The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-300, An Act respecting a Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention, as reported without amendment from the committee.
Mr. Harold Albrecht
moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
He said: Mr. Speaker, during my comments when the House discussed Bill C-300 at second reading, I thanked the many individuals and organizations who helped in its development. Today I would like to begin my comments by extending my gratitude to all of the witnesses who appeared before the Standing Committee on Health. Their expertise was invaluable.
I was not able to attend all of the hearings in person, but I have reviewed the evidence and I have learned a lot. I learned that national leadership of the type called for by Bill C-300 could reduce the number of deaths by suicide in Canada by more than 450. Professor Brian Mishara of the University of Quebec's Centre for Research and Intervention on Suicide and Euthanasia made this and many other excellent points during his testimony.
From the University of Western Ontario's Dr. Marnin Heisel I learned that the cost of suicide and self-harm in Canada is more than $2.4 billion each year and that this number will only grow as our society ages. While this is an emotional issue for me, a moral imperative based on my experiences, faith and the value I place on human life, I also learned that there is a strong economic case for the coordination of suicide prevention efforts across this great country. I learned that Canada is an exporter of knowledge and expertise in suicide prevention and that other countries are often earlier adopters of Canadian-built solutions than we are ourselves. I also learned new ways to describe the role that Bill C-300 will play in providing that coordination, a vacuum that must be filled in order to bring hope to our most vulnerable.
Dammy Damstrom-Albach, president of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, noted the significance of the federal role, saying:
|| It must function as both catalyst and glue to stimulate and cement the needed connections. Suicide prevention requires all levels of government to unite in support of the community groups, survivors, those with lived experience and the thousands of volunteers who have long done the lion's share of this work. The national government must step forward to do its portion.
Catalyst, glue, stimulate, cement: this is a high-level view of what I believe Bill C-300 seeks to accomplish.
Tana Nash, of the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council, provided a view from the front lines. She told the health committee that Bill C-300:
||...is essential. We are all operating on shoestring and non-existent budgets, but we imagine a hub where all of us working across Canada can access tools, brochures, and ideas, and we can simply add our own local crisis information instead of reinventing the wheel.
Of course, it should be clear that it is not the intent of Bill C-300 to tell communities how to do suicide prevention. Each community will need to contextualize its own approach based on the wealth of ideas and resources that are available, but there should be no community group that needs to start from scratch ever again.
Through my work developing Bill C-300, I have enjoyed meeting many passionate individuals who are champions of mental health and suicide prevent. Scott Chisholm, of Thunder Bay, founded the collateral damage project. Scott spoke on Parliament Hill about the need to do more. He reminded parliamentarians that “Our first responders don't have the tools and skills needed to evaluate risk.... Our teachers and doctors don't have the training to recognize and react to the warning signs.... We can do better with just a bit of leadership.”
He went on to say, “I believe Parliament can save lives. Better information sharing, better statistics, better translation of research into practice, all promised by Bill C-300, will save lives.”
Mr. Chisholm has closely followed Bill C-300's progress through the House. Several times after I thanked hon. members for their willingness to speak frankly on this issue, I would find a comment from Scott on Facebook thanking me for encouraging this open dialogue. His thanks usually ended with “...because not talking about it isn't working”.
And not talking about it is not working. I have commented several times through this process that the conversation we are having is just as important as the legislation. This is reflected in the thrust of Canada's new mental health strategy, which was launched by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, another great initiative of this government, just last week.
The word “stigma” is used dozens of times throughout this strategy. It is pointed out that only one in three Canadians experiencing mental health difficulties will seek help. Stigma and the fear of being labelled prevent many people from seeking help. Bill C-300 will foster the conversations in which Canada must engage if we are to save more lives. Bill C-300 will foster hope.
I have mentioned this quotation several times, and some hon. members might actually be able to say it out loud with me, but Margaret Somerville of McGill University said it best, I believe:
|| Hope is dependent on having a sense of connection to the future, even if that future is very short-term.... Hope is the oxygen of the human spirit; without it our spirit dies.
Mr. Speaker, you and I both have hopes for the future, but some Canadians, whether due to distress, overwhelming circumstances or medical challenges, lose hope. Each day, on average, 1,000 Canadians lose hope so completely that they attempt that final irreversible step; each day, ten Canadians complete the attempt. Ten Canadians' lives are lost each day to suicide.
As hon. members shared during second reading, we all know someone. Some have struggled to help school-aged children cope with the suicide of a classmate. Most of us have dealt with death by suicide of friends or colleagues. Some, in fact—altogether too many—have faced the aftermath of suicide even more closely.
Any of us who have ever grieved the loss of a family member or a close friend will know the feelings of doubt and sorrow that can overwhelm even the strongest of us. Members of this House are aware of my life's journey over this past year. I lost my wife and best friend to an undiagnosed medical condition within hours of last year's election victory. Once again I thank hon. members from all sides of the House for the compassion they demonstrated and continue to show to this very day.
I will admit that after losing Betty, I felt overwhelmed. There were points were I doubted I would be able to continue my role in service to the people of Kitchener—Conestoga. In fact, there were some times when I doubted if I wanted to.
However, while I missed her, while I continue to miss her every day, I have never felt alone. My family members were there with me, and I was there with them. We had each other. My caucus colleagues, and indeed all hon. members, provided me a strong support network. Even today at events across the Waterloo region, it is not uncommon for someone to take the time to offer their condolences.
I am grateful to God for these heartfelt responses that remind me that I am not alone in my pain, and I am grateful to God for the gift of life and allowing me to continue to enjoy his gift despite my loss.
I share my personal experience because it is related to hope and to community. First, I never felt alone. I gained new appreciation for the blessings of family, friends and faith. They have kept me focused on the future and on hope. I cannot imagine standing in this House today were any of these elements lacking in my life.
While I can never picture myself falling victim to suicidal behaviours, I do understand how easy it could be for someone to temporarily lose hope and in the process take actions with permanent, fatal consequences.
Second, death always provides challenges to the survivors. The challenges I faced after Betty's death were profound. All those who walked those agonizing days with us, though—family, friends and staff—understood that there was simply nothing anyone could have done to change the outcome. Her condition was undiagnosed and inoperable.
Those left behind by suicide face everything I faced, but with the added complications of false guilt and blame that exist because of the stigma of suicide. While our family has drawn strength from open conversations about Betty with friends and strangers alike, those left behind by suicide too often feel uncomfortable sharing their story. That is part of the problem.
We simply cannot face a problem, let alone solve it, if we are afraid to talk about it. That is why Bill C-300 calls for the recognition of suicide as more than a mental health issue. Suicide is also a public health issue. The Mental Health Commission of Canada notes that the elements of Bill C-300 fit well within their overall mental health strategy.
Bill C-300 calls for knowledge exchange and the use of evidence-based practices, moving Canada toward the information hub called for by Tana Nash and the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council.
I do not stand today to claim Bill C-300 is a magic wand. More would still need to be done. However, I truly believe that Bill C-300 is the first step on that journey.
Were it in my power and ability, I would reach out, myself, to comfort each and every one of those coping with suicidal thoughts. If it were in my power, no volunteer currently making those heroic efforts would feel under-resourced or unappreciated by society. However, these actions are beyond me. They are in fact beyond any government that must balance the relative benefit of every request for funding and contemplate the opportunity costs of funding project A at the expense of project B.
I have the honour of serving the good people of Kitchener—Conestoga as their member of Parliament. My constituents and members of this House are familiar with my beliefs as they relate to the value and importance of human life. I will continue to promote a culture of life for those struggling, for those who can no longer speak for themselves, and for those who cannot yet speak for themselves. I believe that every life is precious.
Passing Bill C-300 would deliver a message of hope to those working in communities across Canada. In time, that hope would be delivered to the tens of thousands of Canadians who engage in suicidal behaviours each year. The implementation of Bill C-300 would enable Canadians to engage in the conversations that are required for understanding and healing. Those who have suffered from suicidal thoughts or suffered the death by suicide of a loved one would have a connection to the resources that could help restore hope.
Mr. Speaker, through you, I thank all hon. members for standing with vulnerable Canadians on this journey toward hope. Hope: the oxygen of the human spirit. Without it, our spirit dies.
Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am please to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-300. It came from committee and is now at third reading in the House. I would again like to congratulate the member for bringing the bill forward.
The NDP members on the health committee have been very supportive of the bill, as we have in the House at second reading. We will support the bill when it comes to a final vote. However, I want to reflect on the nature of the bill and what more we could possibly have done.
There is another bill in the House, Bill C-297, put forward by the member for Halifax. Although both bills deal with suicide prevention, they bring forward different strategies. Bill C-300, is much more of a limiting bill. It plays down the role of the federal government in establishing suicide prevention strategy and, unfortunately, there is nothing in the bill that pertains to first nations consultation.
I recognize it is difficult to put every single group in a bill and say we should do this and that. However, the statistics show this is a very important health issue and systemic issue around inequality, cultural history and colonialism that does affect first nations in Canada, aboriginal people.
The bill of the member for Halifax speaks to the need to directly engage the federal government with provincial ministers and first nations, and support smaller communities and provinces that might not otherwise have the infrastructure to enact the strategies. She lays out a clear federal role. Bill C-297 outlines the need for first nations, Inuit and Métis groups to be involved in the construction of the strategy. This is very important.
The bill we are debating today calls for defining best practices and promotes collaboration. These are very important and we certainly concur, but it is very disappointing that it does not go beyond that.
Bill C-297 is very comprehensive. It calls for the federal government to carry out 10 different projects, including a study of effective funding, surveillance to identify at-risk groups, establishing national standards and gaining cultural-based knowledge in preventing suicide.
At committee, my colleagues, particularly the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, and I put forward a number of amendments. These were based on the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention blueprint for a Canadian national suicide prevention strategy that came out in September 2009. This organization represents the service providers and the activists on the front line helping people who are in distress, who are at risk, in dealing with suicide and suicide prevention.
We put forward about 15 amendments. They really would have strengthened the bill. For example, one of them called for a distinct national coordinating body for suicide prevention to operate within the appropriate entities in the Government of Canada. Another amendment called for assessing and adopting where appropriate the recommendations and objectives outlined in the blueprint for a national suicide prevention strategy of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.
I want to put on the record here in the House that we tried very hard at committee to bring some amendments to the bill to strengthen it so it could go beyond an issue of best practices, collaboration and information sharing and take on some more specific objectives that are desperately needed.
We did hear a number of times that we should not worry about this because the Mental Health Commission of Canada would be addressing this in its report. Of course, since dealing with the bill at committee, that report came out last week, entitled “Changing Directions, Changing Lives”.
On page 13 of the report it reads:
||...establishing whole-of-government and pan-Canadian mechanisms to oversee mental health-related policies; strengthening data, research, knowledge exchange, standards and human resources related to mental health, mental illness and suicide prevention.
That is not the only reference but , that one speaks strongly to the need for all levels of government l to be involved.
While we are happy that the Mental Health Commission of Canada has included this issue in its new strategy that came out last week, it seems to me that we have missed an opportunity with this bill to look at some concrete specifics around setting up a national coordinating body, looking at better training or, more specifically, working with first nations.
We received a communication from the Assembly of First Nations after we dealt with the bill at committee. It sent some very good information that is very important for us to understand. It is really shocking. It is information that we know but when we speak about this issue it brings to mind how serious it is in the aboriginal community. The AFN points out that suicide now represents the greatest single cause of injury deaths in its population, according to a study done in 2003. It also points out that a closer examination of intentional self-harm or suicide across age groupings shows that the deaths due to suicide, as a proportion of all deaths, was the largest among first nations youth. It also points out that youth suicide is not a tragedy that is visited in equal measure in all native communities. In certain communities, the suicide rate is as much as 800 times their provincial average. These statistics cannot even begin to tell us the stories, the tragedy and the reality of what is happening in many smaller, remote communities and in urban centres.
I was disappointed and concerned that the bill did not reference the particular issues that are taking place in aboriginal communities. Amendments were put forward to include some of this important information and the need to be more specific in the bill but, surprisingly, they were turned down.
It worries me that this is becoming a pattern now. Some of the bills are fine in as far as they go but they are very informational. They are designed to create awareness. We had one just the other day on breast density, a similar kind of bill. I do not want to knock the bills in and of themselves but it is really worrying that when there is a genuine effort to put forward amendments to improve and strengthen these bills, they seem to be automatically shot down. I have to wonder why.
Parliament should be constructive, particularly on private member's business. We should try to be constructive and work together on this bill on suicide prevention because we all agree that work needs to be done on this. There is no question that we all agree. Therefore, it is very concerning that the good faith attempts to strengthen and improve the bill were shut down one hundred per cent. I read out some of the information that came before us and it was basically ignored.
We will support the bill but we will also work very hard to support my colleague's bill, Bill C-297, the member for Halifax, because it is a much broader, comprehensive and very specific strategy that would clearly involve the federal government. That is what we need to do, particularly in light of the new report that just came out from the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today and add a few thoughts to what is an important issue for all Canadians.
Suicide and attempted suicide affects all Canadians in one way or another. It is with that in mind that I do believe this debate is an important one. This issue crosses all political party lines and there is wide support for initiatives that take on this serious issue.
In the last number of months, we have had other debates on this subject. Members will recall that back in October the Liberal Party had an opposition day. I want to make reference to that because last fall other issues were facing Parliament and the Liberal Party had to come up with an important opposition day subject. Parties in the House are given a limited number of days in any given year for opposition days. In making a presentation to our caucus, the leader of the Liberal Party indicated that the issue of suicide had to be addressed. This is an area in which we need to see stronger unified leadership coming from the House of Commons and spreading out to different levels of government. We made the decision back then that we had to raise the profile of this important public issue.
I would like to read to the House the motion that was introduced by the leader of the Liberal Party on October 4. The motion reads:
|| That the House agree that suicide is more than a personal tragedy, but is also a serious public health issue and public policy priority; and, further, that the House urge the government to work co-operatively with the provinces, territories, representative organizations from First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people, and other stakeholders to establish and fund a National Suicide Prevention Strategy, which among other measures would promote a comprehensive and evidence-driven approach to deal with this terrible loss of life.
Many members of the House will recall that particular debate. A vote occurred at the end of that debate and the motion was passed unanimously, thereby acknowledging that suicide was a national issue that needed to be addressed.
Our motion called for the clear identification of funding so we could establish a national suicide prevention strategy. A major part of that involved looking at the stakeholders and ensuring that those stakeholders were incorporated into the development of a national strategy. The Liberal Party believes that there needs to be a national strategy to take on this issue.
There is one stakeholder more than any other stakeholder in our country that should be playing a leadership role and that is the national government. We look to the government, not only to support opposition motions, such as the one we introduced back in October, or bills such as the bill before us today that the Liberal Party supports, but we also look to the federal government to take tangible action to deal with these issues. There is a multitude of different ways in which we could do that.
The member who introduced this motion mentioned volunteers and our communities. We underestimate what those volunteers and those community organizations can do to have a tangible impact on decreasing the suicide rate here in Canada. Through that coordinated effort, we need to be able to share our ideas with the different community groups.
I will give an example. In some provinces, there is more of an active approach to encouraging discussions in our schools on suicide. I understand the Province of Quebec has a more proactive approach to educating its student population in comparison to other provinces. We need to look at having that open dialogue where we have our young people being aware of suicide. There is nothing wrong with talking about some of those issues, such as peer pressure, bullying, gays and so much more that is impacting our young people and the amount of stress that is there. That is one reason we have so many young people considering suicide. Fortunately, most suicide attempts fail. However, at the end of the day, everyday there are 10 Canadians who have been successful in committing suicide.
When we talk to our young people, what can we as a community say to encourage them to feel comfortable in talking about, to understand that life has its ups and downs days and that even though they might be experiencing a great deal of pressure, those days will go away and positive days will come? We want our youth to know there are individuals out there who truly care. There are organizations out there, whether they are local counsellors within the school or a community health facility where there are professionals and volunteers, they can assist with some of the pressures that are put on young people.
We also need to deal in a more tangible way with the serious issue of suicide among seniors. We have organizations and stakeholders that focus virtually 100% of their time on senior related issues. To what degree are we providing the leadership that is necessary to share ideas on what works and what does not work? Maybe we need to go to seniors' homes or talk with 55-plus groups about the issue of being alone and that sense of loneliness. What kind of policy decisions can we make that will deal with those types of issues?
I talked with the Garden City Mall Walkers Group, a group of seniors in my constituency. and they asked me why they could not ride the bus for free during off-peak hours. They said that it would get them out of their home and into their community.
I want to make reference to our veterans and the whole idea of PTSD. We have attempted to raise that issue because it affects many individuals who fought in Afghanistan, those who represented Canada so well in ensuring that our forces were there making us all proud. We need to invest in a very real and tangible way so we are taking care of those issues that are causing far too many of our members within our forces to commit suicide.
The bottom line is the Liberal Party of Canada is prepared to put party politics aside in order to deal with this issue. We believe this is a crisis situation with which we need to deal.
We support the bill, as the government supported our motion to deal with a national strategy, because we believe in it. We look forward to its eventual passage. We thank the members for the opportunity to say these few words.
Mr. David Sweet (Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to join the discussion or, as my hon. friend from Kitchener—Conestoga has appropriately called it, this parliamentary show of unity on Bill C-300, the federal framework for suicide prevention act.
Having just celebrated Mother's Day, a day when we all recognize the unfailing love, support and guidance of mothers, and thinking about this discussion today, I cannot help but imagine the sheer anguish that a mother who lost her daughter or son to suicide this past year must feel on Mother's Day. It is utterly heart-wrenching to think about it.
Over 4,000 families, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins, had their lives irreversibly impacted by suicide in this past year. We do not even have a good handle on a true number, something that the bill would fix.
I had the privilege of rising in the House 19 days ago, on April 25, to make a member's statement in support of the bill. In the 19 days since then, there have likely been 190 deaths by suicide, 19,000 suicide attempts and 4,180 visits to the emergency rooms of hospitals across the country due to suicide behaviours. I say likely, because we do not have accurate suicide statistics in our country. Once again, this is very important, and Bill C-300 would correct that.
However, the real tragedy is the story behind each one of these numbers. It is a tragedy because each one of those who attempted suicide had lost hope, or, as the member for Kitchener—Conestoga has already said, the fuel of the human spirit. In doing so, their tragedy was, and is compounded, on their families, friends and the communities of our nation.
We know suicide is a very complex confluence of a number of factors. We know some groups and circumstances are more vulnerable to the threat of suicide than the general population. Veterans and aboriginal Canadians have been noted already this morning. However, we struggle to develop a suitable evidence-based response. There is no doubt this a public health issue in Canada. We have a duty in defence of the sanctity of life to act.
According to the testimony that Dr. David Goldbloom, of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, presented to the health committee, over 90% of the Canadians who died from suicide were experiencing some sort of mental health issue. By the very nature of the complexity of the problem of suicide, approaching suicide prevention is complex in and of itself.
Teachers in a position to recognize suicidal behaviours are rarely trained to do so. It is even uncommon for medical doctors and nurses to receive specific training in this area. That is where the bill would help. Many suicide prevention groups in Canada do outstanding work. They are on the front lines. They are there when people need them. They help refuel that hope, and even if it is for a short period of time, it gives them another chance.
That is why setting up a federal framework to better coordinate these efforts makes so much sense. Great work is being done by so many groups from coast to coast. I mentioned one such group 19 days ago in this chamber, called the “Jack Project”. This initiative was spawned by the tragic death by suicide of young Jack Windeler. The project's school-based outreach program is now being piloted for a full rollout next year, and I know all of my colleagues would wish them all a great success.
Let us leverage and share information and resources, share successes and ensure we can share accurate statistics as well. That is national leadership and it is a message of hope to vulnerable Canadians.
Let me reflect on two of the statements made to the health committee on this bill, which will sum it well.
One was Dr. David Goldbloom, who I referenced a couple of minutes ago, who spoke on behalf of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. He said:
|| The federal framework that's under consideration today will definitely advance the strategy's recommendations to mobilize leadership, to strengthen collaboration, and to strengthen the infrastructure that's required to improve mental health outcomes in Canada with a particular focus on suicide prevention.
This view from a medical professional speaks volumes, and so does the other statement I want to highlight, a view from the very front lines of suicide prevention.
Tana Nash, from the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council, which is located in a community just a few minutes up the highway from my constituency, remarked on how the federal framework could be the catalyst for a hub of resources and evidence-based information and programs which would be a godsend for organizations that were cash-strapped yet were doing so much in local communities.
|| I can tell you from a grassroots organization that this is essential. We are all operating on shoestring and non-existent budgets, but we imagine a hub where all of us working across Canada can access tools, brochures, and ideas, and where we can simply add our own local crisis information, instead of reinventing the wheel.
What is most encouraging was the example she gave of how a groundbreaking program, run by her organization, was unknown in my community of Hamilton, an excellent program that takes place at the grassroots level to help prevent suicides in the most practical and direct way possible, and how the federal framework proposed by this bill could help make that connection and save lives.
These are the words of Tana Nash of the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council:
|| One example from the Waterloo region is the Skills for Safer Living group. This is a 20-week psychosocial, psycho-educational support group, but it's specifically for folks who have had suicide attempts and are still wrestling with wanting to die. This group was developed at St. Michael's Hospital with much evidence behind it that proves its success. It teaches things like emotional and coping skills, and how to gauge your own behaviour on a sliding scale, so that you know when you're escalating and how to reach out for help.
|| We are fortunate that this now runs in the Waterloo region, but when I talked to the Suicide Prevention Community Council of Hamilton last week, they hadn't heard about this great program. They are hungry to have such practical training in their region as well. It's another proven practice that can be rolled out across Canada
There are a number of experts who contributed to this discussion of Bill C-300 and the federal framework for suicide prevention at the committee level. We thank them for their time and expertise. We especially thank them for all the work they do on a daily basis in communities across Canada to help prevent suicides, and the anguish and heartbreak that suicide creates.
I believe Bill C-300 serves as a useful instrument to promote dialogue, education and awareness among federal partners. I believe the development of a federal framework on suicide prevention will also carve the way for a greater federal integration of initiatives, programs and services and will assist in greater collaboration among partners, as my colleague for Kitchener—Conestoga mentioned earlier, not only federal partners but provincial, territorial and municipal partners and all of the great NGOs that do such great work.
It has been a privilege to speak to the bill. I thank the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga and all members from both sides who have advanced this discussion so fewer parents next year may suffer a Mother's Day under such excruciating circumstance of loss.
Mr. Glenn Thibeault (Sudbury, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise today and voice my support for Bill C-300, an act respecting a federal framework for suicide prevention.
I also want to congratulate my hon. colleague from the other side of the House for bringing forward an issue that I think is truly important to every MP and Canadian right across the country. No matter what colour one's tie is, this is an important issue for all of us to address.
The bill would enact and establish a requirement for the Government of Canada to develop a federal framework for suicide prevention in consultation with the relevant non-governmental organizations, the relevant entity in each province and territory as well as the relevant federal departments.
The bill is a great first step, but we believe more could have been done. We presented some amendments at committee to make the bill stronger to ensure that Canadians had a bill that encompassed everyone and included first nations, Métis and Inuit as well. However, we will move forward in good faith with the bill because, as I mentioned, we believe it is a good first step.
Suicide has a major impact on Canadians today. It is the second leading cause of death among 10 to 24 year olds and the third leading cause among 25 to 49 years olds. Furthermore, the stigma that surrounds mental health and suicide has long delayed a national dialogue about the issue and how to address it. Therefore, I am very happy that we are talking about it on the national stage.
Suicide is a tragedy for many Canadians and their families. Given the current statistics that I mentioned earlier, it is likely that most Canadians have been impacted by a death by suicide. However, suicide is entirely preventable through a combination of knowledge, care and compassion.
We in the NDP support the bill put forward by my hon. colleague. We think a national suicide prevention strategy is something that families and stakeholders have been demanding for years now.
The NDP has consistently worked on this issue in the past. In 2011, my colleague for Halifax put forward Bill C-297, An Act respecting a National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. My friend's bill already calls for the provinces, territories and representatives from first nations, Inuit and Métis people to work together to create a national strategy for suicide prevention. The bill would ensure access to mental health and substance abuse services, reduce the stigma associated with using mental health and suicide-related services, establish national guidelines for best practices in suicide prevention, work with communities to use cultural-specific knowledge to design appropriate policies and programs, coordinate professionals and organizations throughout our great country in order to share information and research and support health care professionals and others who work with individuals at risk of suicide.
I believe my colleague's bill is the template of how we should approach a national suicide prevention strategy as it would allow for best practices to be set up, particularly for at-risk communities.
These are some key facts and figures about suicide in Canada that are very disturbing: 10 people die every day by suicide; over 3,500 people die by suicide annually; and, in the past 20 years, more than 100,000 Canadians have died by suicide. In Canada the number of people affected by suicide due to the loss of a loved one, friend or co-worker is estimated at three million. I am, unfortunately, one of those three million.
Back in 1986, 26 years ago, my brother-in-law decided to take his own life. I can talk about how a family goes through that type of trauma and what the family to this day still goes through. Many times at Christmas dinner, Thanksgiving or any family gathering, we talk about what it would be like to have that individual back with us as a family.
Of course, there are always those feelings of doubt. What could we have done to make things better? What could we have done to change what has happened? There is really nothing that we could have done, at the end of the day, because my brother-in-law needed some help. What we could have done is try to find ways to get him that help. I think this national strategy is doing what we can to ensure that no other person ever has to go through this and no other family ever has to go through this, and I hope we all can understand.
If we are looking at international comparisons, both the United Nations and the World Health Organization have recognized suicide as a serious and priority public health issue. We were once a world leader on suicide prevention, but now Canada lags behind other industrialized countries.
In 1993, at the invitation of the UN Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs, Canada hosted an international experts' meeting to develop UN-supported suicide prevention guidelines.
Following the release of these guidelines, both the United Nations and the World Health Organization called upon every country to not only establish its own national strategy but also appoint and adequately fund a coordinating body responsible for suicide prevention.
Whereas Australia, New Zealand, Wales, England, Norway, Sweden, Scotland and the United States, to name a few, now all have national suicide prevention strategies that have proven to work, Canada still does not. I think with this bill we are getting one step closer. However, as I mentioned at the top, we will continue to work to try to make this bill stronger.
Let us look at our statistics in Canada. They show Canada has a higher suicide rate, for example, than the United States. It is in the top third of developed countries with the highest rate of suicide.
The Government of Canada has stated in the past that the Mental Health Commission of Canada framework already covers suicide prevention. However, its important 2009 report, “A Framework for a Mental Health Strategy for Canada”, only briefly touches upon the issue of suicide. It does not even specifically include in it any of its seven recommendations and it does not constitute a suicide prevention strategy.
All experts and stakeholders agree that its mandate does not properly cover the issue of suicide prevention. As yet, there is no sign that the MHCC is doing the necessary work that is needed on this issue. The MHCC is focused on bringing about long-term fundamental changes with respect to various mental health issues, while a national suicide prevention strategy is desperately needed, especially today, given the crisis facing many communities.
The MHCC even notes that suicide is often but not always, 95% of the time, associated with the presence of a mental illness. A suicide prevention strategy is needed because it is distinct from the issue of mental health.
Let me quote from a media article today from a Vancouver Island first nation, where it has declared a state of emergency because over the last few weeks it has seen the number of suicides in its communities dramatically increase. I believe it was four.
|| Leaders of a Vancouver Island First Nation have declared a state of emergency over the recent spate of suicides and attempted suicides.
According to the chief:
|| Unless we receive support from the feds and province, we may lose more community members to what feels like a hopeless situation, and although we have provided some resources, it is very limited and employees are over-taxed with the burden of double duty.
That is why we truly need a national strategy on suicide prevention.
I know my time is running out. With that, I will just mention again that we support the bill as it is presented, but we would definitely like to see more amendments and things brought forward to make this a stronger bill.