I want to thank the member for Edmonton Riverbend for his long-standing fight for bereavement leave in his home province of Alberta. I have worked with him on issues relating to men's mental health, and it is nice to be able to get up on issues that can be non-partisan to look after those who have been struggling the most. I also want to thank my colleague for Banff—Airdrie, with whom I shared the stage at the first-ever grief convention this year.
The context of the bill before us is really important, and I am speaking in support of it. The legislation would amend the Canada Labour Code to extend the period of an employee's compassionate care leave.
Why is this legislation so important? It is because it would allow employees to take time following the death of a family member to grieve and to make funeral preparations and family arrangements. It is important that Canadians be able to take care of their loved ones. Family is most important to all of us, and people need to be able to grieve and take care of their family affairs as needed without having to worry about losing their jobs.
We know that women still perform a lot of care work at home within families, and this disproportionately affects them to a higher degree. We also know that women tend to have lower earnings than men. The difference is even more pronounced in the case of racialized women. They are the ones who are most likely to need this leave and the least likely to be able to afford it. Making parallel changes to EI is even more important when it comes to this legislation.
I am glad to see that the bill seeks to extend the length of compassionate care leave to include time after the passing of a loved one. Right now, when a loved one passes away, their caregivers' leave ends and they are expected to return to work immediately, within a couple of days. We support the bill, but it would be nice to see the good work that it would do to extend leave for all families experiencing the loss of a loved one. As members know, death can occur suddenly or over an extended period of time, and grief is experienced in different ways for everyone.
While supporting the extended leave provisions, New Democrats would like to take the time to point out that there is a blind spot in the bill that the Conservatives have left out, and we propose that it be closed. It is that people have to be able to afford to take this time off, but the bill would not change EI benefits to reflect the additional leave provisions that we would like to see.
The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities did a report on supporting a family after the sudden loss of a child, and I think that there are some important lessons we can learn there. They include following up on the recommendations in the report, including expanding job protection for parents on bereavement leave, creating a pan-Canadian resource centre to support grieving parents and individuals going through the loss of a loved one, and making sure that employees in the federal government help with things like EI applications for grieving parents with compassion and understanding. There is a lot of work that needs to surround this type of bill.
I want to take a few minutes to relate some information that was shared with me from Camp Kerry BC, which is one of the few not-for-profit organizations that provide bereavement services to hospices right across Canada. I think of the hospices in my riding in Comox Valley, Oceanside, Alberni Valley and the west coast of Vancouver Island. Their support is so important for families during their grieving period.
It is estimated that between five and seven people are impacted significantly for every death, and each person who is affected will likely experience some or all of the following lifelong symptoms as the effects of complicated and unresolved grief: anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction and other disorders, suicide, homelessness, the loss of education, the loss of work and more.
Many people who are homeless and many who are incarcerated suffer from unresolved and complicated grief, yet most institutions and counsellors in Canada are just not equipped or trained to screen and to provide trauma-informed bereavement counselling. Unlike other developed nations, such as the U.K., the U.S., Ireland, New Zealand and many others, Canada still does not even have a national bereavement strategy
We also fail to acknowledge grief as a natural response to loss. We do not have any legislation that adequately addresses that. The limited time off for bereavement leave is only five days, three paid, unless a child has disappeared or died as a result of a probable crime. There is virtually no funding specifically designated toward bereavement care or toward organizations that provide bereavement services. We have been advocating for better supports for those groups. We would like to see organizations like Camp Kerry and hospices get more federal funding, especially now that we are in a pandemic, which has had an incredible impact on the experience of death and loneliness of people here in Canada.
The need for extending bereavement leave, and for our government to designate funding specifically toward these organizations that have a proven record of providing grief services, is long overdue. The average overall number of deaths in Canada was predicted to increase substantially as a result of the pandemic. It has not, but the mental health implications associated with the distancing restrictions and funerals is overwhelming Canadians, and this will likely increase during the pandemic's duration, as well as the number of symptomatic cases that bereavement and mental health services will see in the future.
We know that it is very important. The pandemic has caused a dramatic increase in isolation, anxiety and mental health challenges in Canada and around the world. We know these unfortunate circumstances are creating the perfect storm for long-term complicated grief.
I want to read a quote from the Camp Kerry Society:
For those in our community who lost a loved one just before or during the pandemic, the impacts of increased physical and social isolation are even more significant. Imagine facing the challenges of learning to be a single parent in the midst of home schooling, losing your job or perhaps working more hours in a now dangerous job? Or consider what it would feel like to grieve the loss of your child without the hugs, help and shared tears of your extended family? These are the emotional, social and financial challenges of the children and families we are trying to reach this year through our services.
It is heartbreaking. We also know the impact is even more complex in indigenous communities, stemming from the depths of the multi-generational legacy of colonialism, forced impoverishment, violence, residential school trauma, the sixties scoop of indigenous children and the legacy of previous pandemics. This history compounds grief and increases the risk for negative outcomes such as suicide, homelessness, addiction, crime and victimization. A large portion of first nations communities across Canada feel overwhelmed and triggered by the current pandemic. I see, with the Nuu-chah-nulth people in the territories where I live, how this has impacted them culturally, especially around the grieving process when they have lost a loved one. We have lost many people in our communities since the pandemic started, and there are not enough supports for them. Right now we can see that. The Canada Labour Code gives employees the right to request changes to their work hours and whatnot, but right now people need more than that.
Provisions in the Employment Insurance Act allow up to 15 weeks of paid benefits to eligible applicants with a note signed by a medical practitioner. It currently states that one must request a note from an approved family practitioner in order to access medical leave that is payable for up to 15 weeks, but the issue with this arrangement is that the laws do not acknowledge or define bereavement as a natural response to death. Groups like Camp Kerry believe that bereavement leave ought to reflect just that. In fact, the current laws require people to get a DSM-5 diagnosis that indicates they have a disorder. It forces practitioners to inappropriately diagnose their patients, simply so they can take time off of work.
A lot of work needs to be done on this. There needs to be more funding and support for local hospices, for local groups like Camp Kerry, and for education and training for professionals. We also want to see those extended supports, and not just for people in the public service, but well beyond that. We would like to see that legislated. We would like to see it go farther, and we need a national bereavement strategy: one that is supported by the federal government.
Again, I want to thank my good friend and colleague from Edmonton Riverbend for his important work, and all of the members in the House who will hopefully support this bill.