That the House agree that suicide is more than a personal tragedy, but is also a serious public health issue and public policy priority; and, further, that the House urge the government to work cooperatively with the provinces, territories, representative organizations from First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people, and other stakeholders to establish and fund a National Suicide Prevention Strategy, which among other measures would promote a comprehensive and evidence-driven approach to deal with this terrible loss of life.
Madam Speaker, I think all of us in the House will recognize and understand that suicide is something that has touched all of us in one way or the other, either as family members or as friends. What we have also come to realize more and more is that this issue can no longer be regarded simply as one of a personal tragedy, which it undoubtedly is, but it also needs to be recognized as a political issue in the sense that it is an issue that the public needs to take notice of. The good news in all of this is that, if we take notice of it and take action, there are actually things we can do to reduce the number of people who lose their lives in this very tragic way.
The statistics, frankly, are overwhelming in the industrial world. We have a relatively high suicide rate in Canada. We are the only modern industrial country that does not have a national strategy to reduce the level of suicide, to save lives in a very significant way.
I think Canadians would be surprised to learn some of the statistics. The fact that over the last 30 years at least 100,000 Canadians have taken their own life, which is a truly remarkable number.
Today, the president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association told us that around the world last year nearly one million people took their own lives. We have developed this capacity as societies to take statistics and to get the numbers but it is important for us as a country to take the steps that will make a difference.
Clearly, if we demonstrate the political will to do something, we can find solutions. For example, non-partisan discussions were held in Quebec and people agreed that the number of young people taking their own lives was far too high and that it was completely unacceptable. The province decided to do something. Quebec insisted that the topic be discussed in schools in order to open the dialogue, fight the stigma and ensure that no subject would be taboo.
We must do everything we can to encourage youth to talk about their emotional health. It should be noted that in Quebec, the youth suicide rate has dropped dramatically in the past 10 years. However, the rest of Canada has not had the same kind of success and within federal jurisdiction we are seeing a completely unacceptable suicide rate among veterans, former soldiers and aboriginals—all in a society known for its compassion and openness.
I hope we can all agree that a good society is, among other things, a place where people care about each other. It is a place where, quite simply, we care about what happens to ourselves, we care about what happens to our families, we care about what happens to our friends. However, our compassion does not end at the end of our garden. Our compassion extends to our neighbours. Our understanding of what we in Canada face has to include the fact that there are a great many Canadians who today are in turmoil. Today, this day, as many as 10 people will take their own lives. We could all through a bit of imagination think about who those people are.
I think of a young girl living on a native reserve. Perhaps she has been abused as a child. Perhaps she is living in a house where there are as many as 10, 12 or 15 people sharing a room. She goes to school and on the computer at school she sees a very different world. She sees a world of wealth. She sees a world of opportunity. She sees a world of affluence. She looks around her community and she sees the opposite. She asks herself, “Where is the hope? What hope do I have?”.
I think of a young boy who discovers in his early adolescence that he is gay. He realizes that his sexual identity is not that of the majority of people in his classroom. He sees himself in a different way and is looking to find the ways in which he can be as much a person as the person sitting next to him at school. Because he is seen as different, he is bullied. Perhaps one of his classmates starts making fun of him on the Internet, starts singling him out.
I think of the young teenagers who are in turmoil for all kinds of reasons, all of the biological and hormonal and other changes that are happening and the bewildering world in which they live and in which they have to show themselves to be okay. They are not allowed to be anything other than okay. Perhaps they live in a house where it is hard for them to say, “I'm not okay”.
I think of the veterans who come back from the trauma of the battlefield in Afghanistan who are never allowed to show weakness on the battlefield, who are never allowed to show a moment of vulnerability. When they return, they find a world where they do not know how to be vulnerable. They do not know how to deal with the world in which they are now living, the mundane everyday world in which most of us live every day.
We cannot explain all of the circumstances.
The number of seniors, for example, who take their own lives is remarkably high, maybe for reasons that have to do with their loneliness, with their vulnerability, with their having felt that they have lived a life and now cannot find meaning or purpose to where they are.
Mental health issues affect one in five Canadians, yet it is an issue that is rarely discussed. We have fundraising drives for breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart conditions and all of the other physical maladies, as well we should, but we do not have a run for suicide. We do not do a walk for schizophrenia very often. We do not talk about depression a great deal. We let people suffer in silence. We pretend that it is not a problem.
We have made progress. It is not as bad as it was in days gone by. We have changed the legal structures. We have accepted as a society and have learned how to celebrate sexual identity. The Prime Minister gave a wonderful speech in the House, a statement of reconciliation with the first nations people. We have made some of the steps that we need to make to begin to create a climate of hope, a climate of mutual care, a climate of love, but our actions do not follow the words.
The motion that is before the House today is one which says let us talk about this. Let us have a conversation where we discuss frankly and candidly what should not be happening in this country.
Gay kids should not be bullied in school. Schools need to learn how to help kids celebrate who they are whatever their sexual identity. We should celebrate who we are. That is the meaning of dignity. If we are a society that believes in dignity, compassion and care, every child has to have pride in that identity and pride in who he or she is. And it goes well beyond childhood.
Having talked about the motion with some colleagues and having decided to put it forward as an opposition day motion, I hope we will have the support of the whole House. I hope we will have a good conversation today. I hope this will be an opportunity for the House to show itself as it can be when we want to talk about issues that are important. We are behind the public. The public is ahead of us.
Today I held a press conference with Stephanie Richardson, whose daughter took her own life last year in circumstances that are well known in the Ottawa area and which brought forward an incredible outpouring of emotion, compassion and feeling in the community. That family has done a remarkable thing in turning a terrible tragedy into a moment where they can perhaps teach people what this is all about.
We need to do this as a Parliament. The federal government runs the fifth largest health care system in the country. We are responsible constitutionally for aboriginal people, and we are responsible for veterans and for our armed forces. The federal government can be a leader in this field, but it has not been. People say to me, “What about your party when you were in government?” It did not do enough. Nobody can say from a partisan perspective, “We have done all we can”.
Speaking very personally, having lost some friends to suicide, I can tell the House about the sense of bewilderment one feels. What else could I have done? What else could I have said? What else could I have seen?
We know there are strategies that work. We know that if we start to talk about it, it makes a difference. We know that if we begin to create the architecture of support for people and for families, we know if we address the underlying mental health and social and economic issues, we will in fact reduce the level of suicide. We know that we can find a way to address this question, and we know that it is within our realm of responsibility to do so.
I am one of those people who thinks the national government has the responsibility to work with the provinces in a co-ordinated fashion, not to dictate to anyone, because seven out of the ten provinces already have developed strategies. However, none of them are sufficiently funded. None of them have enough grounding in this national conversation which needs to happen.
On behalf of the Liberal Party, supported by my colleague from Vancouver, I have moved this motion. However, we do not claim any monopoly of virtue on the motion. We do not claim that we somehow have achieved a breakthrough that others are not party to. There is no reason why any member of Parliament should feel that this is being put forward in some kind of a partisan way. It is not.
Yes, there will be questions about what could be done, and there will be issues about how we can allocate the funds we need to make sure the conversation happens, but we also understand there are at times issues that go beyond politics.
I have often wondered why it is that governments have such difficulty in accepting that mental illness is every bit as much an illness as is a physical illness. My own modest assessment is that there are two reasons.
The first reason is that there is a stigma and taboo with respect to mental illness that is still with us. We are not as deep and dark in the dark ages or Victorian times perhaps as before, but we still have to recognize and admit that it is not seen in the same way and it is not discussed in the same way as it should be. We have made some changes, but we need to make more.
The second reason is that people feel, and governments reflect this, that it is an illness but it is not like a physical illness, that it is something different. People feel there is not a whole lot they can do, that it is not something that can be easily or readily solved.
This ignores a very basic fact. We have made huge progress in the treatment of mental illness. Conditions that were a guarantee of a lifetime of incarceration as recently as 50 or 60 years ago are being treated today very effectively with medication and treatment that actually works.
We are behind in research. We are behind in funding. We are behind in support. We are behind in housing. We are behind in all the things that need to be done to integrate all of these services together. These things are solvable. These are matters of political will. These are not conditions which we cannot do anything about.
Over 120 years ago a very famous French sociologist, Émile Durkheim, wrote a text called Le Suicide.
This gentleman, one of sociology's pioneers, made an important observation. He said that an event such as suicide reflects a lack of solidarity within society. Until then, suicide was considered a personal act that had no social explanation. But Durkheim said that, on the contrary, it could be explained.
The love that each of us must show our neighbours is a permanent sign of our compassion and what it means to be a citizen and be part of a good society.
A good society is marked by how people care for each other and by solidarity. We are talking about what we owe each other and how our collective failure to reflect that sense of solidarity and connection in our actions contributes to the sense of alienation and bewilderment that is a prelude to a person's decision to commit suicide.
Not all of the explanations are easy. Many of them continue to baffle people. We all have friends who have died in this terrible way and we wonder what could have caused them to do so.
What we do know is there are things we can do. It is not a hopeless situation. We have to take what my grandmother used to call “the human footsteps”. Every day we need to move forward by taking the human footsteps that will lead us to the progress we must make as Canadians and as a society. This is a frontier we must cross together. We need to better understand this world of anger, self-anger, of violence that implodes or explodes. We need to share that understanding. We need to address it. We need to take the steps as a society to make a difference.
Hence, we need a strategy that will prevent people from taking their own lives, one that will allow them to return to living full, happy and productive lives. That is what it means to live in a country where we care for one another.