Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today in the House to lend my support to Bill C-211.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a difficult challenge for many Canadians and their loved ones. We need to do more to help Canadians from all walks of life living with this condition.
I want to thank my colleague from Cariboo—Prince George for bringing this very important bill forward. I want to thank people from home, the Port Alberni Fire Department, who are watching this live. They have been advocating for a long time for us to deal with PTSD. I also want to thank all the first responders and nations in my community who contributed to help advise me and those who are in the chamber who have been affected by PTSD.
At present, we lack the resources to even begin addressing these challenges. PTSD touches all Canadians in one way or another and we need a national approach to solve it.
Nearly one in 10 Canadians experience post-traumatic stress at some point in their lives. Bill C-211 is a strong step toward helping these Canadians. It sheds much needed light on a disorder too often kept in the darkness. Many people struggle with the stigma attached with mental illness. Particularly, it is difficult to articulate how the effects of trauma continue to manifest in a variety of symptoms. Canadians do not lack in compassion, but we are failing to provide the resources that people need to deal with mental illness.
As I mentioned, the bill is a very strong step, but I am concerned with some of the limits in its scope. It calls for a conference within the next 12 months between the ministries of health, veterans affairs, and National Defence, provincial groups, and health care providers to determine a framework to begin addressing PTSD. I am very happy to see that. These measures include: establish a program to monitor and track rates of PTSD and its social and economic costs at the national level; establish best practices guidelines for health care providers to diagnose and treat PTSD; and create an awareness program to help spread the word across the country around the issues and challenges that people with PTSD face.
We know we are lagging behind our fellow OECD countries when it comes to the funding for mental health. This is inadequate. We must do better.
I am glad the bill calls for collaboration among the ministries of health, defence, and veterans affairs. How we choose to support our veterans, as my friend from Windsor West talked about, will be a key part of the legacy of both the current and previous governments. Many veterans in my riding come home with PTSD. I see them on the doorstep. They are vocalizing the lack of supports they need. Now is also the time for us to take a really hard look at ourselves and how we treat our vets. We see the impact that prolonged military engagements have had on our bravest service men and women and we are failing them.
While the Prime Minister reminds us that we have a sacred obligation to our veterans, very little has been done for those who are falling through the cracks. This is in large part due to the traumatic events they have bravely volunteered to face for our country.
The bill also calls for a better collection of data related to cases of PTSD across Canada. Canada has been described as a country of trials and pilot projects when it comes to health care. We often have innovative projects that result in great outcomes and knowledge. However, when it comes to implementation and education across the country, we fall behind. At the moment, Canada has little to no data at the national level informing our policy on PTSD.
In my riding, despite the best efforts of some truly amazing health care professionals, our health care system is in a state of crisis. The bill would help immensely to bring the level of PTSD awareness up across the country. It would help ensure that the knowledge and research of experts is shared with practitioners and a framework is adopted for everyone.
PTSD is a significant issue for first responders, police personnel, firefighters, and the countless others we ask to assist in emergency situations. According to the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, 68 first responders committed suicide in 2016. This is a tragedy and we need to have better support for these individuals. It is staggering how little consistency there is to support these professionals from province to province. We need to take the lead at the federal level to establish a national framework.
One RCMP officer put it to me like this: “We should not have to beg and jump over fences to get the help we need.” I could not agree with him more.
In the small communities in my riding, first responders often get called to fatal emergency sites of people they personally know. It is difficult for these individuals to describe the feeling of isolation and helplessness that this can create.
While these individuals are hard at work keeping our communities safe, they often struggle in their personal lives. One individual spoke about how something as everyday as a car driving by pulled him back to the scene of a particularly devastating accident. That accident was 10 years ago, but the vivid details still linger for him. This is all too often the case.
Another individual had this to say about a recent experience: “In this last couple of days, I've experienced some overwhelming emotions that I haven't experienced a lot in my previous nine and a half years on the job. On a Thursday nightshift during a response to a stabbing, during the treating of the victim before ambulance arrived, my partner was working directly in front of me. Due to the nature of injuries, we both had to be very hands on, totally focused on patient care. It was during this time that I had this feeling of wanting to keep looking over my shoulder. After the patient was packaged, my partner went with paramedics to assist. As I walked back to the blood-covered clothes and started looking at all the equipment we had used, I felt this overwhelming sense of being alone. As I gathered up our equipment and drove alone to the hospital to pick up my partner, the full weight of trauma set in.”
I want to thank these brave individuals who took the time to share their stories with me. We are doing this for them, and for the countless others who keep our communities safe. It is vital that this bill includes the Department of Public Safety in its framework.
We also need to have a meaningful look at how we handle mental health for indigenous peoples. I wish that this bill did more to address these challenges, but ultimately it falls to the government to do more. Many first nations people are living with trauma and damage from the lingering horrors and effects of the residential school system. They are living with PTSD. Unfortunately, suicide and illness are a common part of life in my community, and in communities across this country. The legacy of residential schools cannot be downplayed.
This is a key opportunity for us to address their suffering, which is too often ignored by Ottawa. I know that many of the communities in my own riding have established, but heavily underfunded programs that rely on counselling, traditional healing, and other services to help their members.
I urge the House to consider those people and their programs as they confront PTSD. I want to conclude my remarks by reminding my colleagues in the House that partisanship must not stop us from addressing the challenge of post-traumatic stress disorder. It touches homes and communities across the country. New Democrats and I are proud to support those in this House and others who are taking actions to deal with this tragic disorder. We sincerely hope that we can get both education and treatment for those who need it.