Evidence of meeting #33 for Health in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was suicide.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Dammy Damstrom-Albach  President, Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention
  • Jennifer Fodden  Executive Director, Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line
  • Denise Batters  As an Individual
  • Brian Mishara  Director, Centre for Research and Intervention on Suicide and Euthanasia, Université du Québec à Montréal, As an Individual
  • Marnin Heisel  Associate Professor and Research Scientist, Department of Psychiatry and Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Western Ontario
  • Clerk of the Committee  Mrs. Mariane Beaudin

March 8th, 2012 / 10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you very much.

It's good to be here. I'll echo Dr. Sellah's comments about International Women's Day. Certainly some of the most courageous women I've had the pleasure to meet have been witnesses here at this committee.

Denise, I put you in that category, certainly, today.

I'm going to try to get through this: I didn't have the pleasure of serving with Dave, but I know my family speaks very fondly of him and you.

I'll speak today as well for Ms. Block—who's lost her voice—as a Saskatchewan MP.

Dave had a lot of friends. He was well loved, and he certainly is missed.

Dave was in the system. It sounds like he did seek help and he did receive care. I don't know if he was ever hospitalized or anything for that care, but he wasn't one who avoided the system, and this kind of came out of nowhere.

Were there any gaps in that system? Dave was in it. Did you find any gaps in the system that we should be looking at as we examine the system, gaps that need to be filled?

10:10 a.m.

As an Individual

Denise Batters

I think some of that would certainly be outside the scope of the federal government. It was more a situation where, yes, he received treatment, but knowing the severity of what he was suffering with came too late. At a point when you lose hope, when the really great help....

If that great help had come at the beginning, I probably wouldn't be here today. But it was too late in the going, to the point where Dave had lost hope—unbeknownst to me; I'm trying to keep his hope up at all times and he's kind of putting a brave face on it.

There's one thing that I think would help early in the going. For many people who are depressed, medication is a good answer for them, and sometimes it's the only thing they need. For many other people, though, and I think Dave would fall into this category, having effective counselling and dealing with a psychologist or a counsellor for talk therapy is an integral part of the process.

That was the part that came too late for Dave.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

You obviously were dealing with the Saskatchewan medical system. I guess that's always the struggle on this health committee, to determine what is the role of the federal government when you look at these. Obviously the delivery in Saskatchewan is the responsibility of the Government of Saskatchewan; it's the same for British Columbia, where I'm from.

What role do you think the federal government can play to help us make sure that there are fewer situations like Dave's? Obviously education is an important part of it. Are there other roles you see specifically for the federal government to take as we tackle this issue?

10:10 a.m.

As an Individual

Denise Batters

I think it's the exact things that are targeted by this bill, actually: the public awareness about suicide, and not just depression and mental illness but also suicide, as well as providing this federal framework. I think it's so needed. There is great work done by people with organizations like this, and volunteers, and other types of organizations throughout the country, but if you don't have a federal framework, you don't have people relaying those best practices and stories so that everyone can benefit from them. And it's not just that we have a really great situation in this province, or in this community; a terrible one would also really benefit from the knowledge of what's going on there.

So that, from my understanding of it, would be the best role the federal government could play.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

You mentioned the golf tournament you had. Is there anything else planned for the future? Is there a Dave Batters foundation or anything like it that you're working with?

10:10 a.m.

As an Individual

Denise Batters

There's a bank account open, but it's depleted of funds right now, after we ran all the commercials. But, yes, I'm looking actually to have another golf tournament this year. Last year, we couldn't have it because a few of the people on the committee were extremely busy with different time commitments, one of them being the federal election. Then right when we got to the point where everyone had time, we had terrible weather in Saskatchewan last year, with lots of big rainstorms that totally flooded out a few of our courses. This year I'm hoping we can get back on track and resume that tournament, because it was such a great experience. It actually poured the day of the golf tournament part way through the day, but nobody cared. Everyone was just there for a great cause and to remember Dave, and it was such a good event.

I've also spoken to some large groups of people in Saskatchewan about Dave's story, including my church. They had a mother-daughter banquet, and they had 500 people at it. Ukrainian Catholics usually don't want to talk about these kinds of topics, but they came to ask me to speak at it. All the money they raised at that they put towards running the commercial for more time. So I did that.

I spoke to a bereavement group in Regina at Christmastime about how to have some hope for the holidays.

So, yes, I continue to do those kinds of things. I've done significant media in Saskatchewan about this topic and about our story. I think those kinds of things have really helped public awareness, and I want to continue that.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you very much.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joy Smith

Thank you, Mr. Strahl.

We'll now go to Dr. Morin.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Thank you for your great presentations. The topic of study is a fairly emotional one.

My first question is for Ms. Jennifer Fodden.

You mentioned that the target clientele of your GLBT organization is mainly young people under the age of 26. This sub-population is made up of young people who may have difficulty accepting themselves because of their sexual orientation, their identity. It's often complicated by the fact that they are bullied, either at school, on the Internet, or in the street.

People on this committee may not know much about the difficulties that this sub-population experiences. Could you tell us what life is like for these GLBT youths who are bullied and who have difficulty accepting themselves?

10:15 a.m.

Executive Director, Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line

Jennifer Fodden

Thank you for your question.

We hear very commonly from young people who are struggling to find acceptance within themselves and from the members of their community. That can have a very profound impact on their mental health and the degree of hope they can hold onto for what life holds for them as they come into themselves and into their adult lives.

What I'd like to really emphasize to the committee is that it's not so much any one individual's actions that can have such a grievous impact on a person's sense of worth, but rather the attitudes of the community around the incident or around that person, where there's a benign neglect of the situation, where people turn a blind eye, people don't intervene or call a bully out on their behaviour to communicate to the person who's being targeted that in fact those ideas and ideals are not shared by the broader community. It's when school officials, other students, family members, and the community in general remain silent and don't intervene to let a young person know that they do have value, that they do have worth, and that as a community they can expect a life of their own design, that they can expect to experience love and a sense of value and opportunities. Those kinds of interventions, simple as they might sound, can be really enormously helpful. That's the kind of support we provide.

We operate out of Toronto, but we serve youth throughout Ontario, so we get phone calls from remote communities, where a person feels like the only individual they've ever met who might identify as lesbian or gay or bisexual or trans. They can hear one person 1,000 kilometres away say to them, “You're not abnormal. It's okay to experience the thoughts and feelings and desires you have.” Just to hear that person at a remote location say that and say, “There will be opportunities for you in this life”—and I can say that because I know, because I've been there myself—can be enormously powerful.

In terms of broader social change, we need to create a climate in schools where it's understood to be unacceptable to communicate homophobic and transphobic values on the playground or in the classrooms.

Certainly, those broader initiatives for social change help young people to understand that they do live in a country, in a society, where hate and oppression won't be tolerated.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Thank you.

My next question focuses on what in some way is the negative consequence of the lack of intervention for GLBT youths. Ms. Batters said that, between age 30 and 50, some men experience mental health problems, especially GLBT individuals. Men or women lead a double life, never accept themselves, despite all these—

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joy Smith

Dr. Morin, you have 20 seconds.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Could you tell us a little bit about that reality?

10:15 a.m.

Executive Director, Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line

Jennifer Fodden

Certainly. Suicidal ideation is not the territory of the young alone. For individuals who are adults, who are living a life where they're working hard to protect what they feel is an unacceptable secret about themselves, it takes an enormous amount of energy and mental strain. Often we communicate to individuals that they have to choose between a sense of belonging in one community or another.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joy Smith

Thank you, Ms. Fodden.

I'm sorry, you've gone over time.

Mr. Gill.