Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Act

An Act respecting a federal framework on post-traumatic stress disorder

Sponsor

Todd Doherty  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Second reading (Senate), as of Dec. 14, 2017

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-211.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment requires the Minister of Health to convene a conference with the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, provincial and territorial government representatives responsible for health and representatives of the medical community and patients’ groups for the purpose of developing a comprehensive federal framework to address the challenges of recognizing the symptoms and providing timely diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

March 8, 2017 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Health.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

June 16th, 2017 / 1:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

moved that the be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I proudly rise today to speak to my private member's bill, C-211, an act respecting a federal framework on post-traumatic stress disorder.

On a personal note, I would like to express my gratitude to all those who have helped us on our journey to get to today.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank the paramedics, firefighters, military, veterans, police officers, correctional officers, dispatch, and nurses. I thank those who came forward to provide feedback about how we could go about strengthening this legislation in the future, if it is the desire and the will of the House and the Senate to enact the bill into law. I want to thank the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, the jurors, and Mr. Mark Farrant for the honest and heartfelt feedback.

I want to acknowledge the families of the fallen, those left behind to pick up the pieces. I want to thank them for sharing their stories of their loved ones. I want to thank them for showing incredible strength through their immeasurable and unspeakable pain they are going through. I know it has not been an easy journey for anyone, and their willingness to share their stories has been truly inspiring.

I also want to apologize to everyone that it has taken this long to get to this point. It has been 606 days since we were elected. It has been 600 days since I first landed in Ottawa with the background for Bill C-211. It has been 462 days since we tabled Bill C-211. It has been 100 days since we all stood together in the House and passed it unanimously at second reading.

Over this journey, I have tried to bring the voices of those who are suffering forward. I have tried to relay their incredible stories, with the same honest emotion they have shared with me.

I said this before and I will say again, we have received so many emails, so many calls, and so many messages, many of them full of heartbreak and tragedy. With the indulgence of members, I will take this opportunity to read a small excerpt of an email I received a little over a year ago after we first tabled Bill C-211. It is from the wife of one of our fallen, and it reads:

“Thank you.”

“As I write this, I'm trying hard to hold back the tears. The truth is I'm unsure how I even have tears left. I've cried every day since his death and it's been over a year. I can only manage a day at a time, and even that at times is too much. I don't know what tomorrow will bring. I guess no one really does. We were only married three years and he was my one true love. He would have been 30 this year. Our son will never know his father. He will never know the incredible man he was. My husband only wanted to serve and to save. Sadly, no one could save him. It's odd how everyone gathers around you at first, then life goes on. I don't get the invites anymore. It's like other wives don't want to be reminded of this, of how this could have been them.”

“Mr. Doherty, your bill is too late for my family, but I hope you will be successful. My pain endures and I'm not sure there is a fix. I will tell my son that his dad was a hero and saved lives. I believe if my husband knew of you and your efforts, it just might have given him enough hope that he would have reached out, that he would have hung on. Please keep fighting for this. For us it is too late, but you and your colleagues will save the lives of others.”

The letter ended with a big “thank you”.

This is one of hundreds, maybe even thousands of emails, messages, comments on social media and from private meetings that we have received since tabling our bill. It is truly overwhelming the stories we have heard from those who are struggling today, those who are receiving help, and those who are left behind to somehow pick up the pieces.

I challenge us all to come up with solutions so we do not lose another life to PTSD.

My team has also heard horrific stories of pain and suffering. In some cases, for those we met with along the way, today was too far away, and the pain was too great. Last week alone, we saw four responders from across Canada commit suicide. Within the last 48 hours, we have had a firefighter from Ottawa and a paramedic from Pickering commit suicide.

One of the questions I was asked when I was appearing at the health committee was whether there was one story that really stands out. The truth is that there are many. It is hard not to get emotional when talking about this, because it is an incredibly heavy burden. Collectively in this House, we have created so much hope.

I will take a moment to try to explain some of this to our hon. members who are in the House right now. From a young age, there are people we have been told to respect and to hold in the highest regard. We hear the stories of their heroics. Books are written. Movies are written and made about these larger-than-life individuals, these superheros. They truly embody all that is Canadian. They are altruistic individuals who want nothing more than to go out and go to work so they can help others, so they can save others, and so they can make their communities and our country safe.

This is something we heard very powerfully from Natalie Harris, a former advanced-care paramedic in the county of Simcoe in Ontario. When she appeared before the health committee on May 16, she told committee members that she went to school in 2001 to become a paramedic. She said, “I learned something new every day, was financially stable, and made such a difference in people's lives. I was in my glory, but no matter how much I loved it, each year became a bit tougher for me to cope with, and I didn't know why.” She would tell herself, “I've fought too hard. I've conquered so many difficult circumstances in my life.” She did not want to lose this career. She reassured herself, “I'm sure I'll be okay.”

Natalie continued by saying:

It's not normal to have a person ask you to just take their leg and arm off because they were experiencing so much pain from being trapped in a car with multiple open fractures all over their body. It's not normal to learn that the patient who hanged himself the night before had a second noose waiting for his wife, had his son not called 911 at the right time. It's not normal to witness a young woman, seven months pregnant, rub her belly with the only limb that could move as she had a stroke that would leave her disabled. It's not normal to see the cellphone on the road beside the obviously dead driver, crushed between the pavement and the car, who was texting and driving, and it's not normal to know he made the three sisters in the other car now two. It's not normal to experience and see the look of true evil when you learn how two innocent women were murdered.... It's not normal to see someone die before your eyes more times than you can actually count.

I would like to take this moment to thank Natalie once again for coming forward. Nothing prepares a person for these experiences. As politicians, we often do our best to translate our concerns and the concerns of our constituents into speeches and talking points, but I can truly say that in all my life, there are few people who have been able to make such an impactful statement. I know the members of the health committee who are here today felt the same way.

Our warriors make the ultimate sacrifice. They make the sacrifice by taking time away from their loved ones, their family, and their friends. They put their uniforms on every day knowing full well that they may never have an opportunity to say goodbye. They are those who run toward danger when we and others would run the other way. They experience human tragedy every day, yet they still, without exception, without hesitation, answer the call of duty. They face the sights, sounds, and smells that will stay with them for a lifetime.

Freedom is not free. There is a very real cost. Knowing what these individuals go through, I would like to share with members the flip side for a moment.

All of a sudden, these roles are reversed. Those people are now looking toward this House. They are looking to all of us, as members of Parliament and legislators. They are asking for help.

The hardest part in all this is having those people, who I know our hon. colleagues also look to as heroes, coming forward, through emails, calls, and messages, saying, “Thank you for bringing this legislation forward.”

It is such an honour to be a member of Parliament. It is truly a humbling experience. There are a few experiences I have had over the course of the last two years that have really hit home. I would like to tell members about a couple.

Shortly after being elected, stepping out of my car in a parking lot back home in Cariboo—Prince George, someone came up to me and asked if I was a member of Parliament. I said I was, and the person said, “We just want to let you know that our family loves you, and we pray for you every night. Thank you for your service.”

Another point was having someone come to us, with tears in his eyes, a police officer, thanking us, saying that we have saved his life because of the work we have done on this bill. It has allowed him to come forward to his family and to his friends, seeking help.

The other was at second reading, when a giant of a man, a former firefighter who himself has been fighting post-traumatic stress disorder, came to me and said, “Thank you. For the first time, I have hope.” Then he introduced me to his young son and said, “This is what a true Canadian hero looks like.” Words cannot express how humbling that was.

Is there not something to be said about that, that our heroes, our warriors, have been left to deal with the horrors of post-traumatic stress disorder alone and in silence? Even though they are hurting, they continue to remain just a call away when we need them. To me, that is simply shameful. It breaks my heart.

We have been blessed that so many people have followed us along this journey, some of whom were here March 8 when 284 members of Parliament rose together to send Bill C-211 to committee, and they have seen the good work we have done to this point. However, the work does not stop here.

Bill C-211 was developed to look at the overwhelming issue and the epidemic we have with respect to our first responders, our veterans, and our military. We are losing our warriors left and right. The challenge is this, a challenge that many groups we have met with over the last 18 months acknowledge. Today, as it stands, we do not have a piece of legislation that deals with PTSD. We have inconsistencies across our country, even in terminology, in diagnoses, and in treatment. We have some groups doing great work. We have others who hang a shingle and claim that they are experts. The reality is that they are causing more harm than good. We have inconsistencies across our nation in who or what is covered. An RCMP member serving in one part of our country may not be eligible for the same services their colleagues are in other provinces.

One academic brought forth the rule of thirds. He said 30% of those who are suffering with PTSD will recover 100%; 30% will have an okay life; and 30% we will lose altogether. That was one of my first committee meetings, and I took exception to this. Post-traumatic stress disorder is not something that can be cured 100%. It is a traumatic brain injury, and anything can trigger a setback.

I want to leave my hon. colleagues with this. If they had the power to save a live today, would they do so? If they knew their actions today could save lives, would they be brave enough to follow through? I ask because we have been given that opportunity today, as we speak. We can help ensure that another life is not lost and that the four lives last week, the two within the last 48 hours, and the hundreds lost since I first tabled Bill C-211 were not lost in vain.

As I read earlier from the wife of the fallen officer, the one line that sticks out is, “I don't know what tomorrow will bring.... I guess no one really does.”

For those who have been following our journey, those who are in the room with us today and those who are watching across our nation and internationally, tomorrow is just another excuse or delay, and sometimes tomorrow is too far away. I ask of you, let us not wait for tomorrow when we can truly make a difference today.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

June 16th, 2017 / 1:30 p.m.
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NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for bringing this measure forward. I have served here just over 15 years, and this is one of the most important pieces of legislation I have seen. It addresses one of the most important things that Canadian families need to do, and that is to come to grips with the value of addressing mental health issues. To have an inclusive strategy like this one is important for so many reasons.

When it comes to implementing the bill, will they continue the co-operative effort with provinces and municipalities to get real results for Canadians? That is how it has been delivered to the House. Will that continue?

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

June 16th, 2017 / 1:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is the crux of my bill: to ensure that our government and future governments continue to work with our provincial legislators, our territorial legislators, our academics, and our industry to ensure that a hero in the east is treated the same as a hero in the west.

I ran out of time in my speech, and I just want to leave another comment with the House. This is a note I received today from the mother of a recently fallen officer. It says, “Mr. Doherty, I want you to know if you can do one thing, remind your colleagues that they're not just police officers. They're not just firefighters, paramedics, or veterans; they are human. They hurt, and sometimes they need help too. Who rescues the rescuers? They are someone's son, daughter, husband, wife, and they are someone's father and mother.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

June 16th, 2017 / 1:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, a speech like that from the member for Cariboo—Prince George shows the House of Commons at its best. When he arrived here 600-plus days ago, he wanted to help first responders. I am really proud of his efforts and I am proud to second the bill. I am also very proud of government members who have spoken passionately about this subject.

When I was in the Canadian Armed Forces, it was following the crash of Swiss Air in Nova Scotia that I heard the words “operational stress injury” for the first time. In the two decades since that, Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs have become experts in trying to diagnose, treat, and help people with operational stress injuries.

This is an area where the federal government really can bring national expertise to bear and make sure there is not a patchwork of care across the country. We can be the champion to help create that national framework that anyone who serves our country in the uniformed services needs.

Could I ask my friend to outline how the expertise with the road to mental readiness, the wellness training of the Canadian Armed Forces, and the resiliency training we have developed federally can help our first responders from coast to coast to coast?

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

June 16th, 2017 / 1:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question from the member for Durham. I want to acknowledge that he is one of the first members of Parliament I reached out to when I first arrived here. Through his work with the True Patriot Love foundation, he truly gets the debilitating effects that post-traumatic stress disorder has on our vets, our military, and our first responders,

He is absolutely right. We have organizations and groups that are doing some incredible work that countries around the world are paying attention to. The Canadian Forces R2MR program is being used and can be used for first responders. I was in Edmonton in early fall last year, and Fire Station No. 1 was adapting the Canadian military's R2MR to help prepare new recruits for what they are going to see. Nothing fully prepares them for the tragedy they are going to experience, the sights and smells.

The R2MR program used by the Canadian Forces over the last while is one we can truly be proud of, and that is exactly what we are talking about: consistent care and diagnosis from coast to coast to coast. That is what we are looking to do.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

June 16th, 2017 / 1:35 p.m.
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Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne Québec

Liberal

Sherry Romanado LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to private member's bill, Bill C-211, an act respecting a federal framework on post-traumatic stress disorder.

Bill C-211 was introduced by the member for Cariboo—Prince George and calls on the Minister of Health to spearhead a concerted effort aimed at developing a federal framework to address a complex issue.

I would like to thank the member for Cariboo—Prince George for bringing this to the House. I would like to take a moment to talk about the important issue of post-traumatic stress disorder, otherwise known as PTSD in Canada.

As the daughter and spouse of firefighters, and the mother of two serving Canadian Armed Forces members, the issue of PTSD is a personal one for me. We have come a long way in our collective understanding of PTSD since it was first added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association in 1980.

This addition was a significant turning point, because it formally acknowledged PTSD as an acquired mental health condition rather than a personal shortcoming. During the last decade, neuroimaging studies have reaffirmed that PTSD is real and measurable. Researchers can now observe the brain circuits that mediate this disorder.

Unfortunately, sensational media coverage has helped perpetuate the stereotype that people with PTSD are psychotic and violent, which is an inaccurate portrayal of this mental illness.

A traumatic event involves exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence. It may be a one-time incident or involve sustained or repeated exposure.

Exposure can involve experiencing the traumatic event first-hand or witnessing or hearing about a traumatic event that happened to others.

The traumatic event or events completely wipe out the individual's capacity to deal with or process the thoughts and emotions related to the incident.

Events that may be associated with PTSD include combat exposure, childhood abuse, sexual assault, and physical violence. Many other traumatic events can be associated with PTSD, such as natural disasters, intimate partner violence, and other extreme or life-threatening events. PTSD can develop immediately after someone experiences a disturbing event, or it can develop weeks, months, or even years later.

According to a 2008 study, about 9% of people in Canada will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. This is consistent with the worldwide prevalence, which ranges between 7% and 12%. Studies show that females are twice as likely to develop PTSD compared to males, but males are less likely than females to seek help. Children and adolescents also experience this disorder, and genetics may make some people more likely to develop it than others.

We also know that certain populations are at increased risk for PTSD because their jobs expose them to extreme and traumatic events that may be recurring. While many associate PTSD with military service, it can manifest in first responders, firefighters, corrections officers, emergency room personnel, victims of crime, and members of the RCMP.

The few studies that have been conducted indicate that between 10% and 35% of first responders will develop PTSD, and the lifetime prevalence of this disorder among active members of the Canadian Armed Forces is 11%. Unfortunately, there is not enough quality data to provide a clear and complete picture of the prevalence, and social and economic impacts of PTSD in Canada.

Collecting quality data on the prevalence and impact of PTSD in Canada is only part of the solution. Another important aspect is raising public awareness about this mental illness.

Although Canadians have become much more aware of this problem in recent years, there are still gaps in their knowledge and understanding of PTSD symptoms and treatment.

As with many other mental illnesses, a big problem is that, unfortunately, the stigma associated with PTSD prevents many people from getting help and prevents others from recognizing the symptoms associated with this mental illness.

Developing PTSD is not a sign of weakness. Many factors play a part in whether a person will experience PTSD, and it will manifest itself differently for different people. Risk factors make a person more likely to develop PTSD, while protective factors can help build resilience and reduce the risk of developing this disorder.

Risk factors include having prior trauma, having been abused as a child, having pre-existing mental health issues, and having a family history of mental illness. Other socio-economic risk factors include lower levels of income and education, and being from an ethnic minority. Following a traumatic event, people who lack social supports are also at a higher risk.

Protective factors include seeking and receiving support from friends and family, finding a support group, and having positive coping strategies. Researchers study the importance and interplay of risk and protective factors. Their findings continue to inform our understanding of PTSD, including the development of effective preventive and treatment approaches.

While symptoms vary from one individual to the next, those affected by PTSD often relive a traumatic event they experienced either through flashbacks and nightmares or by being exposed to situations that trigger memories of the traumatic experience. Some symptoms include negative thoughts, feelings of isolation or distress, and lack of reaction or fear.

People with PTSD might also have sleep disorders, anxiety, and depressive behaviour, or feel paralyzed at the thought of doing the simplest task.

It is also common for individuals with PTSD to self-medicate by using drugs or alcohol.

With such a range of symptoms, it is not surprising that this disorder can also reduce a person's ability to function in relationships, at work, and in leisure activities.

Without proper treatment, the symptoms of PTSD can get worse and have lasting and devastating effects including substance abuse, chronic pain, hypertension, self-mutilation, and suicide.

Growing evidence shows that early treatment of trauma symptoms may reduce the risk of developing PTSD. This suggests that identification and early intervention using evidence-based treatments is critical to preventing this disorder. PTSD affects people differently, so a treatment that works for one person may not work for another. Some people with this disorder need to try different treatments to find what works for them. Recovery is more complicated for people who have endured repeated trauma, and for those who were traumatized early in life.

The idea is to develop more personalized, effective, and efficient treatments, and possibly even to prevent the disorder from ever manifesting.

Diverse areas of research continue to provide pieces of the puzzle bringing us closer to understanding the whole picture of PTSD. I am inspired by the work done on PTSD, not only by federal departments but also by provinces, territories, and advocacy groups across this country.

We need to come together to break the stigma and to allow those suffering, and the families who suffer along with them, to get the help they need. Today, we come together, we put partisanship aside, and we support our everyday heroes.

I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak about this important issue in the House of Commons.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

June 16th, 2017 / 1:45 p.m.
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NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise and speak to Bill C-211, an act respecting a federal framework on post-traumatic stress disorder.

I would like to thank the member for Cariboo—Prince George for putting this legislation forward. His approach in getting the bill through the House is very professional. It is important to recognize that members of Parliament can work together, and this legislation is a good example of that co-operation.

There are a couple of points that I want to note with regard to the bill, but first I want to tell the House one of the reasons I have such an interest in the bill.

Some of the people in Windsor West who might be watching us today are from Branch 143 of the Royal Canadian Legion. It was during my time as a member of Parliament that I learned about the seriousness of what is taking place and the commitment that our men and women in the military make, both overseas and in Canada.

About 10 years ago, I had one of the most interesting and life-changing moments of my life. I was invited to participate in a discussion group at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 143. Also present were a number of individuals who were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. That intimate exposure was certainly important. These were not just soldiers who fought in Afghanistan. They were World War II veterans, Korean veterans, peacekeepers, and others who were all still struggling with the ordinary things in daily life. That experience helped to elevate my understanding of PTSD.

I was a social worker before I came to this place. I dealt with people who came to Canada as refugees. The trauma that they experienced in their countries is quite different from what people go through here in Canada. My job was to help them integrate into Canadian society, whether it was school or work or whatever. How can we take a young man who has lost his family and his house and then integrate him into our Canadian society? He himself might have volunteered in a hospital or another traumatic place while never receiving any type of support.

This legislation is important because it would help to bridge a gap. PTSD does not just affect military personnel. It affects first responders and other citizens in all of society. We need to understand that mental health and illness issues are a life-long journey for all of us. People should not be ashamed of these issues and should not be afraid to talk about them. More importantly, work needs to be done to provide the support that people need.

Windsor West lacks many services for children who need, for example, psychologists. This is a critical problem. We do not invest in mental health in the way we should, as we do in our other health areas. Not being able to deal with these kinds of issues on a regular basis affects all of us.

If, despite the overlap of jurisdictions, we can deal with this issue as a nation from coast to coast to coast, with all of the provinces and territories and all the municipalities, it will make Canada truly special and an example for others to follow. More importantly, we can achieve effective results.

It is important to outline a few things in the legislation that people may not understand. The bill talks about bringing together the appropriate ministers in a reporting process. I will not go into all of the details, but the bill proposes putting a system in place that could deal with PTSD. The bill is not talking only about consultation. A lot of people, especially our good men and women in service, have been consulted many times, and they need action.

I will be supporting the bill in its current state because although it includes the consultation process, it also talks about expectations, measurements, and deliverables. That will put the government of the day and members of Parliament of the day on notice that this is a serious issue that affects all Canadians. At the end of the day, we expect to see results, and the results mean helping people deal with the many different personal issues related to PTSD.

Those issues affect us so profoundly. The symptoms include everything from re-experiencing traumatic events over and over or reliving them, to recurring nightmares, disturbing memories of the event, acting or feeling as if the event is happening again, avoiding friends and family, drug addiction, being unable to feel pleasure, constant anxiety, difficulty concentrating, getting angry easily, sleeping difficulties, fearing harm from others, experiencing sudden attacks of dizziness, a fast heartbeat or shortness of breath, and fear of dying. All of these things, when left in a vacuum, are not helpful, not only to the individual but to society.

I would argue, not on the principle of doing this for mere ethics or because it is the right thing to do, but I would argue that it is a bond and social contract that should be expected in return by individuals who occupy professions that put them at risk in service to their communities and society.

We have decided to provide the supports necessary to allow the people in those occupations to not only have what they have today but in the future. That is a social contract for firefighters, police officers, soldiers, nurses, and paramedics. For all of the different occupations, there is a social contract that does not end when that occupation concludes. We are asking people to perform duties that put them at risk and affect their families as part of their jobs. The social contract we have is to provide the proper supports so they can continue to be productive and, most importantly, have good mental health.

We have an opportunity in the House to make a difference with the bill. The member for Cariboo—Prince George has provided the opportunity for all of us, in a non-partisan way, to end this session on a high note. New Democrats are very proud to be part of it. There are so many people who contribute so much. We have invested in training professionals, in their occupations, in being parents, and in being community leaders. If we do not take care of them, we are not taking care of ourselves.

One reason I like community activism is the ability to act. At the end of the day, the ability to act defines us differently as Canadians. When I look at all the campaigns to stop the shame of mental illness, many of them involve the corporate sector, the non-for-profit sector, and, where I come from, the professional sector. Some of the moments for our Afghanistan veterans have put things in a different light and we now have an opportunity to go forward.

I do not want to name people, but I will name one person, because it is an important chapter that will never get told. A gentleman in the Windsor area named Wayne Hillman was among a number of Canadians who served in Vietnam. He told me that our Afghanistan veterans are coming home with some of the same issues that he and his comrades had. They had no supports when they came home, even though they served in the American military. They finally got some psychological counselling and services, which helped them in their lives. The same thing has been happening here, so we need to apply those resources.

With this bill, let us apply even more resources. Let us make sure it not just captured in one occupation or profession. Let us make sure it is part of the normal Canadian practice and culture that mental illness and wellness is part of living healthy in a healthy society.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

June 16th, 2017 / 1:55 p.m.
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NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today in the House to lend my support to Bill C-211.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a difficult challenge for many Canadians and their loved ones. We need to do more to help Canadians from all walks of life living with this condition.

I want to thank my colleague from Cariboo—Prince George for bringing this very important bill forward. I want to thank people from home, the Port Alberni Fire Department, who are watching this live. They have been advocating for a long time for us to deal with PTSD. I also want to thank all the first responders and nations in my community who contributed to help advise me and those who are in the chamber who have been affected by PTSD.

At present, we lack the resources to even begin addressing these challenges. PTSD touches all Canadians in one way or another and we need a national approach to solve it.

Nearly one in 10 Canadians experience post-traumatic stress at some point in their lives. Bill C-211 is a strong step toward helping these Canadians. It sheds much needed light on a disorder too often kept in the darkness. Many people struggle with the stigma attached with mental illness. Particularly, it is difficult to articulate how the effects of trauma continue to manifest in a variety of symptoms. Canadians do not lack in compassion, but we are failing to provide the resources that people need to deal with mental illness.

As I mentioned, the bill is a very strong step, but I am concerned with some of the limits in its scope. It calls for a conference within the next 12 months between the ministries of health, veterans affairs, and National Defence, provincial groups, and health care providers to determine a framework to begin addressing PTSD. I am very happy to see that. These measures include: establish a program to monitor and track rates of PTSD and its social and economic costs at the national level; establish best practices guidelines for health care providers to diagnose and treat PTSD; and create an awareness program to help spread the word across the country around the issues and challenges that people with PTSD face.

We know we are lagging behind our fellow OECD countries when it comes to the funding for mental health. This is inadequate. We must do better.

I am glad the bill calls for collaboration among the ministries of health, defence, and veterans affairs. How we choose to support our veterans, as my friend from Windsor West talked about, will be a key part of the legacy of both the current and previous governments. Many veterans in my riding come home with PTSD. I see them on the doorstep. They are vocalizing the lack of supports they need. Now is also the time for us to take a really hard look at ourselves and how we treat our vets. We see the impact that prolonged military engagements have had on our bravest service men and women and we are failing them.

While the Prime Minister reminds us that we have a sacred obligation to our veterans, very little has been done for those who are falling through the cracks. This is in large part due to the traumatic events they have bravely volunteered to face for our country.

The bill also calls for a better collection of data related to cases of PTSD across Canada. Canada has been described as a country of trials and pilot projects when it comes to health care. We often have innovative projects that result in great outcomes and knowledge. However, when it comes to implementation and education across the country, we fall behind. At the moment, Canada has little to no data at the national level informing our policy on PTSD.

In my riding, despite the best efforts of some truly amazing health care professionals, our health care system is in a state of crisis. The bill would help immensely to bring the level of PTSD awareness up across the country. It would help ensure that the knowledge and research of experts is shared with practitioners and a framework is adopted for everyone.

PTSD is a significant issue for first responders, police personnel, firefighters, and the countless others we ask to assist in emergency situations. According to the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, 68 first responders committed suicide in 2016. This is a tragedy and we need to have better support for these individuals. It is staggering how little consistency there is to support these professionals from province to province. We need to take the lead at the federal level to establish a national framework.

One RCMP officer put it to me like this: “We should not have to beg and jump over fences to get the help we need.” I could not agree with him more.

In the small communities in my riding, first responders often get called to fatal emergency sites of people they personally know. It is difficult for these individuals to describe the feeling of isolation and helplessness that this can create.

While these individuals are hard at work keeping our communities safe, they often struggle in their personal lives. One individual spoke about how something as everyday as a car driving by pulled him back to the scene of a particularly devastating accident. That accident was 10 years ago, but the vivid details still linger for him. This is all too often the case.

Another individual had this to say about a recent experience: “In this last couple of days, I've experienced some overwhelming emotions that I haven't experienced a lot in my previous nine and a half years on the job. On a Thursday nightshift during a response to a stabbing, during the treating of the victim before ambulance arrived, my partner was working directly in front of me. Due to the nature of injuries, we both had to be very hands on, totally focused on patient care. It was during this time that I had this feeling of wanting to keep looking over my shoulder. After the patient was packaged, my partner went with paramedics to assist. As I walked back to the blood-covered clothes and started looking at all the equipment we had used, I felt this overwhelming sense of being alone. As I gathered up our equipment and drove alone to the hospital to pick up my partner, the full weight of trauma set in.”

I want to thank these brave individuals who took the time to share their stories with me. We are doing this for them, and for the countless others who keep our communities safe. It is vital that this bill includes the Department of Public Safety in its framework.

We also need to have a meaningful look at how we handle mental health for indigenous peoples. I wish that this bill did more to address these challenges, but ultimately it falls to the government to do more. Many first nations people are living with trauma and damage from the lingering horrors and effects of the residential school system. They are living with PTSD. Unfortunately, suicide and illness are a common part of life in my community, and in communities across this country. The legacy of residential schools cannot be downplayed.

This is a key opportunity for us to address their suffering, which is too often ignored by Ottawa. I know that many of the communities in my own riding have established, but heavily underfunded programs that rely on counselling, traditional healing, and other services to help their members.

I urge the House to consider those people and their programs as they confront PTSD. I want to conclude my remarks by reminding my colleagues in the House that partisanship must not stop us from addressing the challenge of post-traumatic stress disorder. It touches homes and communities across the country. New Democrats and I are proud to support those in this House and others who are taking actions to deal with this tragic disorder. We sincerely hope that we can get both education and treatment for those who need it.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

June 16th, 2017 / 2 p.m.
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NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to speak to this important issue. I thank the member for Cariboo—Prince George for highlighting the tragedy of PTSD, putting forward concrete solutions to improve the treatment of PTSD in Canada and how we can support the men and women who suffer from it.

Today I will be very brief, as we all want this measure to move quickly through the House. Since time is of the essence, I would simply like to recount the story of a friend of mine, a veteran, and his recent experiences with the tragic consequences of how we treat people with PTSD. This man suffers from both pain from his injuries and PTSD from his experiences. He was once on a regimen of over 30 pills a day. That treatment was ineffective, so he turned to medical marijuana. It turned his life around. He could once again take part in his community and enjoy life.

Last month, Veterans Affairs Canada cut back the amount of cannabis that veterans could use, from 10 grams a day to three. My friends was taking eight grams. Since that action, he has suffered the worst six weeks of his life. His nightmares have returned, and he is only getting three hours of sleep a night. He repeatedly broke down crying while telling me his story.

He was told that this cut was implemented because there was not enough science to support the higher doses. Instead, he has been offered an opportunity to take part in a trial using psilocybin, or MDMA. Why can he not use the cannabis dose that gave him his life back instead of trying new, stronger hallucinogens?

He is also unwilling to go back to the mix of opioids and alcohol, and the dangerous dysfunctional life that produces. He was told that he could get a letter of exception to allow him his former dose of cannabis, but he needs to get that letter signed by a specialist who is willing and able to see him. The earliest appointment he can arrange is September, and that will require travel across the province at his expense.

That is a minimum of four more months of hell for him to satisfy pointless bureaucracy, and he would have to repeat that every year. This does not just affect him. There have been three suicides in his network of PTSD sufferers that use cannabis, since this cutback was implemented. Three lives have been needlessly taken because Veterans Affairs refused to listen to the men and women suffering from PTSD.

I will end there, but I would like to simply repeat that plea. Veterans Affairs should listen to and work constructively with the men and women suffering from PTSD. I wholeheartedly support this bill, because it will help that process.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

June 16th, 2017 / 2:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, it was fitting that the hon. member for Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne was here to speak at third reading, because as I tabled it the very first day, so long ago, she was the first member of Parliament from the government to actually reach out and thank me. I want to thank her for her support and words of encouragement along the way.

Next I want to thank the friends, the families of the fallen, those who are suffering today, and some who have had very recent losses who are with us today. It is through their stories, their bravery, their courageous words, their perseverance, and their strength that we are here today, and I want to thank them.

At times in this House, we take jabs at each other. We are feisty. We are here to represent our electors the best way we know how. Often, partisan politics gets in the way. I tell everyone that QP is really just for TV, because behind the scenes, we work very collaboratively together. On this point, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Louis-Hébert for his work in helping steward this through to this point. He has been a great source of knowledge and has worked very diligently and honestly with us on this.

This is a non-partisan issue, as we see, and often it is with much paranoia that we enter into some of these discussions, but today we did a good thing, I hope.

I want to thank my friends from the NDP for the work they have done. I want to thank the health committee and my colleagues here who have helped get us to this point.

I challenged us last Friday, as I stood in the House to recognize a fallen officer from the Peel paramedics and the three other first responders who passed away last week. We know now that we have had two more in the last 48 hours. I said that day that we must do better. Today I think we are there. There is a lot of work yet to be done, but today we are sending a message that those lives matter and that those who fight for us, we are fighting for them.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

March 6th, 2017 / 11:05 a.m.
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Louis-Hébert Québec

Liberal

Joël Lightbound LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to private member's bill, Bill C-211, an act respecting a federal framework on post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mental health is a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

Improving the mental health of all people living in Canada is a priority for the federal government, which is one of the reasons why this government will be supporting Bill C-211 with amendments and we will work to address those at committee stage.

The Minister of Health continues to engage provincial and territorial governments to deliver on important investments in health, with mental health as a priority area of focus.

On December 19, 2016, the Government of Canada offered to give the provinces and territories approximately $11 billion over 10 years for mental health care and home care in addition to $544 million over five years for federal and pan-Canadian organizations to support initiatives on prescription drug and health innovation. Many provinces have decided to work with the Government of Canada by using the funds to improve mental health services for Canadians.

In addition, the Government of Canada is promoting people's mental health and well-being by supporting programs that build resilience in individuals and communities to help them overcome adversity. This involves all levels of government, national indigenous organizations, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is the lead federal organization for mental health promotion and mental illness prevention. The agency supports federal coordination in these areas across the health portfolio and other departments to provide a coherent approach to promote, protect, and improve the mental health and well-being of all Canadians.

The health portfolio, in collaboration with other federal departments, supports policy development and community-based programming across various life stages. Key areas related to post-traumatic stress disorder, otherwise known as PTSD in Canada, include family violence prevention, suicide prevention, targeted indigenous mental health promotion initiatives, and helping victims cope after emergencies.

Being a victim of violence is a significant risk factor for developing post-traumatic stress disorder, which is more commonly known in Canada by its acronym, PTSD. Domestic violence, including intimate partner violence and child abuse, is a serious public health issue and a significant risk factor for developing PTSD. Some 32% of adult Canadians reported that they have been the victim of some form of violence before the age of 16.

Research shows that women who have experienced intimate partner violence have heightened rates of PTSD, injury, chronic pain, sleep disorders, substance use problems, and other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Children who have been abused or exposed to abuse in the family also have a higher risk of developing mental health issues, including PTSD. Those who were maltreated as children are twice as likely to have poor mental health and are over three times more likely to report suicidal thoughts. Boys who have been victimized or raised in violent homes are at an increased risk of becoming perpetrators of violence as adults, and girls exposed to violence in the home are at an increased risk of being victimized as adults, thus continuing the cycle of violence.

Our government is supporting community projects aimed at improving the physical and mental health of individuals who have been the victims of child abuse or intimate partner violence, thereby helping them to rebuild their lives. Our government is also investing in projects to better equip health professionals to work safely and effectively with survivors of domestic violence using strategies specifically tailored to the trauma experienced by each individual.

The Public Health Agency of Canada coordinates the family violence initiative, which brings together 15 federal departments to prevent and address family violence from multiple perspectives. Partner departments meet regularly to share new research and findings, provide advice on design and project ideas, contribute to policy initiatives, connect to stakeholder networks, and ensure that new knowledge is applied across all sectors.

As part of this initiative, information is also shared through the Stop Family Violence web pages on behalf of all the family violence initiative partners. This is a one-stop source of information and resources for professionals and for the public.

At the heart of what we are talking about today is the fact that people who have PTSD are more likely to self-harm or commit suicide. Sadly, more than 4,000 Canadians commit suicide every year.

In accordance with An Act respecting a Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention, the Public Health Agency of Canada coordinated the development of a federal framework for suicide prevention. The main goals are to raise public awareness, reduce the stigma surrounding suicide, disseminate information about suicide and its prevention, and promote the use of research and evidence-based practices for suicide prevention.

Tools and resources are also being developed to help reduce the stigma and raise public awareness about suicide, informed by research evidence on safe messaging for Canadians. In addition, a guide of standard terminology and practices for federal departments to avoid stigmatizing and inappropriate language in communication products is under development.

An online suicide prevention resource has been launched, including information on where to get help, resources for professionals, and links to additional resources and information. Funding has also been provided to support the Canadian distress line network to develop a 24/7 national suicide prevention service. Once fully implemented, this line will ensure that individuals in crisis, regardless of where they live in Canada, have access to free and confidential support on a 24/7 basis, in a way that works best for them, by chat, text, or phone.

The Public Health Agency of Canada co-leads the National Collaborative on Suicide Prevention together with the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention and the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Their members include various health and community service organizations that work to promote mental health and prevent mental illness and suicide across the country, including the Assembly of First Nations and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami organization.

Federally, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Health Canada, and the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse, which are federally funded, are also partners under this umbrella. The mission of this Canada-wide collective is to enhance the capacity for suicide prevention in an effective manner by connecting people, concepts, and resources across the country.

Indigenous populations may be at increased risk for PTSD because of historical and intergenerational trauma. First nations, Inuit, and Métis experience some of the most significant health inequities in Canada. The proportion of indigenous individuals experiencing mental illness during their lifetime is 55% versus 33% of the non-indigenous population. Evidence shows that health is adversely affected by culture loss; racism and stigmatization; loss of language and connection to the land; environmental deprivation; and feeling spiritually, emotionally, and mentally disconnected from one's identity.

The federal government also supports indigenous populations through programs that are culturally adapted to the communities they serve. For example, the aboriginal head start program offered in urban and northern communities promotes the healthy development of indigenous children from birth to age five and helps them achieve their full potential in adulthood.

The community action program for children and the Canada prenatal nutrition program also support the healthy development of vulnerable children aged zero to six years and their families. Special emphasis is placed on the inclusion of indigenous pregnant women, children, and families. The Nobody's Perfect parenting program is a strengths-based, educational health promotion program for parents of children aged zero to five years living in socio-economic conditions of risk. The program is offered in indigenous communities across Canada.

These targeted programs help Canadians develop protective factors that will help them build their mental resilience and lower the risk of PTSD, because they are based on the knowledge that a significant number of mental problems stem from childhood.

People who have been exposed to natural disasters and extreme events are at risk of developing mental illness, including PTSD. Extreme weather events as a result of climate change are expected to increase in numbers and severity. Many climate scientists agree that the Canadian wildfire activity of the past few years is well above average and is connected to the warming climate.

I see that I only have one minute. I thought I had 20 minutes, so I will conclude at this stage.

The federal government's efforts on PTSD so far include following through on some of these recommendations and taking advantage of existing federally run activities that target the needs of specific populations. Many of these programs and activities could also be used to support other communities in Canada.

Through these concerted efforts, and the ongoing commitment to sound, evidence-based approaches, our government continues to work to improve the lives of Canadians and those affected by PTSD.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

March 6th, 2017 / 11:15 a.m.
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NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour of sitting on the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, and we are currently studying mental health and suicide prevention.

I have heard considerable evidence of the toll that PTSD takes on veterans and their families. It is clear that action is needed, and increased services are desperately needed. I am sure that the bill was created with positive intentions. However, I remain concerned that there is nothing here to actually increase services for PTSD.

With nearly one in 10 Canadians experiencing post-traumatic stress at some point in their lives, it is time for federal leadership, to ease the suffering of those struggling with PTSD. I believe it is important to hear from veterans themselves about the impact of PTSD on their lives. I want to share with the House some testimony that was heard at the veterans affairs committee, and informal discussions I have had with veterans that highlight the struggles of so many veterans.

First, Mr. John Kelley Mcleod told the VAC Committee the following:

We're driven. We're fit people when we serve. There isn't anything that we wouldn't do for this nation, including giving our lives. I've often said, having suffered PTSD after serving in Somalia and Rwanda, it would have been easier for me to have lost a leg or two, or to lose two arms. People understand that.

When you come back, they do not understand when you tell them “Well, I have nightmares every day. I can't cope with day-to-day living. I don't like being in crowds.” For me, being a medic in those trades, everything I did at that moment was life and death. People die on the decisions you make, and you sometimes can't do anything.

I deal with that every day, and there are things that still stay with me today that are as clear as they were 20 years ago. That will never go away for me. Then, on top of that, because I served in Somalia and Rwanda, I spent over a year on mefloquine.

l'm getting older now. PTSD should be mellowing for me. I should be getting better, but l'm not getting better. l'm getting worse. I also have a terminal illness. I don't know how much longer I have, but every day I wake up and make a decision, do I live today or do I kill myself today?

Many of the veterans I spoke to said that their PTSD was triggered by financial insecurity, pensions and benefits delayed for months by an inept and dysfunctional veterans department. This is the reality of PTSD. It is terrifying and it is disabling our veterans. I also want to share with the House the words of Mr. Kurt Grant, a veteran who has been involved in the military his entire life. He came from a military family and became an air cadet at 13. He was in uniform for 41 years and deployed eight times. Kurt told us:

According to Veterans Affairs l'm now officially 136% broken; government math. I spent 15 years fighting with my PTSD before I wrote off my car and went into treatment. It's a tough thing to look at the back end of another vehicle and not realize how the hell you got there.

The stigma surrounding PTSD is huge. As much as we want to deny it and as much as we want to sit back and say, guess what, we're going to fix this, it's not going to happen. A cultural change has to take place.

...PTSD is not something that hits you right away. It took me 15 years before I finally collapsed under it.

It is clear that we desperately need to improve services for those with PTSD, and we critically need more supports for veterans specifically. We have heard testimony in veterans affairs committee that group therapy works very well for PTSD. However, there is a catch. It does not work well for veterans when therapy is in a group with civilians. Veterans have gone through traumatic experiences that civilians will never encounter. While they both may have PTSD, their experiences are not relatable. We need to make sure that veterans are able to access therapy with other veterans who understand what they have experienced and what they have lived.

We also need special supports for those living with military sexual trauma, many of whom also live with PTSD. Group therapy is very helpful for healing, but again our veterans are best served when with their peers. They not only need support from other veterans, but also those who are dealing with military sexual trauma. They may not get the support they need by being grouped with veterans or CF members with PTSD, and may not relate as well to sexual assault survivors without a military background. We need to bring men and women with MST together for healing.

Ultimately, that is what this is about. This is about healing those individuals who have given everything. This is about those who have set aside their lives and gambled on the promise that government was going to be there when they needed it, that government was going to somehow make sure their service was respected and honoured, that their suffering was understood, and that support would be there until the end of their lives.

However, we have military veterans in court against this government and the previous one for failure to make sure they have financial support. We now have a government that is making deals with the provinces and health ministries across this country. The government is saying that it will give them some money, but they have to accept that there will be less. “Oh yes, we'll give you a little bit of money for mental health, but the saw-off is that there is not going to be enough money to make sure that all Canadians are cared for.”

We are in this place to make sure and be absolutely confident that every Canadian who has given something important to this country has the support, services, and respect that we owe them. Our veterans are special, and we all know that. They are unique individuals. They go into the field and they are fearless, because they believe in this country. Let us not take away their hope when they return home. Let us not take away their families. Let us not take away the prospect of coming back to us with a place in our communities that is safe and secure. We have to make them safe and secure.

To conclude, I thank the member for bringing forward this private member's bill. However, again, I want this to be genuine. I am tired of the games. I am tired of playing. I am tired of having to beg for what should be there. We owe it to these folks.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

March 6th, 2017 / 11:20 a.m.
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Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Flamborough—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to sincerely thank my colleague, the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George, for bringing forward this bill to build a national framework on an issue that is critically important to Canadians, and in turn our national safety and national fabric. These are our first responders. They are military personnel, veterans, correctional officers, and police. These are the people who protect and defend us day in and day out and care for us in our most urgent times of need. It is our duty to care for them as they grapple with post-traumatic stress disorder.

While more is understood about PTSD, or as Veterans Affairs calls it, operational stress injuries, every day, there is much more work to be done. We owe it to our first responders to do everything in our legislative power to make this happen. That is why I am honoured to stand today in support of Bill C-211, an act respecting a federal framework on PTSD, the private member's bill brought forward by my hon. colleague.

One of the greatest privileges of being a member of Parliament is the opportunity that it affords us to interact with our veterans and military personnel. I have had the opportunity to spend time on Canadian navy vessels, HMCS Halifax and HMCS Montreal, to talk with veterans from coast to coast, and to spend time with the reservists and officers of The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry and The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. I am proud to be a member of the officers' mess at John Weir Foote V.C. Armouries in my hometown of Hamilton.

Unfortunately, these brave women and men who gather at these armouries know PTSD and operational stress injuries all too well. That is because, tragically and regrettably, Corporal Justin Stark, a 22-year-old reservist with The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, took his own life in those armouries. It was October 2010, and he had returned to Canada just 10 months earlier from a deployment in Afghanistan.

Please also allow me to mention what many hon. members will know and recall, because I would be remiss in mentioning The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders without acknowledging a major tragedy that faced us. Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who was shot and killed in the attack on the National War Memorial in October of 2014, was also an Argyll. As we talk about the scourge of PTSD that plagues his former colleagues, we should always remember the courage and valour of all military personnel.

We were mindful of the tragic circumstances that led Corporal Justin Stark to such a dark place when we announced an operational stress injury clinic for downtown Hamilton in January 2015. I was pleased to join my colleague, the hon. member for Durham, then minister of Veterans Affairs, for that announcement. The clinic would serve the Hamilton and Niagara areas, as well as parts of southwestern Ontario. All of these areas were previously served by a clinic in Toronto, and this brought the resources, counselling, and therapy closer to home for many veterans and personnel. One has to imagine that when dealing with such complex issues as mental health, operational stress injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder, having these resources closer to home makes a huge difference in speedy diagnosis, treatment, recovery, and care.

This is a good and practical example of the kinds of things that Bill C-211 would help to facilitate. It would help to coordinate all of these resources at the federal, provincial, and territorial levels, and clinics such as this one that were funded by the federal government and operated by the province. Bill C-211 would set in motion a long-overdue and much-needed coordinated federal-provincial strategy, so that an inventory of such resources can be taken, gaps can be identified, and people in desperate need of help can be properly served.

Unfortunately, Corporal Stark is not an isolated example. When I chaired the veterans affairs committee, we heard expert testimony on post-traumatic stress disorder in our Canadian Armed Forces. What a tragedy that these brave women and men, who enlist to defend the freedoms we cherish and value so much as Canadians, are themselves imprisoned and thereby robbed of their own freedoms on their return from duty because of the psychological terror and devastating effects of PTSD. May this sadness move us to action.

While I have focused my examples thus far on military personnel and veterans, I know of many police officers, ambulance attendants, and firefighters in my community, the greater Hamilton area, who have been equally impacted by PTSD.

It is well known that among paramedics, the incidence of PTSD is very high. Almost a quarter will be impacted. Think about that. Almost a quarter of paramedics grapple with PTSD. These are the same people we count on in our hour of need. It is time we gave them the same priority they give us. It is time to take action as proposed by the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George.

The only group of first responders for whom the rate of PTSD is worse than it is for paramedics is correctional officers, who have an incidence rate of 24% to 26%. When we talk about that, it is easy to understand the pressures they are under. When I researched my own private member's bill in the last Parliament, I encountered many correctional officers, and I have heard gut-wrenching accounts. Beneath the statistics, these are real stories, real people, real families, and real cries for help.

We know that what is stipulated in Bill C-211 is just a first step. It would require the Minister of Health to convene a conference with stakeholders from all relevant federal departments, provincial and territorial representatives, the medical community, and patient groups. It is a sound and logical step. Developing a framework is a necessary and needed result. It would be a step forward in addressing the challenges, recognizing the symptoms, and providing timely diagnosis, thereby speeding access to treatment for PTSD.

It is a complex problem. It is not going to be solved overnight. A federal framework would only go so far, but it would bring together initiatives and legislation at the provincial level in a coordinated and national strategy. Is it not time?

To me, this is a simple decision. There is only one right answer. For the sake of the mental health of people who care for and protect and defend us every single day, I urge all members of this chamber to wholeheartedly support and vote in favour of Bill C-211.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak to one of the most important bills I have had to deal with since I was elected. God bless all our first responders, and God bless Canada.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

March 6th, 2017 / 11:30 a.m.
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Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank the member for Cariboo—Prince George for not only introducing this bill but for his tireless advocacy on this issue: the mental health of our veterans, public safety officers, and first responders. I would also like to thank the many people both here in the gallery and in our communities who have been advocates on this important issue.

The member's bill calls for a federal framework for post-traumatic stress disorder. It calls on the Minister of Health to work with the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Veterans Affairs, along with the provinces and territories, representatives of the medical community, and patient groups, to develop a federal framework to address the challenges of recognizing the symptoms and providing timely diagnosis and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.

I am very pleased that our government will be supporting this legislation, with some minor amendments. I will speak a little later about some of the concerns I personally have with the bill.

This is an issue that has actually touched this House, as we lost one of our own members to a post-traumatic stress injury. Lieutenant Colonel Sam Sharpe was first elected to the House of Commons in 1908 and re-elected in 1911 and 1917 as the member of Parliament for Ontario North. He was a sitting MP at the start of the First World War and helped raise the 116th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force and commanded the battalion during its operations on the fields of Europe. His unit was present for the assault on Vimy Ridge and fought at Avion and Passchendaele.

After suffering mental injuries on the front, what at the time was called shell shock, he was hospitalized in England and subsequently returned to Canada. Lieutenant Colonel Sharpe died by suicide on May 25, 1918. Thankfully, our armed forces have come a long way since then and now recognize that mental injuries can also occur on the battlefield.

Just a few weeks ago, I met with Syd Gravel and Brad McKay, who wrote a guide to help first responders in the creation of peer and trauma support programs, entitled Walk the Talk—First Responder Peer Support. The two former police officers commented about how far the conversation had come since they built their own peer support networks in secret in 1988.

There has been a lot of work done in many provinces across Canada, including in my province of Ontario. My colleague, the Minister of Labour for Ontario, led efforts last spring that made it easier for first responders in Ontario to get treatment, created an awareness campaign, and required first responders to have a prevention plan.

I believe that the federal government can help other provinces and territories learn about the various best practices that have been created. While stakeholders are applauding the fact that this conversation is taking place, they know that there is still a lot of work to be done. Mental health and healthy inclusive workplaces are two areas where I am hoping, and working hard, to make a difference as a member of Parliament.

With regard to the specifics of Bill C-211, I applaud the member's efforts and his genuine concern for the mental health of our military, veterans, public safety officers, and first responders.

I do have concerns about the limitations in this particular bill about the mental health of our first responders and public safety officers. The bill invites the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Veterans Affairs to a conference but leaves out the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. The Minister of Public Safety has already been working, along with the Minister of Health, on creating a national strategy on this issue. Early last year, the Minister of Public Safety and his former parliamentary secretary held a national round table on post-traumatic stress injuries, or PTSI, and the effect on public safety officers.

As a member of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, I am extremely proud of our work last fall when we tabled the report, “Healthy Minds, Safe Communities: Supporting our Public Safety Officers through a National Strategy for Operational Stress Injuries”, recognizing the need for a national strategy on operational stress injuries, not just post-traumatic stress disorder.

Any framework we develop should include policies on prevention, screening, education, intervention, and treatment. We heard from witnesses who told us that mental health injuries suffered by first responders and public safety officers on the job were far more extensive than just PTSI and included broader operational stress injuries. We heard that though many will develop PTSI, they are far more likely to suffer from depression and substance abuse. Sadly, they are more likely die by suicide.

We heard from witnesses who told us that the research and data within the military context is 15 years ahead of what is available with respect to public safety officers and that very little is known about the incidence and prevalence of OSls among public safety officers.

During our study, we heard from the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, which is doing tremendous work to support our military personnel and veterans facing mental health issues.

Our committee called on the government to use our report to develop a national strategy; to create a Canadian institute for public safety officer health research, an advisory council, and an expert working group to develop policies; and to share research on prevention, screening, education, intervention, and treatment nationally. The committee also urged the government to study presumptive legislation for public safety officers, as several of our provincial cousins have.

That is why our committee recommended that PTSD be considered as falling within the broader health issue of operational stress injuries, defined as “persistent psychological difficulty resulting from operational duties performed while serving” as a public safety officer, along with other mental health problems, such as depression and substance abuse.

The committee heard from public safety officers regarding the uniqueness of their work environment and the fact that they see trauma in their own communities frequently. The officers could have connections and relationships with the people they serve.

Our committee called on the government to create a Canadian institute for public safety officer health research to “enhance the mental health and wellness of our Canadian public safety officers through evidence-based research, practices, policies and programs”.

I was pleased to read the Minister of Public Safety's response to our report, in which he said that the government recognized the need for many of our recommendations. I know that the Minister of Public Safety shares my concerns about the mental wellness of our public safety officers. After all, we need to take care of our public safety officers, because they take care of us. We have a responsibility to return our military personnel and public safety officers to their families as we received them, mentally well.

Caring for the health of our public safety officers, both mentally and physically, is not only important to their well-being but ensures that our communities are safe. RCMP, police, firefighters, corrections officers, paramedics, aboriginal firefighters, parole officers, and those who work alongside them told the committee that their members can suffer greatly from mental health illnesses because of their jobs.

I also have concerns about the terminology used in Bill C-211. Mental health issues faced by our veterans and public safety officers are much braoder than just post-traumatic stress disorder alone.

Since the public safety committee tabled our report, I have also heard from a number of nurses who have experienced operational stress inuries. One in particular stands out. An Oakville resident who had a long career as a nurse recently shared a personal story about a house fire that occurred more than 20 years ago, where a woman and her two children perished. The nurses who worked on the case faced severe psychological trauma. To those nurses, I want to recognize their injuries in this House and admit that we know very little about the impact of their jobs on their mental health, and we must do better.

I believe that a national strategy and the sharing of best practices by the federal government could benefit many employee groups who are suffering while recognizing the distinct differences in their work.

I know that the Minister of Health is aware of the effects traumatic events can have on our nurses. Recently, she wrote a letter outlining that she understands that caregivers and emergency staff who provide treatment are often dealing with difficult situations that may affect their own mental health and that there is a need to provide mental health support to our health care providers.

Finally, I believe that any conversation about this issue needs to include those stakeholders who have faced these issues, and they should be at the table as part of the discussion.

In conclusion, I am very pleased to support this bill. Bill C-211 has already raised, and will continue to raise, awareness on an important issue. Again, I applaud the hon. member on his efforts.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

March 6th, 2017 / 11:40 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Jim Eglinski Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House today to speak in support of Bill C-211, an act respecting a federal framework on post-traumatic stress disorder, well known as PTSD.

Last Saturday, I had the privilege to attend the annual first responders appreciation dinner in my riding. Having served as an RCMP officer, this topic is very close to my heart.

Bill C-211 seeks to establish a national framework to ensure that our first responders, whether it be military, paramedics, police personnel, firefighters, emergency dispatchers, veterans, and corrections officers, get the timely access to the resources they need to deal with PTSD.

PTSD is classified as a psychiatric stress-related disorder that develops as a result of a traumatic event. PTSD can develop following direct or indirect exposure to violence, accidents, war, death, or terror attacks. PTSD experienced by first responders and military personnel is the result of years of stressful job-related calls, witnessing distressing deaths, and repeated violence.

Episodes may cause an affected person to become angry, irritable, jumpy, agitated, depressed, or frightened. Many have used alcohol and drugs and have damaged relationships because of this.

The bill, if passed, will require the Minister of Health to convene a conference with the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, provincial and territorial counterparts, representatives of the medical community, and patient groups for the purpose of developing a comprehensive federal framework to address the challenges of recognizing the symptoms and providing timely diagnosis and treatment of PTSD.

Every day, thousands of men and women across Canada go to work, whether first responders, police, firefighters, or military personnel, and they willingly put their lives on the line to support and protect Canadians and their country.

Their jobs demand that they be prepared to show up to any scenario at any time, ready to face the challenges of their line of work. They treat our wounds, they protect our communities, some witness some of the worst that humanity has to offer. Then they return home to their families and try to live a normal life.

When most of us would head in the opposite direction, they are the ones who run toward danger. Their heroic efforts sometimes mean they are left to deal with the haunting images, sounds, and smells, which will stay with these men and women for life. Being a witness to human tragedy and suffering can become difficult to cope with in the days, months and years afterward.

We can look today at what is happening in B.C. Our first responders are dealing with the opioid problem and how it is affecting their jobs.

As a former RCMP officer for 35 years, I personally know what first responders go through, both emotionally and physically when they arrive at a scene.

Many years ago when I was a young air cadet, probably around the age of 12, I remember talking to a lot of different veterans on Remembrance Day, and there were a lot in those days, about their war experiences. I remember one particular gentleman from our community who drank a lot. I remember him telling me that he drank to hide the past and the horrors of war. This was probably the first time I was introduced to PTSD.

As I went through my working career as an RCMP officer, I remember in the sixties when a friend of mine came off an extended period of being undercover, where he intermixed with some pretty wild and dangerous individuals. He could not switch back to a regular life and suffered immensely, both mentally and physically. He eventually had to leave the force. This was PTSD, but we did not know what was wrong with him at the time.

I had a very good friend who I will call Mr. T. He was a lot like the guy on TV, but he suffered for many years with PTSD. He could not pull those hidden demons from within himself. As his commander, he came to me and talked about suicide. He received help and I worked with him closely over the next decade and even after we both left our careers in the RCMP. He could not get rid of the ugliness with which he had to deal.

As I am saying this, I thinking of Mr. T, as he is not here anymore. He committed suicide two years ago. I wish he had called me as I would have gone wherever he was to help.

I can think of a number of my colleagues who which I worked. A number of them drank too much, but were they doing this due to PTSD? Yes, they were. However, in all honesty, we did not know what it was. We did not know what to call it years ago.

I have to thank those members who have come forward in the last number of years, whether military, RCMP, paramedics, who were proud and strong enough to make public their problems and seek help.

It is out there among our first responders. As government we must work with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to ensure that help is there for all first responders.

Unfortunately, there is a stigma around mental health issues, including PTSD. Those who are affected hate to admitting they need need assistance is showing weakness to their peers. Instead, they keep it to themselves, hidden, silently carrying a heavy weight until they can no longer bear it.

According to statistics by TEMA, an organization that supports people with PTSD through research, education, training and peer support, 188 Canadian public safety and military personnel have died by suicide since 2014. Five first responders and four military members have died by suicide in this year alone. That is nine people in only two months.

This is absolutely heartbreaking. These brave people risk their lives to serve their communities, so where are we when they need our help? They have served us, but we have not served them. This is why we so desperately need a national framework to address this issue.

The Prime Minister has already called on his ministers to act on PTSD and make the mental health of our men and women in uniform a priority, and I thank him for that.

In the mandate letter of the Minister of Heath, she is called to “make high quality mental health services more available to Canadians who need them.”

In the mandate letter of the Minister of Veterans Affairs, he is directed to “Provide greater education, counselling, and training for families who are providing care and support to veterans living with physical and/or mental health issues as a result of their service...Work with the Minister of National Defence to develop a suicide prevention strategy for Canadian Armed Forces personnel and veterans.”

In the the mandate letter of the Minister of Public Safety, he is directed to “Work with provinces and territories and the Minister of Health to develop a coordinated national action plan on post-traumatic stress disorder, which disproportionately affects public safety officers.”

If that is not a clear directive from the Prime Minister to support exactly what the bill seeks to achieve, I do not know what is.

This is not a Liberal issue. It is not a Conservative issue. It is not any single party's issue. This is something that crosses party lines and it should be supported by all sides of the House.

Bill C-211 is an opportunity for all parliamentarians to stand together and acknowledge the very real impact that PTSD has on the lives of our men and women in uniform. The federal government must show leadership on this issue. I urge everyone in the House to support the bill. If we do not, we fail these brave men and women.

Most important, I want to thank my colleague from Cariboo—Prince George for his private member's bill, Bill C-211.