Mr. Chair, I just want to say thank you for the opportunity to be here today. Thank you to you and thank you to my colleagues for allowing me to be here to speak with respect to Bill , an act respecting a federal framework on post-traumatic stress disorder. I'd also like to thank all members of Parliament for their support at second reading, when all 284 MPs present voted in favour of sending Bill C-211 to this committee. I'm hoping that we can see the same show of support at third reading.
I think we've done something unique in this Parliament. We've been able to show support across all party lines for a very worthy cause, and that is getting our warriors the support they need and deserve when it comes to post-traumatic stress disorder. Bill seeks to establish a cohesive and coherent national framework to ensure our military; first responders, including firefighters, paramedics, police personnel, and emergency dispatch; our veterans; and our correctional officers timely access to the resources they need to deal with PTSD and mental health injuries.
We're only just beginning to understand the term PTSD. In truth, even in the three years of working towards getting elected and tabling this legislation, the discussion has grown even louder. This is good, but it is very easy to forget that it was only 30 years ago that there was no classification and no name given to the demons we now know to be PTSD.
When I first started doing research for this bill, I was shocked to read that PTSD wasn't even officially recognized until 1980, when the American Psychiatric Association added it to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. There are generations of individuals who have lived this nightmare that we are only now starting to talk about publicly. There are generations of individuals who have struggled with PTSD who we have lost.
I know some of you in this room better than others, but I think we all have one thing in common, and that is, at our very core, when we chose to put our names forward, it is and it was because we hope to inspire change and to do better for future generations than had been done in the past, irrespective of party lines.
I was told from the outset that the likelihood of getting Bill passed was slim to none, that I shouldn't get my hopes up, and that, since I am an opposition member, the government would never let this pass. As I met with people first from my riding, then from all across this country, and indeed, across party lines, I began to see what I already knew. This is not a Conservative issue, it's not a Liberal issue, nor is it an NDP issue. I've heard very real stories from our brave men and women who have made sacrifices. I also heard from the families and colleagues of those who lost their fight and those who are still in the thick of this terrible disease.
Colleagues, by getting Bill to committee today, we've already beaten the odds and the naysayers. We have proven that we can put aside party politics and work together to leave a legacy, or have we? Will C-211 die at committee stage? That's the message we've received, that this is a feel-good moment, that the box has been checked off, but it now affords the excuse that there was no consensus at committee.
We've heard that before in this Parliament, haven't we? I apologize for this comment, but you have to understand that lives are at risk here. Every minute we delay or decide that we need to study something further, lives are lost. It has been 563 days since those around this table were elected. It has been 556 days since I first landed in Ottawa with the background for Bill . It's been 462 days since I first tabled C-211, and 57 days since we stood together. In all that time, we have lost lives.
Mr. Chair, I offer to you that a mere one year ago, only about 800 metres from here, an RCMP member chose to end his battle mere steps from the front of Parliament. We need to be better, and I challenge all of you that we can do better. There is so much work that needs to be done. The message we have delivered to this point has been that we have heard the stories, that we believe the stories, and we will act. In doing so, we have given our warriors hope, and this, indeed, is a heavy burden to carry.
We have an opportunity before us today to get this bill through committee because as it stands, the standard of care, education, and even our terminology, be it OSI or PTSD, still varies from one province to the next.
Our government has said that PTSD is a priority and it is outlined in the mandate letters of the Ministers of , , and . This is our chance to align all of our work done to date on this issue and get a line item on the federal books, so that no government, present or future, will be able to move forward without our warriors.
A national framework would ensure that every year a conversation is happening on best practices, on treatment options, and on how best we can help as a society, so that no one is left behind.
I have said this before and I'll say it again. We have received many emails, many of them full of heartbreak and tragedy as a result of careers. I'd like to take a moment, if you will, to read one that I received a little over a year ago.
“As I write this, I'm trying hard to hold back the tears. The truth is I'm unsure how I even have tears left. I've cried every day since his death and it's been over a year. I can only manage a day at a time, and even that at times is too much. I don't know what tomorrow will bring. I guess no one really does. We were only married three years and he was my one true love. He would have been 30 this year. Our son will never know his father. He will never know the incredible man he was. My husband only wanted to serve and to save. Sadly, no one could save him. It's odd how everyone gathers around you at first, then life goes on. I don't get the invites anymore. It's like other wives don't want to be reminded of this, of how this could have been them.
“Mr. Doherty, your bill is too late for my family, but I hope you will be successful. My pain endures and I'm not sure there is a fix. I will tell my son that his dad was a hero and saved lives. I believe if my husband knew of you and your efforts, it just might have given him enough hope that he would have reached out, that he would have hung on. Please keep fighting for this. For us it is too late, but you and your colleagues will save the lives of others.
Mr. Chair, this is one of hundreds, maybe even thousands, of emails, messages, and comments on social media we have received and private meetings we have held, since tabling our bill. It truly is overwhelming. We have heard the stories of those who are struggling today, those who are receiving help, and those who are left behind to somehow pick up the pieces.
We have to come up with solutions, so we don't lose another life to PTSD. I'd like to ask the committee members—and I also mentioned it in my speech at second reading—if the cost of action on the national framework for PTSD is too great for our government, be it the federal government or the provincial government, what then is the alternative? What is the cost of inaction? How many more lives are we willing to lose before government steps up to the plate? What value do we place on those who we ask to serve our country without hesitation, to answer our call without hesitation, to run into burning buildings, to run towards gunfire? When we call, they answer, any time, any place, and for any reason, with no questions asked, but have we been there for them? Have we answered their call?
These are all questions we need to be asking ourselves today, for all of those who are still fighting. When they talk to one branch of government, are they then referred to another or a different office, or a different phone number, or shuffled to the next wicket? Have we turned a blind eye and said, “It's not my problem”? For those who have a friend, family member, or loved one who has lost someone to PTSD through our inaction, are they spending their lives on hold waiting for someone to listen to them?
This is unacceptable. We must and can do better for our fellow men and women. This begins with education and a willingness to learn. It begins with the bold action of saying, “Enough is enough”, so that regardless of our party politics, we can and will finally do something about this terrible disease.
Let's stop making excuses. Let's not further delay or deny action. Those of us, around this table and in this House, can do this. It is the federal government that can set the tone and provide leadership right across our nation on this terrible disease.
This issue has been studied by other committees. We can build on their work and move this legislation forward. Only through bipartisan support and co-operation can we hope to achieve effective and viable strategies, terminology, and education to help deal with PTSD. Let's choose to give back in the one small way that we are able to by ensuring that our protectors have the opportunity to receive basic, standard care and treatment to deal with their PTSD, and by ensuring that our terminology and laws are consistent across the country, and that our heroes in the east are treated the same as our heroes in the west, because for too long, we have left our first responders, our military, and our veterans behind.
Mr. Chair and colleagues, it has been an interesting spring session. I read earlier, from the wife of a fallen officer. One line sticks out, “I don't know what tomorrow will bring. I guess no one really does”.
For those who have been following our journey, those who are in the room with us today, and those who are watching across our nation and internationally, tomorrow is just another excuse for delay. Sometimes, tomorrow is too far away. Let's not wait for tomorrow, Mr. Chair and colleagues. We can make a difference today.
I'm asking for your support to ensure that Bill moves forward in a timely manner, because it will save lives. At second reading, we proved to our community of warriors that we stood in solidarity with them. I'm telling you today that this committee and our House collectively have the power to leave an incredible legacy.
With that, I'll end. I just want to say, once again, thank you, and I appreciate and will take your questions.
There are many. I get emotional when we.... As I said, there's a heavy burden when you're listening to these stories. You have people you consider heroes who are pinning their hopes on what we're doing. I used to think that I handled stress very well, but I think the weight of the world has been placed on our shoulders, and that speaks volumes to the issue and the need for us to do something.
I will answer the question. I developed a challenge coin with respect to my bill. I don't know if anybody has seen it. Mr. Chair, if it's okay.... On one side it has my parliamentary crest. On the other side it has the shields of first responders and our troops.
At Christmastime we were back in our ridings, and I was walking through a lobby. As you know, our days are fairly busy. Our schedules are not ours anymore. I saw a friend of mine who is in the RCMP and whom I've known for a very long time. As I was going by, I patted him on the shoulder and said, “Thanks for everything you're doing.” I kept going, but I was drawn back. I don't know why. I went back and said, “I'm really sorry to bother you.” He was meeting with his team at that time. I said, “I don't know if you know, but I have a private member's bill with respect to PTSD. It's called Bill . I have a challenge coin that I want to give you, and I just want to say thank you for everything you're doing.” Then I left and went on my way.
We went away for Christmas. When I came back, there were emails, voice mails, and messages from this gentleman. Finally I phoned him and I said, “What's up?” He said, “I just have to tell you. I don't know if you believe that things happen for a reason.” This is very altruistic, for those who are here. He said, “I want to ask you if you remember when we saw each other before Christmas.” I said, “Of course I do.” He said, “Something drew you back to see me, and you gave me your challenge coin. Nobody knows this, but I was at my darkest point. I was essentially saying goodbye. Nobody knows this. Since getting that coin, I've come out to my wife, and I've sought treatment. I want to be the face of your bill, because you are saving lives and that day you saved my life.”
You can see how emotional it is. That's just one. We had a gallery filled with people. Every day they send us the same. There are so many. We can save lives.
Sorry. I'm a big baby, but this is real. It's not made up. A simple pat....
When 284 members of Parliament stood unanimously on March 8, 56 days ago, there was a giant of a firefighter suffering from PTSD who was emotional and was crying. He said, “For the first time, I have hope.” To me, that's shocking. I'm sorry, but that's unacceptable for us as leaders within our country. We have to do better, and we have to be better.
Is there one story? There are many stories. That's one. His story.... It was released that day. His name is Kent MacNeill, staff sergeant for the RCMP. Every day, I'm inundated with the same. We have thousands of stories that are the same, whether it's a survivor or a wife, as I read earlier. It's crazy.
Thank you, Mr. Doherty, for being here.
Mental illness affects some 6.7 million Canadians. That's about 20% of the population. It costs our economy an estimated $51 billion each year. That's a bigger burden than is caused by cancer or infectious disease, yet only about 7% of public health care spending in Canada goes to mental illness. Nearly one in 10 of the Canadian military personnel who took part in the mission in Afghanistan are now collecting disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder. Experts say the prevalence of that disease is likely much higher among Canada's combat troops.
Overall, 17% of Canadians aged 15 or older reported having a mental health care need in the past year, but one-third of those individuals reported that their needs were not fully met. We all know that most mental health remedies and therapies are actually not even covered by our health care system, such as access to counselling.
Mr. Doherty, you mentioned that maybe we've only recently come to terms with PTSD, and I think that's partially true. But in 2008, almost 10 years ago, researchers at McMaster University released a study that found the prevalence rate of lifetime PTSD in Canada was an estimated 9.2%. Furthermore, the researchers estimated that at any given time, 2.4% of the population is experiencing the disorder. A study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found that Canada had the highest prevalence of PTSD of the 24 countries included in the study. They found that 9.2% of Canadians, almost one in 10, will suffer from PTSD in their lifetime.
I'm going to congratulate you as a private member for bringing this important issue forward, but I want to put on the record that I don't believe that a federal framework for PTSD should have been left to the efforts of a private member. I believe it is the responsibility of the government of the day to bring that framework forward, and the government has failed to do so over the last 10 years. I want to put that on the record.
Mr. Doherty, I think your bill is an excellent start. It mentions first responders and military. First responders are twice as likely as the average Canadian to suffer from PTSD. Every day they selflessly brave horrific circumstances that greatly increase their susceptibility to operational stress injuries. They have our backs, and I think it's time we had theirs.
In terms of the military, we must honour the incredible sacrifices made by our courageous women and men in uniform every single day. We have to remember that these heroes are human, too, and we need to give them the respect and the services they deserve.
Having said that, as I study your bill, I'm concerned about the scope of the bill being too narrow. In your preamble, you specifically mention first responders, firefighters, military personnel, corrections officers, and members of the RCMP. Those are the only groups that are specifically mentioned. Your bill calls for the convening of a conference, no later than 12 months after the day on which the act comes into force, with the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, and then provincial and territorial government representatives. Of course, that conference will be convened by the Minister of Health.
My questions to you are going to be about whether you would be amenable, Mr. Doherty, to broadening this. Let me go through the broadening that I suggest would make your bill even better.
We know there are gender differences in the prevalence, comorbidity, presentation, and treatment of PTSD. Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with PTSD. The reasons are a little bit unclear. Some think it could be linked to sexual assault, because women are of course much more likely to experience sexual assault than are men. Mr. Doherty, would you be amenable to us amending your bill to include the Minister of Status of Women, as a ministry, to join the Ministers of Veterans Affairs and National Defence in this conference?
I may be sharing time with Mr. Lightbound, if I have some left.
Mr. Doherty, I want to congratulate you and thank you for your passion for the victims of PTSD. Thank you for bringing this bill forward. When you talk about PTSD and mental health issues and about the victims, I have personal experience. I'm dealing with a person with a mental health illness, and that's my better half. I've been dealing with this since 1979. I have the first-hand experience. With regard to people who are suffering from PTSD, I know what kind of hell they are going through. I'm still tragically dealing with this. I get emotional when I talk about what I have gone through and what I am going through.
I congratulate you on this. I've always said that our first responders, RCMP, police, people working on the front lines, should be treated better. I'm sorry to say that our veterans, our first responders—RCMP, police, you name it—haven't been given the treatment they should have had. I think they should receive gold-plated treatment, because they give so much to the community and to the country. I congratulate you for bringing this bill.
I will start where Mr. Davies left off. Because we are a diverse country, a multicultural country, different communities look at PTSD or mental illness differently. They have different approaches. They respond to mental health issues differently, including PTSD. I ask what steps we can take to ensure that any federal framework, including for indigenous people, for everybody else, can be broadened so that we can cover a lot more communities or different cultures under your bill.
Should we include the Department of Canadian Heritage? What else can you think of? You could have an approach where, once and for all, everybody is looked after under your bill. Have you given any thought to other...?
That's a great question, and I really appreciate your comments. There are countries that are actually leading the way in some sense. Australia has some great programs, and they are moving forward with theirs. I think the U.S. is struggling, as we are as well, although there are pockets within the U.S. that are doing some great work. I'll use a stat that I learned over the last year. Twenty-two veterans a day—and that's what we know—commit suicide in the U.S. It's unacceptable.
There are things that we need to do moving forward, and that's an opportunity for us here. I can tell you we've received messages from Australia applauding us, and I received a note from a gentleman who is in the British SAS just earlier this week who was applauding our bill. The world is watching. It's crazy that we're having that impact, being seen as a country legislating something, hopefully legislating something forward and putting those dollars in place.
I think it's really important for us around this table, and I think I've said before, to recognize that there is a price for freedom. Freedom isn't free, and it oftentimes comes at a human cost. We have brave men and women who are experiencing human tragedy and horrific events every day, whether it's in their service to their country or their service to their community. It impacts us all differently. The average individual will experience one or two traumatic events in their lifetime, but a police officer will experience up to 900 traumatic events in the term of their service.
I can't imagine. We hear all the time that we have these young, brave men and women who are coming back. The face of our veterans has changed. We only need to look in the House, and we have veterans there in their thirties. The veterans no longer are the Korean War veterans, the World War II, and the World War I, but we have youngsters that are coming back in their twenties, and they're dealing with it.
Canada can lead the way in that. We can learn the best practices that are out there. We have great groups even within this room. The Badge of Life and Tema Conter are doing some incredible work right here in Canada. We have the University of Regina and SFU doing some incredible work, but there's no coordinated effort, and there's no coordinated funding for this. That's why we have people who are slipping through, and that's why countries are seeing it too.
Canada can take an opportunity to really be a leader on this.
We'll reconvene and begin.
I noticed that is in the audience. I don't know if he wants to say anything. He's a proponent for Bill , which we're going to consider clause by clause. We have no witnesses. We have no discussion. We're going to move right to clause-by-clause.
Pursuant to Standing Order 75(1), consideration of clause 1, the short title, and the preamble is postponed. We'll move to that later.
(Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to)
The Chair: Shall the short title carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the preamble carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the title carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the bill carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the chair report the bill to the House unamended?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: That's it. We're done with this. Now we refer this to our legal expert here to finish up. That is Bill .
Congratulations, . It was a tough battle, but we got it through.
Voices: Hear, hear!
The Chair: We have a bit of committee business to do.
We have some budgets to talk about for the thalidomide study. Do I have a motion to approve $4,700 for witnesses and testimony?
(Motion agreed to)
The Chair: Now we have the budget for Bill , respecting a framework on post-traumatic stress disorder. We've proposed $10,100 for witnesses, travel, a video conference, and working meals.
(Motion agreed to)
The Chair: We want to talk about the schedule. Two meetings are locked in. That's the thalidomide meetings for next week. The clerk has just reminded me that today is the last day for witness lists for Bill . I'm proposing that we do Bill on the 16th and have witnesses. Then on the 18th, we'll do clause-by-clause. With everybody's agreement, the 16th and 18th will be on Bill .
We're proposing consideration of M-47 for May 30 and June 1. Is that in order for everyone?