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House of Commons Hansard #26 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was illness.

Topics

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Northumberland—Quinte West.

I wish to thank the member for Toronto Centre for raising this important issue.

It is a particular pleasure to rise in the House to speak to this issue so soon after both the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Veterans Affairs replied to questions concerning the relationship of our Canadian veterans and members of the Canadian Forces to this important issue.

Obviously, the member for Toronto Centre is right in saying that suicide is a terrible personal tragedy. When one person takes his or her life, it represents an untold loss of this country's potential. It is a blow to all of us. Suicide carries an especially heavy price for the loved ones left behind.

I can say that the issue of suicide prevention remains a priority for our government and, in particular, for Veterans Affairs. I would like to focus on certain departmental initiatives and share them with you.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is charged with caring for and supporting Canadian veterans and their families, as all members know. What members may not know is that it has made suicide prevention a central mission. The department has a suicide prevention strategy, which is an important element of a broader plan to address the mental health needs of Canada's veterans.

Veterans Affairs Canada in collaboration with the Department of National Defence now has a network of 17 mental health clinics throughout the country which provide specialized services to Canadian Forces members, veterans and RCMP members who suffer from operational stress injuries related to their service. We on this side of the House are proud to say that number has doubled under this government. Let me take a moment to talk about how the operational stress injury clinics work.

During treatment, veterans have periodic appointments at an operational stress injury clinic. In addition to a clinical assessment, clients are offered a variety of treatment options including individual therapies, group sessions, psychoeducation sessions and other resources.

While continuing to live in their community in other words, veterans attend appointments at the operational stress injury, OSI, clinic. They are offered a clinical assessment and a variety of treatment options. Their family members are invited to join them for these periods of treatment.

The teams are made up of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, mental health nurses, and other specialized clinicians who understand the experience and needs of veterans. Referral to other centres may be part of the treatment process, depending on the needs of the client, including any needs related to addiction or substance abuse.

As of today, there are 10 of these clinics operated by Veterans Affairs Canada. Nine are out-patient clinics in Fredericton, Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa, London, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. Members from many of those cities have taken part in this debate. The tenth clinic is the in-patient residential treatment clinic for operational stress injuries at Ste. Anne's Hospital, the famous Veterans Affairs institution in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue on the island of Montreal. It was built by the Borden government in 1917 and remains a critical element of this network today.

Telehealth services help ensure that veterans are provided with easier access to emotional support when they need it. Coast-to-coast support is available to help these brave men and women overcome the challenges of complex mental health injuries that could lead to suicide if they are not dealt with properly.

We are pleased to report that 4,200 veterans have received help through those 10 clinics. The Canadian Forces offer similar support through its seven operational trauma and stress support centres. As I mentioned earlier, that makes a total of 17 institutions.

In 2006 the veterans charter introduced a full package of programs and benefits to support modern-day veterans. These include rehabilitation supports, practical help in finding a job, and health benefits. They are all delivered on a case management basis.

Today there are more services and programs available than ever before to support Canadian veterans. There are more front-line health specialists than ever before. There are integrated personnel support centres located on 24 bases and wings to give staff from both departments, working hand-in-hand, a chance to offer early intervention and support.

Working side by side the front-line employees across government develop personalized care plans for each individual veteran. They have also created a very successful peer support network, the operational stress injury social support program. Specially trained peer support counsellors with first-hand experience of operational stress injuries and the loss of loved ones provide vital personal care and support.

I am proud to say that over 5,000 veterans are now part of these networks. Counselling and referral services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through a crisis hotline. More than 2,000 mental health providers are registered in communities across the country to provide professional counselling services to veterans in their own cities and towns.

The services available in principle are substantial, but as the Prime Minister said in question period, there is always room for improvement. That is just what the Department of National Defence and the Department of Veterans Affairs are aiming to achieve.

Pastoral outreach services with a network of over 200 chaplains offer spiritual guidance for those in need.

From this summary, I think it is clear that this government takes the mental health of Canada's veterans seriously.

But even the death of one veteran, Canadian Forces member or family member by suicide is one too many. That is why employees have been given suicide awareness and intervention training on a larger and larger scale in recent years, to help them become part of the early warning network that sees these problems coming earlier. I am happy to report that Veterans Affairs is better equipped than ever before to support at-risk veterans and their families.

Moreover, to address a specific aspect of the motion put forward by the member for Toronto Centre, Veterans Affairs and National Defence have jointly commissioned the Canadian Forces mortality report. The results of this study will allow all of us to better understand what conditions pose a suicide risk so that we can create better solutions and understand better what care is required to meet the needs of those at risk.

This is groundbreaking research; never before has it been done in Canada. It will help us develop an evidence-based approach to the prevention of suicide within the Canadian Forces, among veterans and in society at large.

All of these measures are part of the department's overall mental health strategy. It is the most comprehensive mental health care and support effort in the department's history, and the approach is working. In total, more than 14,000 veterans living with mental health conditions receive assistance and support in some form or another.

We can only hope there will be support on all sides of the House, for our soldiers, for our men and women in uniform and for veterans, for those efforts to be expanded, deepened and extended in years to come.

I also have some personal experience with the issue of suicide. When I was a student in Montreal, decades ago now, I volunteered at an NGO called Suicide Action Montréal. We took calls from men and women, often young but sometimes elderly, who were thinking about committing suicide. The calls came mostly at night, but during the day as well, from across Montreal and the greater Montreal area. Some of the callers, the vast majority of those served by this NGO, had already attempted suicide.

I can tell the House that the primary obligation Canadians have regarding suicide is to help find solutions. Each of us must contribute. The most important thing anyone can do for someone who is considering suicide is to listen, to understand where this upsetting emotion is coming from, where this irrational desire to take their own life is coming from. A solution can often be found by connecting on an individual level with the person.

I think that we all need to work on this issue in the long term and keep in mind the often invisible needs of our friends, our colleagues and other members of our communities.

Very few of us in the chamber have experienced war and armed conflict first-hand. It does exact a price not just in terms of lost limbs and lost lives, but in terms of what many veterans of this country's armed services and those of other countries carry with them invisibly for decades to come. Rest assured that this government is taking action to ensure the brave men and women who serve this country get the help and support they need.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, my question for the hon. member relates to the effectiveness of the programs in place. I appreciate his listing the services that are available, but in an environment where there have been 696 suicides by members of the armed forces who have served between 1972 and 2007, clearly there is a problem. Veterans tell me that yes, there are services, but there are not enough.

I appreciate his candid comment that we can do more. My question is a repetition of the question I asked the minister in question period. Are there new strategies and programs, or alternatively, is this a case where the government will commit further resources to the excellent programs the member has outlined and ensure that these programs do not come under the austerity knife?

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the question of deficit reduction and measures this government will be taking to meet its goals in that field is a separate one. Let me reassure the member opposite that many of the resources mentioned, both on the veterans affairs side and the national defence side, are new resources, new institutions. New resources are being committed and these institutions in many cases are still being built as we speak.

Moreover, it is beyond any question that the services to meet the needs of men and women in uniform and returning veterans are not yet being used by all who really ought to be using them. It is a question of knowledge, familiarity, sensibilisation, as we say in French. That job will continue. This debate today will help us to raise the profile of this issue and to bring awareness of these services to an even larger group.

I can assure the member that yes, the resources have been increased and are being increased. The bigger challenge is to make sure all of our men and women in uniform and veterans do not succumb to this stigma, but instead know that the right thing to do is to contact the professionals to get the necessary support early, as they start to experience the trauma and anxiety that could lead to suicide.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, as the member was elected in the province of Ontario, presumably he would be aware of an equally large problem regarding suicide, that being within first nations communities.

If he has not apprised himself of the recent coroner's report prepared by Justice Goudge, I would recommend that he discuss that with his colleagues.

In June of this year, Justice Goudge stated in a coroner's report that Pikangikum is an impoverished, isolated first nations community where basic necessities of life are absent. It has experienced 16 suicides in a two-year period. He also made reference to the fact that was the most severe case of suicide in that area of the country.

Would the hon. member speak to the broader issues faced by the communities in his own province? Should the government act on the recommendations of the coroner dealing with poor health services, lack of safe drinking water, no connection to an electricity grid, high unemployment, significant reliance on social services, overcrowded housing and abysmal health services?

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very much aware of Justice Goudge's report. I had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Justice Goudge at an earlier stage when he was a leading member of his profession in Toronto.

It is an important report that points to perhaps the most critical area requiring further action to prevent suicide. It addresses what has become an epidemic in some communities.

The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has outlined a huge array of initiatives that the government is taking. The minister is wise enough to know, as we all do, that no one program will end this problem overnight.

We need to study what is working well and what is not as well as determine where we can make a difference with greater or reinforced investments--

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I will stop the hon. member there as his time has expired.

The hon. member for Northumberland—Quinte West.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to pay tribute to the many families across Canada, and specifically in the north, who have dealt with the sorrow of losing a loved one to suicide. We recognize that differences in economic circumstances, education, living conditions and physical environment can prevent a proportion of our population from achieving optimum mental health and well-being. This includes children, youth, and families living in the north's remote and rural communities.

Investing in positive mental health is an important step in promoting good health and preventing illness. That is why the government is taking action to help aboriginal children and their families in Canada's north address the tragic issue of youth suicide.

The government is funding programs that build their strength on protective factors such as ensuring family and community support. The national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy, the interdepartmental family violence initiative and the building healthy communities initiatives are examples of mental health promotion programs the government is funding to support Inuit and first nations populations in Canada's three northern territories.

Canada's north comprises a vast geography which presents unique conditions and challenges not seen in the south. Nunavut alone, with a population of 33,000, makes up 20% of Canada's land mass and contains 25 communities accessible only by airplane. It also has Canada's youngest and fastest growing population.

The hon. Minister of Finance tabled a budget in the House last year which included nearly $1 billion in investments for aboriginal people. This included $285 million for aboriginal health programs including funding to continue the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy until the year 2015.

In the three territories, the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy has provided close to $4 million over four years to support community-based solutions focused on resilience, embracing and celebrating life, and creating supportive environments.

I am pleased that the Government of Nunavut has also used funds from this initiative to help the Nunavut suicide prevention action plan and has committed to use the federal national aboriginal youth prevention strategy to implement that plan.

The government, along with the provinces, territories and community groups, is working to find better ways to promote mental health among Canadians. Differences in economic circumstances, education, living conditions and the physical environment can prevent a proportion of our population from achieving optimum mental health and well-being. This includes children, youth, and families living in the north's remote and rural communities. That is why earlier this spring the government announced funding for innovative community-based projects to improve the mental health of Canadian children, youth and families across the country through the Public Health Agency of Canada's innovation strategy. As part of this announcement, the government provided $2.4 million over five years to the Qaujigiartiit Health Research Centre in Iqaluit, Nunavut to help address needs identified by northerners, to ensure good mental health and physical health for aboriginal children and youth in their communities.

As we work with this generation of youth to build their future, we must at the same time continue our recognition of the legacy of Indian residential schools and the intergenerational impact that experience is having throughout northern families and communities.

The government understands the significance of building healthy communities. As such, investing in health-promoting activities aimed at maintaining and improving the well-being of our aboriginal people in the territories is also a key priority. Research has clearly shown the importance of giving children a positive and early start to education. In the territories, with its young population experiencing rapid change, this is ever so crucial in building a healthy next generation.

The aboriginal head start program in urban and northern communities does just that by addressing the needs of high-risk children and their families. It is creating a supportive and culturally based early learning environment in 19 territorial communities focused on language, school readiness, health promotion, parental involvement, nutrition and social support.

Our government is committed to continuing to help ensure that the north is a safe, healthy and prosperous place to live.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, if the mental health of first nations is so important to the Conservative government, why was nearly $500,000 cut from the Wapikoni project, which helps youth who are often at risk of committing suicide? Mental health is a very important aspect of this project. Why was funding slashed?

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know the specific circumstances to which the member refers. However, had she listened to my speech she would have heard that literally tens of millions of dollars went to individual communities right across this country.

As a former police officer who has worked in the north of Ontario, especially northeastern Ontario and along the James Bay and Hudson Bay coast, I can say that both provincial and federal governments continue to work hard to address the situation of suicide and particularly among our youth.

As I mentioned, the north has some unique circumstances. There are communities located literally hundreds of miles away from the closest road. There are no mines, no forest industry and no opportunities for employment. The struggle is how to encourage employment. How do we create jobs and an economic atmosphere for those communities to enjoy the same kind of lifestyle as those further south that are close to highways and the like?

Inasmuch as the member has referred to some programs that may have been cut, in addition there are many programs that have been created that are addressing not only the circumstances of suicide regarding the young but in communities also.

From a family perspective I can say that I am aware of and understand some of the circumstances mentioned by one of the previous questioners regarding the living conditions in Pikangikum. They relate specifically to the isolation of that community vis-à-vis its closeness to employment opportunities and the tremendous challenges most northern communities have.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member in response to the question by my colleague made reference to the fact that many of the aboriginal communities are isolated and cannot access benefits from resource extraction. It has been the experience of first nation communities in this country that although they want to participate they have been excluded. I simply mention the Lubicon of Alberta.

I am advised by the people of Pikangikum that the government promised somewhere in the order of $12 million to assist them. I think that fund ends sometime next year yet very little of that money has been forthcoming. It is one thing to do studies and another to make promises.

What will the government do to deliver on meeting the basic needs of housing, safe drinking water, access to medical services and so forth for that community and all other aboriginal communities in Canada?

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are two ways to look at the glass: it is either half full or half empty.

We know that right now there are tremendous challenges in the north. Every person in this House would agree on that. However, what the member left out in part of her question is the fact that the government has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in literally hundreds of communities to improve fresh water and waste water disposal.

One could say that whatever we are doing is not enough. We always admit, both in government and our communities, whether we are dealing in clubs or social groups, that it appears as though there is never enough to completely eradicate some of the problems we have. However, this government has and continues to take action.

As I mentioned in my speech, we are talking about hundreds of millions of additional dollars that are going specifically toward health care in the area of mental health and especially suicide prevention. That is what I said. If the member was listening to the speech, she would have heard me say that there are additional millions of dollars being spent on the issue and we have to keep working at it.

We will keep working at it as a government, but we need to have a collaborative working approach as parliamentarians to address the problem. Pointing fingers and complaining about each other I do not think develops that. If she has some substantive suggestions with regard to the budget, we would listen.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Vancouver Quadra.

It is a shocking fact which almost defies belief that, as the United Nations pointed out in 2009, every year worldwide more human beings kill themselves than are killed in all wars, terrorist attacks and homicides combined. While the motion before us focuses on Canada, it is important to realize that suicide occurs in every country, on every continent, and exists in every religious and age group. It claims almost a million lives annually; yet, despite its existence from the dawn of human history, this global tragedy has yet to receive the attention, and even more important, the action it warrants.

Today as we meet, 10 Canadians will take their own lives. This is a per capita rate three times that of the United States itself, largely due to the staggering number of deaths among aboriginal Canadians.

As well, the member for Toronto Centre pointed this out earlier today.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for men aged 25 to 29 and 40 to 44, and for women aged 30 to 34. Furthermore, suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth between the ages of 10 and 24.

Indeed, the suicide rate for youth in Canada is the third highest in the industrialized world. As well, the suicide rate for first nations is shockingly five to seven times higher than non-first nations populations. This is horrific and painful data.

Moreover, suicide is not only the leading cause of death for aboriginal men aged 10 to 19, but the suicide rate for Inuit youth is among the highest in the world, 11 times the national average. Among the most disturbing and painful data available, according to a 2008 study done in Nunavut, nearly 43% of respondents had thoughts of suicide in the previous seven days.

As if these statistics are not troubling enough, let us appreciate that behind each statistic is a human being. I sometimes worry that the abstraction of statistics takes us away from appreciating the full depth of the tragedy in individual and collective terms. The reality is that death by suicide can be prevented.

As for the suicide of adolescents, what goes through a young person's mind before making such a terrible choice is not something one can fully appreciate. Studies indicate that issues of social integration, feelings of alienation, changes in family situations, problems with self-image as well as rage and self-control issues may all contribute to adolescent suicide.

A government report on teen suicide concluded the following.

While the reasons for suicide are complex and difficult to define, the experience of adolescence brings unique problems to this high-risk age group.

Indeed, no part of Canadian society is immune, though certain segments, as I mentioned, particularly the aboriginal peoples are specifically at risk, as well as youth, seniors, Canadians with disabilities, those who identify as a sexual minority, and members of the armed forces.

While the causes of suicide are complex, often involving biological, psychological, social, environmental and spiritual factors, in various forms of combinations, 90% of suicides have a diagnosable psychiatric illness. Tragically, these conditions often go undiagnosed. This is a problem that must be addressed, not only nationally, but internationally, as well.

Again, we are speaking of something that can be prevented. Indeed, a government report from 1990 concluded the following.

The complexity of the issue must not discourage community or government agency efforts to deal with [this] problem...

In short, I support this motion as a step in the right direction for combating suicide and hope it enjoys the full support of the House when it comes to a vote later today. There is no question here in Canada that what is needed is a national suicide prevention strategy.

Regrettably, in Canada, suicide prevention is fragmented, disconnected, often incoherent, and lacking in a national vision and strategy. The difficult question that arises, therefore, is, what should this vision be? What should this strategy entail?

The government need not reinvent the wheel here. Blueprints for a national strategy from organizations such as the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention exist and can be used in planning the government's course of action. Indeed, this plan in particular serves as a model for suicide prevention strategies in several provinces and was recommended to the government in a 2006 Senate committee report.

Some of the many recommendations and goals of the CASP strategy included, and I am extrapolating for reasons of time and abbreviating, as well, with respect to the examples: developing a co-ordinated public awareness campaign; developing national forums on suicide, generally, as well as on specific target populations and specific issues. For example, just as when I was minister of justice, we had federal-provincial-territorial meetings of ministers of justice on specific issues. So, in order to highlight a particular issue, there could surely be a federal-provincial-territorial meeting of ministers of health focused on suicide, in particular.

The recommendations and goals of the CASP strategy also included: supporting and also enhancing the number of public and private institutions and volunteer organizations active in suicide prevention. Here the government could initiate a grant program for suicide awareness and prevention campaigns.

They also included: increasing the proportion of the public that values mental, physical, social, spiritual and holistic health. Here the government could create some sort of participaction program focused on mental health.

They also included: supporting the development of specific strategies by and for Inuit, first nations, Métis and all aboriginal peoples; encouraging the development of specific strategies for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons. Indeed, we have been witness to a troubling wave of teen suicides of gay and lesbian youth in the United States recently, reminding us that we need to work on diversity and acceptance initiatives, as well as anti-bullying strategies.

They also included: supporting the development and use of technology to reduce the lethality of a means for suicide. For example, firearm locks, carbon monoxide shut-off controls, bridge barriers, subway stop barriers, and strengthened medication containers.

Finally, they also concluded: developing a national crisis line network to connect existing crisis lines and websites to provide services, particularly where none exist; and developing and implementing support structures for families living with suicidal people, acknowledging their roles as caregivers and as contributing members of the care team.

In short, there is much that can be done. It is up to the government to act, so that it can be done.

Indeed, the 2006 Senate committee report I mentioned earlier made some 118 recommendations, from legislative changes, such Criminal Code amendments, to broader recommendations about the delivery of health care services.

Indeed, it is unfortunate that its recommendation “That governments take immediate steps to address the shortage of mental health professionals who specialize in treating children and youth” has not, regrettably, been heeded, and child and youth mental health services continue to be significantly less resourced than physical health services, and service delivery remains fragmented at all levels.

Before closing, I would also like to mention, and this was not entirely the focus of the debate here today, the particular issue of suicide among the elderly. Let us not forget that there is a high rate of suicide among the very old, be it after the loss of a spouse or loved one, or when used as a means to end suffering from illness. This, too, must be addressed as part of a national strategy and vision.

Today is, in effect, a call to action, to fight the stigmas surrounding suicide and mental health, and to come together in common cause to address this issue. We know the statistics and we have plenty of tools at our disposal to act. What we must do, in fact, is to act, and act now, to prevent the preventable tragedies that may yet, and will, occur.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Conservative Barrie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his eloquent speech on the importance of mental health and suicides.

Earlier, his colleague, the Liberal Party member for St. Paul's, mentioned that Canada had a suicide rate three times that of the U.S. It is important to note that the information shared by the Liberal Party member is actually incorrect. We just pulled the stats from the CDC website in the U.S. and from Stats Canada and it is identical, actually. It is both 11 tragic deaths per 100,000. It is important that we do not use statistics in the House that are wrong. We hope we can ensure that is not a fallacy that is raised here.

Does the member have any specific suggestions as to how we could improve the formidable commitment that the government made with the Mental Health Commission and the funding that was quite historic in 2007?

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, initiatives such as the Mental Health Commission are welcome initiatives, but the whole burden of what we have been speaking to today is the need for a national vision and a national strategy to implement it, of which the Mental Health Commission initiative can play an important part.

That is why I sought to identify and, in an abbreviated way, recommend a series of such initiatives that have been recommended by the Canadian Association of Suicide Preventions, which referenced also the issue of mental health, as I did in my remarks.

However, that is but one component, and indeed, in respect of Bill C-10, the omnibus crime bill, that too needs to factor in those issues that may have fallout for suicide prevention in the context of its crime and punishment approach.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

Mr. Speaker, this is a very serious issue, as many families are affected by suicide.

I was wondering if the member for Mount Royal might like to explain or share the statistic, something that he knows, that quite often suicide results in murder-suicide, where a person not only commits suicide, but takes another person's life. Many families have succumbed to this.

I am wondering if the member is familiar with any stats on this type of suicide which takes another person's life as well.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not have particular data with regard to the issue of murder-suicide, though the phenomenon of course, as my colleague mentioned, does exist.

I do want to say something that has underpinned all my remarks today, and perhaps I am somewhat influenced by the fact that for me, being on the occasion of the Jewish high holy days, the overarching theme during this period is a question of reverence for life; indeed, the sanctity of human life.

This is what the entire debate is all about. This is what the proposal for a national strategy of suicide prevention is all about, the reverence for life, the sanctity of human life, and to prevent these tragedies, as best we can, from occurring.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be part of this important debate today on preventing suicide and the need for a national suicide prevention strategy.

I congratulate the Liberal Party leader and member of Parliament for Toronto Centre for bringing this issue forward for a full day of debate. As he stated so clearly, this issue, which has been a taboo, needs to be aired and discussed, We need to address the shame around suicide that has kept it hidden in a closet.

I also congratulate the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention and other organizations that have been working so hard to raise awareness of the awful epidemic in our society.

We have heard from a number of members the statistics that show that we have a great problem with suicide in our country, particularly with first nations. I note in the Globe and Mail series on suicide that the rate in Nunavut of 15-year-old to 19-year-old men is 40 times the national average. That is completely unacceptable. It is a discredit to our nation in the eyes of the world that we have such a differential rate of suicide between our aboriginal communities and our non-aboriginal communities. It is to that issue that I will be dedicating my remarks today.

Clearly, we need a national suicide prevention strategy. In the province of Quebec, there has been a substantial drop in suicides as a result of its provincial strategy. We know that we can do better in this country.

I was pleased to hear some of the comments by the Conservative members about the actions that governments have taken over the years, but it has been a fragmented approach. The national mental health strategy has no suicide prevention component. There is no coherent vision. There is a disconnect between the national program and pilot projects and what is being done in our provinces and territories. We need an integrated partnership with leadership from the federal government.

There are so many factors behind the tragedy of suicide. There are also so many consequences for the families, friends and communities that experience this tragedy.

As the Liberal Party leader said, none of us are immune from experiencing the grief of suicide, not our families nor our social networks. I experienced that grief as a young woman when one of my closest women friends took her life. It was confusing, distressing and despairing for those of us who knew her that we had not been able to prevent that from happening. This is a humanitarian issue of the highest order and it is time that we grapple with it.

During question period today, the Prime Minister spoke of his government providing hope and opportunity to first nations communities. He talked about the economic opportunities. I do not see that, frankly. It is not reflected in the statistics. Many first nations communities have a woeful lack of activities for their young people. They lack educational success and economic opportunities.

I want to refer to a document put out by the provincial Government of British Columbia that talks about risk and protective factors. Among those factors are school factors. The predisposing factor for suicide among youth is a long-standing history of negative school experience or a lack of a meaningful connection to school. However, a protective factor is success at school. British Columbia has a far lower rate of graduation from schools in aboriginal communities as compared to schools outside of aboriginal reserves, and that needs to change.

Students who are on reserves are part of the federal responsibility and they are shorted the education dollars compared with what is provided by the provincial government off reserves. That needs to be addressed and it needs to change.

With respect to the risk and protective factors in the community, community marginalization and socio-economic deprivation are risk factors but protective factors, opportunities for youth, availability of resources and community control over local resources, are things that can be done.

As the minister of environment and parks in British Columbia, I had the opportunity to visit a number of remote, small aboriginal communities in order to find ways for those communities to connect with economic activities in the extensive B.C. parks system. I learned that these communities, which had once been thriving, self-sufficient, proud communities, were, in many cases, suffering from 80% or more unemployment. When there are no jobs and the young people are seeing no economic prospects, that feeds into the cycle of despair, a lack of motivation, of hope and of opportunity that has the young people drop out of school. That is still a very present concern and that has not been addressed in a systematic way through a strategy by the federal government.

I also want to note that a very important factor is activities and sports for young people. This is true for aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike. We know there are a number of groups that are more likely to not participate in sports and recreation and those are people from lower income families, people with disabilities, new Canadians and especially first nations. Activities, such as sports, are very important for aboriginal youth in remote and sometimes inaccessible communities. They need to have something to do after school and somewhere to go. They need to have productive activities so they can challenge themselves. They can do team sports or individual sports.

I would like to share a personal story on this level as well. I attended a barbecue in Vancouver for a friend who was celebrating a 65th birthday. Among the small group of family and friends was a group of aboriginal people, the chief, his wife and three children, and two councillors. They came from a remote, inaccessible northern community to the barbecue to celebrate my friend's birthday. When it came time to speak, the chief shared that his son had taken his own life and that among his family there had been a dozen young people who had taken their lives over the previous decade and a half. However, that had changed and that had changed because that community, in partnership with my friend's initiative, had begun to take some of the resources in their area, take ownership and create jobs, create an enterprise using the local resources. That led to a flow of funding into their community.

When the chief asked the young people what they needed, in the despair of the suicide in that community, and what could be done with the funds flowing into the community due to the enterprise, the answer was that they need a recreation centre and they really wanted a pool. The chief came to Vancouver to testify his personal experience that, since the centre was built and the swimming pool was put into their community, there had not been a single suicide. It was a very moving story and very illustrative of what can be done. Are we doing that in Canada?

We have a sport tax credit that, unfortunately, cuts out those very people. If they do not pay income tax, they do not get access to that sport tax credit.

I appeal to the Government of Canada to do more on the economic front and on the recreation facility front, especially for first nations.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my hon. friend's comments.

One of the things that struck me, because she was talking about a national suicide prevention strategy and the difficulties in getting the government to commit to such a thing, I was recalling that this has been on the table for a number of governments in the past and there is still no action on it.

I was wondering if the hon. member would have some insight into why governments are so reluctant to simply declare that it will develop a national suicide prevention strategy, that it will work with all Canadians and that it will find some answers?

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think what we are seeing today is an accumulation of clarity about the need for a national suicide prevention strategy.

We have groups coming together and coming to Ottawa. We have a conference in Vancouver this week on the issue. We have the Liberal Party of Canada putting this forward as an opposition day motion so that the issues can be heard, aired and debated, and awareness raised among parliamentarians.

The time is now. I encourage the government to say yes today to a commitment to a national suicide prevention strategy.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, the motion today does relate to a strategy, and we all agree that a strategy in this area is needed and it would be good, but would the member not agree that a strategy alone will not get us very far? Would she not agree that we need to focus this debate and our action together as much as possible on the sorts of concrete initiatives, institutional initiatives, outreach initiatives, training initiatives and public health initiatives that will actually reach the people in need, both in aboriginal communities and in other communities that are affected as well.

My own speech a few minutes ago was on the needs of veterans and members of the Canadian Forces. There are some very specific things that have been done. They are not working as well as we would like but they are starting to work.

Could the member tell us what specific institutional enhancements she thinks would make the greatest difference?

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, of course, a proper strategy, as I am sure the member opposite would agree, has clear, specific, actionable items. It has measures, timeframes and mechanisms for monitoring. A strategy is not just words. It is a clear intention and has ways to ensure progress is being made.

I have already given one specific example, which is the sports tax credit that is being doubled by the government but cuts out the very people who need it. Those who have a low income and who are not paying taxes do not benefit from the $200 million toward sports activities. Why would the government do that?

As for the large profitable corporations that will be receiving billions in additional tax breaks, the corporations that do not create net new jobs, the government should not do that next tax break. It should use those funds for a national suicide prevention strategy, for job training, for apprenticeships, for skills training and for the activities that would be needed in the minister of state's portfolio and others.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my friend from Halifax.

It is with sadness that I rise today to speak on this issue. I come from a part of the country in northern Ontario where these sorts of headlines about suicide are in the paper almost every day. It is easy, I think, if one lives in a large centre to not have this issue as part of one's daily life, but it is part of everyone's daily life in regions like northern Ontario. However, it does not mean that people are not doing anything about it.

I would like to talk about some of the solutions that have come from northwestern Ontario. I will speak about aboriginal people, both on reserve and off reserve. I will begin with off reserve.

We have a unique situation in Thunder Bay in that we have a first nations high school. It is called Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School. It is a very interesting high school, and a perfect place to do an extensive survey as to what could be done to help solve this problem.

I would like to reference the Regional Multicultural Youth Council of Thunder Bay. Moffat Makuto is the youth adviser. We have been in touch for a number of years on this and other issues. We brought it to the attention to the minister in the last Parliament, but nothing has been done again. I have another letter from him today, and I would like to quote a couple of comments that he makes.

He talks about Reggie Bushie, a student who passed away in Thunder Bay and who went to Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School. He said there is a concern that the inquest is taking too long to begin, because two more students from northern reserves attending Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School in the city have since died under similar circumstances. In fact, the media are characterizing them as mysterious circumstances.

This is a quote from Mr. Makuto's letter to me. He says:

We must work with aboriginal students and empower them to make a difference. But, our Youth Council lacks funding to create more peer leaders and role models at DFC. This is an effective way of connecting with aboriginal students to counter the aggressive criminal gang recruitment among school drop-outs across the region.

The Regional Multicultural Youth Council, in conjunction with the Multicultural Association of Northwestern Ontario, did a survey in March of this year. I do not want to go through the whole piece, but if anyone is interested in getting a copy, I would be more than happy to make sure they get one.

There are three recommendations for the federal government, and I would like to mention them briefly.

The first recommendation is:

Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School, the Northern Nishnawbe Education Council, Nishnawbe Aski Nation, the Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada should work with other government ministries and stakeholders to secure funding for a students' residence at DFC, ensure that it is adequately staffed with essential programs, services and supports to guarantee their safety, enhance their well-being, improve their educational performance and increase graduation rates.

The second recommendation is that:

...the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, should provide financial resources to create, support and sustain aboriginal peer leaders at DFC who can work with other students to organize activities that reduce risk factors, enhance their safety, improve graduation rates, counter negative lifestyles, and avoid involvement in criminal youth gangs.

Keep in mind that this is from students in their own words.

The third recommendation calls on the government to provide adequate funding for students to meet realistic costs and cover the needs of on-reserve and boarding students, addressing this inequity to match the provincial level of funding per student.

We know that for students at this particular high school, the aboriginal student gets about $2,000 less than what the equivalent student gets in the Province of Ontario.

I would like to thank the Regional Multicultural Youth Council and Moffat Makuto for their work on this.

I will briefly speak about Pikangikum in the time I have left.

Suicide is an invisible problem in Canada and it is an invisible epidemic among first nations youth. We have known for years that it is our collective failing that we, as political leaders, have not addressed this. It will continue to be our collective failing if we do not address it now, and I thank my friend from Toronto Centre for bringing this motion forward today.

The public safety of first nations youth on and off reserves must be a priority of the federal government. Suicide, particularly suicide among first nations youth, is not a partisan issue but a national crisis.

I asked a question in question period on September 23, about a week and a half ago, which I would like to read again. I stated:

Mr. Speaker, my constituents in Thunder Bay are agonizing over the unexplained deaths of seven first nations students in seven years. One week ago, on Pikangikum First Nation a sixth young man this summer took his own life.

Then I asked the minister if he had read the Ontario chief coroner's report on these suicides, when he would act on its recommendations, and what he is doing to make life safer and brighter for first nations youth on and off reserves.

He stated in part in his response, “We will do everything we can to address the situation”. I thank the minister for his answer, but I would like to provide a bit of a historical perspective to what has happened in Pikangikum in the past and what is continuing to happen.

A November 1999 report co-authored by Samson for Survival International, a U.K.-based watchdog, called for immediate Government of Canada action after it found the Innu suicide rate to be 178 per 100,000 people from the 1970s to the 1990s. It is the highest-documented rate in the world.

Then we have Pikangikum, a community of a couple of thousand people in the far north of Ontario, 300 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. It has an eight-year average of 213 suicides per 100,000 people, a nine-year average of 205 per 100,000 people, and the latest Pikangikum suicides have sent this year's rate soaring to 470 deaths per 100,000 people.

The problem, while it is worst in Pikangikum, is region-wide and countrywide.

The report in 2000 also said that the increase in female suicide is related to third world conditions now prevalent on Canadian reserves like Pikangikum. Grand Chief Stan Beardy of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation said in the year 2000, “In all my dealings with the Canadian government over the last seven years, I've been met with a stony silence”. Mr. Speaker, I would put it to you that he is still being met by a stony silence.

It is important to remind people of our history. This motion is a statement and a step that should have come from the federal government. It is still a step forward today, but only if we act on it.

In the time remaining, let me talk about some of the recommendations from the report.

First, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Affairs should fulfill its commitment to build a new school in Pikangikum as soon as possible.

Second, the government should be a stakeholder in the housing strategic study.

Third, the government and the Pikangikum Housing Authority should ensure that all homes built in the future are connected to water and indoor plumbing, something the rest of us take for granted.

Fourth, the government and Pikangikum First Nation should complete its earlier project to connect the first nation to the hydro grid.

Fifth, the Government of Canada should support the Pikangikum First Nation's Whitefeather Forest project.

Sixth, Pikangikum First Nation should develop a community healing treatment centre with funding from the Health Canada Inuit and first nations health branch.

The seventh is the last one I will talk about, although there are more. It is that the Pikangikum health authority should develop a comprehensive mental health and addictions program for children, youth and adults.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the speech of my hon. colleague. The suicide epidemics in his region and my region are an international horror story.

I flew into Moose Factory Island, a wonderful island of great people, to be told that they had 13 youth suicides and 80 attempts, meaning that 93 children attempted or succeeded in killing themselves in one year in the town of Moose Factory alone.

At the time the province was shutting down the Payukotayno child welfare services because it said it was in debt. We saw people in absolute shock.

I see this in community after community, and I would like to ask the hon. member what came out of Pikangikum, because it said specifically that children do not even have access to schools. Children are killing themselves because the government will not even bother to build grade schools for them.

I ask my hon. colleague, given that the communities he represents are like mine because children are starving to have basic rights that other children enjoy as a given, why is it, in a country as rich as Canada, that we have a government that thinks building schools is not something it should even be responsible for?

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is an important question. My background is in education and as an educator. In fact, I was principal of a high school with a large percentage of aboriginal students, so I have a particular interest in schooling, and I thank the member for that question.

Schools provide a centre for students, a centre for learning and for after-school activities, but more importantly, schools offer an acknowledgement that people care about the students who attend that school and care about the community.

The fact that Pikangikum still does not have a school after so many years of promises is a travesty. It needs an auditorium. It needs a playground. It needs soccer fields. It needs all these sorts of things as just one small key to ending this problem.