I would like to call this meeting to order.
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to meeting number 38 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted on Tuesday, February 1, the committee will resume its study on the mental health of young women and girls.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of June 23, 2022. Members are attending in person in the room and remotely using the Zoom application.
I would like to make a few comments for the benefit of the witnesses and members.
Please wait until I recognize you by name before speaking. For those participating by video conference, click on the microphone icon to activate your mike, and please mute yourself when you're not speaking. For interpretation for those on Zoom, you will have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of floor, English or French. For those in the room, you can use your earpiece and select the desired channel.
Looking at who's in here today, I think we have some professionals participating. We should all know how to use this, so we should be in good shape.
As a reminder, all comments should be addressed through the chair. For members in the room, if you wish to speak, please raise your hand, and for members on Zoom, please use the “raise hand” function. The clerk and I will manage the speaking order as well as we can, and I would appreciate your patience and understanding in this regard.
In accordance with our routine motion, I am informing the committee that all witnesses have completed the required connection tests in advance of the meeting.
Before we welcome our witnesses, I would like to provide this trigger warning. This will be a difficult study, and we will be discussing experiences related to mental health. This may be triggering to viewers, members, or staff with similar experiences. If you feel distressed or if you need help, please advise the clerk.
I would now like to welcome our guests.
On our first panel today, we have the Honourable Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth, and Marci is online here today. I'd like to welcome, from the department, Frances McRae, who is deputy minister; and Lisa Smylie, director general of the research, results and delivery branch. Thank you all for coming here.
I will be providing five minutes to the minister for her opening comments. When you see me start swirling my hand, that means your time is up.
Minister Ien, I pass the floor over to you for five minutes.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you, colleagues, for the opportunity to speak with you today as part of your important study on the mental health of young women and girls.
I want to begin by acknowledging that I am speaking to you from the traditional territory of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinabe, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples.
I have the fortune of regularly meeting with extraordinary young people from right across the country who, I can tell you, are more diverse, more socially engaged, and much more educated than ever before.
These remarkable young people fill me with profound hope for bright and prosperous days ahead. They are not just the leaders of tomorrow—they are the leaders of today.
For young people, mental health is an everyday topic. It is not separate from work, community, school, or family; it is part of their daily lives. With their voices, we will create a healthier, more inclusive Canada.
As you know, the lead on mental health is my colleague, Minister Bennett, whom you'll be hearing from later today. I work with Minister Bennett and all of my cabinet colleagues to ensure that mental health support is accessible, and that our young people are protected. Looking toward the youth section of my portfolio, as well as on a very personal level, I have a keen interest in ensuring that we think about what we can do in a holistic way to improve the lives of young people in Canada.
The pandemic disrupted and impacted many aspects of our lives—school closures and disruptions, social isolation, more time spent online to stay connected, increased family stress, and fewer options for those experiencing gender-based violence. All of these factors have resulted in a greater number of young people struggling with their mental health.
Along with this, systemic inequality worsens mental health challenges and symptoms for young people with intersecting lived experiences. For their part, 2SLGBTQI+ youth report notably high rates of mental health struggles—60% reporting moderate to severe anxiety, 41% reporting symptoms of depression, and nearly 30% reporting suicidal thoughts.
It is essential that youth have access to the mental health services and support they need.
Young women and girls who have experienced gender-based violence have a high risk of distress and immediate or long-term mental health issues, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use issues or suicidal thoughts. To address this and to help create awareness on gender-based violence, my department recently developed a campaign designed for youth called “It's Not Just”. It will help empower young people to identify and challenge views and actions in their environment that contribute to GBV.
While it's clear that there are challenges, there are opportunities and successes as well that we must continue to bring forward. I cannot stress enough the significant role that community-based organizations play in the space of youth well-being and mental health. Such programs as the youth employment and skills strategy, Canada summer jobs and the Canada service corps have wraparound support services, such as mentorship and coaching, built in to help young people navigate not only job and volunteer opportunities but also a key period in their lives as they learn about the world of work and transition into adulthood.
During the early days of COVID-19, took the time to talk about mental health and to talk about such resources as Kids Help Phone. Representatives from that organization tell us that on that day, Kids Help Phone had the highest level of engagement ever. The PM's youth council, of which I am vice-chair, is a diverse group of young Canadians who provide non-partisan advice to the PM and the Government of Canada on issues of importance to them and to all Canadians.
The world has changed so much, and the unique challenges and pressures young people face in their lives are significant. It's our job as a government to support them and reduce barriers wherever possible. That comes through concrete support, such as the $30-million investment to crisis hotlines across Canada, $14.8 million specifically for Kids Help Phone; fighting online harm; and taking measures to reduce financial pressure on students, such as permanently freezing interest on federal student loans.
The actions and investments I have described cannot on their own put an end to ongoing mental health impacts experienced by young women and girls. We know that.
The committee’s study promises to contribute another important piece to finding larger solutions that address the root causes and challenges affecting the mental health of young people.
Thank you, Madam Chair and committee members. I am very happy to take your questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I welcome each of you.
Minister, thank you for being with us this morning.
To follow up on what we've heard here, I was rereading the mandate letter that the Prime Minister sent you when you were appointed. You have a lot on your plate.
One of the tasks that the Prime Minister gave you is of particular interest to us: “the development of a 10‑year National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence”. In that letter, you were also asked to “begin negotiations with the provinces and territories within a year, and accelerate the establishment of a dedicated Secretariat” to address violence against women.
With the year almost over, where are you in achieving these three tasks assigned to you by the Prime Minister?
Thank you for your question.
It's such a great opportunity to talk about this.
Last week, on Wednesday, November 9, I was so happy to stand beside my provincial and territorial counterparts, from whom we got the go-ahead, I'll call it, after speaking for two days in Pictou, Nova Scotia, and launch our national action plan to end gender-based violence. It was an opportunity to speak with my counterparts, as each province is unique and each province is rare, with regard to what they're seeing and how gender-based violence is addressed, to hear and to listen.
At the beginning of that meeting, the first day, it was national indigenous leaders and representatives who were at the table. Here's what I'd like to tell you: All of us, to a person, sat in a circle. We heard from the national indigenous leaders and representatives about their struggles, their challenges and, frankly, how we've all helped. It was listening and it was learning. The two days after that, we did the same with provinces and territories.
That's a good question.
Eighty per cent of the recommendations for the national action plan to end gender-based violence came from the provinces and territories, because we know, as I said earlier, that they are unique. They know what they need. They know the grassroots organizations that are doing the work to help the women and girls and provide the wraparound services. Each is unique.
We are at a stage now when we will begin our negotiations—bilateral, province by province—to hear everything that each province has heard from those who are experiencing gender-based violence, because that's what this action plan was built on: survivors, those who are in the space, the experts. We couldn't have gotten there without them. That's what this plan is based on.
Now it is coming together with the provinces and territories one by one to find out. We will continue to bring that plan forward.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'm splitting my time with Emmanuella.
Thank you, Minister Ien, for being with us today. I know you're working very hard on the ground for women and girls across this country.
Minister, we heard from the witnesses that early intervention is important for young women and girls with intersecting identities who experience unique mental health challenges.
I know you are also the minister for youth. Can you expand on the importance of culturally relevant supports and how early intervention is important for young women and girls?
Thank you for your question, Ms. Sidhu.
It is such an important one. It is about early intervention.
Young people these days are bombarded by social media. They face so many issues at school in their spaces, so it's about meeting them where they are.
First and foremost, I want to put a spotlight on Kids Help Phone. Why don't we start there? When I say meeting kids where they are, the $14.8 million that was provided to Kids Help Phone meant that kids could text. This is what they do. They could get in touch. They can pick up the phone wherever they are.
When we talk about the intersectionality of this—racialized, indigenous, Black—we need to know that help has to be available 24 hours a day. Kids Help Phone does that. Crisis help lines do that. Why is that important? Because, if they are faced with an abuser within their household or in the space that they're in, they can send a text. They are able to call—I've seen the numbers—in the middle of the night when there's availability 24 hours a day to get the help they need.
I will add one more thing on an intersectional lens and the 2SLGBTQ community. About a year ago, I met with Berkha Gupta. They operate the LGBTQ youth line. It's a hotline. Berkha wanted to be what they didn't have because, when she was no longer welcome in her family, she didn't really have a place to reach out. She created this youth line so that young people could call. They were part of the $20-million capacity funding. They were able to use that funding to expand to rural and other places outside of the urban areas in this country. When you talk about intersectionality, Berkha is on the front line. They hear it all. They have trauma-informed crisis counsellors on those lines to help everybody who calls in, whenever they might call or text.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Sonia.
Minister, thank you for being with us today to answer our questions. We know that this is an important topic for you as well. We hear in your voice that you're passionate about it, so thank you for the work that you're doing.
Early on in this study, we heard directly from a young lady who has attempted to take her life several times and knows the struggle of depression all too well. She spoke to us about the need to include young people when coming up with a plan to help youth who are struggling with mental health issues, as they are the ones who know what they need more than anybody else.
What are we doing to ensure that young girls have access to mental health services? Are we consulting our young people when coming up with a plan to give additional supports to this population?
“Nothing for us without us”: That's what I've heard right across this country.
I'm the vice-chair of the Prime Minister's youth council and, might I say, the council doesn't mince words. Mental health has been the priority and is the priority. There was a state of the youth report as well that puts that squarely as the top priority for young people, women and girls across this country.
When we look at what we need to do, it's important not to start when young women and girls are 14, 15 and 16 years old. It's also important—and I hear this from the youth council and young people I speak to across this country—to include men and boys. An elder told me a while ago that an eagle cannot fly with one wing. She was talking about gender-based violence and including boys and men as well as young women and girls.
I want to highlight right now how important it is to have programs and services that address gender-based violence and mental health at a young age, not just for young women but for boys and for men.
I was in Nova Scotia last week, and there is an organization called Guys Work. It's grade 6 to 12 in schools right across Nova Scotia. They do excellent work. Here's what I was hearing from the boys who attend in grade 6: “This is a safe space. I can be who I am.” They talk about masculinity, what it means, how to help and how to engage with girls and young women. It's amazing. You cannot have one without the other: “nothing for us without us”.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Minister, thank you as well for being with us today.
It's a sad day, however, given that a 14th femicide has been committed in Quebec, near my home, in Saint-Jean-sur-Richeliu. I offer my sincere condolences and my full support to the family of Donna Callahan.
That femicide occurred with the days of activism against gender-based violence around the corner. During that period, on December 6, we will mark the sad events at Polytechnique, where women were killed because they were women.
I'm bringing all this up because I know that it has repercussions on the mental health of women and girls. Witnesses have told us that today.
Previous questions addressed the national action plan to end gender-based violence. Last week, you had a meeting with the provinces and territories, which obviously approved it, except Quebec. The Government of Quebec said that it approved of the action plan's objectives, but that it would not sign it because it wants to retain sole responsibility for areas under its jurisdiction. The Government of Quebec expects full financial compensation from Ottawa for its own programs and services.
Will your government and your department commit to fully compensating Quebec?
I also intend to meet soon with Ms. Biron for discussions, as I did with her predecessor.
I spoke to you about what we experienced during the pandemic. I asked you this specific question because you know that the federal government's encroachment into areas under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the other provinces always delays payments to the provinces of crucial funding to help improve their capacity and their resources on the ground.
I'll give you a concrete example that happened during the pandemic. In contacting Quebec's status of women secretariat and public safety department, I learned that the transfer of funds was up to six months late. Do you find that acceptable?
Quebec already has the infrastructure and expertise to address the issue of women's and girls' mental health. It has led the way, releasing a report entitled “Rebâtir la confiance”, which includes about a hundred recommendations.
During the pandemic, you held women who were victims of violence hostage.
Will you now give the provinces the means to act by increasing health transfers? That request from the provinces and from Quebec is unanimous.
Thank you for this question, as well.
I would like to draw your attention to the height of the pandemic, because I think it speaks to what you're speaking to here.
During the pandemic, Quebec received approximately $17 million of the $100 million in funding that was given to shelter organizations, on-the-ground organizations. We have an excellent relationship with Quebec. We have shown that when Quebec needs to be supported, it will be supported. We have signed agreements, and we will sign more, but this is not something that is new to us at the table. We understand the urgency. Quebec understands the urgency. Madame Biron and her team understand the urgency, and we will always be at the table.
Thank you very much, Chair.
Thank you to the minister. I'm happy to be here today for this important work. I want to first convey regrets from my colleague, , who is unfortunately unable to be here today but will go back to watch this entire meeting closely, I'm sure.
My first question today is about November 20, the Transgender Day of Remembrance. I feel it's important for us to talk about this when we are looking at the mental health of young women and girls. We know that transgender youth face much higher risks and rates of mental illness than youth in general. The Ontario chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association, for example, noted that 2SLGBTQIA+ youth have 14 times the risk of suicide and substance misuse than their heterosexual counterparts, with transgender youth accounting for 77% of those seriously considering suicide.
Those numbers are really appalling and concerning. I wanted to bring them forward, because I know that recently, Minister, there was a 2SLGBTQIA+ action plan that was put forward, which can be applauded, of course, for the work that's happening in the right direction. But we also know we're hearing from the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, Wisdom2Action executive director Fae Johnstone and the Enchanté Network, who are talking about some critical gaps, flaws, and a lack of funding integrated within the plan specific to the unique challenges experienced by transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming people. There are also some gaps being highlighted around the need for disaggregated data to better understand the unique experiences of transgender youth.
I'm wondering, Minister, if you could please tell us how you and your government plan to address the critical gaps in demands identified by 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals that end up leaving queer and trans people behind, and why this hasn't been developed long ago.
Lisa Marie, thank you so much for the question.
That is precisely what the 2SLGBTQIA+ action plan is about. It was built by community and grassroots organizations and was $100 million. I'm so happy to hear you talk about disaggregated data, because it is something I preach 24 hours a day.
Seventy-five million dollars of that plan went to organizations on the ground—Enchanté and others included—and $25 million is where the disaggregated data and support for the 2SLGBTQIA+ secretariat come in. We know we need the data.
Thank you also for acknowledging Trans Awareness Week, which starts today and, of course, the day is on the 20th, as you said. I proudly represent Toronto Centre. As the member of Parliament for Toronto Centre, I serve those in Church-Wellesley, the historic gay village, and this plan and serving them well means a lot to me personally.
Here's what I'll tell you. On Saturday, I was at The 519. On behalf of , Parliamentary Secretary and I stood beside a young man who fled his homeland of Jamaica. He is a refugee here, and he is now one of the executives at The 519. We were there to announce just under a million dollars. This million dollars will go towards helping trans people with regard to justice issues, and his speech outlined very well how important it was to have trauma-informed counsellors and advisers on hand. He outlined very well how the trans community, as you mentioned, has to deal with violence, police brutality and mental health issues at a far greater rate than, frankly, anybody else. This just under a million dollars that we announced is going to help with that. It's going to provide support with regard to justice, help and wraparound support.
I hear all too often, after members of the trans community are hurt in any way, that they're afraid to walk into hospitals because they don't know what kind of treatment they might get there. These issues are systemic and we cannot fix systems overnight, but we can hit that and hit that, and work away every single day to make things better.
I so appreciate your question.
Thank you for your question.
I so appreciate this opportunity to speak about that.
When it comes to youth mental health, it's important that those who take care of young people—parents, guardians, caregivers of any sort—are well supported.
Here's what I know as a mom of two. If I'm stressed in any way, if my mental health is challenged in any way—and it has been challenged—my kids feel it.
First, it supports those who support our young people, and that's exactly what we're doing. When it comes to housing, providing rent support for the lowest-income earners means something. It makes a difference.
I was born in St. James Town, which is part of the riding I serve. It is all apartment buildings. It is mostly immigrant families trying to do the best they can, most of whom, by the way, work on the front lines. Help with rent goes a long way. Help with dental care so that kids 12 and under can go to the dentist helps. It helps—
Jenna, thank you so much for the question.
It is not a small thing to have all of the provinces and territories sign on to something like this. It's not a small thing; it's a monumental thing, as you point out. The impact is huge—and it will be huge. We have seen, through this pandemic, who was disproportionately impacted. Women and girls—and then you put an intersectional lens on that—were at the head of the pack, which is why our government responded the way it did, with half a billion dollars towards ending gender-based violence.
I have to reiterate that this was born and we would not be at this point.... It was the community that came together and told us, grassroots organizations and survivors who said, “This is my story. How can we do better?” Provinces said that they really appreciated the way these discussions were going, but they needed to go back to their indigenous leaders in their various provinces and territories and talk to them, because this is about inclusivity. It's about getting it right. It's about doing it right and it's about saving lives. I cannot underscore enough how this is going to impact women, girls, men and boys across this country.
One example, if I might, is Velma's House in Winnipeg Centre, 's riding. When I visited last summer, there were women under the porch, on the porch, and it was at capacity inside. It is a low-barrier house that accepts anybody. Whether they have addictions, mental health issues, whatever, they're accepted—except they were full.
Weeks ago, Leah was so instrumental, and others as well. We were able to provide $1 million from our ministry to keep the doors open for the time being, and then , with $2 million dollars for Velma's House to buy a Ronald McDonald House that was bigger, which would give them the opportunity to help more women and have trauma-informed support and counsellors.
They are moving shortly. We made the announcement in the new Ronald McDonald House, the centre where they will be. Lives will be saved. That day, survivors spoke—survivors who are on the streets, who found Velma's, and who are now counsellors themselves.
That is one of many places that will be served by this action plan. There are so many others, but I'm happy to speak to that.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Minister, thank you again for being here as part of our study of the mental health of women and girls.
In answering questions, you said that your department funded several programs to promote and protect mental health.
However, Quebec has its own measures and its own network of community resources specific to mental health. The network also involves the province's health and social services authorities. Since that's how it works, would it not better serve women and girls in Quebec for the Quebec government to manage the funds and programs, itself, instead of duplicating the work?
Again, there must be assurance that this will not delay anything, which happens often.
I'd like to come back to sexual violence, because there's a link between partner violence and mental health.
When you appeared before the committee as part of our study of intimate partner violence, I mentioned to you that many witnesses were advocating for stable and recurring funding to address the problems. Once again, several mental health organizations were seeking the same thing.
InQuebec, community mental health organizations already receive funding from the Government of Quebec. If the federal government increased health transfers to Quebec and the other provinces to the requested levels, wouldn't that also help those community organizations increase their assistance to victims on the ground?
Thank you, Chair, and thank you, Minister.
I was pleased to hear you talking about Velma's House, in my colleague MP 's riding of Winnipeg Centre. I just want to acknowledge how much I'm celebrating that work, as it's been a critical call from the community for years to support women and gender-diverse individuals. It's that leadership and advocacy from the community that made this happen, so I'm happy to see the action that has resulted from that community advocacy and the funding that has resulted: a big applause on that.
I wanted to ask a question about missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and two-spirit people. I'll give you some context, and I know that this story is definitely not in isolation. My friend and local indigenous woman from Nanaimo, Lisa Marie Young, went missing in 2002 at the age of 21. I'll tell you that her family and loved ones continue to search for her, continue to have marches and awareness of her. It's so sad to see that there are still no answers as to what happened to her. There are just so many stories, as you know. I'm sure you're hearing about other women and girls going missing with no answers.
I wanted to see if you could speak to the $724.1 million that has been allocated as part of the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which has been, as I'm sure you're aware, largely unused to date. As my colleague said, there's money sitting in the docket while women and girls and 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals continue to die. I'm wondering if you can provide some specific timelines and commitments as to when this money is going to be spent, and how it's going to be spent.
Thank you very much, Minister.
What I think people need to hear right now, Minister Ien, is that we can do better. That's what people really need to hear from you. I know you care. I know you're a mom. I know this is important to you, but I think people need to hear a bit more.
We have the highest use of food banks in history. We had Mr. Owen Charters here from the Boys and Girls Club. The cost of living and inflation are a massive stressor on our children. It is downloaded to them. It is impacting their mental health.
When you say you have a dental plan that nobody is going to be held accountable for, there's going to be no audit for that dental plan. It's a cheque going to parents, which is increasing inflationary spending. That is a problem. November 20th is the national day of the child.
Minister, I've watched you work, and this is a tough conversation, but people need to hear that you—
I so appreciate this question.
In Nova Scotia last week, $700,000 is what we put forward for the crisis lines there and, of course, the province is doing its share with my provincial counterpart, Minister MacFarlane. The most important thing about that announcement, though, was hearing from people on the ground, hearing from those who work the lines and are there when people call in.
One such person was Anna. What Anna said to me after the press conference was that what this means is that somebody is there on the other end of the line 24 hours a day. She could not stress that enough, because there weren't enough people: There weren't enough people in place for rural calls. What they found was that a lot of these calls were coming in the middle of the night when they didn't necessarily have staff there—trauma-informed staff—and this funding will help with that.
The other part of this, Marc, is that 8% of the people calling in to these lines are now men and young men. Here's what they're saying: “I am not feeling well. I think I might hurt my partner. I think I might hurt somebody. I need help.” They're calling in to ask for help. This is how important crisis lines are, not just for young women and girls, but for men and boys as well. We're seeing the numbers, and already we're seeing the difference that this is going to make.
I would like to call this meeting back to order. Thank you so much.
On our second panel today, I would like to welcome the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions; from the Department of Health, Heather Jeffrey, associate deputy minister, and Eric Bélair, associate assistant deputy minister, strategic policy branch; and, from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Candice St-Aubin, vice-president, health promotion and chronic disease prevention branch.
We'll start off our first five minutes with Minister Bennett.
Minister Bennett, you have the floor.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would like to begin by acknowledging that we are on the unceded, traditional territory of the Algonquin people, who have been stewards of this land and water since time immemorial.
I am pleased to be here today to speak to this truly timely study examining the factors contributing to mental health of young women and girls.
Women and girls are significantly more likely to report low life satisfaction and have more problematic social media use, and are hospitalized for anxiety, depression and eating disorders more often, when compared with their male peers.
It was over 70 years ago that Canadian war vet and psychiatrist, Dr. Brock Chisholm, the first director general of the WHO—and I heard a really neat interview with him this weekend—stated that “without mental health there can be no true physical health”.
I think that we are now really facing a problem with stigma, which has resulted in way too many people struggling with mental health alone. However, I do think there's hope because I think COVID has allowed more of us to admit when we're struggling, to admit, maybe, to a little bit more substance use than usual, and to talk about our own mental health. That is something that helps reduce the stigma because stigma is such a serious barrier to care. As you've heard in these hearings, the care has to be there when people need it, and sadly, during this time when so many more people, Canadians, have needed support, that support was all too often not included in our cherished publicly funded health care system.
Since 2015, we have made historic investments to support mental health: the $5 billion to the provinces and territories to increase the availability of mental health; another $600 million for distinctions-based mental health and wellness for indigenous people; $270 million for the Wellness Together portal; $45 million to develop national standards; and then many other targeted investments in substance use and mental health promotion innovation. The $5-billion investment through the provincial and territorial bilateral agreements is currently providing $600 million of additional funding until 2027.
We want you to know that we remain totally committed to investing an additional $4.5 billion through a Canadian mental health transfer and that we are working with the Standards Council of Canada and our provincial and territorial partners to develop national standards for evidence-based mental health and addiction services in the priority areas identified with our provincial and territorial colleagues. We are particularly encouraged by the incredible early progress on national standards for integrated-use services.
Last week, at the FPT health ministers' meeting, we visited Foundry in Vancouver, Foundry Vancouver-Granville, which started the IYS movement in Canada. I just have to say that I had the privilege of meeting a young woman, a refugee from Saudi Arabia, who has found her confidence, a second family, and all of the social and mental health supports to positively transform her outlook on her path forward as a lesbian. That is the transformational power of integrated-use services.
It was then wonderful the next day, Wednesday, to join representatives from every single province and territory, as the IYS movement is now growing to serve young people up to the age of 25 with individual, multidisciplinary, evidence-based wraparound services that are trauma-informed, culturally safe, and designed for and by young people coast to coast to coast.
I'm also pleased to say that the online portal, Wellness Together Canada, linked with Kids Help Phone and its companion app, PocketWell, has assisted thousands of young Canadians in getting the help they need, not just directly but also as a stepping stone to receiving the resources and advice about where they can achieve more specialized care.
We welcome, of course, the CRTC's decision approving the new 988 three-digit suicide prevention line, and we are working to ensure that it has the capacity for a successful launch next fall. We want all of you to know that you can help. We are not waiting for the help; it's at 1-833-456-4566. We want to demonstrate to Canadians that we share their concerns. We've been listening to those who have lived and living experiences, the experts, the people on the front line, but we need the disaggregated data to show that we are leaving no one behind.
I look forward to expanding on my brief remarks through your thoughtful questions.
The action plan is about transformation. It's about changing the way we've done things. It is about putting mental health as a full and equal part of our most cherished social service.
In the changes that took place in cost containment, when social workers and occupational therapists, psychologists, were moved out of hospitals, that moved into the private sector and the social services sector. We want this back inside.... It is taking that kind of work, listening to people on the front lines, to ensure that the $4.5 billion will be part of that change, as it has been with the integrated youth services.
This is so inspiring, Michelle. I hope everybody will get to see an IYS centre. Of course, Ontario and Quebec have been very much in the forefront, taking the lead from Foundry and Dr. Steven Mathias of British Columbia.
What's exciting about it, Anita, is that really it began just five or six years ago with “one-stop” in VanGran, and it is now up to 25 sites. It is the future, because it's a stepped-care model. People get the most appropriate care in the most appropriate place by the most appropriate provider at the most appropriate time. One of the appropriate places is virtual.
As that young person walks in the door, they're greeted by a peer support person, someone with lived and living experience. They have a primary care provider. If they need a social worker, a psychologist, or an addiction medicine specialist, even virtually or online, or they need help with housing, help with education or help getting a job, it's all uniquely wrapped around and integrated into the rest of the system. If they've been to emergency on Friday night, their primary care provider knows that. This is what we have to do.
I have to say, Anita, that, as you know, our friend Dr. Karen Breeck, as the physician for the Snowbirds, once asked me why the veterans didn't have this. I hope one day we'll be able to get that kind of wraparound support for everybody.
What's also exciting is that this is for ages 12 to 25. It means that there's already a consensus that you can't let kids drop off the map at 18 in a pediatric setting. This is right to 25. It includes a lot of their challenges post-secondary or other challenges they're facing, including gender identity.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Minister, I thank you for appearing before the committee today. The evidence that we've heard as part of this study on mental health is terrifying.
Groups are seeking support, so that brings me back to the financial issue, because you talk a lot about amounts that the federal government wants to invest in mental health. However, I remind you that health is the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.
Hearing you talk about money, I think that it would be much better invested in transfers, which the Government of Quebec believes should come with no strings attached, as it has said.
In your mandate letter, you talk about a national action plan and national standards. Quebec doesn't want that.
Above all, Minister, I wonder what expertise do you have that Quebec's health minister and health department don't have. After all, they manage hospitals, the health system and social service providers on a daily basis. What expertise do you have that we don't have in Quebec?
In my opinion, that's not the issue. It's essential to share best practices and listen to the provinces and territories about their challenges and the solutions. Quebec is a leader in day care and integrated youth services.
Last Wednesday, there was a meeting of integrated youth services networks, and Quebec was there. With its ACCESS Open Minds program, it shows such important leadership.
However, the funding that supports integrated youth services in Quebec is also very important for the entire country. That's part of the 10‑year agreements entered into with the provinces in 2017, so it's a partnership.
Health and health care are the responsibility of all levels of government, but health services are under Quebec's jurisdiction.
Minister, you are aware that there was an attempt to impose standards when you know very well that Quebec and the provinces don't want that. Also, last week, the federal government tried to negotiate bilateral agreements with each province and with Quebec to try to divide and conquer. However, the response was unanimous. The united front still stands, and the demands remain.
You are also aware of the increase in cases. Quebec could invest that money into its health system and try to reduce wait times. As well, Quebec community groups already have their plans for working on the ground with victims.
What you're doing is holding people hostage when they are suffering terribly. I'm extremely concerned to see this paternalistic attitude from the federal government, which thinks these standards will resolve the problems in the health system, particularly in mental health.
Minister, I ask you again: when will you agree to transfer funding to Quebec and the provinces without any conditions? I repeat that I recently received confirmation that Quebec would not accept conditions in the form of national mental health standards. What Quebec wants is a substantial increase in health transfers, up to 35% of the costs of the system—as consistently requested—so that it has more resources to deliver concrete help to people on the ground.
In the next round, I'll come back to what you can do as a federal government. For now, however, I'd like to hear your opinion on this request because, last week, you did not listen to what Quebec and the provinces were calling for.
Unfortunately, people are dying. We're hearing this throughout the room over and over, and you're very aware, I'm certain, in your position as well. This is a crisis. We need to see funding being allocated to provinces and territories so that people can get the help they need.
This is an emergency, so I'm curious as to why we need to wait to allocate much-needed funding. I understand that this work needs to be done, but what are your thoughts on implementing the funding immediately so that people can get the help they need, and then continuing the work of better understanding? We saw this during the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, we got help to people—I shouldn't say “we”; the government got help to people, along with the work of the NDP, pushing for people to get that help—and that funding was distributed.
Why can we not see a similar model with regard to the mental health supports?
At the beginning of COVID, that is when we set up Wellness Together Canada, and then in January we announced PocketWell. We are doing what we can, in partnership with the provinces and territories, to take that pressure off.
However, I think there's a very clear understanding that we have to do things differently. Having money where we aren't seeing the transformation, where we aren't seeing the use of peer supports, the use of nurses and social workers.... As you saw with Dr. Vigod's testimony here, in her study, of the 40 people needing perinatal mental health and psychiatric support, only two out of the 40 needed the psychiatrist or this very specialized capacity. The rest were helped at all other levels of the stepped-care model.
We want to make sure we are able—as with the integrated youth services, the perinatal mental health and the post-secondary—to deliver the most appropriate care in the most appropriate place by the most appropriate provider at the most appropriate time, including in the middle of the night with Wellness Together and that opportunity to get help 24-7.
I really appreciate your desire to have this funded appropriately. I agree; it needs to be done appropriately alongside provinces and territories. People are dying, and the funding needs to be allocated, so I would like to reiterate the concerns by constituents in my riding—and that I'm hearing across Canada, of course—that this funding is much delayed and needs to be implemented.
In addition to that, I just want to segue to the toxic substance crisis we are seeing. In B.C. just in September alone, we saw 171 people die. I'm hearing a lot of promises being made by the Liberal government to address the toxic drug supply crisis. However, unfortunately, over and over I'm not seeing the actual solutions being proposed and the funding being allocated appropriately.
For example, my colleague ' bill—the actual title of which is the and which the Liberals did not support, unfortunately—recently came forward, and these are recommendations—
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Good afternoon, Minister, and thank you for being with us.
This is not an easy topic to discuss, and I sense that you are on the hot seat right now. I sincerely think that the 338 members of the House of Commons are acting in good faith. We all want the problems to be solved, and I think you do too. You want things to advance smoothly.
That said, you seem to be a bit optimistic. You listed a slew of figures so quickly that I had difficulty noting them, a profusion of figures, funding amounts, transfers and programs.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think I'm mistaken in saying that, of all the witnesses we've heard from since the start of this study, not one has said that things were going well. Everyone said that they were having problems related to money, organization and human resources, and that they were unable to meet the demand.
A woman came to speak to us about an organization here, in Ottawa, not some remote place. I can't remember the organization's name—my apologies to her—but she's single-handedly running her organization.
I think a lot of services have to be provided by community organizations, because they are close to the public, schools, parents, family support centres, and so on.
You began your remarks by saying that our study was timely. Why did you say that?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'll be sharing my time with Sonia Sidhu.
Thank you, Minister Bennett, for being here with us today in order to answer some of our questions on this very important topic.
Many witnesses spoke to us about perinatal mental health. A mother whose mental health suffers will pass that suffering on to her children. There's a link between moms who suffer from postpartum depression, or depression at any point during the perinatal stage, and kids who suffer from depression. These kids eventually turn into adolescents who suffer from depression, and then into adults who suffer from depression. Part of breaking the cycle means taking care of the moms who are in these situations.
Dr. Simone Vigod made a few recommendations. According to Dr. Vigod, perinatal mental illness affects 20% of Canadian pregnancies. That is about 80,000 women per year. She recommended the funding of “training of perinatal health care and lay providers in short-term structured perinatal mental health psychotherapies, so that perinatal mental health care would be integrated.” She also recommended funding “the training of personnel for new specialized perinatal mental health teams for underserved regions”, making specialized care more accessible for all Canadians regardless of where they live.
Minister, I was wondering if you support these funding recommendations and concrete measures to improve perinatal mental health care. Is the federal government doing anything to bring these forward?
Thank you for the question.
I have to say that I have learned a great deal from Dr. Vigod. Women's College Hospital is the reason I accidentally ended up in politics, trying to save that place and its independence. Dr. Vigod was really instrumental in this movement around perinatal mental health, as well as the collaborative....
On March 9, we did a round table with Dr. Vigod. I think we really felt by the end of the round table that this could very easily be an area where there could be national standards very quickly, as to what any woman should be able to expect, wherever she lives.
I think the idea is that the clusters of expertise in perinatal mental health are not properly spread out across the country. It is going to be important that the stepped-care model means that if women are very sick and unwell then they get the best possible perinatal mental health supports, wherever they live.
It speaks to what I was saying to one of your colleagues from Quebec. It means that we also have to make sure that the mom in Moncton or Sudbury can get the best care in French, if that's the way it should be.
It means that we have this opportunity with virtual care and expertise. We can really build out a system where moms are followed properly. Again, the attachment problems and all of the things that you've described, Emmanuella, are hugely important. No mom should fall through the cracks because she wasn't asked how she was doing or because we didn't really understand the depth of her despair or psychosis.
Thank you, Sonia, for your leadership on this.
I think you and some of our South Asian colleagues have been very clear about how important and devastating stigma is, more so in some communities than others. Again, people want support, not stigma or judgment.
I think what we're learning is that we need tailored approaches to stigma based on an understanding of what it looks and feels like in certain communities. I was very interested to see the Black therapists network in Edmonton. They know that they are dealing with a great deal of stigma in their community.
Again, what can we do for first nations, Inuit and Métis? The history of residential schools was that emotions got—
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Minister, thank you again for agreeing to appear.
Before discussing another topic, I'll come back to what you said in response to questions from my colleague, Ms. Barron. You confirmed that your efforts to implement the national action plan and standards were delaying the allocation of money. However, those financial resources are what's most urgently needed to help victims and people suffering from mental health problems. The more standards that are added, the later the money is in arriving and the more it delays implementation of the plan, meaning that organizations don't have access to the help they need.
That said, I'd like to talk to you about the federal government's responsibility in helping young girls struggling with mental health issues.
My colleague Dominique Vien spoke about cyberbullying. Last week, I met with a member of the team that produced the documentary Backlash. The team is currently conducting an awareness campaign on cyber-violence and has put up an online petition people can sign. Their demand of the federal government is clear: stand up to giants like GAFAM—Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft—and pass a law to counter online hate and cyber-violence.
My colleague asked what the federal government could do to address cyber-violence. This group's demand is one example. Have you had discussions with your colleagues about this? What is the status of the bill to address online hate?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for being here.
You talked about funding, and we talk about the urgency of people dying. We talk about the numbers. I think my colleague Michelle referenced earlier with how we dropped from 10th to 30th out of 38.
Here's my question. We heard from witnesses. One of the things we heard from Chelsea from Covenant House Vancouver was that there were youth issues and street outreach. They're short of outreach shelters to support trafficked youth. Girls are three times more at risk and are left behind in mental health. There's violence against women. Her recommendations—again, I talked about this earlier—were about the need for more housing and the need for more help for the homeless by investing in our youth programs, mental health protection and transportation.
One of the other witnesses—I won't go through all of them—was Gabrielle from Assembly of Seven Generations, who mentioned that 30% of youth show trauma when taken from their homes. There's a housing shortage. She talked about staffing people and professionals with the expertise to assist our mental health situation. She talked about homes for youth.
They go on and on. I don't want to go through the whole list, but there are the poverty issues, the inflation issue and the cost of running these programs.
You talked about the funding. When someone is sick or has a heart attack, they go to the hospital and people act immediately. We're losing people by the minute.
Why are we holding off on the funding when we already know from witnesses that we're struggling?
Thank you to my colleague.
Minister Bennett, I'm going to be very blunt. Everything you just said is exactly what is happening. It is all siloed. There are no wraparound services. This is why we've fallen. This is why we have children who are dying. This is why we are 35th out of 38.
There is good intention here, but the execution is desperately lacking. For you to say that people go to the emergency room on a Friday and their family doctor knows on Monday is false. Most people don't even have a family doctor so, no, they don't know.
The other question.... What I would love to see, because I know you care, and we have this great reputation on this committee.... Everybody here cares. Where is this action plan that you're speaking of? Can we see it? What is the timeline? When can we expect to see these results? Everyone around here has heard this over and over again.
The stigma.... We're way past that. We are way past the stigma. This is action time. Where is the action plan? When can we see it? Can you please table it to the committee?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Minister, I thank you for your work, as the first minister of mental health, but also when you were the first minister responsible for the Public Health Agency of Canada several years ago. I also thank you for your visits to northern Ontario, including Sudbury.
You've clearly heard what the witnesses have told the committee about the need for virtual care. Some witnesses were from the Sudbury and Thunder Bay campuses of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, two cities separated by an 11‑hour drive, in a region that includes nearly 110 first nations communities.
Ms. Bennett, can you tell us about the effects of the pandemic on mental health, on the one hand, and about virtual mental health care, on the other?
The question is, what are we doing to support virtual care to implement this more on the self-assessment side when we're looking at youth, at reaching out to youth, and working with the provinces on this?
What's exciting about even what we've learned from Wellness Together Canada and that kind of assessment of people just being able to explore their resources online and find out what might be helpful for them, and then, if they need somebody to call, that can happen 24-7.... That, I think, is like the Kids Help Phone, which we know is helping thousands of kids. That's one of the partners in the Wellness Together platform.
This is something that I think has been really accelerated by COVID. Twenty years ago, we wanted to be able to do more things online. Even the teen clinics...hospitals wanted to be able to let the teens have their appointments on the phone. I think this is what's happening now. Some people feel better if they have the original appointment in person and then the follow-up online, but I think it's very exciting, even in the more subspecialized areas of having access to an addictions medicine person who really is the best in the trade.
I also think the idea that we could get that for indigenous people in first nations languages, in Michif, in Inuktitut...but also, I think the push for national licensure is going to be about francophones, wherever they live in Canada, being able to get mental health supports in their own language.
I really want to thank you, as well as and , for the leadership you're providing to get this plan, because, as you indicated, we have to do things differently. This is not working. We've heard from the opposition about things not working, and we really have to look at things like integrated youth services from ages 12 to 25. That's so important. We hear about eating disorders at 18 and the valley of death afterwards...it's just awful.
I want to thank you for listening to the organizations, because they want to have integrated services. We hear it clearly today. This is a good example: In just this one hour, three opposition parties are talking about provinces. We have B.C.'s safe consumption sites. I hope other provinces will follow the lead of B.C. and then work with us. We've heard other opposition parties here saying that we want to have safe consumption sites, but we have the Province of Ontario, which would not even fund that. As an example, in Sudbury the municipality and the federal government supported the safe consumption site that you visited with me just a while back. We really need to ensure that we have those standards.
Thank you for working with the provinces and the community organizations to ensure we have a sustainable plan moving forward into integrated services for mental health and substance abuse.
Marc happened to just use all of his time, but I think that was his wrap-up statement after a really good meeting. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much to our witnesses. Thank you to Minister Bennett and to everybody who has come for this, talking about mental health and wellness. This is so important.
I would just like to remind everybody that we have a meeting on Thursday. We're still in the process of trying to figure out Thursday's meeting. We will be having trauma-informed training that will be presented to all of us.
One of my requests has been to Heritage Canada to find out what is safe sport and all of these things. I'm still trying to get a briefing for everybody. I'm still working on that. We'll find out, but if not, I'll make sure we're definitely working hard.
See you all on Thursday.
The meeting is adjourned.