Motion No. 110
That the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities be instructed to undertake a study of the impact on parents who have suffered the loss of an infant child, including in the case of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), to consider, among other things, (i) ways to improve the level of compassion and support for parents who have suffered the loss of an infant child, (ii) ways to ensure that parents do not suffer any undue financial or emotional hardship as a result of the design of government programming, particularly from Employment Insurance Parental Benefits; that the Committee hold a minimum of six meetings to hear from witnesses that include parents who have lost an infant to SIDS, organizations who advocate for SIDS families, experts in the area of grief counselling, as well as officials responsible for the Employment Insurance Parental Benefits program; and that the Committee report its findings and recommendations to the House within six months of the adoption of this motion, and that it be instructed to request a comprehensive government response to its report, pursuant to Standing Order 109.
Madam Speaker, it is my honour to rise in this House today, on behalf of far too many grieving families, to speak to Motion No. 110, which would call on the human resources committee to study the impact on parents who have suffered the loss of an infant child.
It is an honour for me to move this motion in the House on behalf of these families. It calls for more compassion from the government.
The motion would make a huge difference in the lives of so many Canadian families touched by the tragedy of losing an infant child. The birth of a child should be a magical and wonderful moment, and despite the sleep deprivation that follows, the first years of a child's life are truly a blessing. Too often, all of that goes wrong for many Canadian families.
Motion No. 110 will hopefully be the first step in helping to improve the compassion shown for families in these situations. This problem first came to my attention when I was contacted by the Cormiers, a family in my constituency, who shared their story with me. Sarah and Lee welcomed their daughter Quinn, a beautiful baby girl, into the world in 2014. Tragedy hit only four months later, when Quinn fell asleep and never woke up. She passed away from sudden infant death syndrome, which is more commonly referred to as SIDS.
Sarah and Lee were struck with disbelief, shock, and obviously with overwhelming heartbreak. Amidst their deep grieving, in the aftermath of one of the most difficult times any parent could imagine, the Cormiers' parental benefits were immediately cut off. A Service Canada agent informed the Cormiers they would need to pay back the money that was given to them during the week after Quinn's death. One can only imagine how they felt when that conversation happened. What is even more shocking is that this is not an isolated incident.
It is far too cruel for parents who are going through their darkest hours. The government should be leading the way, standing shoulder to shoulder with parents like Sarah and Lee. These parents are not asking for help beyond what has already been committed to them. They are simply asking for compassion, for understanding, and for time to grieve and heal without needing to worry about financial burdens.
Since that conversation with Sarah and Lee, I have been to rallies and memorial events all across Canada, and I have heard far too many similar heartbreaking stories far too many times. At one of these events, I remember encountering a woman who shared her story with me. She talked about how after her infant child had passed away, she was told that she had to go to the bank in person—it could not be done online, only in person—and organize a reimbursement to Service Canada. This was merely weeks after the tragedy had occurred.
She told me of her anguish. She told me how she drove to the bank, sat there in the parking lot overcome with grief and this terrible emotion, and simply was unable to bring herself to go into the bank and explain the situation to them. Who can blame her? Why would parents be forced to fill out needless bureaucratic paperwork, personally visit Service Canada locations, and have to be forced to share their stories with government agents over and over again when they are simply not ready to do so?
In no way is this healthy or beneficial for the parents. Those who force themselves through these ordeals often end up traumatized, and it affects their ability to properly heal. In light of this, many parents have turned their sorrows into action, taking opportunities to advocate for other families and for better support and compassion for the thousands who are affected every year. They raise funds, organize walks, and speak up, courageously sharing their stories.
Of course, this also ensures the memory of their child will never be lost. The Cormiers, whom I mentioned earlier, founded Quinn's Legacy Run as a way to commemorate their daughter, as well as all the children who are gone too soon, and provide financial support for families in Alberta who have suffered the loss of an infant to SIDS.
I have attended Quinn's Legacy Run in the past. The turnout is fantastic, and Sarah and Lee have done an incredible job at raising awareness and ensuring that their story is heard and that Quinn's legacy is remembered.
I have had the honour of attending numerous other events, such as the Edmonton Baby Steps Walk to Remember, the Calgary Walk to Remember, the No Foot Too Small Awareness Walk in Saskatoon, the Sherwood Park Baby Steps Walk to Remember, the Vaughn's Memorial Color Run, and many others like it. The work these organizations are doing all across the country is important, because too many Canadian families are suffering in silence every year.
In Canada, approximately 15% to 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage and over a thousand pregnancies every year end in stillbirth. Furthermore, almost 2,000 infants in Canada die before the age of one every year, over half of which are lost to SIDS or to unknown causes. Pregnancy and infant loss is not an issue across our borders or somewhere overseas; it is an issue that is hitting home right here, right now, and it hurts. It hurts a lot of people. I guarantee each member in this House of Commons has constituents who have suffered the tragedy of infant loss.
Under our current system, if a pregnancy ends in miscarriage or stillbirth, the mother is not entitled to any supplementary maternity benefit because the purpose is to give her time to recover from childbirth. If the baby dies during the mother's maternity leave, benefits are immediately cut off. Also, if a baby dies while the mother or father is on parental leave, benefits end immediately. When the baby dies, the support ends. In some families, that might mean that the mother or father has to return to work the week after their child's death.
The emotional turmoil that a family must be going through when they discover that their newborn has passed away is certainly difficult enough. However, we then force these parents to file paperwork, visit Service Canada, and make numerous calls to banks and other institutions to figure out what is available to them or what they have to do. That is clearly a flaw in our system. Families who have lost an infant are in need of our compassion. Studies show that parents who lose their child experience the most intense and often enduring stress.
As a father, I cannot even begin to imagine the pain felt by parents like the Cormiers, who lost their daughter Quinn. Fortunately, there are many great organizations devoted to helping families that have suffered infant loss. Groups like Gardens of GRACE, Cradles for Cuddles, the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Network, Hazel's Heroes, the Butterfly Run, the Vaughn Sawchuk Foundation, Empty Arms perinatal loss support services, A Walk to Remember, Baby's Breath Canada, and the October 15 campaign all advocate to raise awareness of infant loss and offer support to care for bereaved families.
The October 15 campaign holds an annual walk to remember the children who were gone too soon. Cuddle Cots for Canada allows parents to spend more time with their child after the child has passed. Hope boxes of support materials are sent to grieving parents across the country.
Paula Harmon from Gardens of GRACE in Nova Scotia, Annick Robinson from Cuddle Cots based in Montreal, Rachel and Rob Samulack from the Butterfly Run in Ottawa—Gatineau, and Sarah Cormier from the Quinn's Legacy Run Society are all here. We have with us other advocates as well. They are here in Parliament this week to support this motion as it is being debated in the House of Commons.
A number of provinces across this country, New Brunswick, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Ontario, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan, have all issued proclamations. Numerous municipalities across the country have also declared proclamations in support of these families and in support of remembrance.
It is time that we, as parliamentarians here in this House of Commons, joined in helping families who have suffered the tragedy of pregnancy and infant loss. I believe that we can do more to stand up and find better ways to support Canadian families by listening to parents who have lost an infant.
I want to thank a number of people, because this is a motion that has been brought forward in the greatest spirit of nonpartisanship in an attempt to give all parliamentarians on all sides of the House an opportunity to work together to make a difference in the lives of these grieving families.
I want to particularly thank some of my colleagues: the MP for Elgin—Middlesex—London, who is the opposition critic for children and families, for her efforts and support on behalf of this motion; the NDP critic, the MP for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, for her support and efforts in helping to push and advance this forward; and so many other colleagues I have spoken to about this, colleagues on all sides of the House and in all parties who have expressed their support and their interest in trying to do something to try to help these families.
I also want to thank all of those who have written letters, signed petitions, and called or met with their MPs to encourage them to support this motion. There are so many people all across Canada who have done just that. It gives us all an opportunity to understand and put a personal face on the stories we have heard, to really understand the impact this has on so many Canadian families, and to know that we have the ability, here in this place, to do something about it.
That is what we are seeking to do today: pass a motion that will have a study by a committee of the House of Commons to look at these issues and to hear from parents and families, to hear from those who advocate for those parents and families, to hear from grief counsellors, to hear from medical experts, to hear from all of those who could help us find a way to give these parents an opportunity to grieve without imposing extra financial or emotional burdens on them at the bureaucratic level when there is no need for that.
We need to be there to support them, not to add extra trauma at a time when they are going through something none of us could even begin to imagine.
Most importantly, I would like to thank the parent advocates all across this country who have had the courage—and I can only imagine the immense amount of courage—to share their stories of grief and heartbreak in order to try to help others. If they have the courage to do just that after what they have faced and what they have been through, then it is incumbent upon all of us as parliamentarians to have that same courage and that same compassion and to step forward and do something that is very easily within our power to do to fix the situation.
There cannot be excuses. There cannot be any excuses. There is no reason for excuses. This is simple. It is easy to fix. It is the least we can do. I certainly hope that all members of this House of Commons will join with me in standing shoulder to shoulder with these families in their darkest time and do something to ease that burden and make that load a little lighter. It is totally within our ability to do so.
That is why I encourage all members of this House to vote in favour of Motion No. 110. May we support Canadians with not just our words but with our actions. We need to show some compassion for grieving parents.