The union representing Toronto’s paramedics is calling for tougher laws and stiffer penalties after one of its members was seriously injured during an assault last month.

Before the assault suspect appeared in court Wednesday, the recovering paramedic and Toronto Paramedic Association officials gathered outside Old City Hall to urge lawmakers to give paramedics additional protection under the Criminal Code.

“Paramedics are here to help,” said Aron Sperling, who suffered a broken leg in the Jan. 17 attack. “We don’t question why we’re going to calls. We’re here to help people in distress but we do not want to be the recipients of violent attacks.”

In response to the assault, the union is calling on the federal government to create a special law to protect paramedics and tougher penalties for people who are convicted of assaulting on-duty paramedics.

Harsher sentences would provide a deterrent, Sperling said.

“It’s long overdue,” Sperling told reporters as he stood with the aid of crutches. “It’s time that we are heard and it’s time that these measures are put in place.”

The TPA says the penalties for assaulting a paramedic should be the same as the penalties for assaulting a peace officer, which is a designated charge under the Criminal Code.

To gather support, the union has been contacting politicians and creating public awareness.

“I don’t think many people understand what we do and the dangers we put ourselves into when we come to help them,” TPA president Geoff MacBride told CP24 reporter Cam Woolley.

In a statement to CP24, Toronto EMS said it would support any change to legislation that would protect paramedics.

Mike Merriman, a CUPE 416 shop steward and paramedic, said the job is becoming more dangerous, with paramedics encountering violence or aggression on a regular basis.

“Our members have been bitten, they’ve been spit upon, they’ve been hit,” Merriman said. “We just feel that the paramedics … as civil servants should be afforded the same protection and rights that our fellow police officers have.”

During the assault last month, Sperling suffered fractures to his ankle and tibia when he was knocked to the ground by a patient he was trying to assist.

Sperling said the suspect is well-known to paramedics and police.

“It’s a story about repeat offenders who call 911, who are intoxicated or using other recreational drugs, and have tendencies of taking their frustrations out on paramedics, whether it be in the back of a vehicle or on scene,” Sperling said.

Because of his injuries, Sperling is unable to do his usual work and cannot respond to calls for service.

“This is an incident that takes a paramedic off the road when we need more of them on,” he said.

@ChrisKitching is on Twitter. For instant breaking news, follow @CP24 on Twitter.