moved that Bill C-211, an act respecting a federal framework on post-traumatic stress disorder, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-211. However, before I get into my speech, I want to first acknowledge and thank the first responders, the veterans, and the active military members who have emailed, called, and with whom I have met in person. Many of them are on the Hill with us today. I want to acknowledge their courage in coming forward, and their fight to break the stigma and the silence. These are brave men and women who have been ridiculed, shamed, told to “suck it up and move on”, told that they are making it up, that they are faking it, and, worse yet, that they are weak. I want to thank them for trusting me enough to share their stories with me.
I also want to thank the family and friends of those who could no longer fight for their strength, and their commitment to ensure their loved ones are remembered and that their fight was not in vain.
Moreover, I want to apologize to all for it taking so long to get to this point. I have had this speech prepared for a while now, and as I wrote it, I took time to reflect on the hundreds of individuals whom I had the privilege of meeting with over the last year, those who helped get this bill off the ground, and the thousands more who continue to live in silence.
Mr. Speaker, today is not about you or I, or our colleagues. This is not a Conservative, a Liberal or an NDP issue. Today is about the brave men and women who serve our communities and our country without hesitation and without fail.
I would like to read an email that I received about two weeks ago. It states:
“Our paramedics and other first responders in Canada are amazing. We demand they show up for anything, at any house [at any time] in any weather. They fix our injuries, treat our sickness, restart our hearts. Then they wash their hands, head for home, and rise again to answer the call of duty. They do this job...without thanks, because they want to heal and ease pain. They do this job without fanfare or pursual of fame, and then feel like they get tossed to the curb when the stress builds up too much. Our first responders across Canada need to be treated like the heros and humans they are. This Bill needs to pass.”
There is no rescue for the rescuers. This is just one email, one story, but there are thousands more like it across our country.
One week after being elected, on October 19, 2015, I arrived in Ottawa as a newly-elected MP for the riding of Cariboo—Prince George. I had with me two documents and a head filled with big ideas. The first document was an analysis of challenges and opportunities that existed in my riding. The second was the background for Bill C-211.
Over the course of the two years I spent campaigning, both to win the Conservative nomination and the general election, I met with people from all walks of life. I heard deeply personal and intimate stories of hardship and pain. Many of these individuals were struggling with PTSD themselves, or they knew a colleague, a friend, or a family member who had contemplated suicide or had taken his or her life. They experienced the pain and suffering that was a result of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Bill C-211 was born out of these stories, because it was through these stories that I realized there was no standard of diagnosis, care, treatment, or even terminology for PTSD that was consistent from one end of our nation to another.
The outpouring of letters and phone calls that my office has received since the bill was first introduced last year has been overwhelming. The stories are overwhelming. I have worked hard to meet with individuals and organizations across the country. They are only asking for proper care to be made accessible to our front-line warriors, those who have dealt with the sights, sounds, and smells that average Canadians would find horrifying and heartbreaking.
Our brave men and women put their uniforms on every day, knowing full well that they may have to take the life of another person during the course of their service to our communities and our country, or that in their service and their dedication to our country, they may indeed make the ultimate sacrifice themselves.
Bill C-211 seeks to establish a cohesive and coherent national framework to ensure our military, first responders, paramedics, police personnel, firefighters, emergency dispatchers, veterans, and correctional officers get timely access to the resources they need to deal with PTSD.
The bill sends a message to our silent sentinels that this is not a battle they have to fight themselves, that someone is fighting for them. It is up to all of us, federal, provincial, and territorial legislators, to come up with a plan to ensure that no one is left behind; that our terminology and laws are consistent across the country, from the east coast to the west coast, so an RCMP member serving in Nova Scotia has consistent care with his or her colleagues across our nation; so a firefighter who is not well has the courage to come forward and say “I am not well”; that our veterans or current military know that just as they stood tall for our families, someone is fighting for them, that they know they are not alone, that they can get the care and attention they need when they need it, wherever they need it.
Bill C-211 is about being human. It is about taking a stand. It is not about assigning blame, not passing the buck, not turning a blind eye and saying that it is not our problem. Bill C-211 is about breaking the stigma of mental health injuries. It is about helping them build the courage to come forward and tell their story and seek help.
I have been told over the course of the last year that PTSD is a provincial matter, that this is an issue for the industry to solve. I have also been told that people should know what they are getting themselves into when they sign their job contracts and go into service. I want to reiterate that it is up to all of us to come up with solutions, because lives are being lost.
We are inundated in the media of stories of another veteran or another first responder who have taken their lives and lost the fight due to PTSD. This is unacceptable. Since I tabled my bill over a year ago, countless lives have been lost. This is shameful. We must do better. This begins with education and a willingness to listen without judgment, because less known to the general public are the mental demands that these occupations face. This includes working in a profession that regularly exposes them to graphic scenes and images that anyone would find disturbing and difficult to see.
My bill focuses on first responders, veterans, and military. Even in these three groups, we have differing terms, references, and sector inclusion. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a gentleman by the name of Mark Farrant. He shared with me that jurors, who in accepting their civic duty swear an oath to the crown, in fulfilling their duty to the crown were subject to the horrific crimes committed. They bear witness to graphic details and images over the course of their duty, whether it is nine days, nine months, or 19 months. Then, just as they are sworn to secrecy, they are turned out in anonymity to somehow reconnect in our communities, void of the experience and human tragedy that they have witnessed. They are tossed aside.
While not part of this legislation, it is my hope that bringing this forward and speaking to it tonight, the Minister of Justice can perhaps review this issue, and it can be part of our national discussion regarding mental health. We can talk about those who are impacted by this.
The reality is that experiencing human tragedy affects us all differently. Just as one story is not the same, there is not a one-size-fits-all treatment. These incidents and experiences cannot be erased from our memory. One cannot just hit reset. Instead, the images, sights, sounds, and smells keep playing on a continual loop. Simple things can trigger anxiety attacks or severe depression.
Staff Sergeant Kent MacNeill of the Prince George RCMP told me recently that for over 16 years he has served as an RCMP in his community. Over eight of those years he has led serious crime investigations. Just in his daily commute, he passes by two sites of horrific crimes. A simple action of dropping his daughter off at school can trigger his PTSD.
Triggers can come at any time and any place, without warning. A noise, a sight, a sound, or a smell can trigger the debilitating effects of PTSD. Most of us can never imagine what our warriors go through on a daily basis. I know there are practical questions that members across the way may be asking. Will there be a cost for implementing a national framework for PTSD? The simple answer to this is yes, it will cost money, but I counter with this. What is the alternative? What is the cost of inaction? How many more lives are we willing to lose before the government, before we, step up to the plate?
If members on all sides choose to vote down Bill C-211, what then are we proposing as a substitute? What is the message we are sending to those who we trust to be there when we are in need, those who without hesitation answer when the world calls? The question we need to ask ourselves today is what value do we place on these brave men and women?
Right now, we have a piecemeal system of scattered provincial legislation. Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick have all taken steps to rightfully adopt legislation to deal with PTSD. While we are making progress on this front and we have come a long way in recognizing PTSD, leadership is needed at the federal level. The standard of care varies from one province to the next, and we have people falling through the cracks. Individuals suffering from PTSD have an 80% higher risk of suffering from depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicidal thoughts. As a society and as legislators, we have failed to come up with solutions to help our heroes, our warriors, the families, and the survivors, because a hero in the east should be treated the same as a hero in the west. Let us get this bill to committee so that we can discuss it, and amend it if necessary. Even with this, we have studied this enough to recognize that much more needs to be done and action is required.
Last October, the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security tabled the report, “Healthy Minds, Safe Communities: Supporting our Public Safety Officers through a National Strategy for Operational Stress Injuries”. Bill C-211 was tabled before this committee, and I had the opportunity to participate in that study also. The report echoes much of what I am saying today, and indeed the minister's own response to the committee report said:
...the Government acknowledges the needs articulated by Canada's public safety officers and agrees that, in recognition of the daily challenges that are unique to public safety officers in the community, national leadership and alignment are necessary in order to effectively address this multidisciplinary issue.
Bill C-211 is a perfect place to start and is in line with the government's own commitments. Therefore, it is my hope that we can move swiftly, because we will save lives. Every minute wasted, every hour wasted, and every day wasted, we are losing lives. Action is needed. We are at a crisis level.
As I near the end of what I know is a very long speech, I would like to acknowledge that I am the first one to admit when I stand up in this House that it is usually to act as a voice of opposition to the issue of the day, but Bill C-211 transcends party lines and partisan squabbles. It is an opportunity for all parliamentarians to stand together and acknowledge the very real impact that PTSD has had on the lives of our warriors. If members would bear with me, I just want to read an excerpt from another website:
I get up all hours of the night and check the house over and over. I don't even know what I am looking for. I was asleep about a month ago, and I just knew that someone had fired a gun in my living room. I hear people pound on my door in the middle of the night, when in fact there was never anyone there to my knowledge. One night I got up out of the bed.... I don't know what I was looking for, but on my way through the house, I cocked my weapon. On the way through the house, the .357 discharged and shot a hole through my floor.... I need help, but I have dealt with it for the past two years. It is getting harder to deal with.
By nature, our first responders are part of a culture that frowns upon weakness. The job comes first, and feelings, wellness, and family come second. When lives are affected by PTSD, families are left behind to pick up the pieces on their own. Families are forgotten. Only through bipartisan support and co-operation can we hope to achieve effective and viable strategies, terminology, and education to help deal with PTSD.
Through Bill C-211, we have the opportunity to recognize the sacrifices that our brave men and women have made so we can be here today. Our warriors are our silent sentinels protecting our Canadian values and our way of life. They ensure our maple leaf stands tall, that Canada remains the true north strong and free.
As parliamentarians, let us stand in solidarity in support for those who are willing to give their lives to protect ours. I am asking for the assistance of members today so that we can begin to work on a national framework, and I ask that all members in this House help in achieving this goal by voting for Bill C-211 at second reading, because lives are at stake.