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 suicide.

Topics

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

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I believe that it is and should be. We are all Canadians and we all have a responsibility to provide the services to the communities in need.

I will speak personally to my own communities in the southwest of Manitoba, Brandon--Souris. We have seen a large influx of new Canadians and the challenges that they go through. A lot of it, as was previously mentioned, deals with language, social interaction and customs from other countries that may not be applicable in Canada. It is important that outreach, particularly in the mental health area, is vital for these people to feel comfortable, to learn, to be a part of the system and be a part of Canadiana. I support those very programs.

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

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Brandon—Souris for his presentation. I very much appreciated the idea that we have to be innovative in how we look at this problem.

Often an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Even though my colleague mentioned a number of government initiatives, they do not really address the entire problem.

For example, we could make it easier for aboriginal people to have access to education. Does my colleague agree that we should be more proactive about addressing the problem and give the communities what they need to flourish, rather than simply deal with the fallout?

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

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is important and a lot of the initiatives that our government has undertaken has been to identify those needs and to identify the shortcomings in certain communities and, in my humble opinion, it does not just apply to aboriginal communities. Many communities across Canada have shortcomings. I think that by first identifying them, looking at pilot projects and taking the best of what those offer to communities, this could be a Canada-wide initiative in the sense of what we learn from others quite often can apply to ourselves and how we benefit ourselves and our communities.

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

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Barrie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his eloquent speech today and for highlighting the focus of mental health.

As I mentioned in a previous comment, one of the things that was raised at the Busby Centre in Barrie, which is a terrific place that helps with homelessness, was the interrelation with homelessness and mental health issues and the need for government to do more. That would be one of the things the Mental Health Commission could address when it looks at the many different facets of mental health.

Does my colleague from Brandon—Souris share those same concerns in Manitoba?

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

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Before I recognize the hon. member for Brandon--Souris, I ordinarily would only recognize members when they are in their proper seat. I know the member for Barrie was not in the exact spot that he normally speaks from.

The hon. member for Brandon--Souris.

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

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I agree completely with what the member for Barrie said. In my community. we have a gentleman by the name of Glen Kruk who manages the mental health issues across southwestern Manitoba. He is an extremely energetic man. Dealing with homelessness, he spearheaded a project in Brandon where we created 63 residential spots. However, he was adamant that many of those spots would be for homeless people and for the mentally ill, and we are accomplishing that. I thank him every time I see him for his sincere work on behalf of mental illness in Canada.

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

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in today's debate. I will be splitting my time with the member for St. Paul's.

It will be 11 years next month that I have been in this chamber. I have had the opportunity to join in many important debates in this place but I see none more relevant and more important than the debate we are having here today.

I commend my leader, the member for Toronto Centre, for bringing this motion forward. It is a topic that people want to gloss over, talk around or not get too in depth on because it has such an impact. If anybody engaging in today's debate, whether on the floor of the House of Commons or watching it at home, has not been touched by suicide, whether a family member, a friend or someone close, then that person has lived a blessed life.

We have heard a number of stories and very personal accounts today of having known or having been close to someone who has taken his or her life. It is an emotional and confusing time. We as legislators and lawmakers must do all in our power to ensure that everything that can be done is being done to lessen the numbers and save lives. The purpose of today's debate is just that, and I appreciate the fact that this was brought forward.

Coming up to the Hill this morning, I saw two old friends of mine, one being Francis Leblanc, the former member for Cape Breton Highlands—Canso, and the other being Stephen Hogg. We chatted a bit and they asked me what was on tap for today in the House. I told them about the subject matter of the motion coming forward and it seized both of them. Obviously, Francis understood the importance of it and Stephen, for the most part, choked up. He said that it meant a lot to him because his dad took his life. I asked him if the signs were there and he said that, of course they were and, in retrospect, he could see them in the rear view mirror. He said that it all made sense when his family reached back and followed it up to the final account. They were seized by the anguish and torture that their dad must have felt. They did not understand where he had gotten the unregistered gun that he had used. The planning leading up to the suicide must have been a tumultuous time emotionally and mentally for the man.

There have been accounts shared here today, along with the account that I heard on the way in this morning. My son's young friend took his own life. He came from a strong, supportive family. He was very engaged in sports and was a successful athlete. He was pursuing an education and seemed to have a great number of supportive friends. Then we got the phone call that he had taken his life. When we lose somebody through suicide, it impacts on all of us. It is very easy to stigmatize those who take their own lives and it leaves us sort of reaching for answers.

We are great hockey lovers in Canada. We think that those who take part in our national sport are almost invincible. They are big, physical creatures and we think about them as being pretty tough to play in the National Hockey League. We think they are physically tough, mentally tough, emotionally tough and they need to be to compete at that level. That is the reality.

However, the hockey community was shaken and the country was shaken over the course of the last number of months when we saw three very high-profile professional athletes take their own lives: Derek Boogaard, from Minnesota Wild; Rick Rypien, a former Canuck; and most recently, Wade Belak, a former member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. If anybody followed the careers of those three, they saw that they did have some common past. The link was made to the fact that they played a very physical role throughout their NHL careers. They were enforcers. They were the guys who dropped the gloves. They were the guys who picked up for their other teammates. If the tempo had to be changed, they were the guys who took that upon themselves. All three of them were very physical and certainly not shy to drop the gloves and become involved. I think Belak had 145 fights in his NHL career.

So, automatically, they sort of linked that together and asked whether the NHL was doing enough to address fighting in hockey. It all became about fighting. However, they missed the whole point in narrowing it down to the commonality of being fighters because, as things played out, we realized that all three suffered from depression.

What about a guy like Belak? I have a piece that Michael Landsberg from Off the Record put together in the wake of Belak's death, which I will read later. However, when we saw Belak on television or anything like that, the guy was a big, handsome farm boy with a beautiful wife and two kids. He was loving life, living large and all those things and we have to wonder, why him. However, in the wake of it, we realize that he had a nemesis and that nemesis was depression.

I did not realize my time was going that quickly but I do want to get Mr. Landsberg's comments on record when he talked about depression. He also suffered from depression. He stated:

We can't see depression. We can't biopsy it. Blood tests don't show it. Neither do x-rays. ... Depression is a disease. It's not an issue or a demon, although it may act like one. ... Start accepting depression as a serious and sometimes fatal illness.

I think that was very poignant.

Aaran Sands also wrote about Belak's death. Aaran Sands is a reporter who covered crime stories for a number of years. He talked about the stigma of depression, the stigma of mental illness and the cruel social stigma that comes with mental illness. He said:

Coming forward to seek help for my illness amounted to career and social suicide for me – it's been an extremely painful experience, worse than any nightmare I’ve ever had.

I hope things eventually change for the better. But until people start to look at mental illness differently, the suicides will continue, not just among suffering sports stars but in all walks of life.

The reason for today's motion, the reason to bring this issue to the fore of the House is to have that open debate on what it is we can do as a nation, what it is the government should be asking itself. Yes, it is taking steps and it is taking measures but is it doing all it can? Is there a better way to deliver services? Is there a better way to share information? What is it we can do? Are we doing the best we can as a nation?

That is the purpose of today's debate and I hope all members in this House see the merit of that, contribute to this debate and support this motion.

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

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am quite pleased to hear members speaking in the House today. We are all speaking with one voice about a serious issue, an issue that could involve any Canadian in any walk of life.

The member suggested that there may be some more things that we could do, and there is no question about that. Our government has done quite a bit. I am quite familiar with the excellent work of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, especially the at home project in Toronto, which links housing and mental illness, and the importance of having a safe, decent home, and helping that individual out.

I wonder if the member would like to suggest to the House today any other specific measures that the government could look at that would work to alleviate mental illness, depression and suicide issues in the country? Does he have anything specific that he could share with the government today?

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

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, there have been some positive contributions today. One thing that has evolved is that the Mental Health Commission of Canada has not been given the resources to carry out some of the recommendations it has put forward. It is important that be identified. Perhaps if the government were to take anything away from this debate and this motion today, it would be to put further resources behind the recommendations coming forward.

There are some good things happening. As my colleague has said, there are some good initiatives province to province. Some provinces are doing better than others. It should not matter about the area code of any Canadian. Any Canadian should have access.

I will just close with the comments made by Aaron Sands:

I have attempted suicide a couple times. Only recently did I come to feel lucky and grateful...thanks to the world-class treatment programs at Homewood Health Centre in Guelph and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

People are doing great things. This is about having the best practices. It is about ensuring that all Canadians are aware of those best practices and that they have access to them.

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

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to speak to today's debate. It is very important that the House urge the government to work cooperatively 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 prevent this terrible cause of death.

Last Wednesday, when our leader suggested this topic, put in motion a week of reflection, a week of memories and regrets tumbling back into every one of us who was worried about what we would say today. I said to the leader this morning that there are certain stories that cannot be told because there is no way to get through them.

The impotence that one feels as a friend, as a family physician is immeasurable. The line of “What could I have done? Did I do all I could?” just kept coming back and reverberating into what we know is largely a preventable occurrence, and “What can we do as a society, a family, as communities to make this preventable tragedy as small as possible?”

I remember having to go to the morgue and open a drawer, and recognize a patient of mine who had jumped off her balcony, previously homeless, when her birth mother came to find her and she felt not worthy.

I remember a CEO of an arts organization who was on her way to the AGM to explain that there was no money and they might have to shut down. She jumped in front of the subway on the way there.

I remember one of my best friends, a prominent lawyer at Blake, Cassels, who I spent the whole summer trying to talk to and keep alive. A prominent lawyer, great job, great relationship, but those sirens that she described were calling her, to see over the other side, and she eventually could not hold back. She hung herself in her basement.

It is often in reaction to depression, to losing a job or losing a relationship or, as we sometimes see, somebody in trouble with the law who is afraid that people will find out. However, it is based on that horrible diagnosis of depression. It is this hopeless, copeless, worthlessness that is really almost 100% of the time quite separate from the facts. To not be able to get over those feelings, and for us as relatives and friends to not be able to unpack it and not be able to deal with the actual changes in the brain, make it impossible for some to get beyond that.

We have seen PTSD in soldiers and we have seen it in our veterans. At health committee we heard from the widow of the RCMP officer who had been told that his depression was over, given back his handgun, and who killed himself that afternoon.

This is no easy task. As the member for Cape Breton—Canso mentioned, it is even in our most revered hockey players. I have a Jordin Tootoo jersey in my office, when he was with the Brandon Wheat Kings. I remember how excited we were that he would be the first Inuit player to play in the NHL.

His brother, Terence, had played pro hockey, and shortly after Jordin was drafted his brother took his own life because he had been arrested for drinking and driving. Even in his final suicide note, it said, “Jor. Go all the way. Take care of the family. You are the man. Ter.” Even in that final note, there was hope, in a certain way, that we could not get at and we were not able to do what needed to be done.

Our leader wrote an article in La Presse:

Today, 10 Canadians will take their own lives, a per capita rate three times that of the United States’, largely due to the staggering number of suicides among aboriginal Canadians.

I keep thinking about a presentation I did that was entitled “What Could I Have Done”. The first slide was a quote from a youth from the Royal Commission of Aboriginal Peoples. He said that he was strung between two cultures and psychologically at home in neither.

It is amazing that the statistics on suicide for our aboriginal people are so high. The statistics on suicide for our Inuit people show that they are 11 times greater than the rest of Canada at risk.

I remember Bill Mussell from the Native Mental Health Association explaining to me the importance of a secure personal cultural identity and how that builds self-esteem and resilience to handle things when bad things happen to good people. For some people, when bad things happen it just takes them down. As Bill Mussell said in his article in CAMH, “There has been some fine work by the RCAP and the senate committee”, but he also said:

According to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, good health is the outcome of living actively, productively and safely, with reasonable control over the forces affecting everyday life, with the means to nourish body and soul, in harmony with one’s neighbours and oneself, and with hope for the future of one’s children and one’s land--

Colonization brought changes that attacked, undermined and devalued the aboriginal world view, while at the same time drastically altering the conditions of life...Colonization brought negative, extreme and rapid changes to aboriginal life, while denying the validity of the tools traditionally used by First Nations to cope with change.

We have evidence to show what works and what does not. We are calling in the House for a strategy to have the audacity to fund what works and not fund those things that just make us feel better but do nothing to change the outcome.

Michael Chandler's unbelievable work at the University of British Columbia shows that the presence of self government in land claims, community-based education systems, health services, police and fire services, cultural facilities, getting back to ceremonies, women in government and child protection services have an impact on suicide rates. Community by community, those that have been able to get all of those things done have watched their youth suicide rate drop to virtually zero. His paper in Horizons concludes:

Taken altogether, this extended program of research strongly supports two major conclusions. First, generic claims about youth suicide rates for the whole of any Aboriginal world are, at best actuarial fictions that obscure critical community-by-community differences in the frequency of such deaths. Second, individual and cultural continuity are strongly linked, such that First Nations communities that succeed in taking steps to preserve their heritage culture, and that work to control their own destinies, are dramatically more successful in insulating their youth against the risks of suicide.

We want a real strategy and that means, what, when and how. We want it based in evidence and we want it funded properly. This means that there has to be an ability to use the research and knowledge, and translate that into effective policies, political will, effective programs and practices. It means ongoing applied research that takes us back to better research that can really identify best practices. We then have to have the nerve to put it in place.

In the health goals for Canada that all the health ministers approved in the fall of 2005, belonging and engagement was a very important one, but the government has yet to develop the indicators and targets.

Each and every person should have dignity, a sense of belonging and contribute to supportive families, friendships and diverse communities. We need to continue to learn throughout our lives through formal and informal education, relationships with others and the land. We must participate in and influence the decisions that affect our personal and collective health and well-being. As Nellie Cournoyea said in 1975 in Speaking Together: “Paternalism has been a total failure”.

We must work with our aboriginal communities, first nations, Inuit and Métis together to develop a real plan that will really address this national tragedy.

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

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech.

We know that other countries have suicide prevention strategies. I would like my colleague to talk about the benefits associated with such strategies. Getting back to Canada, it is not enough to say that we are investing in this or that. I would like my colleague to tell us what we could achieve collectively by adopting a national suicide prevention strategy.

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

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, strategies have already been adopted by other organizations that show the complexity of a true national strategy carried out in partnership with the provinces, the territories and aboriginal organizations.

However, without a road map or a plan, we go nowhere. These little programs all over the place are interesting, but they have to be measured and they have to be applied in a national strategy.

In both the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention blueprint in 2004 and then again in 2009, it is very clear that there needs to be strong common purpose, local wisdom and local knowledge to get it done. That is how we approach complex problems. It means there has to be an awareness that suicide is preventable and that the interventions by our first nations, Métis and Inuit people are described by themselves.

We need gun control to remove the lethal approaches to suicide that unfortunately are successful. It is a matter of building a mental health capacity among all of us to recognize the signs and symptoms and to build on the amazing work of Dr. Stan Kutcher at Dalhousie University.

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

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the hon. member because she is a physician and she is her party's aboriginal affairs critic.

I am sure she has done some research, and I ask if she could share with the House some best practices that she has seen in the aboriginal community around mental health awareness programs, treatments, or other successful programs.

I have to admit it is not an area of expertise for me; I am learning as I go, certainly on the aboriginal affairs file, so I would be quite interested to hear of any best practices that the member could share with the House.

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

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I need only to look in my own riding of St. Paul's, where the homeless shelter called Na-Me-Res, which deals with native men's health, is dealing with homelessness, problems of addiction, mental health problems and depression.

What has been the absolute essential ingredient is that they get back in touch with their culture, with their heritage and their attachment to the land, and are able to once again feel that they have a secure personal and cultural identity that allows them the self-esteem to live in dignity. It is remarkable. I am very proud of them, because many of the people who have gone on to university and have become social workers were once clients in that organization.

It is the same with the communities that are getting back to their seasonal ceremonies, using their council fire and sweat lodges and coming to understand that the ways that were healing before are very valid now, if not more so.

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

1 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Kildonan—St. Paul.

It is with great compassion that I rise in the House today to acknowledge the many Canadian families who have dealt with the anguish of losing a loved one to suicide. Indeed, I am from one of those families. I lost a brother to suicide 23 years ago.

I want to specifically focus on those in Canada's three northern territories today and to highlight why our government, along with the territories and community groups, is working collaboratively to find better ways to promote mental health among Canadians.

We undertake significant work to improve the health outcomes of aboriginal Canadians, including research through the Institute of Aboriginal People's Health at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. As well, budget 2010 provided $285 million over two years to renew aboriginal health programs, including funding for the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy.

It is a sad fact that aboriginal people in Canada's northern communities do not enjoy the same relatively high standard of health and living as do many other Canadians in the south. Health indicators in the territories, particularly in Nunavut, are among the poorest in Canada, and the prevalence of chronic and infectious diseases and mental health problems and suicide is increasing.

Life expectancy for aboriginal people in the territories, especial Inuit, is lower than in the rest of Canada, and infant mortality rates are higher. In addition to these health challenges, many territorial communities are also dealing with socio-economic realities like poverty and higher rates of unemployment among their aboriginal population.

Per capita, the number of residential school survivors in the territories is great than anywhere else in Canada, and this legacy has had an immediate and lasting effect on families and individuals that is only now starting to be understood.

It is this young population, the future of Canada's north, that is of particular concern. First nations rates of suicide are 4.3 times the national average, and Inuit regions show a rate of over 11 times higher. Unlike suicide rates for non-aboriginal people, rates of aboriginal suicide are highest among youth. Indeed, injury and suicide are the leading causes of death for aboriginal youth.

Suicide rates in Nunavut for men aged 15 to 24 are 28 times the national average. Our government acknowledges that the high suicide rates in the north, particularly among Inuit youth, are a cause of great concern. That is why our government is taking action on aboriginal youth suicide.

Last year our government tabled a budget that included nearly $1 billion in investment for aboriginal people. As part of the budget, $285 million was allocated to aboriginal health programs, including funding to continue the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy until 2015.

To support community-based solutions focused on resilience, embracing and celebrating life, and creating supportive environments, our government has funded the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy.

Some of the highlights of these investments have been the development of a help line in Nunavut for youth having suicidal thoughts; training youth leaders and other community leaders in all three territories in applied suicide intervention skills training; and cultural and on-the-land activities, life skills activities and sport and recreational activities to promote self-esteem and positive identity.

Other activities focus on increasing awareness of suicide risk factors, engaging a wide range of community members in preventive techniques and providing youth counselling.

As well, the “Inuusuvit, Our Way of Life” project is a youth engagement project that includes a corporate partnership with Canon. Through this project, Inuit youth work with youth mentors in acquiring skills to use new media technologies, such as cameras and computers, to explore and promote youth mental health issues and to learn and practise traditional Inuit knowledge and cultural practices.

This project contributes to positive youth mental health through engagement in culture, while developing valuable leadership and communication skills and increasing youth engagement with their communities.

The Government of Nunavut, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Embrace Life Council and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have committed to work together on eight key commitments to improve suicide prevention measures in the territories. These include community-based training and resources for youth, strengthening the continuum of mental health services and research to better understand suicide in Nunavut.

Through the Indian residential schools resolution health support program, Health Canada is providing mental and emotional supports for eligible former residential school students and their families. Services are available in all communities across the north, and include aboriginal mental health workers, elders and cultural events, and access to professional councillors.

Recognizing that reliving these experiences can be very difficult, this year our government is providing $8 million to aboriginal organizations in the north to provide cultural and emotional support to former students and their families. Part of the healing process is being led through the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which this spring and summer visited 19 communities as part of the northern tour, ending with a national event in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, in early July.

Over 2,500 participants attended the event in Inuvik, which resulted in over 3,200 interactions with the health support team.

This was a very important and emotional event that brought together former students from across the north who travelled to Inuvik or attended events in their communities. For many it was the first time they were sharing their stories. Our support will continue for these students, their families and others who are still coming forward. The government is working with its regional and national partners to ensure that all former students and families are aware of the services available to them through the resolution health support program.

While the federal health portfolio does not have jurisdiction over direct health service delivery in the territories, or direct mental health care services, it collaborates with territorial governments and other partners to address health issues and supports many health promotion activities that directly and indirectly help benefit the mental health of northerners. This year our government is providing $15 million to the Government of Nunavut, $12 million to the Government of the Northwest Territories and $1.9 million to first nations communities in the Yukon to support a range of health promotion activities.

Our government takes seriously its commitment to support aboriginal communities in addressing mental health and addictions. The national native alcohol and drug abuse program supports community-based prevention, intervention and aftercare with a cultural focus. For example, in Yellowknife a traditional program has been developed that includes a sweat lodge, sharing circles and counselling with elders to support clients to start living, or to continue leading, healthy lives.

In closing, the north's greatest resource is the people who live and work there. Our government is proud to work with the territories to deliver concrete improvements to the medical care that northern families get. As we can see, our government is committed to helping ensure that people in the north have safe, healthy and prosperous communities.