Mr. Speaker, I would like to sincerely thank my colleague, the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George, for bringing forward this bill to build a national framework on an issue that is critically important to Canadians, and in turn our national safety and national fabric. These are our first responders. They are military personnel, veterans, correctional officers, and police. These are the people who protect and defend us day in and day out and care for us in our most urgent times of need. It is our duty to care for them as they grapple with post-traumatic stress disorder.
While more is understood about PTSD, or as Veterans Affairs calls it, operational stress injuries, every day, there is much more work to be done. We owe it to our first responders to do everything in our legislative power to make this happen. That is why I am honoured to stand today in support of Bill C-211, an act respecting a federal framework on PTSD, the private member's bill brought forward by my hon. colleague.
One of the greatest privileges of being a member of Parliament is the opportunity that it affords us to interact with our veterans and military personnel. I have had the opportunity to spend time on Canadian navy vessels, HMCS Halifax and HMCS Montreal, to talk with veterans from coast to coast, and to spend time with the reservists and officers of The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry and The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. I am proud to be a member of the officers' mess at John Weir Foote V.C. Armouries in my hometown of Hamilton.
Unfortunately, these brave women and men who gather at these armouries know PTSD and operational stress injuries all too well. That is because, tragically and regrettably, Corporal Justin Stark, a 22-year-old reservist with The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, took his own life in those armouries. It was October 2010, and he had returned to Canada just 10 months earlier from a deployment in Afghanistan.
Please also allow me to mention what many hon. members will know and recall, because I would be remiss in mentioning The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders without acknowledging a major tragedy that faced us. Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who was shot and killed in the attack on the National War Memorial in October of 2014, was also an Argyll. As we talk about the scourge of PTSD that plagues his former colleagues, we should always remember the courage and valour of all military personnel.
We were mindful of the tragic circumstances that led Corporal Justin Stark to such a dark place when we announced an operational stress injury clinic for downtown Hamilton in January 2015. I was pleased to join my colleague, the hon. member for Durham, then minister of Veterans Affairs, for that announcement. The clinic would serve the Hamilton and Niagara areas, as well as parts of southwestern Ontario. All of these areas were previously served by a clinic in Toronto, and this brought the resources, counselling, and therapy closer to home for many veterans and personnel. One has to imagine that when dealing with such complex issues as mental health, operational stress injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder, having these resources closer to home makes a huge difference in speedy diagnosis, treatment, recovery, and care.
This is a good and practical example of the kinds of things that Bill C-211 would help to facilitate. It would help to coordinate all of these resources at the federal, provincial, and territorial levels, and clinics such as this one that were funded by the federal government and operated by the province. Bill C-211 would set in motion a long-overdue and much-needed coordinated federal-provincial strategy, so that an inventory of such resources can be taken, gaps can be identified, and people in desperate need of help can be properly served.
Unfortunately, Corporal Stark is not an isolated example. When I chaired the veterans affairs committee, we heard expert testimony on post-traumatic stress disorder in our Canadian Armed Forces. What a tragedy that these brave women and men, who enlist to defend the freedoms we cherish and value so much as Canadians, are themselves imprisoned and thereby robbed of their own freedoms on their return from duty because of the psychological terror and devastating effects of PTSD. May this sadness move us to action.
While I have focused my examples thus far on military personnel and veterans, I know of many police officers, ambulance attendants, and firefighters in my community, the greater Hamilton area, who have been equally impacted by PTSD.
It is well known that among paramedics, the incidence of PTSD is very high. Almost a quarter will be impacted. Think about that. Almost a quarter of paramedics grapple with PTSD. These are the same people we count on in our hour of need. It is time we gave them the same priority they give us. It is time to take action as proposed by the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George.
The only group of first responders for whom the rate of PTSD is worse than it is for paramedics is correctional officers, who have an incidence rate of 24% to 26%. When we talk about that, it is easy to understand the pressures they are under. When I researched my own private member's bill in the last Parliament, I encountered many correctional officers, and I have heard gut-wrenching accounts. Beneath the statistics, these are real stories, real people, real families, and real cries for help.
We know that what is stipulated in Bill C-211 is just a first step. It would require the Minister of Health to convene a conference with stakeholders from all relevant federal departments, provincial and territorial representatives, the medical community, and patient groups. It is a sound and logical step. Developing a framework is a necessary and needed result. It would be a step forward in addressing the challenges, recognizing the symptoms, and providing timely diagnosis, thereby speeding access to treatment for PTSD.
It is a complex problem. It is not going to be solved overnight. A federal framework would only go so far, but it would bring together initiatives and legislation at the provincial level in a coordinated and national strategy. Is it not time?
To me, this is a simple decision. There is only one right answer. For the sake of the mental health of people who care for and protect and defend us every single day, I urge all members of this chamber to wholeheartedly support and vote in favour of Bill C-211.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to one of the most important bills I have had to deal with since I was elected. God bless all our first responders, and God bless Canada.