House of Commons Hansard #196 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was regard.


Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is the crux of my bill: to ensure that our government and future governments continue to work with our provincial legislators, our territorial legislators, our academics, and our industry to ensure that a hero in the east is treated the same as a hero in the west.

I ran out of time in my speech, and I just want to leave another comment with the House. This is a note I received today from the mother of a recently fallen officer. It says, “Mr. Doherty, I want you to know if you can do one thing, remind your colleagues that they're not just police officers. They're not just firefighters, paramedics, or veterans; they are human. They hurt, and sometimes they need help too. Who rescues the rescuers? They are someone's son, daughter, husband, wife, and they are someone's father and mother.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, a speech like that from the member for Cariboo—Prince George shows the House of Commons at its best. When he arrived here 600-plus days ago, he wanted to help first responders. I am really proud of his efforts and I am proud to second the bill. I am also very proud of government members who have spoken passionately about this subject.

When I was in the Canadian Armed Forces, it was following the crash of Swiss Air in Nova Scotia that I heard the words “operational stress injury” for the first time. In the two decades since that, Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs have become experts in trying to diagnose, treat, and help people with operational stress injuries.

This is an area where the federal government really can bring national expertise to bear and make sure there is not a patchwork of care across the country. We can be the champion to help create that national framework that anyone who serves our country in the uniformed services needs.

Could I ask my friend to outline how the expertise with the road to mental readiness, the wellness training of the Canadian Armed Forces, and the resiliency training we have developed federally can help our first responders from coast to coast to coast?

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question from the member for Durham. I want to acknowledge that he is one of the first members of Parliament I reached out to when I first arrived here. Through his work with the True Patriot Love foundation, he truly gets the debilitating effects that post-traumatic stress disorder has on our vets, our military, and our first responders,

He is absolutely right. We have organizations and groups that are doing some incredible work that countries around the world are paying attention to. The Canadian Forces R2MR program is being used and can be used for first responders. I was in Edmonton in early fall last year, and Fire Station No. 1 was adapting the Canadian military's R2MR to help prepare new recruits for what they are going to see. Nothing fully prepares them for the tragedy they are going to experience, the sights and smells.

The R2MR program used by the Canadian Forces over the last while is one we can truly be proud of, and that is exactly what we are talking about: consistent care and diagnosis from coast to coast to coast. That is what we are looking to do.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne Québec


Sherry Romanado LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to private member's bill, Bill C-211, an act respecting a federal framework on post-traumatic stress disorder.

Bill C-211 was introduced by the member for Cariboo—Prince George and calls on the Minister of Health to spearhead a concerted effort aimed at developing a federal framework to address a complex issue.

I would like to thank the member for Cariboo—Prince George for bringing this to the House. I would like to take a moment to talk about the important issue of post-traumatic stress disorder, otherwise known as PTSD in Canada.

As the daughter and spouse of firefighters, and the mother of two serving Canadian Armed Forces members, the issue of PTSD is a personal one for me. We have come a long way in our collective understanding of PTSD since it was first added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association in 1980.

This addition was a significant turning point, because it formally acknowledged PTSD as an acquired mental health condition rather than a personal shortcoming. During the last decade, neuroimaging studies have reaffirmed that PTSD is real and measurable. Researchers can now observe the brain circuits that mediate this disorder.

Unfortunately, sensational media coverage has helped perpetuate the stereotype that people with PTSD are psychotic and violent, which is an inaccurate portrayal of this mental illness.

A traumatic event involves exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence. It may be a one-time incident or involve sustained or repeated exposure.

Exposure can involve experiencing the traumatic event first-hand or witnessing or hearing about a traumatic event that happened to others.

The traumatic event or events completely wipe out the individual's capacity to deal with or process the thoughts and emotions related to the incident.

Events that may be associated with PTSD include combat exposure, childhood abuse, sexual assault, and physical violence. Many other traumatic events can be associated with PTSD, such as natural disasters, intimate partner violence, and other extreme or life-threatening events. PTSD can develop immediately after someone experiences a disturbing event, or it can develop weeks, months, or even years later.

According to a 2008 study, about 9% of people in Canada will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. This is consistent with the worldwide prevalence, which ranges between 7% and 12%. Studies show that females are twice as likely to develop PTSD compared to males, but males are less likely than females to seek help. Children and adolescents also experience this disorder, and genetics may make some people more likely to develop it than others.

We also know that certain populations are at increased risk for PTSD because their jobs expose them to extreme and traumatic events that may be recurring. While many associate PTSD with military service, it can manifest in first responders, firefighters, corrections officers, emergency room personnel, victims of crime, and members of the RCMP.

The few studies that have been conducted indicate that between 10% and 35% of first responders will develop PTSD, and the lifetime prevalence of this disorder among active members of the Canadian Armed Forces is 11%. Unfortunately, there is not enough quality data to provide a clear and complete picture of the prevalence, and social and economic impacts of PTSD in Canada.

Collecting quality data on the prevalence and impact of PTSD in Canada is only part of the solution. Another important aspect is raising public awareness about this mental illness.

Although Canadians have become much more aware of this problem in recent years, there are still gaps in their knowledge and understanding of PTSD symptoms and treatment.

As with many other mental illnesses, a big problem is that, unfortunately, the stigma associated with PTSD prevents many people from getting help and prevents others from recognizing the symptoms associated with this mental illness.

Developing PTSD is not a sign of weakness. Many factors play a part in whether a person will experience PTSD, and it will manifest itself differently for different people. Risk factors make a person more likely to develop PTSD, while protective factors can help build resilience and reduce the risk of developing this disorder.

Risk factors include having prior trauma, having been abused as a child, having pre-existing mental health issues, and having a family history of mental illness. Other socio-economic risk factors include lower levels of income and education, and being from an ethnic minority. Following a traumatic event, people who lack social supports are also at a higher risk.

Protective factors include seeking and receiving support from friends and family, finding a support group, and having positive coping strategies. Researchers study the importance and interplay of risk and protective factors. Their findings continue to inform our understanding of PTSD, including the development of effective preventive and treatment approaches.

While symptoms vary from one individual to the next, those affected by PTSD often relive a traumatic event they experienced either through flashbacks and nightmares or by being exposed to situations that trigger memories of the traumatic experience. Some symptoms include negative thoughts, feelings of isolation or distress, and lack of reaction or fear.

People with PTSD might also have sleep disorders, anxiety, and depressive behaviour, or feel paralyzed at the thought of doing the simplest task.

It is also common for individuals with PTSD to self-medicate by using drugs or alcohol.

With such a range of symptoms, it is not surprising that this disorder can also reduce a person's ability to function in relationships, at work, and in leisure activities.

Without proper treatment, the symptoms of PTSD can get worse and have lasting and devastating effects including substance abuse, chronic pain, hypertension, self-mutilation, and suicide.

Growing evidence shows that early treatment of trauma symptoms may reduce the risk of developing PTSD. This suggests that identification and early intervention using evidence-based treatments is critical to preventing this disorder. PTSD affects people differently, so a treatment that works for one person may not work for another. Some people with this disorder need to try different treatments to find what works for them. Recovery is more complicated for people who have endured repeated trauma, and for those who were traumatized early in life.

The idea is to develop more personalized, effective, and efficient treatments, and possibly even to prevent the disorder from ever manifesting.

Diverse areas of research continue to provide pieces of the puzzle bringing us closer to understanding the whole picture of PTSD. I am inspired by the work done on PTSD, not only by federal departments but also by provinces, territories, and advocacy groups across this country.

We need to come together to break the stigma and to allow those suffering, and the families who suffer along with them, to get the help they need. Today, we come together, we put partisanship aside, and we support our everyday heroes.

I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak about this important issue in the House of Commons.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise and speak to Bill C-211, an act respecting a federal framework on post-traumatic stress disorder.

I would like to thank the member for Cariboo—Prince George for putting this legislation forward. His approach in getting the bill through the House is very professional. It is important to recognize that members of Parliament can work together, and this legislation is a good example of that co-operation.

There are a couple of points that I want to note with regard to the bill, but first I want to tell the House one of the reasons I have such an interest in the bill.

Some of the people in Windsor West who might be watching us today are from Branch 143 of the Royal Canadian Legion. It was during my time as a member of Parliament that I learned about the seriousness of what is taking place and the commitment that our men and women in the military make, both overseas and in Canada.

About 10 years ago, I had one of the most interesting and life-changing moments of my life. I was invited to participate in a discussion group at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 143. Also present were a number of individuals who were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. That intimate exposure was certainly important. These were not just soldiers who fought in Afghanistan. They were World War II veterans, Korean veterans, peacekeepers, and others who were all still struggling with the ordinary things in daily life. That experience helped to elevate my understanding of PTSD.

I was a social worker before I came to this place. I dealt with people who came to Canada as refugees. The trauma that they experienced in their countries is quite different from what people go through here in Canada. My job was to help them integrate into Canadian society, whether it was school or work or whatever. How can we take a young man who has lost his family and his house and then integrate him into our Canadian society? He himself might have volunteered in a hospital or another traumatic place while never receiving any type of support.

This legislation is important because it would help to bridge a gap. PTSD does not just affect military personnel. It affects first responders and other citizens in all of society. We need to understand that mental health and illness issues are a life-long journey for all of us. People should not be ashamed of these issues and should not be afraid to talk about them. More importantly, work needs to be done to provide the support that people need.

Windsor West lacks many services for children who need, for example, psychologists. This is a critical problem. We do not invest in mental health in the way we should, as we do in our other health areas. Not being able to deal with these kinds of issues on a regular basis affects all of us.

If, despite the overlap of jurisdictions, we can deal with this issue as a nation from coast to coast to coast, with all of the provinces and territories and all the municipalities, it will make Canada truly special and an example for others to follow. More importantly, we can achieve effective results.

It is important to outline a few things in the legislation that people may not understand. The bill talks about bringing together the appropriate ministers in a reporting process. I will not go into all of the details, but the bill proposes putting a system in place that could deal with PTSD. The bill is not talking only about consultation. A lot of people, especially our good men and women in service, have been consulted many times, and they need action.

I will be supporting the bill in its current state because although it includes the consultation process, it also talks about expectations, measurements, and deliverables. That will put the government of the day and members of Parliament of the day on notice that this is a serious issue that affects all Canadians. At the end of the day, we expect to see results, and the results mean helping people deal with the many different personal issues related to PTSD.

Those issues affect us so profoundly. The symptoms include everything from re-experiencing traumatic events over and over or reliving them, to recurring nightmares, disturbing memories of the event, acting or feeling as if the event is happening again, avoiding friends and family, drug addiction, being unable to feel pleasure, constant anxiety, difficulty concentrating, getting angry easily, sleeping difficulties, fearing harm from others, experiencing sudden attacks of dizziness, a fast heartbeat or shortness of breath, and fear of dying. All of these things, when left in a vacuum, are not helpful, not only to the individual but to society.

I would argue, not on the principle of doing this for mere ethics or because it is the right thing to do, but I would argue that it is a bond and social contract that should be expected in return by individuals who occupy professions that put them at risk in service to their communities and society.

We have decided to provide the supports necessary to allow the people in those occupations to not only have what they have today but in the future. That is a social contract for firefighters, police officers, soldiers, nurses, and paramedics. For all of the different occupations, there is a social contract that does not end when that occupation concludes. We are asking people to perform duties that put them at risk and affect their families as part of their jobs. The social contract we have is to provide the proper supports so they can continue to be productive and, most importantly, have good mental health.

We have an opportunity in the House to make a difference with the bill. The member for Cariboo—Prince George has provided the opportunity for all of us, in a non-partisan way, to end this session on a high note. New Democrats are very proud to be part of it. There are so many people who contribute so much. We have invested in training professionals, in their occupations, in being parents, and in being community leaders. If we do not take care of them, we are not taking care of ourselves.

One reason I like community activism is the ability to act. At the end of the day, the ability to act defines us differently as Canadians. When I look at all the campaigns to stop the shame of mental illness, many of them involve the corporate sector, the non-for-profit sector, and, where I come from, the professional sector. Some of the moments for our Afghanistan veterans have put things in a different light and we now have an opportunity to go forward.

I do not want to name people, but I will name one person, because it is an important chapter that will never get told. A gentleman in the Windsor area named Wayne Hillman was among a number of Canadians who served in Vietnam. He told me that our Afghanistan veterans are coming home with some of the same issues that he and his comrades had. They had no supports when they came home, even though they served in the American military. They finally got some psychological counselling and services, which helped them in their lives. The same thing has been happening here, so we need to apply those resources.

With this bill, let us apply even more resources. Let us make sure it not just captured in one occupation or profession. Let us make sure it is part of the normal Canadian practice and culture that mental illness and wellness is part of living healthy in a healthy society.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

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.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to speak to this important issue. I thank the member for Cariboo—Prince George for highlighting the tragedy of PTSD, putting forward concrete solutions to improve the treatment of PTSD in Canada and how we can support the men and women who suffer from it.

Today I will be very brief, as we all want this measure to move quickly through the House. Since time is of the essence, I would simply like to recount the story of a friend of mine, a veteran, and his recent experiences with the tragic consequences of how we treat people with PTSD. This man suffers from both pain from his injuries and PTSD from his experiences. He was once on a regimen of over 30 pills a day. That treatment was ineffective, so he turned to medical marijuana. It turned his life around. He could once again take part in his community and enjoy life.

Last month, Veterans Affairs Canada cut back the amount of cannabis that veterans could use, from 10 grams a day to three. My friends was taking eight grams. Since that action, he has suffered the worst six weeks of his life. His nightmares have returned, and he is only getting three hours of sleep a night. He repeatedly broke down crying while telling me his story.

He was told that this cut was implemented because there was not enough science to support the higher doses. Instead, he has been offered an opportunity to take part in a trial using psilocybin, or MDMA. Why can he not use the cannabis dose that gave him his life back instead of trying new, stronger hallucinogens?

He is also unwilling to go back to the mix of opioids and alcohol, and the dangerous dysfunctional life that produces. He was told that he could get a letter of exception to allow him his former dose of cannabis, but he needs to get that letter signed by a specialist who is willing and able to see him. The earliest appointment he can arrange is September, and that will require travel across the province at his expense.

That is a minimum of four more months of hell for him to satisfy pointless bureaucracy, and he would have to repeat that every year. This does not just affect him. There have been three suicides in his network of PTSD sufferers that use cannabis, since this cutback was implemented. Three lives have been needlessly taken because Veterans Affairs refused to listen to the men and women suffering from PTSD.

I will end there, but I would like to simply repeat that plea. Veterans Affairs should listen to and work constructively with the men and women suffering from PTSD. I wholeheartedly support this bill, because it will help that process.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Resuming debate.

Accordingly, we will go to the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George. The hon. member has up to five minutes for his right of reply.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, it was fitting that the hon. member for Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne was here to speak at third reading, because as I tabled it the very first day, so long ago, she was the first member of Parliament from the government to actually reach out and thank me. I want to thank her for her support and words of encouragement along the way.

Next I want to thank the friends, the families of the fallen, those who are suffering today, and some who have had very recent losses who are with us today. It is through their stories, their bravery, their courageous words, their perseverance, and their strength that we are here today, and I want to thank them.

At times in this House, we take jabs at each other. We are feisty. We are here to represent our electors the best way we know how. Often, partisan politics gets in the way. I tell everyone that QP is really just for TV, because behind the scenes, we work very collaboratively together. On this point, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Louis-Hébert for his work in helping steward this through to this point. He has been a great source of knowledge and has worked very diligently and honestly with us on this.

This is a non-partisan issue, as we see, and often it is with much paranoia that we enter into some of these discussions, but today we did a good thing, I hope.

I want to thank my friends from the NDP for the work they have done. I want to thank the health committee and my colleagues here who have helped get us to this point.

I challenged us last Friday, as I stood in the House to recognize a fallen officer from the Peel paramedics and the three other first responders who passed away last week. We know now that we have had two more in the last 48 hours. I said that day that we must do better. Today I think we are there. There is a lot of work yet to be done, but today we are sending a message that those lives matter and that those who fight for us, we are fighting for them.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

It being 2:12 p.m, this House stands adjourned until Monday, June 19, 2017 at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:12 p.m.)