Libby speaks out in support of a national suicide prevention strategy

House of Commons
October 4, 2011

You can view Libby's full speech at:

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry.

I am very pleased to participate in the debate today on this very important motion. I thank the member for Toronto Centre for bringing forward this motion. New Democrats support this motion wholeheartedly and are glad there is a thoughtful debate taking place in the House of Commons today. We cannot always say that there is thoughtful debate. This is a very important issue and I know many members will contribute to the debate.

I listened very carefully to the comments by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and while I appreciate that he told the House what it is the Government of Canada has been involved in, I feel there was a lack of information. It seems to me that the debate today, particularly for the Government of Canada, is an opportunity for some reflection, not just about what it thinks it is doing but about what is not being done.

I did not hear that in the parliamentary secretary's speech, which was disappointing because today all sides of the House are willing to hear that kind of debate. We want to hear from the government where it thinks it is not doing enough and we want it to ask the House to support a greater effort toward what needs to be done.

Presumably, we are having this debate because there is a great sense by the Government of Canada and all of us that there is a crisis. The member for Toronto Centre made the point that it is not just the government but all parties. We have not done enough on this issue. I wanted to begin my remarks that way because I am hoping that other government members will be more reflective and make part of the debate what the Government of Canada, from its point of view, needs to be doing in a better way.

One thing I would draw attention to are the underlying risk factors. The fact is that many studies have been done on the prevalence of suicide in groups that are at high risk. We have heard some of that in the debate today, such as aboriginal youth in the north in small and remote communities, but there are other demographics and populations that are at risk, like the LGBT community, veterans and seniors. There are many studies being put forward.

It seems to me that we do not pay enough attention to some of the underlying risk factors. The fact is that suicide is preventable if one understands what is taking place, whether it is on a personal level in terms of someone who may be suffering from depression and mental illness or someone who has gone through some sort of trauma and tragic circumstances, but there are also bigger societal, socio-economic and social conditions that are in effect.

We have seen it many times in our country. How many times have we turned to a particular channel on TV and heard the most tragic story of a string of suicides taking place in some small community? Surely, that has to be setting off alarm bells that there are social conditions in this country to do with poverty, isolation, lack of educational opportunities, overcrowding in housing, and a lack of the basic necessities of human dignity in life. Surely, these are assessments and risk factors that we should be looking at.

Another one would be stigma. If one looks at lesbian, gay and bisexual youth, we know they are at a much higher risk for attempting suicide than heterosexual youth, 28% versus 4% according to the Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of British Columbia. These statistics are very alarming.

The motion talks about a strategy and setting up a fund. We have to understand, grapple, and come to terms with some of the underlying risk factors that are operating within our country.

We think of Canada as this incredibly wealthy place, a place of opportunity, a place of incredible resources, great cities, a great environment, and yet we have these very alarming statistics. We have to ask ourselves why it is that we have a society where the gap is widening between people who are doing exceptionally well and people who are being left behind, people who are living in poverty. I hope that in today's debate we can focus attention on some of those issues.

My colleague, the member for Halifax, recently tabled Bill C-297, An Act respecting a National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. It is an excellent bill. The government would be well advised in supporting this motion to look at that bill and to incorporate the ideas that are in the bill. The bill clearly lays out the need to ensure there is access to mental health and substance abuse services and the need to reduce the stigma associated with using mental health and suicide related services.

The bill also talks about the need to establish national guidelines for best practices in suicide prevention and to work with communities to use culture specific knowledge to design appropriate policies and programs. That is a very important element. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It is a matter of understanding what is going on in a particular community, whether it be in a geographic sense or in a demographic sense, to understand those cultural specific risk factors and issues that are at play. The bill also talks about the need to coordinate professionals and organizations throughout the country in order to share information and research, and to support our health care professionals and our advocacy groups who work with individuals who are at risk of suicide.

I was on a Via Rail train a couple of days ago and picked up a magazine that was in the pocket in front of me. As I was looking through the magazine I was surprised to see a major feature about suicide. It focused on the risk of suicide as it affects students, particularly those who are in an environment where the stress of academic excellence produces an enormous amount of anxiety and possibly depression. This particular article focused on the number of deaths by suicide that had taken place at Queen's University. That is where I happened to be going to speak at a human rights conference.

I thought it was quite remarkable that in a Via Rail magazine there was a major article about suicide, particularly focusing on a population in our society that we often think is doing alright. They are the students who are motivated, who have all kinds of self-esteem, who are doing really well; they are the elite, the future of our society. It was quite shocking to read the stories of what had unfolded at just one post-secondary educational facility. It was quite shocking to read of the trauma and the impact of the tragedy, and the number of deaths that had taken place in the life of that particular university. I do not mean to single out Queen's because I know this happens elsewhere as well, but it just happened to be the focus of that article. It was truly shocking.

This brings to the attention of all of us that the issue of suicide as it relates to mental health and well-being is very prevalent. The statistics that we see, that 10 people every day commit suicide, are very alarming and shocking.

For those of us in the official opposition, the NDP members, we see this issue as a national priority. We are very happy that the member for Halifax has introduced a private member's bill. It is a very comprehensive bill that gives us the framework for what we need to do to bring forward a national strategy.

I am going to end by coming back to the Government of Canada. Let today be a day where we all participate in this debate and rather than only describe the problem, let us focus on what needs to be done.

Let the government members think about what they are not doing, what they have not been addressing. Why is it that so many aboriginal communities are living in third world conditions? Why is the suicide rate so high in small northern communities? Why is this an issue that affects our youth and the LGBT community? These are the things that we need to talk about in order to come up with an adequate national strategy.

This Speech in Parliament was posted on October 5, 2011