member of Parliament, Champion of Bill C-211

16:45-17:00 Master of Ceremonies Amanda Brazil - Closing Remarks

Our Speakers

Amanda Brazil - Master of Ceremonies

Amanda Brazil is a PhD candidate at the University of Prince Edward Island in the Faculty of Education where she is studying informal learning and critical incidents in the volunteer fire service. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and a Master of Arts degree in Adult Education from Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, NS. Amanda has extensive experience in the fields of corrections, addictions, and mental health. Her research has been published in the American Journal of Public Health, Women & Criminal Justice, Offender Reintegration, and the Journal of Maltreatment, Aggression, and Trauma. Amanda is the Director of Programs and Policy at the Canadian Mental Health Association – PEI Division and is active in the community as a volunteer firefighter with Cross Roads Fire Department, a founding member of the PEI Learning Partners Advisory Council, a member of the PEI Critical Incident Stress Management Steering Committee, a board member with the PEI Rape and Sexual Assault Centre and a researcher collaborator with FIREWELL (Firefighter Injury/illness Remediation Enterprise: Work-participation that Enables Life & Livelihood), a national team of firefighters and researchers working together to advance firefighters’ workplace health and safety.

Phil Ralph

Phil currently serves as the National Program Director of Wounded Warriors Canada and has served in various capacities with the charity since its founding in 2006, including serving as Chair for two years. As Program Director he oversees the implementation of a robust and exciting slate of transformative programming benefiting Veterans, First Responders and their Families.

For over a quarter century until releasing from the Canadian Armed Forces in 2016, Phil served our nation as the Regimental Chaplain to the 32 Combat Engineer Regiment (formally 2nd Field Engineer Regiment) in Toronto. In that capacity, he was exposed to challenges and needs of today’s veterans. As a CAF Chaplain, Phil has been directly involved in several notifications to the families of Canadian Forces Personnel, including notifications that have resulted from both overseas and domestic situations. Having seen firsthand the effects of deployments on our Veterans he has a passion to contribute to assisting today’s Veterans towards wholeness and healing. As the son of a Firefighter whose families service extends back into the 1800’s he has also witnessed first-hand the challenges that face first responders and their families. Padre Ralph has served as Directing Staff at the Canadian Force Chaplains School and Centre located within CFB Borden on several different occasions. He has also served as the Senior Chaplain at Blackdown Cadet Training Centre for eight summers supervising his staff as they cared for a Camp of 3,000 personnel including up to 2,500 young people.

In his civilian capacity, Padre Ralph serves a busy suburban congregation as the Senior Pastor of Ajax Baptist Church. He holds a Bachelor of Theology degree from Ontario Bible College and a Master of Divinity degree from Ontario Theological Seminary. Beyond military and congregational ministry, Phil has been active in the wider community by serving on the Boards of a number of agencies dedicated to assisting those in need, including the North York Emergency Needs Network (Treasurer and Chairman), Foodshare Metro Toronto, the North York Harvest Food Bank (three terms as Chairman). His work in the community has been well received. Largely due to his work with the Food Bank, he was awarded the Canada 125 Medal, given for “Significant Contributions to Canada.” In 2002 he was awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, primarily for his contributions to the Public School Community. He is also the recipient of the Canadian Forces Decoration.

To contact Phil Ralph, please email:

"Honour the Fallen, Help the Living"

Jamie Fox

Jamie Fox resides in North Carleton with his wife Deborah and together they are the proud parents of three sons Johnathan, Joey and Jacob.  He has been involved in various community groups. After service in the military and a career in local law enforcement, Jamie owned and operated small businesses in both P.E.I. and N.B. Jamie Fox is MLA for District 19: Borden – Kinkora.  He was elected in May of 2015. From 2015-17 Fox served as Interim Leader of the Progressive Conservative party of Prince Edward Island and as Leader of the Opposition. He is Shadow Critic for Transportation, Infrastructure, and Energy, and Justice and Public Safety. He also serves on the Standing Committees on Infrastructure and Energy and Rules Regulations, Private Bills and Privileges. Jamie introduced a private members bill, Bill 102 - An Act to Amend the Workers Compensation Act – to include post-traumatic stress disorder to cover ALL WORKERS. This bill will amend the WCB Act to now include All Workers, presumptive, and cumulative events. This Bill passed its 3rd & final reading on December 12th, 2017 and was proclaimed law on the last day of spring sitting, May 31st, 2018.

John Garth MacDonald

John Garth MacDonald started his career as an EMT in 1990 with Curry Brothers of Antigonish and then in 1998 with Emergency Medical Care. He was a Safety Coach for Emergency Medical Care, conducting Provincial Collision Investigations in 2004.   John Garth was a supervisor EMC for the Antigonish/Guysborough counties in 2005 and carried this responsibility for 5 years in which he provided leadership and supervision to 30 staff. Continuing his commitment to patient care, he furthered his education and completed his Advanced Care Paramedic Diploma in 2006 and was one of the first Advanced Care Paramedic in the Antigonish area.   John Garth carried many provincial committee responsibilities for EMC and volunteer committees which often took him across the province and in 2010 he received the NS Provincial Long Service Medal Award along with being nominated by his peers and received the Emergency Medical Services Exemplary Service Medal which was federally recognized award also in this year. He continued to be an Advanced Care Paramedic until the time of his injury in 2010. John Garth became employed with Industrial Paramedics Services of Alberta in 2012 where he is a Clinic Coordinator and continues that position to date.  In 2014 after being a speaker for Helping the Helpers Education Day, John Garth became a strong vocal advocate for PTSD and mental health and is currently Chairperson of this Education Day held annually. Through the Tema Conter Memorial Trust he was chosen as recipient for the Public Service Award in 2016 and was recognized by Members of the House of Assembly of Nova Scotia on receiving this award. John Garth is considered a pillar in the Paramedicine community and is well-known and respected throughout Nova Scotia in his field. Many look to John Garth for personal and professional support and have sought to provide the same exemplary level of Paramedicine that he displays unreservedly every day. Through the Tema Conter Memorial Trust in May of 2017 he was chosen to be a TEMA Ambassador for Nova Scotia.  John Garth continues to share his lived experience with PTSD by speaking and presenting to professional organizations and community groups which helps to break down the stigma associated with this injury.

Michelle MacDonald

Michelle has been a Registered Nurse for 24 years with a clinical background in Mental Health Nursing having worked on a 14 years working on Certified Mental Health Unit for 14 years. Additionally to this she has clinical background experience in Long Term Care and Policy development and was employed as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. Since 2011 she was been employed with the Nova Scotia Government working in the capacity as a Client Support Advisor and Care Coordinator with the Disability Support Program under the umbrella of the Department of Community Services. She has recently accepted a new 3 year employment opportunity as a secondment position within the Nova Scotia Government Public Service Commission as Navigator for the new Office of Workplace Mental Health. Michelle went onto complete a Masters in Nursing in 2015 from the University of Southern Queensland Australia.

Michelle is proud to call herself the spouse of John Garth MacDonald who is an Advanced Care Paramedic who in 2010 suffered an occupational injury known at Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Through this horrific journey Michelle had to become advocate for not only John Garth but for the entire family. It was a traumatic journey of trying to navigate a broken and fractured mental health system. She is pleased to be here to share with you her family's lived experience of suffering through and living with PTSD and how this horrific experience has empowered her entire family.

Joe Driscoll

Joe Driscoll grew up in Mount Herbert, PEI. For the past 16 years he has volunteered in his community as a Firefighter with Cross Roads Fire Department. During the day, he is an Infrastructure Supervisor with the Town of Stratford, where he has worked in the Infrastructure Department for the past 20 years. Joe has been affected by mental health since a young child, losing his father suddenly when he was only 11 years old. Then on May 9th, 2017, he lost his 21-year-old son, Jason Driscoll, to suicide. Joe, together with his wife Heather, have vowed to raise awareness about mental health while honoring their son’s memory.

On March 1st, 2018, Joe and his family teamed up with Cows Creamery, for what would have been Jason’s 22nd birthday. Together, they created the Moo Let’s Talk campaign, selling ice cream and limited-edition T-Shirts, with all sales going towards the Canadian Mental Health Association – PEI Division. Islanders helped raise more than $36,320 for mental health supports in the province through the 2018 Moo Let’s Talk Day.

Dianne Birt

Dianne Birt is a Counselling Therapist in private practice in Charlottetown. She has a BSC. in Health Education from Dalhousie University, a Diploma in Public Administration from UPEI, and a Masters of Education in Counselling Psychology from UNB. She began her private practice on a part-time basis in 2008 while working full-time as a Career Counsellor at Career Development Services, and has been working in private practice exclusively since 2014. In addition to providing counselling therapy services, she also facilitates various workshops on topics such as stress management, wellness and work/life balance, and mindfulness.  Previously, Dianne worked in child care in inner-city Vancouver, and in the non-profit sector at AIDS PEI. She has over 100 hours of trauma training – including a two-day seminar on trauma-sensitive yoga and has also completed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.  In 2017 she completed a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training and has been teaching yoga in various locations ever since. Dianne is passionate about holistic health and wellness and brings that passion and philosophy into all aspects of her life and career. "A Mindful Approach to Stress Management" -  In this 60 minute presentation, Dianne will discuss signs and symptoms of stress, traumatic stress and burn-out for first responders (and families of first responders), provide basic tools for stress management, and pro-active approaches such as mindfulness and self-care. This presentation will include information on further resources and supports for traumatic stress.

Janice Landry

Janice Landry is an award-winning writer, journalist and author who has been a life-long storyteller. Janice started writing fictional stories as a child, sitting at an old, wooden desk. She wrote long-hand, in her family’s spare bedroom, in their home overlooking Purcell’s Cove where she grew up. Her love of the ocean and forest also began in the seaside community. Spending time around the water and woods are two of her favourite escapes from pressures and deadlines. A dedicated wife, mother and daughter, Janice’s late father was a veteran Halifax firefighter of 31 years. A Canadian Medal of Bravery recipient, Capt. Basil (Baz) Landry, M.B., died in 2006, before Janice’s first book was published. She now dedicates much of her energy to honouring Baz’s work and memory, by supporting our country’s first responders, emergency personnel, members of the military, and their loved ones - through her writing and speaking engagements. That passion has led to her receiving a 2017 national media award for her efforts. Janice is also honoured to have won the prestigious 2018 Canadian Resiliency Award for her book, “The Legacy Letters.”

Grant Matheson

Grant Matheson is the son of a Presbyterian minister, a devoted father of three, a non-practicing physician, and a drug addict in recovery.  Grant is the author of “The Golden Boy - A Doctor’s Journey with Addiction”. Before opioids destroyed Grant Matheson's career, he was a pillar of his community. Respected physician, loving husband, devoted father, and trusted friend. Grant was a straight-laced kid who grew up to be a clean-living adult. No drinking, no smoking, and certainly no drugs. It took everyone by surprise, most of all himself, when he became addicted to narcotics in his 30s. His story hit local press when he was found guilty of professional misconduct related to his addiction, including over-prescribing painkillers to patients so he could buy them back--an infraction that caused his physician license to be suspended. The Golden Boy takes the reader from the very first day of Matheson's drug addiction to that moment when he decided to rebuild his life through rehab and recovery.  Grant has not taken narcotics since 2005, but the stigma of his addiction follows him closely in his small home province of Prince Edward Island. He hopes his story will help both those struggling with addiction and those who love someone battling the disease.

Todd Doherty

Todd Doherty introduced a private members bill, Bill C-211, Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Act that received Royal Assent and is, or will soon become, law. Todd Doherty is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Cariboo Prince George, first elected in October 2015. Mr. Doherty brings vast experience in the private sector to his new role. As an aviation executive, he was tasked with promoting regional, provincial and national passenger, cargo and tourism opportunities on the world stage. Mr. Doherty has represented Canada throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the America’s on trade missions, industry conferences and on industry regulatory panels. Mr. Doherty is widely respected as one of North America’s top aviation business development professionals, whom was widely sought after to present on industry topics regarding air service development, cargo, supply chain management, security and regional tourism opportunities. In addition, he has authored and co-authored industry papers on regulatory challenges affecting air service development and air service development strategies in the Canadian passenger and cargo markets.


Mr. Doherty was honoured to be reappointed as the Shadow Minister for Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. In addition, reappointed as Shadow Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway. Mr. Doherty is a member of the Taskforce on Softwood Lumber and has held the position as Deputy Critic for Indigenous Affairs. Mr. Doherty has been elected to sit on the Executive Committee for the Canada-Japan Inter- Parliamentary Association. He sits as a Member of the Parliamentary Associations of the Commonwealth, Canada-Europe, Canada-Africa, NATO, ParlAmericas, the Canada Group of Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Inter-Parliamentary Groups of Canada-United States, Canada-Germany, Canada-Ireland, Canada-Israel, Canada-Italy and the Canada-China Legislative Association.

Involvement in local community is also important to Mr. Doherty. He supports the local Canadian Cancer Society and various charitable organizations. Mr. Doherty has worked with at risk youth, teaching crisis intervention and suicide prevention in cross cultural communities. In addition, Mr. Doherty is passionate about coaching and mentoring youth through sports. Having coached all levels at hockey from Minor to Junior, Mr. Doherty has been part of the Prince George Spruce Kings Junior A hockey team from Scouting to President. Mr. Doherty together with Mrs. Doherty are successful small business owners for over 20 years. Todd and his wife, Kelly have four children, Joshua, Kaitlyn, Kassi and Jordan.

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