moved that Bill C-643, An Act to establish National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Day, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to thank all the members of the House who have helped get this bill to this stage in the process. It is the product of our collective efforts and co-operation over the long haul. My esteemed colleagues are doing their part admirably.
I would also like to thank our partners who have supported us during this process and have assisted us in developing this bill, which aims to designate the third Friday of September as National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Day. I would also like to point out that my bill is seconded by the member for Victoria.
With the co-operation of MEMO-Quebec, we concluded that this bill could be very useful, and that raising people's awareness would have a very positive impact for people living with spinal cord injuries. Many people with disabilities in my riding of Montcalm, across Quebec and indeed throughout Canada are listening to us today. They are following the progress of our debates very closely and now want to see this bill move forward. I hope we do not let them down.
This bill would make the third Friday of September National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Day. Why the third Friday in September? Simply for two key reasons. The first is that accidents frequently occur during the summer. The third Friday of September is a time of year when rehabilitation centres in particular are flooded with spinal cord injuries.
The second reason is that the third Friday of September also has a symbolic meaning. It is the time of year when the days start getting darker. In the months following a spinal cord injury, the injured person will endure dark days that are akin to a difficult fall and a painful winter.
This is a simple and effective bill that will cost nothing and provides one more tool to those involved in helping people with spinal cord injuries and to agencies that work on prevention and raising public awareness. We do not want to ignore the many difficulties people with spinal cord injuries face, far from it. Nonetheless, we wanted to create this awareness day to get across to Canadians the terrible, irreversible consequences of certain accidents. I was never one to tempt fate and so I could not have anticipated that life would test me so harshly. Often, people with spinal cord injuries joke that we are like cats who land on their feet, that after our accidents we set the clock back to zero and started a new life with new obstacles, but also with new and very interesting challenges.
That said, I will respectfully present our bill, which we have put a lot of thought into. This bill has three components. The first objective is to raise public awareness. Spinal cord injury victims must have more encouragement to actively participate, without prejudice, in our society. The bill would also recognize the determination of those with spinal cord injuries to build a new life for themselves, as well as the dedication of the people who help them and the perseverance of the scientists whose research has improved the lives of thousands of people with spinal cord injuries. This day would also serve as a tool to help prevent such injuries, as I mentioned earlier. I will come back to this a little later.
It would be useful to look at the actual statistics. In Canada, there were approximately 86,000 people living with spinal cord injuries in 2013. There are the victims themselves but also their families and friends, who live with the disability affecting the person they love. I would like to take this opportunity to salute all caregivers who look after a person with a disability, and who live and work close to them. I recognize that the situation is often stressful or harrowing for those close to people with spinal cord injuries because they are not the ones living with this disability and do not really understand it. It is up to us, as the people with the injury, to reassure them and to shed a different light on the situation. I am not saying that this is simple and easy to do, but I believe that, in the end, we will find a certain serenity and, above all, a zest for life that is great to share. We must admit that they will perhaps provide invaluable assistance.
We now know that there are 86,000 people affected in Canada, but to that total we have to add the 4,300 people who are injured every year. We must remember that prevention really does work, and that every policy that can promote the production and dissemination of new awareness and prevention campaigns has a positive impact on the work of the people on the ground.
This bill is a step in that direction, and I sincerely hope that it will be passed.
In Quebec and in Canada, falls are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries, followed by motor vehicle accidents. That includes all-terrain vehicles. In the United States, many spinal cord injuries result from acts of violence, a cause that is almost non-existent in Quebec and Canada.
Let us look at the number of casualties based on the etiology of the trauma: 31% of injuries result from motor vehicle accidents, including all-terrain vehicles; 46% result from falls; 5% result from acts of violence; and 18% result from sports, recreational activities and other unknown causes.
In Quebec, people with spinal cord injuries are hospitalized for an average of 14 to 57 days, depending on the nature of the injury, namely whether the patient has complete or incomplete quadriplegia, or complete or incomplete paraplegia. The average hospital stay of these patients in Quebec is shorter than the national average, which is between 24 and 63 days, but longer than the American average, which is between 9 and 18 days.
Most people with spinal cord injuries are transferred to an in-patient rehabilitation centre once their condition has stabilized. In Quebec, they remain in that centre for an average of 58 to 202 days, depending on the nature of the injury. The length of stay in these centres in Quebec is comparable to or slightly lower than the national average, which is about 173 days, but much higher than in American centres, which are between 30 and 56 days.
Beyond the physical injury, people with spinal cord injuries often suffer from emotional distress. It is very common for these patients to feel hopeless at the thought of never being able to go back to the life they knew before and also feel discouraged by the many rehabilitation challenges they must face.
People with spinal cord injuries will often remember their stay in the rehabilitation centre. I thought that some of the people who worked in the centre took some kind of sick pleasure in forcing me to hear about their reality, which was not one I was ready to accept. What is more, I did not like the ironic demeanor that some of them had. Today, I understand that they were probably just trying to lighten the mood, but at the time, I found it rather unusual. After many years, I think I have heard all of the wheelchair jokes hundreds of times. I have not heard a new joke for at least the past 10 years.
Public awareness has a profound impact on how easily people with disabilities can return to the workforce. Indeed, how other people look at you is often the first change that people with spinal cord injuries have to get used to. When our neighbours, colleagues and community are ready to make a small effort to make our day-to-day lives a little easier, and when society is willing to accommodate its services to our specific needs, as modest as they may be, we will always want to return the favour. Usually everyone wins. I am not talking about charity here, although the economic factor definitely does enter the equation.
However, when an employer gives someone with a spinal cord injury a chance and agrees to a few small changes in their usual methods to accommodate a worker, that employer will have a motivated and productive worker who really wants to contribute to the success of the business that hired them and is providing support. Through such actions, people with spinal cord injuries gain the same dignity that is essential to everyone, and participate just as actively in creating our collective wealth.
Truth be told, the return to the workforce for people with disabilities can be challenging, and greater public awareness would make this process a little easier. We can improve the lives of thousands of people while also enhancing our social cohesion. That is what I call a win-win.
Coming back after a prolonged work stoppage is a huge step, and for someone with a spinal cord injury, it is an even bigger one. Someone who deliberately chooses to leave his or her job for a certain period probably has a stronger feeling of control over the situation than someone who is forced to quit because of an illness or accident. I think the reason for the work stoppage definitely has an impact on the return.
When people are away from work following a spinal cord injury, it is not true that they return to work as though they left the night before. It is easy to understand since their colleagues will continue to carry out their professional activities, look for opportunities and manage workplace challenges. People with a spinal cord injury who were gone from work for a long time often doubt themselves and do not have the same priorities as their colleagues.
We become more aware of certain aspects of our personal life and also our professional life. We have time to figure out what we really want to improve and what we want to pursue and, conversely, what we want to distance ourselves from and what we no longer want to put up with, such as a heavy workload because we know our physical condition requires extra effort and we might tire more easily.
Nonetheless, there is also a sense of personal accomplishment and self-esteem, which help a person recognize what they are good at and feel like their knowledge is still in demand. I believe that developing a talent and using it to help others is a fundamental part of human endeavour and it is really quite nice.
By creating a national spinal cord injury awareness day, we can officially recognize the courage and determination of people with spinal cord injuries. These Canadians make gargantuan efforts to be independent and regain their quality of life, and the rehabilitation of newly injured people is a remarkable feat in itself.
Each of these individuals has invaluable potential and a lot to offer, and the rehabilitation of people with spinal cord injuries is undeniable proof of strength and determination.
Dear colleagues, that is a fundamental part of our bill, which I think will help improve our society as well as do a great service to our friends, family members, neighbours, colleagues, or anyone who suffered a serious traumatic injury and is working very hard to regain their dignity and quality of life.
Furthermore, we must use this day to highlight not only the dedication of caregivers, of course, but also the dedication and perseverance of the scientists and researchers who are focused on the cause and sacrifice a part of their life and energy to find medical breakthroughs and give hope to those with spinal cord injuries.
As we know, modern science is evolving very quickly and advances in medical research provide hope for new treatments and technologies in the near future that could affect the quality of life of people living with spinal cord injuries and even provide hope for recovery in some cases. In fact, 20 years ago, who could have imagined today's medical advances?
Whether in terms of treatments, technological innovations or therapeutic solutions, there are many fields of research. Advances are being made in tandem on many levels. The wonderful techniques of the present foreshadow those of the future and open the door to legitimate hope for many.
Before talking more about the current state of research in Quebec, I have to first acknowledge the progress and achievements that have been made. I must also acknowledge the work of the people who are invested in improving the quality of life of people with spinal cord injuries on a daily basis. We have to promote research and we have to promote hope.
When I hear that advances are being made in biomedical science, I know that the quality of life of many people has been improved. The assessment of injuries is more precise, the development of tools is increasingly effective and preventive measures, procedures and treatments are continually improving.
We must promote this field of research and stimulate investment in this area. A number of foundations across the country are constantly working on finding money for research and new sources of funding.
The national spinal cord injury awareness day can help in that regard by symbolically bringing together the different organizations and increasing the visibility of their various campaigns.
This is just one of many suggestions, and I am confident that the organizations concerned will be able to make good use of this day to maximize their efforts.
This bill and the establishment of a national spinal cord injury awareness day are far from being just symbolic. This has the potential to help save lives and to reduce the number of new spinal cord injuries in Canada.
Every year, let us not waste this opportunity, which benefits everyone, as I said. This issue should never be highly partisan. We should remember that anyone can sustain a spinal cord injury.