Evidence of meeting #31 for Status of Women in the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was young.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Carol Todd  Founder, Amanda Todd Legacy Society
Charmaine Williams  Professor and Interim Dean, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto, As an Individual
Emmanuel Akindele  Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Blue Guardian
Tapo Chimbganda  Founder and Executive Director, Future Black Female
Sydney Levasseur-Puhach  Co-Chair of the Board of Directors, Ka Ni Kanichihk Inc.
Lydya Assayag  Director, Réseau québécois d'action pour la santé des femmes
Timilehin Olagunju  University Student and Youth Participant, Future Black Female

11 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

I call this meeting to order.

Welcome to meeting number 31 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted on Tuesday, February 1, the committee will resume its study of the mental health of young women and girls.

Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of June 23, 2022. Members are attending in person in the room and remotely using the Zoom application.

I would like to make a few comments for the benefit of the witnesses and the members.

Please wait until I recognize you before speaking. For those participating by video conference, click on the microphone icon to activate your mike, and please mute it when you are not speaking. For interpretation for those on Zoom, you have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of floor, English or French. For those in the room, you have the option of French, English or the floor on your earpiece.

I would remind you that all comments should be addressed through the chair. For members in the room, if you wish to speak, please raise your hand. For members on Zoom, please use the “raise hand” function. The clerk and I will manage the speaking order as well as we can, and we appreciate your patience and understanding in this regard.

Of course, this is a very difficult study and I know that we have some incredible witnesses here, so I'm going to remind you that this is difficult and we'll be discussing experiences related to mental health. This may be triggering for viewers, members or staff with similar experiences. If you feel distressed or if you need help, please advise the clerk or come to me through the committee if you wish.

I would now like to welcome our witnesses. It's wonderful to have such an incredible group here today.

On the screen, we have Carol Todd, the founder of the Amanda Todd Legacy Society and the mother of Amanda Todd.

As an individual, we have Dr. Charmaine C. Williams, professor and interim dean at the Factor-Inwentash faculty of social work at the University of Toronto.

We have Emmanuel Akindele in the room, Blue Guardian's co-founder and chief executive officer.

From Future Black Female, we have in the room Timilehin Olagunju and Dr. Tapo Chimbganda, the founding executive director.

From Ka Ni Kanichihk Inc., we have Sydney Levasseur-Puhach, co-chair of the board of directors.

From the Réseau québécois d’action pour la santé des femmes, we have director Lydya Assayag by video conference.

Thank you so much for being here.

We'll be providing five minutes for opening comments from each group. When you see me starting to twirl my fingers—for those of you on the screen, you'll start seeing these hands up here—try to wind it down. That will give you about 15 to 20 seconds to wind it down, if you don't mind.

I'm now going to turn the floor over to Carol Todd, the founder of the Amanda Todd Legacy Society and mother of Amanda Todd.

You have five minutes for your opening statement.

11 a.m.

Carol Todd Founder, Amanda Todd Legacy Society

Can everyone hear me?

11 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

In the room, I can hear you. We may have to raise the volume, if everybody wants to put their earpieces in as well.

If you want to start again, go for it.

11 a.m.

Founder, Amanda Todd Legacy Society

Carol Todd

Okay. I will start.

Dear committee members, thank you for this invitation to—

11 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Ms. Todd, hold on for one minute. You're absolutely right. I'm listening to your voice and it's not very loud.

We've asked for the volume in the room to be raised, so as soon as we have that, I'm going to pass it back to you. We don't want to miss anything.

Ms. Todd, you can start your five minutes. We have the volume all figured out, so you can begin your five minutes.

11:05 a.m.

Founder, Amanda Todd Legacy Society

Carol Todd

Dear standing committee members, thank you for this invitation to speak in front of your committee and provide thoughts contributing to the focus of mental health issues experienced by young women and girls, with attention to online harms and how these can greatly impact the self-esteem of this population.

My name is Carol Todd. I am the founder of the Amanda Todd Legacy Society. I am also an educator in British Columbia, but I am known more widely as the mother of Amanda Todd.

Amanda was a victim of negative online behaviours focused on her that affected her overall mental health and well-being. Her story has become prominent worldwide in the battle against cyber-bullying, sextortion and online exploitation.

The world of technology has continued to evolve at lightning speed over the past 30 years. Back then, one of the main uses of technology was for email communication. Technology devices and the Internet have created vast and varied behaviours online. There is, of course, the good, and then there is the darker side, where things are seen and heard that affect how we may feel about ourselves and/or others. In this 21st century, the Internet has allowed us to share stories, images, videos plus more in an often unglamourous and targeted way. My daughter was a victim of this technology uprising.

Amanda was born on November 27, 1996. She was just 15 years old when she took her life by suicide on October 10, 2012. In a week, it will have been 10 years since her death. As her mother, I will always carry the heartache of losing my daughter in this world where online harm and behaviours are preventable.

Amanda experienced cyber-abusive behaviours from her peers, online shaming, victimization and cyber-attacking. Amanda experienced being part of the perfect world syndrome on the Internet. Amanda was exploited online by an international predator who was extradited to Canada and was convicted in the B.C. Supreme Court on August 6, 2022 on charges of criminal harassment, luring, extortion and two counts of child pornography. Sentencing of this predator, Mr. Aydin Coban, is to occur the week of October 11, 2022, which is the day after the 10th anniversary of Amanda's death.

Amanda's life from ages 12 to 15 encompassed cyber-bullying, online exploitation, now known as sextortion, and mental illness. Young persons feel their lifeline is attached to today's world of technology. Much like oxygen, without it, they don't believe they can exist.

When Amanda was a young teen, our knowledge of what existed on the Internet was not as widespread as it is now. Amanda and her friends ended up sharing personal information with strangers and learned first-hand about the dark side of the Internet, which is a predator's playground where strangers can prey on kids in chat rooms and social media sites. This left Amanda shocked and feeling bad about her situation, instilling fear in her and our family. Her peers taunted and ridiculed her face to face and online, to the point where Amanda was afraid to leave the house. Amanda then turned to the Internet to find strength but was met with more abusive harm.

When Amanda was offline, the abusive words towards my daughter continued to swirl around social media. Not knowing what was being said and by whom added to the problems of not being able to provide support to help deal with situations. These were also young people whom Amanda at times considered friends. My once spirited and adventurous child became more reclusive and sad and felt alone, saying to me that she didn't know whom to trust anymore.

In today's world, young girls and women—also young boys and men—are dealing with a lot more than we did 30 years ago in terms of sexualized behaviours and easy access to sharing personal and intimate information over the Internet. This oversharing has created the situations we are discussing today. We have come to realize that what happened to Amanda can happen to anyone.

As Amanda said, in her words, “Everyone has a story.” When those stories come out and they belong to your child, your relatives and your grandchildren, it sometimes means more. No one is immune to becoming a statistic.

In conclusion, I want to thank you for the time and effort you have put into creating a space to address the harms that young women and girls face in their lives. Speaking for many Canadians who care about our country, we applaud and thank the Canadian government for putting the emotional wellness of young girls and women at the forefront of conversation. It is hoped that more resources and strategies can be put in place to address the situations we are being faced with.

Communities worldwide need to continue to work together in supporting the work that has been done to promote increased awareness and education surrounding mental wellness and online safety.

I am grateful to be able to use my voice to share Amanda’s story and this life experience to assist with any changes that may be brought forth. The voices of so many continue to remain silent, either out of fear or because they can no longer speak to be heard. It is through me and the legacy that Amanda has left behind that we can continue to make these silent voices heard.

We must work together to create a safer space for Canadians to live in.

Thank you for the time and for listening to me.

11:10 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you so much, Ms. Todd, and thank you so much for being with us here today. I know that this will be very impactful to the rest of the work that we need to do.

I'm now going to pass it over to Dr. Charmaine Williams, who is here as an individual.

Charmaine, you have the floor for five minutes.

11:10 a.m.

Charmaine Williams Professor and Interim Dean, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto, As an Individual

Thank you for the invitation to present to this committee.

I'm speaking from my experience as a social worker in the mental health care system and as a researcher in mental health with an emphasis on issues that affect women of colour and LGBT+ communities.

I anticipate that other witnesses will speak in detail about the health gaps between men and women. My addition is to suggest that, when we consider these health gaps, we also consider the more extreme gaps that are experienced by people who are not occupying either of these categories. Trans and gender-diverse people face severe mental health disparities and significant barriers to accessing effective mental health care. Their issues are easily overlooked or marginalized in work that focuses on women and girls or on people identifying across the LGBT spectrum.

The issue of who gets overlooked, marginalized or silenced when systems attempt to meet the needs of populations is key to this discussion. Strategies for mental health promotion and the prevention of mental illness that are directed at young women and girls as homogeneous groups are inadequate for understanding and addressing health disparities. Although there is value in attempting to address the shared concerns, it inevitably mutes or erases important differences that have implications for mental health and well-being.

In Canada, we have been leaders in identifying social determinants as critical factors that influence the health of populations. We know that women and girls are disadvantaged or, better stated, disempowered in categories like income, employment, education and access to health care services. However, we also know that Black women, indigenous women and lesbian, bisexual and trans women are further disadvantaged and disempowered. Consequently, action on social determinants is critical, but action must be equitable.

The strategies that this government undertakes to address the mental health of women and girls must include strategies that are directed to addressing the specific disparities and health risks for Black women and girls, indigenous women and girls, lesbian and bisexual women and girls, and gender-diverse young people. Further, action on access to timely, effective, woman-centred, culturally appropriate health care is crucial to effective treatment and recovery from mental illness for BIPOC women and girls.

In addition, these strategies must emphasize that the health disparities faced by these groups are tied to exposures to interpersonal and institutional sexism, homophobia, transphobia and racism—exposures that are often augmented by intersecting identities that expose people to their combined effects. My own research has shown that women and trans people who are also racial minorities, lesbian, bisexual or lower-income face augmented risk for depression and unmet needs for mental health care. Exposure to discrimination is one of the major factors that link them to these poor outcomes.

I have further observed, over several research studies, that exposure to violence is a determinant of mental health for women. Women and girls who are Black, indigenous or LGBT+, or combinations of these identities, report lifetime exposure to violence that begins with childhood physical, racial and sexual traumas that continue into adulthood, in which violence occurs in unsafe housing conditions, unsafe working conditions, unsafe migration conditions and within relationships that cannot be escaped for safety.

All women and girls experience risk to their mental health in social and institutional conditions that do not protect them from violence. We label some of these women and girls as “at risk” when we should more accurately identify their environments as risky and unsafe. A comprehensive strategy to promote the mental health and safety of young women and girls requires multi-sector collaboration. This is especially necessary to address issues in BIPOC and LGBT+ communities.

I will close by emphasizing the importance of developing initiatives in collaboration with community-based women's, Black, indigenous and LGBT+ organizations to engage their deep knowledge of the relevant issues and their existing ties to communities, which will enhance the effectiveness of any interventions that are developed.

I make this recommendation with two cautions.

First, if our efforts on behalf of BIPOC women and girls are to be culturally acceptable, then they will need to recognize women and girls as daughters, mothers, sisters, aunties and community members whose ties to others are part of their mental health and well-being. Strategies that excise them from these relationships, which are also connections to healing and health-promoting social and cultural supports, will not be acceptable or effective.

Second, we should know that community-based organizations often implement innovative programming by pursuing grant opportunities, but sustainable gains are undermined by time-limited funding that prevents the transition from pilot programs to equitable, accessible mental health care. The path to sustainable gains for the mental health of women and girls is sustained investment that integrates community-based organizations as enduring components of our mental health care systems and strategies.

Thank you for this opportunity to share my insights and offer some potential strategies to this committee.

11:15 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you so much for joining us.

I'm now going to turn it over to Blue Guardian.

Emmanuel, you have the floor for five minutes.

11:15 a.m.

Emmanuel Akindele Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Blue Guardian

Thank you, Madam Chair.

My name is Emmanuel Akindele. I am the founder and CEO of Blue Guardian, a mental health early warning system that uses AI to detect mental health issues in young people and connect families with important mental health resources.

My journey with Blue Guardian started in high school, where I faced mental health issues, specifically anxiety. I remained silent about this issue I was facing and bottled it in without reaching out to anybody else. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one to do this. I am part of the first generation to grow up with ubiquitous Internet connection. It amplified issues that my classmates felt, like depression, body image issues, self-harm and ultimately suicide.

I had left high school, and I had told myself that this was not normal and that something needed to be done so that the next generation gets better. After researching potential solutions, I started Blue Guardian, a mental health software that uses AI to detect issues in young people. The way it works is kind of like auto-correct but for mental health.

A parent and a child get together and download it on the kid's phone. As that kid types, that text is sent to an AI model, but instead of being trained to detect grammar, it's trained to detect mental health cues. We do this without storing any text data, maintaining the child's complete and total privacy. Our mission is to work with schools all over Canada to detect mental health issues and connect families with mental health resources.

I sit here with great optimism that this committee is studying the mental health crisis facing young people, especially young girls. This is why I am confident that with our individual convictions, the task of advancing our shared goals moves forward. Our commitment is to ensure that young people have greater accessibility to mental health resources, regardless of socio-economic circumstance. Our commitment is to break the stigma surrounding mental health and promote a culture that allows young people to says it’s okay to not be okay—it’s okay to seek help.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my story with you. I'm happy to be able to speak with you on such an important topic.

11:20 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you so much, Emmanuel.

I'm now going to turn it over to Future Black Female. I would like to welcome Dr. Tapo Chimbganda.

Tapo, you have the floor for five minutes.

11:20 a.m.

Dr. Tapo Chimbganda Founder and Executive Director, Future Black Female

Thank you, and thank you for this invite.

Diversity in Canada's youth has increased from 13% in 1996 to 27% in 2016, with about 49,476 Black girls and young women aged 15 to 19. Available statistics do not highlight the unique challenges experienced by Black girls and women, but it is reasonable to conclude that this demographic will have a disproportionately larger number experiencing socio-economic and health challenges, especially due to COVID-19. Among Black immigrant and refugee youth, girls and young women experience more health problems than their male counterparts. National figures indicate that females aged 12 to 19 experience a higher level of depression and anxiety than their male counterparts—5% versus 12%.

At Future Black Female, our strategies promote well-being by advocating for protective factors while reducing the risk factors. We mitigate the impact of the pandemic specifically, especially the threat of longer-term mental illnesses related to COVID trauma. Our clients engage with us because we offer prompt, safe, responsive and effective programming and support.

We realize that a feminist approach is needed. Black girls and women are facing disproportionate mental health and well-being impacts as a result of pre-existing barriers and systemic inequities that have been highlighted or exacerbated by the pandemic. Our therapists have identified that these inequities often stem from various forms of discrimination and marginalization. Future Black Female uses an intersectional lens in our program design and evaluation. We consider the multiple layers to their identities—for example, gendered social norms, values and expectations; immigrant and foreign status; and poverty, which unfortunately lingers much longer for Black women than for their counterparts.

As a demographic, the girls and women we serve are less likely to afford mental health care. When hospitalized, due to anti-Black racism in the wider health care system they are often disbelieved, dismissed and sometimes even punished for not fulfilling the stereotypical expectations of providers. An intersectional perspective emphasizes the importance of looking at these forms of discrimination together while acknowledging the cumulative effects on the individuals. That's how we know that for many, there is no safe space to gather one's thoughts, let alone share them.

A culturally relevant and responsive approach is also needed. Our clients have shared that the lack of cultural responsiveness from non-Black therapists, cultural mistrust and potential negative views have impacted their experience of therapeutic care. In a recent survey conducted by the Black Health Alliance, 35.4% of Black Canadians revealed that they experienced significant psychological distress during the pandemic, and yet 34.2% never looked for health services. In 2018, 60% of Black Canadians were more willing to use mental health services if the mental health professional was Black.

Being culturally responsive is a mental health care provider's ability to recognize and understand the role of culture, both the client's and the clinician's, and the ability to adapt the treatment to meet the client's needs within their cultural framework. This is why getting access to mental health services that are culturally relevant is important for Black girls and women.

Increased awareness is needed. We often speak about a lack of awareness, but the lack is not in those who are unaware; it's in a system that applies a one-size-fits-all approach to mental health. Mental health strategies must account for the diversity within our communities and approach mental health in diverse ways so that it makes sense and indeed raises awareness. Investing in cross-cultural design for mental health promotion will contribute to destigmatizing mental health.

Future Black Female is eradicating the stigma of mental health by offering services from diverse Black women who can relate to the client on an instinctive level. Stigma is perpetuated by a lack of inclusiveness. Stigma is maintained by a health care system that does not pay for psychotherapy. Mental health in Canada has become a luxury that is ultimately costing us more than we can afford in human suffering.

Thank you.

11:25 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you so much. That was excellent.

I'm now going to move it to Ka Ni Kanichihk Inc.

Sydney, you have the floor for five minutes.

11:25 a.m.

Sydney Levasseur-Puhach Co-Chair of the Board of Directors, Ka Ni Kanichihk Inc.

Good morning, everyone.

My name is Sydney Levasseur-Puhach. I am speaking on behalf of Ka Ni Kanichihk this morning.

I am very grateful to have this opportunity to share with you a bit of what the organization does and some recommendations that we have for the government today.

I'll tell you little bit about myself first. I am an Anishinabe woman and a member of Sandy Bay First Nation here on Treaty 1 territory. I'm also a sun dancer. I recently competed my second year in the lodge. I am co-chair on the board of directors at Ka Ni Kanichihk. I'm also a student doing my master's of clinical psychology at the University of Manitoba. Mental health is something that I am fully immersed in at all times and highly passionate about.

I will speak a bit about the organization. Ka Ni Kanichihk is an indigenous-led non-profit that offers programs and services that are culturally relevant for indigenous women, youth and families in our community. We offer services focused on training and employment, culture and ceremony connection, and health and healing.

I'll give you a bit of an overview. A few of our programs are really focused on restoring well-being in our community. We have our Medicine Bear counselling program. There we work with families of missing and murdered indigenous women. We provide elder services and therapy sessions, as well as connection to ceremony.

Our heart medicine program is designated for women who are survivors of sexualized and domestic violence. They also receive elder services, counselling and connection with ceremony.

Velma's House is a 24-7 safe space for women in the city centre who need a reprieve from domestic violence situations and an opportunity to get off the streets of Winnipeg.

We also have Mino Pimatisiwin, which is a sexual health program. We offer STBBI testing and other sexual health-related services, as we know that indigenous women are safer and more comfortable being treated by other indigenous women in the community. Often, health care services have not adequately met the needs of our community.

We also have the Butterfly Club. This is a program for indigenous youth and two-spirit youth who have the opportunity to engage in ceremony. It's really aimed at a lot of prevention work. We like to engage youth early to mitigate the risk of harms, which are quite prevalent on the streets in the city.

As I mentioned, we do both prevention and intervention work. Everything we do.... The way we see it, mental health is connected to every part of ourselves. In order to understand mental health, we also have to understand physical and spiritual health and physical safety. A big piece of that is that our environments need to directly meet our needs in order for us to be well in any way. In many ways, they do not currently. We require adequate access to resources and social supports in order to achieve well-being.

Another critical component of that is that we need to be in charge of our own well-being as indigenous people. As indigenous women, we know what we need to live a good life. As far as self-determination goes, it is such a crucial component of living well. I think we've seen a lot of issues that have arisen systemically when we are not in control of our own well-being and of our own lives.

Ultimately, I would like to iterate that we are not broken as indigenous people, as indigenous women; the system is broken. This is an inequitable systems issue that requires adequate and sustainable funding for programming that is indigenous-led. We really just need to have support in order to carry out what we need to do for our communities, for our programming, for access in remote communities to receive services that are needed to move forward and operate collectively as empowered nations.

I say meegwetch for your time today, and I look forward to speaking further and answering any questions you may have.

11:30 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you so much.

I'm now going to turn it over for the next five minutes to Lydya from the Réseau québécois d'action pour la santé des femmes.

You have the floor for five minutes, Lydya.

11:30 a.m.

Lydya Assayag Director, Réseau québécois d'action pour la santé des femmes

Thank you for the invitation.

The Réseau québécois d'action pour la santé des femmes has been in existence for over 30 years. Our network boasts about 100 members across the province. What I am going to share with you today is based both on the reality on the ground and on independent research that we are conducting on women's health.

I'm echoing what all the previous witnesses have said about intersectionality, marginalized women, and needs, obviously. I'm going to focus on the reality in Quebec and what you can do for women.

Before I begin, I would like to establish some premises that underlie our interventions. The first is that—

11:30 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excuse me, Lydya.

We're having some issues with the interpretation. Would you mind moving your microphone up a bit closer to your mouth?

11:30 a.m.

Director, Réseau québécois d'action pour la santé des femmes

Lydya Assayag

I'm sorry about that.

I was going to say that one of the premises when we provide services or we study women's health is the fact that health has a social basis.

When it comes to health, the social basis must really be taken into account. For example, we know that the life expectancy of people in a rich neighbourhood of Montreal can be 11 years longer than that of people in a poor neighbourhood in the same city. Regardless of individual differences, in order to have an effect on health, we really need to act on the social determinants.

The second element we want to mention before going any further is that mental health is inseparable from physical or spiritual health. They must be taken as a whole. I challenge you to give me an example of physical health that does not have a mental or spiritual effect, or vice versa. Research in neurology over the last 40 years and in quantum physics have provided ample evidence of this. To have an effect on mental health, you also have to address things that have a physical or spiritual impact.

I'm going to talk mainly about distress and anxiety and their impact on women's health.

As you know, the two major determinants of women's health are violence and economic insecurity. You know the statistics as well as I do, and we are aware of the committee's work on violence, so I won't go into detail on that. I will say, however, that it is impossible to work on mental health without tackling these two models head on.

In Quebec, the health and social services system is unfortunately in disarray. After deteriorating for more than 40 years, it has shrunk dramatically, making access to services extremely difficult. There are waiting lists of several years for mental health care. The lack of services is to blame for dramatic cases like that of Amélie Champagne, a young girl who recently committed suicide despite numerous calls for help and several attempts. There are hundreds of cases. As you know, the pandemic has exacerbated social inequalities in health between men and women.

Alcohol and drug addiction, junk food, drug abuse, cyber-violence, difficulties in reconciling work and family, eco-anxiety, a feeling that one's future is bleak: this is unfortunately the daily lot of many girls and young women, who are sometimes marginalized as well.

We would also like to highlight a physical factor that seems to be far removed from mental health, but which has a huge effect on it: endocrine disruptors, which are chemicals that mimic the action of estrogen and hormones. These disruptors have a huge impact on the health of girls and women, from puberty and fertility to ovarian cancers and menopausal stages. I could go on for hours on this topic.

A bill to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which should have been in place for 50 years, is currently at first reading. We ask that you ensure that this legislation includes a gender-based analysis, as the environmental effects are terrible for women. Endocrine disruptors have a direct effect on their mental health.

In terms of our recommendations, we're asking you to act on three fronts.

First of all, you must act in the area of prevention. In other words, violence must be eliminated as much as possible at the source, as you are well aware. You really must ensure that no one in Canada and Quebec lives with insecurity. I'm thinking in particular of providing housing, or flexibility regarding the guaranteed minimum income. I'm also thinking of telecommunications regulation, in the case of cyber-violence. We must also offer programs in schools to try to detect these various problems as early as possible and break the isolation of women.

The second area of intervention—

11:35 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excuse me, Lydya. I just want to check in because you're over your five minutes.

11:35 a.m.

Director, Réseau québécois d'action pour la santé des femmes

Lydya Assayag

I'm sorry.

11:35 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

It's all good. It's just that you had three recommendations and I know we want to hear them all. Hopefully we'll be able to get to them in our round of questions, if you don't mind. We still want to hear your next two recommendations, but we are going to get into it in our rounds of questioning, if that's okay.

11:35 a.m.

Director, Réseau québécois d'action pour la santé des femmes

Lydya Assayag

Yes, okay, no problem.

11:35 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Now we're going to start our rounds of questioning, and for the first round each will get six minutes.

I'll pass the floor over to Michelle Ferreri for her six minutes of questioning.

11:35 a.m.


Michelle Ferreri Conservative Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you to all of our witnesses who have taken time out this Monday.

I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that it is Mental Illness Awareness Week as we delve into this. Mental illness continues to escalate at an exponential rate, impacting all of us. It doesn't seem to matter where we come from socio-economically; this is an issue that impacts all of us.

Ms. Todd, I will start with you, if I may. I just want to thank you, obviously, from mom to mom. I can't imagine what you've dealt with, and to have the strength to channel Amanda's legacy into awareness.

I'd like to get into the nuts and bolts, if I can, of what we need to do moving forward from a federal government perspective to ensure that this never happens again. A lot of what you talked about was fear. I couldn't help but notice that we also have Emmanuel here from Blue Guardian, who may be sitting on an answer for us moving forward with technology that could have maybe helped Amanda.

The first thing I want to ask you, Ms. Todd, is this: What do you think was missing in the education piece that would have helped you, as a parent, recognize that this was going in such a dark, dangerous direction?

11:40 a.m.

Founder, Amanda Todd Legacy Society

Carol Todd

Thank you for the question.

Twelve years ago, back in 2009, when Amanda's victimization started by her online predator, we weren't very much aware of what was happening on the Internet, as parents, educators or law enforcement. We have learned so much in the last 12 years. I have to say that maybe because of what happened to Amanda, how high-profile her death was, and with the YouTube video that she posted, we keep learning and asking questions. It's those questions that will bring the results.

This isn't the first standing committee I've sat on. I've sat on a few for Bill C-13, which was for cyber-bullying crimes, keeping Canadians more protected online, and one on gender-based violence, one on cyber violence, and now this one, on mental health. I'm going to focus more on the online abuses that affect our young people.

I know the focus is women and young girls, but this is about Canadians as a whole. Exploitation is happening to young girls, women, young men and boys, unfortunately, causing death by suicide across our nation and globally. As an educator, my role in my school district is to coordinate online safety education for my teachers, my students and the parents in our community. I think we need to look at preventative measures, the things we can do to prevent the possible mental health traumas that can occur because of online abusive behaviours. We have to look at what those are and what those can be. We have to teach our children how to be safer online. As with anything else, our kids are just rolling their eyes at us. Subsequently, we can't give up on talking to our students and our children. We have to focus on the adults in our country to get them better informed and better aware of cyber violence and online victimization, what happens on the Internet, and what our children are seeing.

We also have to make sure that our law enforcement services are educated. I feel that, initially, back in 2009 to 2011.... Because I sat at Amanda's trial for nine weeks, I was determined, as her mom, to be there to listen to what the jury was listening to. One of the gaps that I found was in some of the preventative things that law enforcement could provide in terms of taking a crime seriously—making sure that it's investigated and that there is no victim shaming, not making my daughter feel that she was responsible, and not making her parents feel like they were at fault. There's a huge piece in that education and training part that needs to go into our police services and RCMP services in order to better handle the reports and case files that come in.

There also needs to be government funding for resources that is unilateral in our country, so school districts and provinces aren't made to try to find the pieces. If there was a set curriculum somewhere that our teachers could pick up easily—because our educators have our children six hours a day for 285 schooldays in a school year—they could be the frontline teachers of our kids to make sure they understand and know what to look for and what they're seeing. Also, we have to educate the teachers so they're comfortable in being able to talk about it in their class. I've known many educators—