House of Commons Hansard #26 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was illness.

Topics

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, 58,000 men and women died in the Vietnam War. The memorial in the United States shows all the names of those who died in Vietnam. What it does not say is that 120,000 returning soldiers from Vietnam killed themselves in the intervening 40 years. How many people actually died in Vietnam? It is more than just 58,000.

It is a tragedy when people who serve their country end up taking their own lives for whatever reason.

In talking to many veterans across this country, I found frustration, and I am sure aboriginal communities feel the same way about the bureaucratic delay. I am not blaming anyone for the bureaucratic delays in processing veterans' claims, but veterans I know of committed suicide because they just felt that nobody was listening, that nobody would help them, and they felt they had no other way out.

When we notice someone has a problem, could the hon. member suggest to the government and to all of us how quickly we should be acting in order to assist them and their families?

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was not aware of those figures from the Vietnam War and those who returned. That is an enormous number. It is also reflective of what is happening now, and not just in our armed forces. Our armed forces are much smaller, but the problem is still just as large.

I can reference my comments from the last question. People need to know we value their being on this earth. People need to know that we value the work they have done and the sacrifices they have made. Part of expressing that value is by listening and being ready to help when we need to help.

Coupled with that is an atmosphere in which people feel safe and secure in asking for that help, because we know that is also one of the problems.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is easy to give a speech full of statistics, but in this case, we must look at the facts, which are so shocking.

There are about 10 suicides a day or over 3,500 suicides a year in Canada. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 24. Imagine that; we have statistics on children as young as 10. Suicide rates are four to six times higher for aboriginal youth than for non-aboriginal youth. The Inuit suicide rate is more than 10 times higher than the rate for the rest of the population of Canada. Furthermore, in 2002, the WHO reported that nearly one million people had committed suicide that year, which exceeded the total number of deaths by war, homicide and civil conflicts.

Shocking does not even begin to describe those statistics. That is why last Parliament I actually introduced a bill for a national suicide prevention strategy, Bill C-297, as it is known in this Parliament.

I started working on the bill after I received a call from a man in Nunavut, Jack Hicks. He is a suicide prevention educator and researcher. He called our office and said, “You need to know what is happening in my community” and he told us about what was happening in his community. He talked about suicide and suicide prevention, and we realized we could do something legislatively. We could have a legislative answer to that. He talked about the fact that there is good work being done in provinces, in communities. In the smallest of communities and large cities there is good working being done on suicide prevention, but the problem is that it is not connected. We are not sharing best practices. We are not talking about what is working in different communities. There is no way to connect these things. So, we thought about the fact that we need a co-ordinated approach in Canada and put together this bill for a suicide prevention strategy.

In doing that, I had the great pleasure and privilege of working with the people from CASP, the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. They worked so hard on this issue of suicide prevention, generally, but also in helping us with our bill and bringing it forward. I am so grateful to them for their work on suicide prevention and our bill.

When we introduce a bill on suicide prevention, an issue like that, I can tell members that we get a lot of attention from media. For example, when a particular issue arises or a particular event in a community, we are asked to do some public speaking. That has been a journey for me. It has been an amazing experience. Unfortunately, we get to really become immersed in the issue of suicide but, fortunately, it means we get to hear about the stories around Canada and realize that this is such a terrible problem in our country but that there are solutions.

Last year, I was asked by APTN, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, to do an interview because a boy, eight years old, in a small town in northern Saskatchewan died by suicide.

Can members even imagine an eight-year-old boy knowing that is an option, having seen it in his community, knowing that it was something he could do, thinking it was an answer and, frankly, knowing how to do it?

This is happening in our communities across Canada. It is something we cannot avoid. It is something we cannot hide from any more.

Another incredible experience I have had working on my own bill is being able to work across party lines on this issue. I am thrilled that the Liberals have brought forward this motion today and that we are in this House, in this amazing, wonderful place, debating this incredibly important issue. I am thrilled that we are working on the issue of suicide prevention.

I have also worked closely with the member for Kitchener—Conestoga, on the government side of the House. He is truly a champion for suicide prevention in his own community and across Canada.

In fact, this week, the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention is holding a conference in Vancouver. It has actually honoured the two of us, both myself and the member for Kitchener—Conestoga, for our work on suicide prevention. We were both very sorry that we were not there personally to accept the award, but it has been a privilege to work with CASP and we were both so honoured to be given this award for our work.

I have also had the opportunity to work with amazing community groups who have endorsed the bill that I introduced, and I presume they would be very supportive of this motion, organizations like the Canadian Psychiatric Association. We have had municipalities come forward and endorse the bill from all around Canada. Also, individuals, mental health workers, the Canadian Mental Health Association, and the Assembly of First Nations. It has been, really, overwhelming and so wonderful.

I also had the chance to work with a young man in my riding, named Scott Chisholm. He is actually now living in the riding of Thunder Bay—Rainy River. He put together a photo exhibit called “Collateral Damage”. They are photos and excerpts from people talking about how suicide has touched their lives. We hosted an art show, actually, in my riding office of these photos. They are stunning. Many of the folks are from Nova Scotia.

It was really a profound experience to walk through the exhibit and see people I knew from my community sharing their stories, people who I had no idea their lives had been touched by suicide. One of the lines or one of the tag lines Scott uses to describe his project is, “Not talking about it is not working.” He is right.

Everybody who is featured in his photo exhibit talks about that, how they have never talked about how suicide has touched their lives, how they have never shared with anybody. It is an amazing experience. He is actually touring the show around Nova Scotia and hopefully will get to some other provinces as well.

In bringing forward a private member's bill, I have often been asked if it is ever going to pass or if it has any hope of being debated in the House of Commons. I have always responded that it is part of a process, it is part of building a movement around suicide prevention. A bill can be a touchstone that people can look at and rally around.

I think that is evidenced here today. When we start talking about issues in the House of Commons, when we bring forward motions or private members' bills, we never know what is next. I could never have predicted, for example, that there would be an opposition day motion on this issue where politicians across the House would have to stand and talk about the issue of suicide prevention.

When it comes to the private member's bill, as well, I have said publicly that I will pull it if it means there is a solution. If the government says it is going to specifically mandate the Mental Health Commission to take on suicide prevention, I will pull the bill. If the government says it is actually going to put this under public health's realm, that it is going to give the jurisdiction to them, I will pull the bill. If the government says it is going to bring forward a bill for a national suicide prevention strategy, I will pull mine.

This is not a partisan issue. This is about prevention. Suicide is a preventable death. If we all work together across party lines, we can prevent suicides in this country. A suicide prevention strategy is exactly what educators and advocates around the country have been asking for. It is all they have been asking for.

The motion is a wonderful step in that direction. I really hope that together we can make it a reality.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the hon. member on her speech. I thought it was a thoughtful speech.

The idea behind the motion was to spend an entire day talking about suicide and getting that national conversation going. The member for Toronto Centre is to be congratulated.

I wanted, however, to have the member focus on military suicides. Being from Halifax, I am sure this is a bit of a sensitive issue for her. I am looking at some statistics put out by DND. Of all causes of death, and I do not have the timeframe here but the pool is 2,620 deaths, of that 2,620 deaths, among males, 696 are being described as suicide and an additional 26 from mental illness. In the order of 25% of all deaths in the military during this statistical period, exclusive of females, is from suicide.

I would be interested in the member's observations particularly with respect to being from the Halifax area.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question and for sharing with us this statistic.

Statistics really help us ground our discussion here because who could even imagine that 25% of male deaths in the military would be as a result of suicide.

With that statistic being shocking, I actually want to point that we have the same issue in other groups as well. I think the member would be equally surprised to know that suicide among seniors is on the rise. That is not something I knew before I started working on this issue. It is actually something that is on the rise, and folks do not know about it.

We know that more women attempt suicide, and more men are successful. I think no matter what group we look at, whether it is gay, lesbian youth, youth generally, first nations, or people serving in the military, the numbers will surprise members. I hope they surprise us or shock us to the point that we feel we actually have to act.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Halifax on her good work on this initiative for the past many months, and indeed, I congratulate her on the award as well.

During this debate we have focused a lot on the need for some national leadership, guidelines, and so on. That is at the heart of what we are all agreeing on today. We acknowledge the great work that many national, provincial and regional organizations are doing on this file. I shared earlier today my experience working with the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council on some of its great initiatives.

For me, it is helpful to know what initiatives are being carried out in ridings in other areas of the country. I would ask my colleague to share one or two anecdotes as evidence of the work that is going on in her area, another confirmation that we simply need to provide some resources and glue to help people work better together.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting. I had a great meeting with some folks in Halifax who do injury prevention. I thought they were coming to talk to me about helmets and making sure people wear their seat belts. Actually, what they wanted to talk to me about was suicide prevention. It says a lot to me about interesting innovative things that are happening in communities, that a provincial injury prevention group would tackle the issue of suicide, because it is injury.

With that little example, I would like to pick up on something the member raised about national coordination and federal leadership. We do not know what is happening in these communities. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, CASP, has done a great job of trying to pull together what is going on. The member opposite has done the same thing. I am trying to compile a list of what is out there.

Why do we not have just one person who could say what is working in one community and share that information with Alberta or New Brunswick? This is what we are asking for, a co-ordinated approach to share those best practices and to share those good ideas across the country.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Before resuming debate, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Etobicoke North, The Environment; the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway, Citizenship and Immigration.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for York West.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this important subject. I want to acknowledge the work of my leader, the member for Toronto Centre, who literally has changed the channel here today. I would say that he has changed the channel for the better.

Interestingly, since the motion was introduced this morning, I have had three very intense conversations with random people about this very subject. One occurred at lunch today with a pastor friend of mine who has officiated at the funeral services for 13 people who committed suicide over the course of his pastoral career. He was first on the scene for two people as he cut them down from their hanging. He said that he cleaned up blood on the floor and counselled people two hours prior to their committing suicide. He lives with that each and every day. It affects his ministry. Of course it affects all of the families that are touched by suicide. In some respects, it just never goes away.

Today I am going to take the opportunity to talk about the mental illness aspect of suicide. I do not think there is a person in the chamber who has not been affected either directly or indirectly by someone in their family or close to their family who has a mental illness. My family is no exception.

We have walked alongside our son for the last 12 years as he has battled schizophrenia. He has battled suicide attempts. He has battled addictions. We have pretty well visited every mental health facility in the eastern region of the greater Toronto area. We have been to emergency facilities. We have been to flophouses. We have been to hospitals. We have been to emergency rooms. Dozens of incidents have resulted in heartache for our family, anger, frustration, embarrassment, all resulting from Nathan's illness.

This is personal for us. We are a well-resourced middle-class family. We have access to some pretty good resources. In fact, Nathan's stepmother is a physician. But our family experience in some respects is no different from literally thousands of other Canadian families who are left to cope with this illness. Frankly, were it not for the tireless efforts of my wife in particular but clearly other members of the family, Nathan would be dead. He would be under some bridge or in some flophouse.

Mental illness is like no other illness. It literally robs an individual of his or her life while the individual is still breathing. It is an alienating and isolating illness. It removes the individual from family support. The individual cannot sustain work. The individual simply cannot sustain relationships.

Part of our incomplete response, and it is a very incomplete response, to those who have mental illness had to do with the deinstitutionalization that went on in the 1980s or 1990s. When this occurred a lot of people were put on the street and many of them were simply not capable of handling the street. Not all people on the street have a mental illness, but it is a difficult place to be when the person is fighting mental illness. Life is a lot more complicated than simply being on the street and having a mental illness and thinking about suicide. If it were that simple we could understand it.

I walk to work every day along Metcalfe Street and there are my regulars whom I talk to from time to time. They all at one point had lives. There is a guy outside the Starbucks at Metcalfe and Slater and I wonder what his life was like prior to begging for money.

Our experience has been with psychotic breaks. Nathan was enrolled in a post-secondary institution when he had his first psychotic break, although he may well have had previous ones that we simply did not recognize. When he was 19 he started to hear voices. Sometimes the voices told him to do things that obviously were not things that could be done. Sometimes it involved harm to himself. We have gone through the experience of arriving home and finding him unconscious, but so far, touch wood, those voices have not told him to do harm to others.

Nevertheless, he freaks out some people, particularly his female siblings. and causes all kinds of consternation for those who care for him the most. Probably he is more dangerous to himself than he is to others, but he causes a lot of turmoil for his caregivers. As I say, we are a well-resourced family and I can only imagine how difficult it must be for single mothers or other people who are not as well resourced.

I will try to avoid wearing my partisan hat, but I must admit that I have a tough time with the tough on crime agenda while l am standing for three hours in an emergency line trying to get help. It does not work for me. Yet that is the point at which Nathan is most likely to commit some criminal act. Talking about minimum mandatories to him at that stage does not mean a thing. We deal with the social services that are available to us in our community. These are the secular saints of our community, but all the time they are just scraping for resources. It is just really difficult.

Again, we live in the largest city in Canada. It is not as if there is no money, but the resources are very difficult to access. His mother acts like his advocate because he cannot or will not, and harasses people, intimidates people, yells and screams at people, reasons with people and just continually gnaws at all of the resources that need to be made available, whether it is housing, psychiatric visits, or whatever. If his mother did not do that, I dare say that we might be dealing with a suicide in our family.

This is an extraordinarily difficult issue for us, but as one of the previous speakers said, if we do not start talking about it, nothing will change. I do not think we can carry on in a civilized society like Canada and expect that if we do not get hold of this issue, things will change. Things will not change unless there is a will.

We have heard a lot of statistics in this chamber. I hope Nathan will not become a statistic. He will never be a statistic to us, but there is that possibility.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his very passionate speech. My heart, the hearts of members on this side and I am sure the hearts of every member in this House goes out to him and his family. I know that we have prayed for his son many times and we will continue to do that.

Like my colleague, since I have started talking about the initiative of the private members' bills and so on going back to motion no. 388 which dealt with suicide predators, I have had many people speak to me about suicide and inevitably they would share a personal story about something in their own family that they have dealt with. Just this past Sunday, a gentleman, probably in his mid-70s, talked to me about his son who had ended his life by suicide. He shared some of his pain.

I want to thank my colleague for highlighting the willingness to discuss this openly. As I mentioned, my colleague from the west, Dave Batters, was forthright in sharing his story, and now it is his wife, Denise.

The question I have relates to the pain that my colleague, and many of us, experience and the importance of having some piece in this strategy. How does he feel about the importance of having a clear part in this to deal not only with prevention and intervention, but also with the care for the families and communities that are left to pick up the broken pieces?

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to congratulate my hon. colleague for his work on this file. It has not been unnoticed and it has been well worthwhile.

I guess I am so far into the weeds I honestly do not have an answer. We experience it on a daily basis. We experienced it this weekend. I wish I had the magic bullet. I appreciate the efforts that all governments have made, but it is just way below an acceptable standard.

My observation in working our way through the system is that mental illness is always the poor cousin of everybody and every thing. It is the poor cousin of research and resources.

For instance, in our city when people run around saying that they are going to cut the gravy train, I know where that gravy train is going to get cut. It means, frankly, that Nathan will not have access to his acting or something like that. It is very distressing.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my friend for sharing his story and the gift of his son, Nathan, with us today.

I think the member brings focus when he speaks about Nathan to the three million Canadians who are affected by this issue. It is not just Nathan, it is his family and everyone like Nathan and their families, co-workers and all sorts of other people. It is estimated that about three million people are touched by suicide every year in this country.

I do not want to ask the member a specific question, but I wonder if he would like to comment on that particular part of the issue and on why we do not do anything about this, and the other issues that he has pointed out.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is actually 33 million who have been touched by this. There is not a person in this room that has not been touched by this. There is not one of our constituents who has not been touched by this. Why do we not do anything? It is probably stigmatization.

I spoke about the event I was at where I asked the minister a question, and a very senior person in the Canadian military talked about his difficulties with mental illness. It is tremendously difficult to avoid the stigmatization, particularly if one is a warrior. They would not be up to speed. Even here, sharing what I have shared, it does not exactly fit with my own image of myself.

These are difficult issues and I think that is one of the major reasons why we do not talk about it. Maybe we are embarrassed, or whatever, and we are just not able to talk about it.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to my colleague and others and it is the first time in the 12 years I have been here that we all seem to be talking to each other about something that is really important. It is nice to hear that we all care and we are all saying the right things, but where do we go after today? Will we vote on the motion and pass it after saying nice things, and then wake up tomorrow and go our own way again?

We have been talking about this issue for many years. Never have we talked about it in the context of an opposition day motion that the Liberal leader put forward. I am grateful he did that because it gives us an opportunity to talk about something that nobody wants to talk about. Nobody wants to talk about the suffering that is going on in the streets of our cities, in our houses and our families. The suffering is taking place, but nobody tells anybody else what goes on in their houses.

We all keep it hidden because nobody wants to talk about the difficulties, whether it is a child suffering from a drug addiction or a child with schizophrenia. Nobody wants to talk about that. Everything is wonderful in this world we live in. There are a few people who do not have places to live and a few people that go to food banks, but otherwise everybody in the world is good. It would be great if we could solve all those problems when there are so many people in this country suffering from mental illness in one capacity or another. We heard the numbers today. Another 10 people will die today by suicide because of a feeling of hopelessness and none of us seem to be able to see it.

There was a young man who was part of my extended family and grew up with my son. He was fine and just like any other kid. He did not cause any trouble and went to school. He did not get great marks, but he was doing okay. He was 20 years old in the second year of college and had challenges with his parents because he was not doing well enough. He had been at my house for supper and he and my son did their homework together. We said goodbye and that we would see him on the weekend.

The next day his mother called to see if Shawn happened to be at my house. I said no, he was not at my house, he was at her house. She said he did not come home the night before and she thought maybe he had stayed at my place. We all called around and could not find him. Then we realized his backpack was gone from his bedroom, so we did what people do. We called the police and everybody else there was to call, but there was no locating Shawn.

Some months later his shoes were found on the side of the Niagara Escarpment. His parents had found a prescription for anti-depressants in his drawer at home. The doctor had said that he was being treated for severe depression, which none of us had any idea of. The doctor could not tell his parents because he was 20 years old and he needed their son's permission to tell them. Needless to say, that is how we found out that he was suffering from severe depression. Otherwise, none of us had any idea.

From the day they found his shoes until today, which is 14 years, a day does not go by that I and my family do not think about him and wonder why we did not see any of the signs of depression that he was suffering from. How did we miss it? It is a mistake for all of us. We need to be able to see the signs and know that there are services available to help people when they are suffering from that level of depression. I am sure that as long as I, my husband and especially my son and his family are alive, we will think about him often and blame ourselves for not seeing the signs.

That is only one section of all of this because the problems are severe. If we can find money for everything else in this world of ours, why can we not make it a priority to find money to have a serious mental health strategy, which would include a strategy to prevent suicide?

Look at how many times in the last couple of weeks we have heard about young kids committing suicide because they were gay, or because they were being bullied and could not handle it anymore. It is way over the hill with these things that are happening, and we are allowing them to happen.

With all the great things we talk about in this House, yet we cannot deal with the issues of mental illness in this country. We must begin to come forward and talk about it as Canadians and find answers.

Those answers are there. It is encouraging to know how much everyone cares today about this issue, and hearing my colleague talk about his own personal problems in his family. What happens to the families that do not have a support system, who do not know where to go, and who have no where to go?

These young people, and these older people, end up on the streets. When we see people begging on the streets, they are not there because they want to be there. They are there because they are not well. They are not mentally or physically well or they would not be sitting on a street corner in the middle of winter begging for money. However, we walk by them and do nothing. To me, it is a major problem when we walk by and do nothing. That individual is one of God's children, just like we are, and deserves help and assistance to move forward.

I would hope that as a result of this discussion today we actually do more than just adopt our opposition day motion, but that we truly make a commitment physically, financially, and mentally that we are not going to stop. We have four years ahead of us before we have to worry about elections. Maybe the one thing that the House could do in the next four years is actually put forward a mental health strategy for the country and put the dollars behind it. I think if we could do that over four years we would leave here feeling as if we actually are accomplishing something.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, as a number of people in the House have stated, there is not a single member who has not been touched by this through a friend, family, or in their community. I am fully aware of the fact that those who are well-to-do, as the hon. member previously mentioned, have a hard time struggling with addressing mental health issues in their families, let alone suicide. Most families cannot afford the fees for a psychologist. It is reprehensible in this modern day and age.

As I am sitting here, it is occurring to me, and I would appreciate the member's comment on this, we are moving forward and several years from now we will have a new health accord. There are two issues. Is it not time that we started opening up to the public a dialogue on what the federal responsibilities are and how the federal government should be delivering on its responsibilities, including working with territories, provinces, and first nation governments, which we have to remember is an order of government, in the delivery of our services? Does she agree that mental health, including suicide, should probably be part of that dialogue?