House of Commons Hansard #77 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was investment.

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The House resumed from October 28, 2011, consideration of the motion that Bill C-300, An Act respecting a Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Federal Framework For Suicide Prevention Act
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

When we last left this question, the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton had seven minutes remaining in her remarks.

The hon. member for Sarnia--Lambton.

Federal Framework For Suicide Prevention Act
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to continue my earlier remarks on this matter first delivered in support of the private member's legislation that was introduced by my hon. colleague from Kitchener—Conestoga in October 2011.

Bill C-300 is extremely important and I would like to share with the House several personal experiences I have had over the last few months, which have assisted me in developing a stronger appreciation for the work done by professionals in communities all across Canada in regard to mental health and specifically suicide prevention.

As some of my colleagues here in the House know, my community of Sarnia—Lambton was rocked by a series of youth suicides in a short period of time in the recent past.

Stakeholders, particularly those on the front lines of the mental health community, were doing everything in their power to assist families in my riding that had been hurt by youth suicide, while at the same time providing preventative services to youth who were depressed and possibly having suicidal thoughts.

With this in mind, I began organizing a one day symposium for my community to address these serious issues.

From the beginning, the Mental Health Commission of Canada played an integral role in working with my office to bring the issue of youth suicide and mental health to the forefront in my own community.

This idea grew into the Sarnia—Lambton symposium on youth mental health, which I was able to host in my riding at Lambton College that provided logistical support.

In addition, I worked with a myriad of community mental health stakeholders from Sarnia—Lambton, including Joanne Klauke-LaBelle from Harmony for Youth, Sharon Berry Ross from the Sarnia—Lambton Suicide Prevention Committee and also Ruth Geurts, a prominent faculty member within the social work program at Lambton College.

I would also like to thank Aaron Levo and Claire Checkland from the Mental Health Commission of Canada for their outstanding contributions to the symposium as well.

There were many others who attended and participated in the event, including special invitees who were considered regional stakeholders, such as local mayors, education directors from school boards and also my colleague, the member for Kitchener—Conestoga, who was able to attend for the full day and speak in support of his Bill C-300 at the symposium. We were also thankful to have a keynote address from Dr. David Goldbloom, who appeared courtesy of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Dr. Goldbloom is the senior medical advisor at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and a professor of psychiatry at the U of T. He is one of Canada's greatest minds on the issue of youth mental health.

The Sarnia—Lambton symposium on youth mental health was an effort on my behalf to raise the issues of youth suicide in a proactive forum of mental health stakeholders from across various levels of government so we could discuss the benefits and pitfalls of the existing framework in Canada across provincial lines.

I heard an array of stories that pointed out areas where we as policy makers could make direct improvements. I also heard that there was a strong willingness from all levels of government to do their best to ensure we were implementing policies that would help our youth in communities that were having issues with depression and other forms of mental illness.

With this in mind, I strongly support my colleague's efforts to further assist in this regard, which will be accomplished by the measures contained in Bill C-300.

Although Canada has made several important investments under the current government for mental health, including the formation of the Mental Health Commission of Canada and long-term funding for this organization, we have much work to do to address the severity of the issue of youth suicide. I realize it is now an issue we are all seized with as policy-makers, as youth suicide occurs in every community across Canada and is the second leading cause of death among our youth aged 10 to 24.

It is extremely upsetting to think of the bright lights of our youth being faced with such inner turmoil that they would choose to end their own life. However, in Canada it is an alarming issue that we must work together to address immediately.

In addition to events like the Sarnia—Lambton symposium on youth mental health, it is good to see corporations like Bell coming forward with innovative ideas such as the Let's Talk campaign that began this week.

I would even like to commend our hon. colleague, the member for Toronto Centre, who has shared his own battles with depression with Canadians in a very public manner. It takes a great deal of courage to share such personal stories and actions such as this can and will have a positive impact on the overall discussion toward mental health and specifically youth suicide prevention.

As we continue to place these issues on the forefront of Canadian discourse, I believe we will see more Canadians taking action to ensure that we enable discussions on mental health issues rather than treating the issue with stigma. Although it is good to see youth suicide prevention being discussed more openly in our society, the reality is it is still an urgent matter.

Regrettably, the day following the symposium in my community a youth tragically took his life. This pointed out to me the fragile nature of the youth we were attempting to reach out to and it really hit home how severe the issue had become across all of our communities. Therefore, we need to back the talk up with actions and it is my belief that Bill C-300 would build upon other actions already taken by this government, such as the formation of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, so we can truly make a difference on this issue.

I understand the commission will be releasing a report this year and I greatly look forward to reviewing it when it becomes available. Furthermore, I support the efforts of our Minister of Health who has had the opportunity to raise the issue of suicide prevention with provincial health ministers.

The efforts taken by those like my humble colleague from Kitchener—Conestoga can help shine like a beacon in the darkness and it is my sincere hope that members in the House will join together to support this important legislation fully and completely. Our youth are depending on us to do so.

Federal Framework For Suicide Prevention Act
Private Members' Business

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Djaouida Sellah Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is Quebec's 22nd National Suicide Prevention Week. Thus there is no better time to talk about this bill. This year's theme is: “In our community, we care; suicide is not an option” and the goal is to change a certain cultural mentality about suicide.

In order to better understand this problem, it is important to know that suicide is not just an individual action. According to the Association québécoise de prévention du suicide, the act of suicide is related to the social and cultural context.

If suicide exists, it is because a type of distress exists that can take many forms and can be caused by many factors, including poverty, a sudden change in financial status, a social change, an illness or the termination of a romantic relationship.

As Rose-Marie Charest, president of the Ordre des psychologues du Québec, so wisely said:

An individual who is thinking about suicide does not really want to die. He just does not want to suffer any more. It is therefore up to us, as a society, to place more emphasis on preventing and easing psychological pain.

That is why we must put an end to isolation. To once again cite Ms. Charest:

We must fight suffering at every turn. We must try to understand and encourage all individuals while they are alive.

In Quebec, the suicide rate is 14 per 100,000. In my riding of Montérégie, the rate is below average at 12.7 per 100,000. These statistics are estimates from 2008-09. Although Montérégie falls below the Quebec average, there were still 165 suicides in 2009. That is a huge number because these deaths were preventable. When 165 people commit suicide, 165 families and thousands of friends and loved ones are affected. In Quebec, three people commit suicide every day. That is too many—far too many.

What I find the most striking is the difference between men and women. Men are far more likely to commit suicide, particularly those between the ages of 35 to 49, an age group whose suicide rate reached a catastrophic level of 33.9 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

Here is another finding that will shock many members of the House: the age group that is most affected, among both men and women, is 35- to 49-year-olds followed by 50- to 64-year-olds. People who are in the prime of their lives are committing suicide.

There are also other groups at high risk. For example, the suicide rate among aboriginal people is five times higher than the Canadian average. Young people living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods are four times more likely to commit suicide than those living in wealthier areas.

Therefore, it is a public health issue. These deaths can be prevented. We must fund, support and coordinate a range of effective initiatives to prevent suicide. We must systematically evaluate initiatives and gaps in services across Canada. We must promote dialogue, research and the sharing of knowledge and skills among governments and stakeholders. Lastly, we must monitor trends and develop national guidelines in order to improve practices and intervention.

I support the bill introduced by the member for Kitchener—Conestoga. I support it because the evidence shows that information and sharing best practices effectively prevent suicide. This is very evident in Quebec. After adopting a national suicide prevention strategy, the suicide rate has dropped over the past 10 years and the results among the very young are quite impressive.

I urge all members of the House to vote in favour of this bill. I have always said that lives are saved in hospital emergency rooms. However, with this bill, we have a unique opportunity to help save lives.

Earlier, I quoted the president of the Ordre des psychologues du Québec, who said that we must fight suffering at every turn. An organization on the South Shore, Carrefour le Moutier, which serves part of my riding, is doing just that. Its work is amazing. Its office is located in Longueuil, but it works in the greater Longueuil community.

Carrefour le Moutier's initiative is called “Sentinelles”. This program trains people to recognize the signs of suffering and distress in those closest to them, and thus makes it possible for them to intervene. The main objective is to have these sentinels recognize the signs well before the person has thoughts of suicide. In my opinion, this is an example of a best practice that could be implemented throughout Quebec and Canada.

Carrefour le Moutier also provides a six-hours training to those who ask for it. The agency is proactive and trains the sentinels in at-risk settings such as schools, cégeps, universities and various workplaces. The agency also receives requests from some employers to train their employees on better prevention.

Sentinels are trained in the following three things: first, recognizing the signs of suffering and distress; second, using judgment to determine if the signs are dangerous or a precursor to something; and third, taking action or simply listening, or referring the higher-risk cases to professionals. I would like to take this opportunity in the House to commend Carrefour le Moutier on its initiative and its good work.

For years, the NDP has been calling on the government to develop a national suicide prevention strategy. It is encouraging to see the Conservative government introduce a bill on the serious national problem of suicide. It is time for us to roll up our sleeves and work together, starting here in the House, across party lines. Collaboration among the federal, provincial and territorial governments and agencies across the country will allow us to address the issue of suicide head-on, to the benefit of the people who sent us here. We care about every individual and suicide is not an option.

Federal Framework For Suicide Prevention Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak in support of this bill by the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga because I think it is a bill that all of us can support.

As my colleague just said, this is something that is non-partisan because suicide touches every community, every life, every family and every school. We know that is true but it is important to note that we can prevent it.

When the member talks about looking at a national strategy, I am pleased that he is talking about building partnerships between the federal, provincial and territorial governments, non-profit societies, groups that understand the issue, as well as between communities, schools and local people. It is an issue that can flood every area in which we can look at. That makes it important and it is something we can sink our teeth into. It means that when we have a suicide prevention strategy, everyone will behind it, as it must if it is going to succeed.

As members know, the leader of the Liberal Party tabled a bill in the House on October 4 that talked about a national suicide prevention strategy. All three parties in this House unanimously supported it. Therefore, we are all on the same page here and that is important to remember. We sit in this House and figuratively shoot bullets at each another, argue, debate and become partisan, but I was moved by the opposition day motion from the hon. leader of the Liberal Party. Everyone here was silent, thoughtful and moved. Some members were choked-up and touched by personal experiences. If there is anything we can all put ourselves behind, it has to be this issue.

As a physician, I like statistical data and I like to talk about research, et cetera. Here are some things that I think we need to know. The national rate of suicide in Canada is 15 out of 100,000 people. Now, in 2012, it is 73% higher than it was in the 1950s. For every suicide, there are 100 failed attempts. The rate of suicide is higher among men. We know that 23 out of every 100,000 men will attempt suicide as opposed to 6 out of 100,000 women, although women are three to four times more likely to attempt as opposed to actually complete suicide. It is the second leading cause of death among Canadian youth aged 10 to 24. In fact, the suicide rate for Canadian youth is the third highest in the industrialized world.

We need to do something about that, not only because of the statistical data or because we all agree about it in this House, but we must think of the wasted human potential when young people commit suicide. This is something we need to look at but I do not want to only focus on youth.

It is interesting to note that the leading cause of death in men between the ages of 25 and 29, and 40 and 44 is suicide. In women, it is between the ages of 30 and 34. Therefore, this is not a youth issue only. We now have evidence showing that among seniors, especially senior women, there is a very high rate of suicide. It is not done in as dramatic a fashion but there are high rates of suicide among senior women.

We know that some populations within Canada have a greater incidence of suicide. For instance, those in the armed forces have a three times higher rate of suicide than the general population. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons have a seven times higher rate of suicide than heterosexual youth. We know that suicide is the leading cause of death in aboriginal males aged 10 to 19. In fact, the suicide rate of first nations is five to seven times higher than that of the non-first nations population. The suicide rate for Inuit youth is among the highest in the world, at 11 times the national average. We know that 43% of respondents to a survey that was done in 2008 in Nunavut said that they had thought of suicide within the last week.

As we well know, 90% of suicides have a diagnosed psychiatric illness behind them. Many people who are depressed and contemplating suicide and go undiagnosed are nearly always the successful ones.

We know this reaches out into every home and community across this country. There is no one who has not been touched by it.

Here is a staggering piece of information. Suicide deaths and attempts cost the Canadian economy over $14.7 billion annually. If we are not moved by the human problem here, we should know that the $14.7 billion could go to other parts of health care to help all kinds of problems, including via measures for prevention, promotion, and setting up of community clinics, et cetera.

However, I think suicide prevention in this country is fragmented. Some provinces do it well; some provinces do not. We heard my colleague say that if we want to look at a best practice, we have to look at what Quebec has done. Quebec has had extraordinary results in suicide prevention.

We know that some of the causes of people being pushed into suicide include mental illness and mood disorders. Amongst youth, stress, anxiety, bullying, alcohol and substance abuse are huge causative factors connected to suicide. Others include the loss of a parent or caregiver in early childhood; the loss or breakup of a relationship; poverty; de-culturization and loss of traditions; and physical, sexual and mental abuse. Also, suicidal acts amongst family, friends or in a school community tend to push others who may be on the brink of thinking about it into actually committing suicide.

I just want to say that in any demographic or in any piece of statistical data we look at, this is an issue that we must deal with urgently. It is not something that we can just sit and talk about. If every day 10 Canadians commit suicide, then every day that we waste, every week that we waste, every month that we waste we should think about it. It could be someone we know or someone who is very close.

I think there are elements of a strategy that we need to talk about that are quite clear. We need to look at research. Let us look at the identification of social or other determinants of suicidal behaviour. We know that it is not only about depression and psychoses. Let us look at how we can identify the risks very early, meaning that we have to move out of medical communities and look to school counsellors, who if properly trained might be able to identify a young person very early before they begin actual suicidal ideation.

There may be a very early warning system that we can put into place. However, this will require public education, individual education of counsellors in schools and social workers and people who work in the community, including those who work with children and families. These people need to have some kind of training. Even though I am a family physician, I also need to say that family physicians need to have some training in early diagnosis and early identification of suicide.

We need to talk about how this moves not just from a medical point of view but also out into the community as part of community support programs and knowledge. We also need to have an open dialogue, because one of the reasons no one talks about suicide is the stigma. Everyone is ashamed to talk about it.

What is happening, as we discussed on the day of the opposition motion, is that it has actually triggered the following response from people across the country. People began to say, “Well, if so and so, an MP, has someone they know who committed suicide or thought of suicide or were depressed or if they have a family member with a problem, this is actually something I can feel comfortable talking about. I do not need to be ashamed.”

It is the shame and the hidden component of this that causes the problem and prevents us from picking up the signs early. Therefore, we need to talk about crisis intervention, a hot line, and early responders. We need to talk about how we build community support for all of these kinds of things. Of course we need to talk about bereavement support in schools and how we can talk about it openly within a school situation.

We know that we do not have anything on suicide prevention in the national mental health strategy. We know that the Canadian Mental Health Commission will come with its report in May or early June. I know it is going to contain something about suicide prevention.

As I said, we know that Quebec has had 50% fewer suicides in the last 10 years. This is because they have consolidated and coordinated their services so they are all moving together in the same direction, doing the same things. They have community and street mental health workers. They have promotional programs about mental illness and wellness in schools. They have police who are trained to identify people on the streets who need help.

Those are important things where we can take a page out of their book. We do not have to recreate and reinvent wheels around here when we have some very good best practices. As I said, Quebec is one of them, but there are other places with best practices too.

We should also think about what the feds can do. Let us set up, if anything, a clearing house of best practices. Look at what works, look at the evidence and let us do something about this before it is too late. I urge all members to please support the bill.

Federal Framework For Suicide Prevention Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, as we all know far too well, suicide has a terrible impact on Canadian families. Because of this impact on our communities, it is important for us as members of Parliament to take time to discuss suicide in the House. I thank the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga for bringing forward this bill, which it is an honour for me to debate today.

As we consider the issue of suicide and related mental health challenges, such as mood disorders and depression, I encourage all members to remember that these issues deeply affect thousands of Canadians on a daily basis.

Some would argue, perhaps with good cause, that the often overwhelming challenges presented by mental health issues and suicide are experienced most acutely in certain first nations and Inuit communities. We know that some first nations and Inuit families and communities can lose hope in the face of widespread social and economic dysfunction, poor health outcomes and the loss of children and youth through suicide, drugs and alcohol.

This fall, aboriginal leaders like Shawn Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Elisapee Sheutiapik, the President of the Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, spoke of the high rates of suicide in their communities and added their voices to the call for action against suicide.

As National Chief Atleo and President Sheutiapik told us, the health statistics for first nations and Inuit paint a challenging picture. For example, the gap in the life expectancy between first nations and Inuit on the one hand and the general Canadian population on the other is 6 to 13 years. There are higher rates of binge drinking and alcohol-related hospitalization among the former. The number of alcohol related deaths among first nations is almost double the national rate across Canada. First nations people also report using illegal drugs at more than twice the rate of the non-aboriginal Canadian population.

Perhaps the most distressing statistics are related to aboriginal youth suicide rates, which are among the highest in the world. Suicide rates of first nations youth aged 10 to 19 are over four times the national average, and rates for all Inuit are over 11 times higher than the rest of Canada. Unlike suicide rates for non-aboriginal peoples, rates of aboriginal suicide are highest among youth. Indeed, injury and suicide are the leading causes of death for aboriginal youth.

It is important that we recognize and acknowledge that one major root cause of these health disparities and mental health addiction challenges in aboriginal communities, whether it be suicide, high rates of mental health issues or alcohol and drug abuse, is the Government of Canada's past policies including the policy on Indian residential schools.

We recognize that for more than a century very young children were often forcibly removed from their homes and placed in Indian residential schools to isolate them from what was thought to be the inferior influences of their families, traditions and cultures. These children were not allowed to practise their culture or to speak their languages. Some were physically and sexually abused, and all were deprived of the care and nurturing of their parents and communities. Not surprisingly, this tragic social disruption has had negative impacts on the health and mental well-being of generations of first nations and Inuit. While some may think that the residential school experience is part of Canada's distant past, we are still seeing negative impacts from it today.

High suicide rates among aboriginal youth are particularly pressing, considering that aboriginal youth under 20 years of age account for over 40% of the aboriginal population. The physical and mental health of these youth represent, very literally, the future of aboriginal communities. Helping aboriginal young people and preventing them from committing suicide is a must. It must continue to be a public priority.

I am pleased to report today that this government is taking action on aboriginal youth suicide. In March 2010, the hon. Minister of Finance tabled a budget that included $730 million in funding for aboriginal health programs and services, including $75 million to extend the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy to 2015.

This strategy was developed based on a global review of evidence-based suicide prevention approaches. It utilizes expertise from the review led by an advisory group on suicide prevention and its final report entitled “Acting on What We Know: Preventing Youth Suicide in First Nations”. It also includes the expertise of Inuit communities with respect to how best to support Inuit youth and communities and prevent suicide. In short, the strategy incorporates the best available evidence with respect to aboriginal youth suicide prevention.

This evidence demonstrates that culturally-based services are important for positive health outcomes among first nations and Inuit communities, their families and individuals. Research has also shown a strong link between cultural identity and youth suicide prevention. Furthermore, the evidence indicates that the greatest impact on youth suicide prevention comes from community-driven programming, developed according to each community's unique needs and strengths.

That is why the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy supports communities to develop, implement and evaluate projects that respond to their needs. While these community-based approaches are unique, most focus on enhancing protective factors, including family and social supports, cultural ties and youth leadership.

The strategy supports over 150 community-based suicide prevention projects that target youth with an elevated risk of suicide. The strategy also supports communities to respond when there is a suicide-related crisis. In many instances, this includes partnering with provinces and territories to address community needs.

For example, Health Canada is supporting a multidisciplinary mental health wellness team on Vancouver Island to respond to a cluster of youth suicide attempts and rampant alcohol and drug abuse. This team includes the expertise of mental health clinicians as well as the cultural expertise of local community elders. By engaging youth, families and community members, the mental wellness team has supported stability in the community over a period of three years. During this time, no suicide attempts or completions were reported.

In addition to cases such as these, I am pleased to report that the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy is demonstrating other measurable successes. For instance, community-based projects are reporting increases in the number of youth who are referred to mental health services, which is an indication that they are receiving the support they desperately need.

There are other tangible results stemming from the national aboriginal youth suicide strategy. The stigma surrounding suicide is decreasing. Community members have become more willing to openly discuss this crucial issue. Communities have reported that their youth have a greater sense of hope and optimism, as well as more pride, discipline and confidence. Local mental health workers have increased confidence and reduced feelings of powerlessness when intervening in times of crisis. These are remarkable strides that are building the self-confidence of aboriginal youth and building the communities' capacity to address mental health issues.

Despite the progress I have described here today, we still have much work to do with our partners to address the high rates of aboriginal youth suicide and to improve the overall health and well-being of aboriginal Canadians.

We are working with our partners at the provincial, territorial and community levels to provide access to effective, sustainable and culturally appropriate health programs and services that contribute to the improved health status of first nations and Inuit.

One clear example of this is the B.C. Tripartite Framework Agreement on First Nation Health Governance signed in October 2011 in partnership with the First Nations Health Council and the province of British Columbia.

This agreement will see the creation of a first nations health authority in B.C., allowing first nations cultural knowledge, values and models of healing to be incorporated into the design, management and delivery of health programs and services.

A day long gathering was held a few weeks ago in Ottawa between the Crown and first nations. This government continues to show a commitment to working with first nations and Inuit partners to improve the life of aboriginal people in Canada, and I am proud to be a small part of these important initiatives.

As we move forward, we will continue to invest in suicide prevention programs in order to support communities, families and individuals to tackle the complex and wide-ranging issue of suicide. I suspect that there are not many Canadian families who can say that they have not been affected by the tragedy of suicide.

Therefore, I encourage my colleagues on all sides of the House to offer their support for the bill and their thanks to the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga for bringing it forward.

Federal Framework For Suicide Prevention Act
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise this evening and speak to this bill. I cannot say that about a lot of bills that I have spoken to. I would like to spend a few minutes to praise the author of this bill, the member for Kitchener—Conestoga.

The member's work on this has been exemplary. We were fortunate enough to co-chair an ad hoc committee that we put together on palliative and compassionate care. He was clearly a leader on that study. We were able to produce a substantive report that contained several chapters addressing the issue of suicide and suicide prevention.

I say, proudly, all parties contributed both their time and effort in the hearings that we conducted, in gathering witnesses together, taking the evidence and funding the committee. We did it all from our parliamentary budgets outside the regular course of events. Again, he was a stalwart in leading in all those areas. He did it from a core within his own soul, with the passion and caring that needs to be drawn to this issue in order to accomplish what he has accomplished. As a result of that, we have this private member's bill, Bill C-300, that very clearly sets out a framework from which Canada can finally address this scourge on our society.

I want to recognize the contents of the bill. It would create a framework for suicide prevention. It would recognize suicide as both a mental health and a public health issue. That was interesting. From some of the new evidence, he and I learned during the course of this that it was both a mental health issue and a public health issue. It would designate the appropriate entity within the Government of Canada to deal with and assume responsibility for the program.

The program would be designed to improve public awareness, disseminate information on suicide and on suicide prevention, and make statistics publicly available so that we would be more knowledgeable on the issue. It would define best practices for prevention. We saw that in Canada in a number of areas, but they tended to be isolated.

The agency would be designed in such a way as to promote collaboration and knowledge exchange within the NGO community, the health community, the provinces and the territories. More specifically, it would require the Government of Canada to enter into negotiations with the NGOs and the provinces and territories within 100 days of the bill receiving royal assent. It would set up an ongoing collaboration with all levels of government, along with the NGOs.

Within four years there would be a report back and every two years after that so that we could see what progress had been made. Perhaps if there were any changes to be made, we would address those.

The member and I were both taken aback by the fact that what came out in the course of those hearings was that Canada was in a very strange position. We had led the way. This is testimony from all sorts of experts we have in the country, including one from my own riding. I want to acknowledge the work that Dr. Antoon Leenaars has done in the area of suicide and suicide prevention. He is a psychologist in the Windsor area and a recognized expert in this area, not only in Canada, but across the globe. He has worked for a number of other governments in helping them implement the program that we developed in Canada and then never implemented.

We started working on this in 1993. We developed it. It is a model for the world. All of the other G8 countries have adopted and implemented it. They have reduced the suicide rates in their countries. We did not. To some degree it is a shame that we have not. All levels of government assume some responsibility for that. I want to repeat that the United States, England, Ireland, Scotland, Finland, Australia, and a number of other countries beyond the G8 have adopted it.

I want to also acknowledge the work of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. It has been a stalwart for a number of years in helping develop that program. Initially, it was an integral part and is continuing to push to finally get it into place.

I want to single out the province of Quebec. Its provincial government, I think I am safe in saying, has moved extensively in implementing this national program that the Canadian government was instrumental in developing but never implemented. In the course of its implementation over the years, Quebec has actually reduced its suicide rate by 50%. That is not unique but reflects what happened in other countries, where we saw similar reduction rates in suicide. Rates of 25%, 40% and 50% were very common in all of the countries that implemented the program that was developed in Canada. They saw a very successful response within their communities and a very substantial reduction in suicides.

The program also works in Canada. It was implemented in the province of Quebec fairly extensively. Quebec still wants to do more and if this program is put into place at the federal level, it will complete the work it wants to do. Again, there was a 50% reduction. On an approximate basis, there are 4,000 suicides every year. If we implemented this across the whole country, we would be talking about saving 2,000 lives on an annual basis. The faster this bill gets through the process, receives royal assent and is implemented, the faster we will begin to reduce these deaths in our society. These deaths are so tragic not only for the victims but their families, friends and communities more generally.

I want to finish by again congratulating and acknowledging the work of the member for Kitchener—Conestoga. We need more parliamentarians like him.

Federal Framework For Suicide Prevention Act
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I much appreciate the excellent speech from the member who just spoke in the House.

I am also pleased to speak to Bill C-300, An Act respecting a Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention. I want to offer my personal sincere thanks to the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga for bringing this very important bill to the House and to parliamentarians.

I am also grateful for this opportunity to highlight the current efforts of the Government of Canada on this issue.

Suicide is a sensitive topic and one which Canadians have traditionally spoken about in hushed tones. Today I would like to bring this issue out of the shadows and into an open conversation. Suicide affects us all. We all have a responsibility to confront it so that those who are suffering never feel alone.

As parliamentarians, we see our responsibility to Canadians to rise above partisanship and find ways to bring attention to the subject. My hope is that through caring, compassion, listening and awareness, we will see fewer Canadians retreating to the shadows, afraid to discuss the illness or the stigma which confronts them. The hope is that one day positive mental health will be considered as important as physical health and that we will work collectively to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. To get there, it is important that we frame the issue appropriately in collaboration with all sectors of society.

Bill C-300 asks us to develop a federal framework in consultation with all partners and represents a solid first step in the right direction. It acknowledges that the Government of Canada has a complex mandate involving many players. It seeks ways in which these players can guide themselves to work collaboratively across departmental lines to share best practices in preventing suicide. It acknowledges that departments as diverse as the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada, Veterans Affairs, Canadian Forces and the RCMP can find common ground upon which better synergies can be built.

Much in keeping with the spirit of this bill, since its introduction in October, I am confident that our discussions have reflected some success in opening the dialogue on this issue. We are seeing a commitment to increase awareness and knowledge about suicide in Canada. Thousands of people have shared their thoughts and experiences with us and with their own networks. Considerable efforts have been undertaken across Canada to help meet the needs of our populations at greatest risk. However, when the goal is influencing behaviour, development and resources at every phase of life for all Canadians, it is easy to become complacent. When the goal is wholesale cultural change through reducing the debilitating stigma associated with mental illness or promoting greater self-esteem, it is easy to put the challenge on the back burner. This is why these discussions are critical.

Suicide is a shared and immediate problem. It has the potential to touch each and every one of us. Indeed, it has affected many members of this Parliament and the government. Yet we only hear about these stories when it is too late. The reality is that it is a risk at any age and crosses ethnic, social and economic boundaries.

Suicide remains one of the leading causes of death in Canada. Rates are disproportionate among different populations across our nation. For example, suicide is the second cause of death among young Canadians age 15 to 24, and is the tenth leading cause of death among Canadians overall. Of almost 800 youths and young adults who committed suicide in 2007, 76% were young men. As the Chief Public Health Officer notes in his 2011 report on the state of public health in Canada on youth and young adults, not all Canadians are healthy and flourishing:

Those who are not doing well are disproportionately represented by youth from low-income families, youth who live in remote communities, sexual and gender minority youth, and Aboriginal youth.

Compounding the problem, some estimates show that as many as 90% of suicide-related deaths are attributable to a recognizable but not necessarily diagnosed mental disorder. It is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to help bring these matters out of the shadows, to understand the issues better, to share our knowledge and expertise and to reflect that in our policies and programs for all Canadians.

I want to highlight that the Government of Canada understands that suicide is caused by both social and environmental factors. We know it is compounded by early experiences or social influences, such as violence, bullying or social isolation. We also understand that it can be addressed through promoting greater education and awareness and using evidence-based information to guide our collaborative efforts. Activities and interventions based on promoting positive mental health, building protective factors and reducing the risk factors associated with mental health problems, and intervening early to address the stigma associated with mental illness are all important elements in helping to reduce suicide rates.

The Government of Canada's investments and initiatives to engage in mental health and suicide prevention clearly signal a commitment to addressing the issue head-on. Allow me to provide some insight into some of these activities.

The establishment of the Mental Health Commission of Canada is helping to build the partnerships needed to raise awareness and develop a mental health strategy for the country to be released this year. In fact, the commission's opening minds initiative remains the largest systemic effort to reduce the stigma of mental illness in Canadian history. Research, planning, risk detection, knowledge exchange, surveillance and partnership building are all improving under the watch of the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Several federal departments are providing suicide awareness and prevention workshops and training for staff. For example, front-line staff at Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Forces receive applied suicide intervention skills training and better information. The Canadian Forces has a robust mental health outreach program for the career cycle of all employees. Prevention and promotion workshops are extending to federal inmates, as well as Correctional Service staff.

However, as I have noted, change will not happen overnight.

Investing in and promoting positive mental health over the course of one's entire life has the potential to reduce risk factors contributing to suicide and mental illness. The Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada play a key role here. These departments place a significant focus on community-based initiatives and efforts to assist the most vulnerable in all stages of life.

For early wellness intervention, the community action program for children, the aboriginal headstart program, the Canadian prenatal nutrition program reach over 100,000 children and families in thousands of communities every year. The nobody's perfect parenting program targets vulnerable parents of young children, aiming to increase their understanding of their child's health, safety, and behaviour. The Public Health Agency's recent investments in mental health promotion initiatives are reaching high-risk populations in over 50 communities across Canada. Mental health promotion for aboriginal youth works with over 15 aboriginal communities in three provinces providing culturally based, family centred programs to address aggressive behaviours and other community conditions that can lead to suicide.

We are making headway on promoting mental health through solid action at the community level and within federal, provincial and territorial governments in co-operation with many stakeholders.

The declaration on prevention and promotion, endorsed by all ministers of health in 2010, affirms positive mental health as a foundation for optimal overall health and well-being throughout a person's lifetime. Provinces and territories are developing approaches to these issues that make a difference in the lives of Canadians every day, and a desire for greater collaboration on suicide prevention has been articulated at all levels of government.

After all, it is not an easy time for many Canadians. We are not completely sheltered from the global economic crisis. The world is faster and more connected and changes to our everyday lives from rapid developments in science and technology have outpaced previous generations. These all contribute. Things such as, in schools, preventing bullying, providing counselling and support, facilitating information, supporting advocacy and contributing to the development of a mental health strategy in Canada are very important.

Suicide prevention is an extremely complex issue that no one organization can tackle alone. Our partners in this country understand the importance of breaking down barriers to work together.

Bill C-300 was developed to encourage collaborative and aligned action in the following areas: providing guidelines; disseminating information; making stats publicly available; promoting collaboration; and knowledge exchange across the boundaries. The Government of Canada recognizes the need to better understand the factors that contribute to suicide.

While the work ahead of us is long term, a marathon rather than a sprint, this bill, combined with a renewed momentum, gives us the solid footing for a long journey ahead. I want to congratulate the member again for bringing forward this very important bill that can save a lot of lives in our country.

Federal Framework For Suicide Prevention Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, “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.“ These words by ethicist Margaret Somerville of McGill University capture the essence of what this Parliament would do by passing Bill C-300 into law: provide hope.

At the heart of this bill is a clear call for national leadership, a coordination of the great efforts of many community groups across Canada, suicide prevention groups already doing all they can to bring hope. As has been acknowledged many times throughout this discussion, we all have stories to tell of how we, our families and our communities have been tragically impacted by suicide. We all know someone whose sense of hope was overcome by emotional pain and despair and consequently ended his or her life by suicide. The big problem is that suicide does not end the pain. It simply transfers it to family and community.

Bill C-300 acknowledges the complex nature of suicide and suicide prevention. We need to consider the biological, psychological, social and spiritual factors. We cannot pass all of the responsibility to government. We must remain our brother's keeper even and especially at their most vulnerable points. We as a Parliament can and must do more to protect this sacred gift of human life. The impact of the tragic, premature loss of life demands our attention. Shattered families and broken communities demand our commitment to action.

Suicide is the triumph of fear and the loss of hope. Suicide is most often the result of pain, hopelessness and despair. It is almost always preventable through caring, compassion, commitment and community. However, there is too much secrecy. Too many Canadians are in the dark about this problem. That stigma keeps it in the shadows.

I am so grateful for so many who have walked this dark valley and who are willing to shine the light. David Batters, MP, a friend and former colleague of mine, tragically ended his life by suicide in 2009. His wife, Denise Batters, has done so much to openly address the issue of mental illness and suicide prevention. My thanks to her and many others who have, in spite of their deep loss, found the strength to bring hope to others. In this way the secrecy is ended and the silence is broken. It is time to break the silence about suicide.

In closing, I said last year as this debate began that I expected more discussion than debate. I thank hon. members for meeting that expectation, for demonstrating that while we may disagree on so much, there remain a number of issues on which we are able to not only agree in private but also publicly express that agreement as our commitment to Canadians. I thank all members.

The tone and content of this debate should provide hope. As I said, “Hope is the oxygen of the human spirit”. Canadians can have hope that this Parliament will act to provide leadership on suicide prevention.

Bill C-300's passage would mandate the federal government to track statistics so we could chart our progress. Information relating to best practices would be shared so that organizations starved for cash, working on the front lines, would not need to reinvent the wheel but could instead focus their efforts on saving lives.

I am encouraged by this discussion. When we return to our ridings, I am sure that like me, many members will hear the usual complaints about the tone of this House. Members should tell them about this debate. They should tell them about the moment when members from all parties stood together for vulnerable Canadians with scarcely a moment of partisanship and not a word of blame, when MPs from all parties not only agreed on problems, but also stepped forward in unity toward a solution.

The truth is that non-partisanship is always fragile. A million events or circumstances could have soured this opportunity, but hon. members rose to the occasion. Many comments made by members not only have educated me, but also have affirmed my belief that passing Bill C-300 is the right thing to do. It is not the end of the road but it is that vital first step toward hope. I believe that Canadians will note that despite all our differences, we are taking this step together.

Federal Framework For Suicide Prevention Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Federal Framework For Suicide Prevention Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Federal Framework For Suicide Prevention Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Federal Framework For Suicide Prevention Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Federal Framework For Suicide Prevention Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Federal Framework For Suicide Prevention Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.