Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank the member for Cariboo—Prince George for not only introducing this bill but for his tireless advocacy on this issue: the mental health of our veterans, public safety officers, and first responders. I would also like to thank the many people both here in the gallery and in our communities who have been advocates on this important issue.
The member's bill calls for a federal framework for post-traumatic stress disorder. It calls on the Minister of Health to work with the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Veterans Affairs, along with the provinces and territories, representatives of the medical community, and patient groups, to develop a federal framework to address the challenges of recognizing the symptoms and providing timely diagnosis and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.
I am very pleased that our government will be supporting this legislation, with some minor amendments. I will speak a little later about some of the concerns I personally have with the bill.
This is an issue that has actually touched this House, as we lost one of our own members to a post-traumatic stress injury. Lieutenant Colonel Sam Sharpe was first elected to the House of Commons in 1908 and re-elected in 1911 and 1917 as the member of Parliament for Ontario North. He was a sitting MP at the start of the First World War and helped raise the 116th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force and commanded the battalion during its operations on the fields of Europe. His unit was present for the assault on Vimy Ridge and fought at Avion and Passchendaele.
After suffering mental injuries on the front, what at the time was called shell shock, he was hospitalized in England and subsequently returned to Canada. Lieutenant Colonel Sharpe died by suicide on May 25, 1918. Thankfully, our armed forces have come a long way since then and now recognize that mental injuries can also occur on the battlefield.
Just a few weeks ago, I met with Syd Gravel and Brad McKay, who wrote a guide to help first responders in the creation of peer and trauma support programs, entitled Walk the Talk—First Responder Peer Support. The two former police officers commented about how far the conversation had come since they built their own peer support networks in secret in 1988.
There has been a lot of work done in many provinces across Canada, including in my province of Ontario. My colleague, the Minister of Labour for Ontario, led efforts last spring that made it easier for first responders in Ontario to get treatment, created an awareness campaign, and required first responders to have a prevention plan.
I believe that the federal government can help other provinces and territories learn about the various best practices that have been created. While stakeholders are applauding the fact that this conversation is taking place, they know that there is still a lot of work to be done. Mental health and healthy inclusive workplaces are two areas where I am hoping, and working hard, to make a difference as a member of Parliament.
With regard to the specifics of Bill C-211, I applaud the member's efforts and his genuine concern for the mental health of our military, veterans, public safety officers, and first responders.
I do have concerns about the limitations in this particular bill about the mental health of our first responders and public safety officers. The bill invites the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Veterans Affairs to a conference but leaves out the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. The Minister of Public Safety has already been working, along with the Minister of Health, on creating a national strategy on this issue. Early last year, the Minister of Public Safety and his former parliamentary secretary held a national round table on post-traumatic stress injuries, or PTSI, and the effect on public safety officers.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, I am extremely proud of our work last fall when we tabled the report, “Healthy Minds, Safe Communities: Supporting our Public Safety Officers through a National Strategy for Operational Stress Injuries”, recognizing the need for a national strategy on operational stress injuries, not just post-traumatic stress disorder.
Any framework we develop should include policies on prevention, screening, education, intervention, and treatment. We heard from witnesses who told us that mental health injuries suffered by first responders and public safety officers on the job were far more extensive than just PTSI and included broader operational stress injuries. We heard that though many will develop PTSI, they are far more likely to suffer from depression and substance abuse. Sadly, they are more likely die by suicide.
We heard from witnesses who told us that the research and data within the military context is 15 years ahead of what is available with respect to public safety officers and that very little is known about the incidence and prevalence of OSls among public safety officers.
During our study, we heard from the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, which is doing tremendous work to support our military personnel and veterans facing mental health issues.
Our committee called on the government to use our report to develop a national strategy; to create a Canadian institute for public safety officer health research, an advisory council, and an expert working group to develop policies; and to share research on prevention, screening, education, intervention, and treatment nationally. The committee also urged the government to study presumptive legislation for public safety officers, as several of our provincial cousins have.
That is why our committee recommended that PTSD be considered as falling within the broader health issue of operational stress injuries, defined as “persistent psychological difficulty resulting from operational duties performed while serving” as a public safety officer, along with other mental health problems, such as depression and substance abuse.
The committee heard from public safety officers regarding the uniqueness of their work environment and the fact that they see trauma in their own communities frequently. The officers could have connections and relationships with the people they serve.
Our committee called on the government to create a Canadian institute for public safety officer health research to “enhance the mental health and wellness of our Canadian public safety officers through evidence-based research, practices, policies and programs”.
I was pleased to read the Minister of Public Safety's response to our report, in which he said that the government recognized the need for many of our recommendations. I know that the Minister of Public Safety shares my concerns about the mental wellness of our public safety officers. After all, we need to take care of our public safety officers, because they take care of us. We have a responsibility to return our military personnel and public safety officers to their families as we received them, mentally well.
Caring for the health of our public safety officers, both mentally and physically, is not only important to their well-being but ensures that our communities are safe. RCMP, police, firefighters, corrections officers, paramedics, aboriginal firefighters, parole officers, and those who work alongside them told the committee that their members can suffer greatly from mental health illnesses because of their jobs.
I also have concerns about the terminology used in Bill C-211. Mental health issues faced by our veterans and public safety officers are much braoder than just post-traumatic stress disorder alone.
Since the public safety committee tabled our report, I have also heard from a number of nurses who have experienced operational stress inuries. One in particular stands out. An Oakville resident who had a long career as a nurse recently shared a personal story about a house fire that occurred more than 20 years ago, where a woman and her two children perished. The nurses who worked on the case faced severe psychological trauma. To those nurses, I want to recognize their injuries in this House and admit that we know very little about the impact of their jobs on their mental health, and we must do better.
I believe that a national strategy and the sharing of best practices by the federal government could benefit many employee groups who are suffering while recognizing the distinct differences in their work.
I know that the Minister of Health is aware of the effects traumatic events can have on our nurses. Recently, she wrote a letter outlining that she understands that caregivers and emergency staff who provide treatment are often dealing with difficult situations that may affect their own mental health and that there is a need to provide mental health support to our health care providers.
Finally, I believe that any conversation about this issue needs to include those stakeholders who have faced these issues, and they should be at the table as part of the discussion.
In conclusion, I am very pleased to support this bill. Bill C-211 has already raised, and will continue to raise, awareness on an important issue. Again, I applaud the hon. member on his efforts.