moved that Bill C-300, An Act respecting a Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to begin our discussion regarding Bill C-300, an act respecting a federal framework for suicide prevention.
I want to thank the member for Toronto Centre for dedicating an opposition day to this important issue, and the member for Halifax for raising this issue in two consecutive Parliaments. I thank them for ensuring that this very political issue did not become partisan.
In that spirit, I use the word “discussion” rather than “debate” because I am convinced that the House is eager to take action on the national tragedy that suicide represents.
I also want to acknowledge the important contribution of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, its executive director, Mr. Tim Wall, and president, Dammy Albach, and Dr. Adrian Hill.
I also wish to extend a special thanks to Mr. Rory Butler of Your Life Counts, as well as Tana Nash and the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council, and Dr. Antoon Leenaars, psychologist and suicide researcher.
Each of these individuals and groups has contributed to my work and I thank them for their efforts in suicide prevention.
I also want to acknowledge the 20 members who have added their formal support for Bill C-300 by attaching their names as seconders of the bill. Members of all parties in the House have voiced their support formally and informally and I am grateful as it signals that long awaited action is imminent.
I believe that all members will want the bill to move quickly on to committee for further study where any possible improvements can be incorporated into Bill C-300 before it is returned to the House for final approval. The sooner the bill receives royal assent, the better for all Canadians.
This will be the first small but very crucial step in providing additional hope for those who have worked in the trenches doing this noble work for years and years, often with far too little coordination, too few resources, and a lack of federal leadership and vision.
For far too long there has been a call for some strategic national leadership and unifying coordination of the great efforts of many community groups all across Canada, suicide prevention groups that have been key in identifying and addressing the risk factors relating to suicide. They have also worked within communities, schools, commercial companies and families to provide support and care for those left to deal with the burden of grief.
Bill C-300 establishes the requirement for the Government of Canada to develop a federal framework for suicide prevention in consultation with the relevant non-governmental organizations, the relevant entity in each province and territory, as well as the relevant federal departments.
In Canada, far too many lives, almost 4,000, are lost each year to suicide. Over 10 Canadian lives are ended each day prematurely and tragically, leaving behind broken communities and shattered family dreams. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Canadian youth 10 to 24 years of age. In my home area of Waterloo region, three youths lost their lives to suicide in just one single week last year. Suicide has a horrific impact: shortened lives, shattered dreams, grieving families, devastated friends, and broken communities.
We need to do more to protect the sacred gift of human life, and I believe that all human life is sacred. I will stand for the protection and preservation of the dignity of all human life well after others may have decided that a specific life is no longer worth the extra effort, the extra care, or the extra protection in late senior years. My convictions and beliefs as they relate to this issue of life without a doubt have been shaped by my life's journey.
I was elected to Parliament in January 2006. I have the honour of representing the great people of Kitchener--Conestoga. Throughout these past five years plus, I have had the honour of meeting some incredible people from all sides of the House, many of whom have become very close friends.
One of the most welcoming and encouraging MPs I met in those early days would often take the time to say “great job” or “this 2006 class of MPs is exceptional”, or “hey, I know where you could find this, or here is someone who could help you with that”. Dave Batters was positive, he was an encourager, and he was fun to be around.
Our Prime Minister spoke at Dave's memorial service about his many contributions:
Dave held a place in all our hearts. To his wife and family, he was a loving and beloved husband, son and brother. To his friends, he was unfailingly loyal, generous and caring. And among his colleagues in Parliament, myself included, he was greatly admired for his dedication to his constituents, our party and our country.
In my experience, no one on either side of the aisle ever had a bad word to say about Dave.
His passion for the causes he embraced was combined with respect for his opponents. Dave was always excited about whatever issue or initiative he was working on. His energy and enthusiasm were infectious. He had a good sense of humour. He lifted spirits and inspired others. In fact, I used to tell my staff that I wished I could match Dave Batters' liveliness and optimism.
Members can imagine my shock and disbelief, and the shock of my colleagues, when we heard the tragic news that Dave Batters, MP, had lost his life to suicide. How could it be that someone so full of life could lose hope when he seemed to be enjoying life so much, including his role as member of Parliament? What brought about that deep sense of despair?
These are bigger questions than I am prepared to answer. Suicide and its causes are extremely complex and the solutions are also not simple. However, these big questions bring me back to another question. Why did I run for public office in the first place?
The reason I ran for public office, as I am sure every member in the House did, was to do my part to make this great country of Canada an even better country for my children and for my grandchildren. My family, my community, my life experiences here in Canada and internationally have all shaped my world view.
My faith journey as a Christian informs me that as humans we have the imprint of our creator deeply imbedded within each and every one of us regardless of social status, educational achievements, ethnic background, gender, colour of skin, so-called disability issues, or age. The list of the glorious variety placed within the human race goes on and on, but we are brothers and sisters.
As it relates to the tragic premature loss of life, what steps can we take to restore hope to those who are in despair? What can we do to improve the support mechanisms for those who are dealing with acute and chronic mental health challenges, or for those who have simply lost hope? What leadership can Parliament or the Government of Canada provide?
I am certain that everyone in this chamber can tell us how they, their family, or a member in their community has been negatively impacted by suicide. Each of us knows someone whose sense of hope was overcome by despair and ended his or her life by suicide. We understand that suicide does not end the pain; it simply transfers it to the family, friends and community.
There is no way to calculate the loss to families, our communities and our country. It is estimated that for every suicide there are 22 emergency department visits and 5 hospitalizations for suicide-related behaviour. It is a huge economic cost that must be considered.
More important than the economic costs, we must think of the thousands of families robbed of loved ones long before their time. These losses deprive our communities and our country of the important contributions that those lives, which were ended prematurely, could have made. Four thousand times a year we suffer a tragic loss of human potential.
Suicide is a 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.
In the first paragraph of the preamble to Bill C-300, members will find the following words:
Whereas suicide is a complex problem involving biological, psychological, social and spiritual factors, and can be influenced by societal attitudes and conditions;
It is widely recognized that in many cases, there may be biological, psychological, or physiological factors related to chemical balances and imbalances which lead to mood disorders.
The Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario states:
People with mood disorders are at a particularly high risk of suicide. Studies indicate that more than 90 percent of suicide victims have a diagnosable psychiatric illness, and suicide is the most common cause of death for people with schizophrenia.
Social factors also may be a contributor to higher suicide rates. As we know, the suicide rate among aboriginal youth is five to seven times higher than among non-aboriginal youth. Along with the biological, psychological and spiritual factors, there are some key social factors that are having an impact on these high suicide rates.
The national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy was launched by Health Canada in 2005. It is a five-year strategy developed in full partnership with the Assembly of First Nations and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, with an investment of $65 million to establish community-based, culturally appropriate levels of prevention. Specific focus was placed on promotion of life and well-being. Budget 2010 added $75 million to expand this program up to 2015.
Evidence is accumulating that when aboriginal communities, including Inuit communities, design their own interventions, typically, based on traditional cultural values and practices, the efficacy of these interventions is high. Therefore, there is hope, but much more needs to be done. We need to offer hope to those who are facing this unbearable pain and who subsequently descend into a state of hopelessness and despair.
I have touched briefly on the possible biological, psychological and cultural factors that may affect suicidal behaviour, but there is another key factor that far too often is ignored.
Professor Margaret Somerville of McGill University has said:
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.
Hope is a sense of connection to the future. Hope is the emotional state which promotes the belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one's life. Hope is a belief that life's events will turn out for the best.
Each of us can relate to the importance of having hope in our lives. That hope might be very short term, like getting through Grade 5, or graduating from high school, or getting one's driver's licence for the first time or even the upcoming weekend trip.
For people of faith, a longer term hope, in fact an eternal hope, is ours because of our belief in the reality of the resurrection.
A colleague in the House recently used the phrase, “death shall have no dominion”, crediting it to Dylan Thomas. In fact, this phrase finds its origin in the Scriptures, in the Book of Romans 6:9, in the context of Christ's victory over death, a victory offered to each of us.
I have a strong hope of seeing my grandchildren in a few hours, when I travel home for the weekend. Over the next number of years, I hope to see my grandchildren graduate from elementary school and secondary school. I hope to see my grandchildren get married and develop strong families. I hope to see each of them contribute to the building of a stronger and better Canada. My ultimate hope, however, is in the reality that I will again see by wife Betty, who left this earth almost six months ago.
These smaller and shorter hopes and the longer-term hope remind us of the many joys in life. However, for those struggling with life, and perhaps struggling with suicidal thoughts, these sources of hope have dimmed or perhaps been lost altogether.
How can each of us make a difference? How can we help?
The very fact that this discussion is happening in the House of Commons in Canada is a huge step forward. It is time to break the silence.
Too many Canadians are in the dark about this issue. A recent survey by Harris-Decima conducted on behalf of Your Life Counts found that 86% of Canadians did not know that suicide was the second leading cause of death among our youth. Over one-third thought it was a small problem or not a problem at all. Over 96% of respondents stated that in order to reduce suicide, the topic should be freely discussed, without fear or shame. An overwhelming 84% believed that government should invest in suicide prevention.
Suicide is obviously a mental health issue, but it is so much more than that. Suicide is a public health issue affecting all Canadians. All of us, including all levels of government, need to do our part to face this issue head on, to work with communities across Canada to do all that we can to relieve the mental, emotional and spiritual pain of those who are in despair and who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, so we can keep them alive and safe.
A national framework for suicide prevention will create the connections, promote the consistent use of best practices, offer hope and send a clear message that this issue matters and is important, that every life is important. By working together, we can, and we will, make a difference.
Already a lot of great work is being done in suicide prevention across the country, but with some federal vision, federal coordination and federal leadership, we can do better for vulnerable Canadians.
I ask all hon. members of the House to please support Bill C-300 in order to make that happen.