Libby speaks out in support of a National Suicide Prevention Strategy

House of Commons

HANSARD

May 14, 2012

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I am please to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-300. It came from committee and is now at third reading in the House. I would again like to congratulate the member for bringing the bill forward.

The NDP members on the health committee have been very supportive of the bill, as we have in the House at second reading. We will support the bill when it comes to a final vote. However, I want to reflect on the nature of the bill and what more we could possibly have done.

There is another bill in the House, Bill C-297, put forward by the member for Halifax. Although both bills deal with suicide prevention, they bring forward different strategies. Bill C-300, is much more of a limiting bill. It plays down the role of the federal government in establishing suicide prevention strategy and, unfortunately, there is nothing in the bill that pertains to First Nations consultation.

I recognize it is difficult to put every single group in a bill and say we should do this and that. However, the statistics show this is a very important health issue and systemic issue around inequality, cultural history and colonialism that does affect First Nations in Canada, aboriginal people.

The bill of the member for Halifax speaks to the need to directly engage the federal government with provincial ministers and First Nations, and support smaller communities and provinces that might not otherwise have the infrastructure to enact the strategies. She lays out a clear federal role. Bill C-297 outlines the need for First Nations, Inuit and Métis groups to be involved in the construction of the strategy. This is very important.

The bill we are debating today calls for defining best practices and promotes collaboration. These are very important and we certainly concur, but it is very disappointing that it does not go beyond that.

Bill C-297 is very comprehensive. It calls for the federal government to carry out 10 different projects, including a study of effective funding, surveillance to identify at-risk groups, establishing national standards and gaining cultural-based knowledge in preventing suicide.

At committee, my colleagues, particularly the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, and I put forward a number of amendments. These were based on the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention blueprint for a Canadian national suicide prevention strategy that came out in September 2009. This organization represents the service providers and the activists on the front line helping people who are in distress, who are at risk, in dealing with suicide and suicide prevention.  

We put forward about 15 amendments. They really would have strengthened the bill. For example, one of them called for a distinct national coordinating body for suicide prevention to operate within the appropriate entities in the Government of Canada. Another amendment called for assessing and adopting where appropriate the recommendations and objectives outlined in the blueprint for a national suicide prevention strategy of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

I want to put on the record here in the House that we tried very hard at committee to bring some amendments to the bill to strengthen it so it could go beyond an issue of best practices, collaboration and information sharing and take on some more specific objectives that are desperately needed.

We did hear a number of times that we should not worry about this because the Mental Health Commission of Canada would be addressing this in its report. Of course, since dealing with the bill at committee, that report came out last week, entitled “Changing Directions, Changing Lives”.

On page 13 of the report it reads:

 

...establishing whole-of-government and pan-Canadian mechanisms to oversee mental health-related policies; strengthening data, research, knowledge exchange, standards and human resources related to mental health, mental illness and suicide prevention.

That is not the only reference, but one that speaks strongly to the need for all levels of government to be involved.

While we are happy that the Mental Health Commission of Canada has included this issue in its new strategy that came out last week, it seems to me that we have missed an opportunity with this bill to look at some concrete specifics around setting up a national coordinating body, looking at better training or, more specifically, working with first nations.

We received a communication from the Assembly of First Nations after we dealt with the bill at committee. It sent some very good information that is very important for us to understand. It is really shocking. It is information that we know but when we speak about this issue it brings to mind how serious it is in the aboriginal community. The AFN points out that suicide now represents the greatest single cause of injury deaths in its population, according to a study done in 2003. It also points out that a closer examination of intentional self-harm or suicide across age groupings shows that the deaths due to suicide, as a proportion of all deaths, was the largest among first nations youth. It also points out that youth suicide is not a tragedy that is visited in equal measure in all native communities. In certain communities, the suicide rate is as much as 800 times their provincial average. These statistics cannot even begin to tell us the stories, the tragedy and the reality of what is happening in many smaller, remote communities and in urban centres.

I was disappointed and concerned that the bill did not reference the particular issues that are taking place in aboriginal communities. Amendments were put forward to include some of this important information and the need to be more specific in the bill but, surprisingly, they were turned down.

It worries me that this is becoming a pattern now. Some of the bills are fine in as far as they go but they are very informational. They are designed to create awareness. We had one just the other day on breast density, a similar kind of bill. I do not want to knock the bills in and of themselves, but it is really worrying that when there is a genuine effort to put forward amendments to improve and strengthen these bills, they seem to be automatically shot down. I have to wonder why.

Parliament should be constructive, particularly on private member's business. We should try to be constructive and work together on this bill on suicide prevention because we all agree that work needs to be done on this. There is no question that we all agree. Therefore, it is very concerning that the good faith attempts to strengthen and improve the bill were shut down one hundred per cent. I read out some of the information that came before us and it was basically ignored.

We will support the bill but we will also work very hard to support my colleague's bill, Bill C-297, the member for Halifax, because it is a much broader, comprehensive and very specific strategy that would clearly involve the federal government. That is what we need to do, particularly in light of the new report that just came out from the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

This Speech in Parliament was posted on May 15, 2012
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