Thanks, Mr. Chair.
I will say first of all that it's fitting for this committee to begin this study today, because last night many parents across this country participated in the International Wave of Light, in which they light a candle in remembrance of the child they have lost. There were events all across the country over the last number of days. I had the privilege of attending some of those memorial events and being there to support many of the families that are still experiencing a lot of grief. This is an appropriate time for this study to begin.
I want to start by applauding the fact that everyone was so firmly behind our colleague Mr. Kmiec yesterday when he spoke of his loss and his grief and called on all to show some compassion for others. I think everyone was united in the House of Commons in supporting him and showing compassion for his situation. I would ask that we give that same support and that same compassion to all families and all parents who are suffering from grief and from loss.
We certainly had a chance just now to hear from officials about the programs that exist now, but there are gaps in what's there now. There was a lot of talk about the sickness leave benefits. I can tell you that those do not apply to many families. They don't work for many families. Sarah and Lee will share their story here this morning about the letter they received from the government asking them to repay benefits.
I can think of so many other families all across this country. Rachel and Rob Samulack are from here in Ottawa. They had to tell their story many times to numerous Service Canada agents to be able to try to fight for benefits to get some kind of opportunity to grieve. She was ultimately forced to return to work. She cut back her hours but returned to work before she was ready.
I think of Paula Harmon in Nova Scotia, who wasn't able to get the sickness benefits by claiming she was receiving them for grief. She was told by a Service Canada official that the bereavement of a child was not something that would qualify her for sickness benefits. If she were just to go back to a doctor and get them to say something else was the reason, maybe she could qualify for sickness benefits.
I think about the mother who is a teacher in Saskatchewan, who was in much the same situation and had to go back to work and be asked questions by her young elementary school students over and over again about what happened to her child.
I can think of people in similar situations all across the country. I can think about a mother in Manitoba who was told she had to go back to the bank to repay the benefits. She couldn't even do that online or anything else. She had to go in person to repay the benefits the government was asking her to repay, and she couldn't bear it. She physically could not do it. She was physically ill in the parking lot thinking about the idea of going into the bank, because she was in a small town and she was going to be asked, of course, where her baby was.
I can think of another fellow I just met the other day in Vancouver by the name of Timothy, who just lost his child about a month ago and was clearly still in horrible stages of grief. You could see it in his face and you could hear it in his voice. He is still having a really difficult time. He was sent home by the hospital with no information, no idea as to what to do next, and no information on what support might be available, and not in a position to be able to even approach the system to figure that out.
I clearly have heard far too many heartbreaking stories. This committee will hear some of those stories as well. I can't imagine anyone hearing those stories and not wanting to help. There are parents who have experienced the same frustrations. They all have the same plea. They are asking for a system that is more compassionate, a system that helps to ease that burden of grief they are suffering from.
Parents are forced to fill out needless bureaucratic paperwork. They have to personally visit Service Canada locations. They are being forced to share their stories countless times with Service Canada agents, and they are simply not ready to do that. They are simply not ready. When they are forced to put themselves through this ordeal, they often end up traumatized as a result.
It really affects their ability to properly heal. We have to fix this situation. We have to look at ways that we can provide a benefit that will allow parents a little time to grieve. We have to find a way to make it so they don't have to suffer and fight through the system. Many are not in a position to do that. That's just not something that they're in a mental or emotional state to do. We shouldn't force them to do it.
In the absence of government support, many parents have turned their sorrow into action. They've taken opportunities to advocate for better support and compassion for the thousands of other families affected by this situation every year. They raise funds. They organize walks. They speak up and courageously share their stories.
You'll hear from the Cormiers, who are one of those families. They do that over and over and over again, but they shouldn't have to do that. We should be there for them and provide what they need. The emotional turmoil a family is going through when they discover that they've lost a newborn is difficult enough; when we force these parents to visit Service Canada and make these phone calls to banks and other institutions to find out what's available to them, it is not something they should have to do. That's clearly a flaw in our system. It's a problem that we can and must fix.
It's time for us as parliamentarians to join in helping the families that have suffered through this tragedy of pregnancy and infant loss. We believe we can do more to stand up and find better ways to support Canadian families by listening to the parents who have lost an infant.
I want to thank all of those who've helped to get this motion to the point where we're studying it here in committee. People have written letters, signed petitions and called their members of Parliament. I want to thank the MPs from all sides who've helped to push this issue along, but we aren't done yet. Having a study at committee isn't enough. There can't be any excuses. Words aren't enough. Symbolism isn't enough. We can't just stand by and have this study and then let it gather dust on a shelf somewhere. We actually have to take action.
Please, please, committee members, I urge you to make some recommendations and to be forceful about the fact that you expect the government to take action.
Please, we need to do this.