That, in the opinion of the House the government should: (a) establish a national suicide prevention action plan, including among its provisions (i) commitment to the actions and resources required to establish culturally appropriate community-based suicide prevention programs as articulated by representative organizations of the Inuit, First Nations, and Métis peoples, (ii) establishment of national guidelines for best practices in suicide prevention based on evidence of effectiveness in a Canadian context, (iii) the creation of a national public health monitoring program for the prevention of suicide and identification of groups at elevated risk, (iv) creation of programs to identify, and to attempt to fill, gaps in knowledge relating to suicide and its prevention, including timely and accurate statistical data, (v) development of tools to promote responsible and safe reporting of suicide and its prevention by media, (vi) establishment of national standards for the training of persons engaged in suicide prevention, whose contact with potentially vulnerable populations provides an opportunity to identify at-risk individuals and direct them to appropriate assessment and treatment, (vii) creation of a national online hub providing essential information and guides to accessing services, in English, French, selected Indigenous languages, and other languages spoken widely in Canada for suicidal individuals, their families and friends, people bereaved by a loved one’s suicide, workplaces and other stakeholders concerned with suicide prevention, (viii) conducting within 18 months comprehensive analyses of high-risk groups of people, and the risk factors specific to each such group, the degree to which child sexual abuse and other forms of childhood abuse and neglect have an impact on suicidal behaviour, the barriers to Canadians accessing appropriate and adequate health, wellness and recovery services, including substance use, addiction and bereavement services, the funding arrangements required to provide the treatment, education, professional training and other supports required to prevent suicide and assist those bereaved by a loved one’s suicide, the use of culturally appropriate suicide prevention activities and best practices, the role that social media plays with respect to suicide and suicide prevention, means to reduce stigma associated with being a consumer of mental health, bereavement and other associated services, and ways in which society can reduce access to means and methods for people to harm themselves; and (b) report to Parliament annually on preparations for and implementation of the national action plan for suicide prevention, including data on progress over the previous year, and a comprehensive statistical overview of suicide in Canada for the same year.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today for my first intervention in the new House to move a motion on the need to establish a national suicide prevention action plan. This motion presents an opportunity for members of Parliament to work together and do what it takes to resolve Canada's suicide crisis.
I want to say at the beginning of my speech how honoured I am to be rising in this new chamber, this new Parliament, that was smudged by Claudette Commanda of the Algonquin nation, the first time in any legislature in any nation. We begin this new Parliament with a sense of hope and commitment to making change. I take very seriously my opportunity to speak on a matter as important as this.
I think back to one of the first debates we had in this 42nd Parliament, not a debate but a common discussion, during the Attawapiskat suicide crisis in 2012. It was a powerful moment for this Parliament because members came together. The problem is that the deaths continue, and good words alone will not change the reality unless we come together to recognize the role that the federal government has to play.
There is an example that shows that it is possible for Canada to find a solution. Twenty years ago, Quebec established a provincial plan to reduce the rate of suicide among Quebeckers, and the outcome was extraordinary. This plan reduced the number of suicides in Quebec by 40%. Imagine the positive impact a similar plan established by the Parliament of Canada could have at the national level.
Suicide touches every one of us. It touches all our communities. It touches across age groups, across race. I come at this issue from the experience I have seen in the communities of the far north, through one horrific crisis after another, and realizing that without the support of a coherent strategy, children have needlessly died, and will continue to die, unless we change.
I was recently at Northern Lights Secondary School in James Bay. I walked into that school, and I saw a school of hope. I saw young people engaged. I saw them playing music. I could feel it in the halls, that sense of determination and of a future. I remember being there 10 years ago in the middle of the suicide crisis. I saw the trauma on the faces of the first responders and the families, because children were dying, not singly but in twos and threes. At that time, there was no one from the federal or provincial governments, no departments, helping out.
Ron Pate, who was the principal, said he would keep the school open all night long, every night. He said he was not going to lose another child on his watch. Those words have stayed with me ever since.
What kind of nation sits back and does nothing while its young people lose hope? What kind of nation chooses to clip the wings of its youth?
What kind of nation sits back as young people are dying and does not send in all the support necessary and learn the lessons so that we can change this? How is it possible that we can have these patterns again and again without putting in place a coherent response?
Again, from my region and the region that I represent, where we have seen some of the highest suicide rates in the world, I have seen the potential of young people to transform this nation. Every time we lose a young person, we are losing the future of our nation.
We have lost Sheridan Hookimaw, Deandra Anderson, Chantel Fox, Jenera Roundsky, Jolynn Winter, Azraya Kokopenace, Emily Ellison, Amy Owen, Kanina Sue Turtle, all in the last few years. I want their names on the record, because those children were loved.
We are here to tell their families and their community that they did not die in vain. We have an obligation to work together for young people like Amy Owen, who wrote on Facebook that life was so hard she could not go on, at age 12. That is not the Canada that I want to be in, and that is not the Canada any of us want to be in. We, as a Parliament, can make a difference.
We have models, but we need to first of all establish a community-based response that is culturally understanding of the various realities in our country. The last thing we need is another Health Canada program with posters. That will not change anything. We need to be empowering and ensure that the grassroots organizations, cultural organizations, indigenous organizations are at the table to say what they need, because they know what works. That would be a big step along the way of making change.
We also need to develop national evidence-based best practices. We do not have to invent rocket science here. There are mental health organizations and indigenous organizations that know what needs to be done, but they need a willing partner.
We need to raise awareness about how coverage of suicide in the media is dealt with. It is said that suicide rates increased 10% in the United States after the death of Robin Williams. We need to talk about media. We also need to talk about bereavement in families who are left on their own and have no one to talk to.
The fundamental difference between suicide and other health crises is that suicide is like a psychic shock wave. It goes through a family, a community, a school, and its lingering effects are for life. We have seen this particularly in the far northern communities when we do not respond with a coherent strategy. That psychic shock wave has echo effects, so we start to see, especially in young people, imitative behaviours that are incredibly destructive.
We need a national online resource hub, in multiple languages, to reach people. That is something that the federal government could do. We need to have a set of national training standards for people who are engaged in suicide prevention work and those who want to know how to help, so that we have better protocols and it is easier to access those protocols.
The other thing is that we need a coherent set of numbers. If I said that 11 people are dying every day in car accidents, we would say that is terrible, that people should drive more safely because 4,000 plus people die every year. We use those numbers about suicide. However, what if we started to point out that we had the evidence that they are not dying at random, that there are pressure points? If we said in a car accident case that a number of people died at one crosswalk, we would go there to find out what was wrong.
Without the statistical evidence and a coherent strategy, we do not know where to put the resources in place. For example, I was shocked in my research that the highest numbers we were coming across were in middle-age men. Why is that? No one was talking about that. I know that when a mill shuts down or a factory shuts down, people anecdotally will say, yes, and then they started to die. If we identified the risk in advance, we could start to reach out to those men and have the programs in place, so that those who are losing their jobs in times of transition are not on their own. This is what evidence gives us. Evidence gives us a focus to move forward, and that is something that the federal government can do.
I have been at this business in Parliament, and honoured to do this, for many years. One thing I have come to realize is that the government members get up, hug us, and say it is a wonderful motion and dear to their hearts and then nothing ever happens. This is why the motion calls on the federal government to do a regular progress report to Parliament.
If we have the progress report on the numbers on issues of identifying factors such as child sexual abuse, if the government is obligated to present to Parliament an annual report, then we can begin to see how we are making a difference and if we are making a difference. Where we are not making a difference, we can start to ask why.
That was the real beauty of the Quebec model. It began to say it could change things by identifying where the problems were and putting resources there. We are the only G7 country without a national suicide action plan. It astounds me that in some regions of Canada we have the highest suicide rates in the world, yet every time a number of young people die the best we get is a tweet from a minister saying that it is a tragedy. It is not a tragedy; it is preventable.
I saw this in the Attawapiskat crisis. We saw it in Neskantaga and La Loche. We have seen it again and again. A tragedy is when a child walks out and gets hit by a bus. However, when a pattern is repeated again and again, we have to ask ourselves what is causing that pattern. What are the numbers?
For example, in the far north, we did not have the on-the-ground proactive teams that limited and diminished the risks to young people. We did not have access to mental health services. We did not have any understanding or any way to find out whether child sexual abuse was a factor. We needed that in each of these cases.
We have gathered support across this country. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention has been doing incredible work on this. For years, it has been asking for this strategy. The Canadian Medical Association supports it, as well as the regional Chiefs of Ontario, the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association and the Canadian Nurses Association.
I want to pay special tribute to Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, ITK, and its president Natan Obed, who established a plan for the Inuit. ITK is getting really good statistics so it can start to identify the problems.
I want to give a special thanks to Jack Hicks, who has been one of the front-line advocates for getting a strategy for suicide prevention. He approached my office during the horrific suicide crisis in Wapekeka, when we lost Chantel Fox, Jolyn Winter and Jenera Roundsky. The trauma of those deaths led to numerous other young women dying in that far north of Treaty 9. Jack asked us why we were not putting in place this national strategy. We were overwhelmed and dealing reactively, and he said that it was time Parliament acted proactively.
Therefore, I come to my colleagues across the political spectrum saying that as legislators, as adults, as parents, as the people who are supposed to be the voice of Canada, we need to start talking about how we address this horrific crisis that is causing so much pain and devastation. For any person we lose, we are losing the future of our nation. I look into the eyes of young people and ask myself how they can give up. How can they not believe that this nation is there for them? If we are not there for them, we have failed.
This is our opportunity. In the dying days of a Parliament that has been pretty fractious, one that has perhaps not lived up to what Canadians expected of it, we can do something that says that, together, we are going to put people first and start to talk about how to deal with the horrifying crisis of suicide.