Madam Speaker, as I begin my speech today, I am grieved to the core of my heart by the amendments from the other place that reveal an even greater lack of compassion for the most vulnerable in our society through expansion of Bill C-7 to those with mental illness. These amendments go well beyond what the House voted on last year and go well beyond the Truchon decision itself.
The Senate-Liberal Bill C-7 justifies a fulsome debate and more amendments in addition to the one introduced by my colleague from Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes. I must respond to Canadians' alarm with the worrisome evolution of assisted suicide propagated by the other place and the Liberal government.
Opening the door to mental illness as a stand-alone reason to request assisted death is a frightening revelation of the lack of compassion and care for those who need and deserve it most. What is the underlying intent of such an outward attack on the value of the lives of vulnerable people? The message to those who face mental illness as well as those who have dedicated themselves to the care and treatment of anxiety, personality disorder, panic attacks, gender dysphoria, mood disorders, dissociative disorders, sleep disorders, on and on, is no longer a message of hope and “Let’s talk”.
Where is the merit in collecting race-based data when they ignore the pleas of indigenous leaders, palliative care and mental health professionals, physically and mentally disabled Canadians raising strong concern over the lengths gone to by both places to normalize and prioritize assisted suicide? It is this legislation in itself that will cause greater harm to the marginalized and the disadvantaged. A culture of suicide prevention is what we in this place should all strive for as caretakers of the people’s business.
In a letter recently penned to federal and provincial parliamentarians as well as health care regulators, indigenous leaders, including Siksika Health Services' CEO Tyler White, former lieutenant governor of New Brunswick Graydon Nicholas, retired senator Nick Sibbeston, indigenous health and suicide prevention advisers and elders, the desire for a culture of assisted life is made clear, “Bill C-7 goes against many of our cultural values, belief systems, and sacred teachings. The view that MAiD is a dignified end for the terminally ill or those living with disabilities should not be forced on our peoples.”
They are concerned that the government will not respect their indigenous beliefs and values by shutting down a palliative care facility. No doubt they should be concerned as this would not be the first example of a left-leaning government in Canada shutting down a palliative care facility, which also sought to stay true to its calling to provide a service perpetuated by a unique belief and values connection to their communities, a place where assisted suicide is not offered, a place to die a natural death with dignity.
They have called on the Liberals to respect their right to determine how health services are delivered in first nations communities. Indigenous leaders have been working tirelessly on strategies to combat the crisis of suicide in their communities. At the same time, the government is creating an environment that enables assisted suicide. The Liberal government is turning its back on indigenous people.
Renowned Dr. John Maher, an ACT psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of severe mental illness, was frank in his assessment of the proposed amendments. He has made clear that the long, drawn-out process of mental health treatment makes it irrational to offer or provide assisted death to patients. In his experience, not only is initial treatment expected to last up to three years in which symptoms are brought under control, but several more years need to be accounted for in order for patients to thrive under their condition. Dr. Maher is clear that not only is it possible for those who live with mental illness to survive, but they can live satisfying lives.
The Canadian Mental Health Association stated, “As a recovery-oriented organization, CMHA does not believe that mental illnesses are irremediable.” Psychiatrists, doctors, nurses and professors from the University of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Health Authority have expressed grave concern over the inclusion of mental illness as grounds to request assistance in dying. They appeal to the dedicated and wise leaders of our country to “please help protect the young people of Canada, our greatest resource for the future.” Today, we will see who the dedicated and wise leaders are.
Rather than champion hope for those suffering with mental illness and those who care for and provide treatment for their healing, the Liberal government hides behind an all-encompassing MAID regime. It cannot continue to offer suffering Canadians a skeleton of suicide prevention measures with one hand and an ever-expanding assisted death regime with the other.
As Dr. Maher has confirmed, better results can be realized through a culture of life and attentive treatment.
I had the personal privilege, and that is exactly what it was, an incredible privilege, to serve as a nurse’s aide in a long-term mental hospital, taking care of patients with very deep scars. I have given daily care to precious elderly residents in seniors homes and level 4 nursing homes. I have assisted students with special needs in elementary and high school education. Every experience has made me laugh and made me cry. Without any reservation, all these human beings have made such a significant difference in the quality and purpose of my life.
This bill is also deeply disturbing to veterans and their families. I have no desire to share their names here today or their personal experiences. Many are my personal friends. Those veterans who suffer with mental illness as a result of their service see this as another blow to their value to their country.
There has been an ongoing long-term lack of access to mental health care for themselves and their families, exacerbated by VAC's downgrading of OSISS to an online service and its failure to replace coordinators who were on the ground with them, backlogs that mean the care they need is so far away that hope turns to despair, while mental health counselling for their spouses and children who are deeply impacted by their loved one’s injuries must prove that their treatment is required for the health of the veteran.
There are a growing number of suicides in our armed forces and veterans communities already. At a time when a culture of life and of accessible and timely treatments is what is needed, the government is sending them the opposite message.
As I close, I want to encourage every member of the House, every member of the other place and every Canadian to watch a YouTube video called “Tell Me to Stay”. It is a plea from the young woman whose words will end my intervention today.
These are Garifalia’s words:
“Unless you have attempted suicide before, you will not understand how patronizing it is to hear health care practitioners and politicians talking placidly about suicidality as if it were different from MAID. Suicidality is supposedly about wanting to die, the argument goes, whereas a request for MAID is a rational and well-thought-out desire to end one’s suffering, not merely a desire to die for the sake of dying. And yet, if you had told me when I was 16 years old that I could live and not suffer, I would have chosen that option over the death that I sought.
For me, both then and now, any delineation between MAID and suicide as methods of ending suffering is a distinction without a difference. The outcome is the same—one is just medicalized.
People talk about safeguards as if they would prevent someone like me from accidentally or intentionally slipping through the cracks. As a highly intelligent individual with over 10 years of experience in pretending to be okay, let me be clear: The proposed safeguards will not catch me. Had I been able to access MAID in the depths of my struggle, the full life that I have since lived would never have happened...
As someone who endures ongoing and at times debilitating psychological suffering, I firmly believe in and support physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual responses to suffering. What I do not support is the creation of a two-tiered system that would offer suicide prevention to one person and suicide assistance to another.”
She continues to say, “I ask you to prioritize the mandatory review so that the Government of Canada can do its due diligence and consult with Canadian society appropriately first, rather than recklessly expanding the legislative framework based on one judge’s reasoning, thereby undermining the democratic process on which our country is built. I ask you to heed the feedback of disability rights groups, indigenous communities, and international legal scholars, all of whom have spoken out against Bill C-7. Finally, I ask you to prioritize the needs of the vulnerable and the marginalized—the indigenous, the disabled, and the mentally ill.”
March 11, 2021, will be remembered as the one-year anniversary of the COVID pandemic. If this bill is passed, March 11, 2021, will be the day the Canadian government chose to tell Canada's disabled, mentally ill, marginalized and vulnerable people that they are not needed, not valued and not worthy of care.