Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise today and voice my support for Bill C-300, an act respecting a federal framework for suicide prevention.
I also want to congratulate my hon. colleague from the other side of the House for bringing forward an issue that I think is truly important to every MP and Canadian right across the country. No matter what colour one's tie is, this is an important issue for all of us to address.
The bill would enact and establish a requirement for the Government of Canada to develop a federal framework for suicide prevention in consultation with the relevant non-governmental organizations, the relevant entity in each province and territory as well as the relevant federal departments.
The bill is a great first step, but we believe more could have been done. We presented some amendments at committee to make the bill stronger to ensure that Canadians had a bill that encompassed everyone and included first nations, Métis and Inuit as well. However, we will move forward in good faith with the bill because, as I mentioned, we believe it is a good first step.
Suicide has a major impact on Canadians today. It is the second leading cause of death among 10 to 24 year olds and the third leading cause among 25 to 49 years olds. Furthermore, the stigma that surrounds mental health and suicide has long delayed a national dialogue about the issue and how to address it. Therefore, I am very happy that we are talking about it on the national stage.
Suicide is a tragedy for many Canadians and their families. Given the current statistics that I mentioned earlier, it is likely that most Canadians have been impacted by a death by suicide. However, suicide is entirely preventable through a combination of knowledge, care and compassion.
We in the NDP support the bill put forward by my hon. colleague. We think a national suicide prevention strategy is something that families and stakeholders have been demanding for years now.
The NDP has consistently worked on this issue in the past. In 2011, my colleague for Halifax put forward Bill C-297, An Act respecting a National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. My friend's bill already calls for the provinces, territories and representatives from first nations, Inuit and Métis people to work together to create a national strategy for suicide prevention. The bill would ensure access to mental health and substance abuse services, reduce the stigma associated with using mental health and suicide-related services, establish national guidelines for best practices in suicide prevention, work with communities to use cultural-specific knowledge to design appropriate policies and programs, coordinate professionals and organizations throughout our great country in order to share information and research and support health care professionals and others who work with individuals at risk of suicide.
I believe my colleague's bill is the template of how we should approach a national suicide prevention strategy as it would allow for best practices to be set up, particularly for at-risk communities.
These are some key facts and figures about suicide in Canada that are very disturbing: 10 people die every day by suicide; over 3,500 people die by suicide annually; and, in the past 20 years, more than 100,000 Canadians have died by suicide. In Canada the number of people affected by suicide due to the loss of a loved one, friend or co-worker is estimated at three million. I am, unfortunately, one of those three million.
Back in 1986, 26 years ago, my brother-in-law decided to take his own life. I can talk about how a family goes through that type of trauma and what the family to this day still goes through. Many times at Christmas dinner, Thanksgiving or any family gathering, we talk about what it would be like to have that individual back with us as a family.
Of course, there are always those feelings of doubt. What could we have done to make things better? What could we have done to change what has happened? There is really nothing that we could have done, at the end of the day, because my brother-in-law needed some help. What we could have done is try to find ways to get him that help. I think this national strategy is doing what we can to ensure that no other person ever has to go through this and no other family ever has to go through this, and I hope we all can understand.
If we are looking at international comparisons, both the United Nations and the World Health Organization have recognized suicide as a serious and priority public health issue. We were once a world leader on suicide prevention, but now Canada lags behind other industrialized countries.
In 1993, at the invitation of the UN Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs, Canada hosted an international experts' meeting to develop UN-supported suicide prevention guidelines.
Following the release of these guidelines, both the United Nations and the World Health Organization called upon every country to not only establish its own national strategy but also appoint and adequately fund a coordinating body responsible for suicide prevention.
Whereas Australia, New Zealand, Wales, England, Norway, Sweden, Scotland and the United States, to name a few, now all have national suicide prevention strategies that have proven to work, Canada still does not. I think with this bill we are getting one step closer. However, as I mentioned at the top, we will continue to work to try to make this bill stronger.
Let us look at our statistics in Canada. They show Canada has a higher suicide rate, for example, than the United States. It is in the top third of developed countries with the highest rate of suicide.
The Government of Canada has stated in the past that the Mental Health Commission of Canada framework already covers suicide prevention. However, its important 2009 report, “A Framework for a Mental Health Strategy for Canada”, only briefly touches upon the issue of suicide. It does not even specifically include in it any of its seven recommendations and it does not constitute a suicide prevention strategy.
All experts and stakeholders agree that its mandate does not properly cover the issue of suicide prevention. As yet, there is no sign that the MHCC is doing the necessary work that is needed on this issue. The MHCC is focused on bringing about long-term fundamental changes with respect to various mental health issues, while a national suicide prevention strategy is desperately needed, especially today, given the crisis facing many communities.
The MHCC even notes that suicide is often but not always, 95% of the time, associated with the presence of a mental illness. A suicide prevention strategy is needed because it is distinct from the issue of mental health.
Let me quote from a media article today from a Vancouver Island first nation, where it has declared a state of emergency because over the last few weeks it has seen the number of suicides in its communities dramatically increase. I believe it was four.
Leaders of a Vancouver Island First Nation have declared a state of emergency over the recent spate of suicides and attempted suicides.
According to the chief:
Unless we receive support from the feds and province, we may lose more community members to what feels like a hopeless situation, and although we have provided some resources, it is very limited and employees are over-taxed with the burden of double duty.
That is why we truly need a national strategy on suicide prevention.
I know my time is running out. With that, I will just mention again that we support the bill as it is presented, but we would definitely like to see more amendments and things brought forward to make this a stronger bill.