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Results: 1 - 43 of 43
View Don Davies Profile
View Don Davies Profile
2018-12-10 19:28 [p.24656]
Mr. Chair, the minister repeatedly uses the phrase “public health crisis”, but she studiously avoids calling the opioid epidemic what we in the New Democratic Party call it, which is a public health emergency. On this side of the House, we have repeatedly called, for two years, for the government to declare a public health emergency under the Emergencies Act.
The government and the minister repeatedly say that there are no powers under the Emergencies Act that they are not exercising now. I am going to quote from the Emergencies Act, section 8(1). It says that this gives clear authority to make “orders or regulations” that it believes “are necessary for dealing with an emergency”, including “the establishment of emergency shelters and hospitals”.
In this country, including in Vancouver, we have overdose prevention sites that are operating right now illegally that are saving lives. Eleven Canadians are dying every single day to the opioid overdose crisis, yet if the government declared a public health emergency under the Emergencies Act, it could designate overdose prevention sites as emergency shelters or hospitals under the act, thereby rendering them legal and subject to federal funding. They are operating illegally, with not a nickel of federal funding.
Why is the minister continuing to insist that the Emergencies Act would give her no power to do anything she is not doing? Obviously, the act would allow her to save lives immediately by declaring overdose prevention sites legal and giving them federal funding to save lives.
View Ginette Petitpas Taylor Profile
Lib. (NB)
Mr. Chair, the member opposite talks about a public emergency. We have made it very clear, and I have made it very clear to him personally, that if declaring this a public health emergency would provide me with any additional powers to effectively help the situation on the ground, we would be doing so. However, we have consulted on that with my friend and colleague, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and there are no additional resources and additional powers that would be given to me.
We have spoken to our partners on the ground with respect to the provinces and territories, and they have indicated to us that additional financial support could certainly help them to address the situation and provide their clients with the help they need. That is why I am pleased that in budget 2018, we have been able to make significant investments in the emergency treatment fund. We are in the process of finalizing the last negotiations with provinces and territories, as they have made it very clear that they want to ensure that Canadians have access to services on the ground when it comes to treatment. Those are exactly the investments we are making.
View Don Davies Profile
View Don Davies Profile
2018-12-10 19:57 [p.24660]
Mr. Chair, the number of Canadian lives lost to the opioid crisis is staggering, sobering and growing. This crisis is affecting every community and every demographic across Canada. Over 10,000 Canadians have died from overdoses in the last three years alone and the death toll shows little sign of abating. Last year alone, nearly 4,000 Canadians lost their lives, more than from motor vehicle accidents and homicides combined.
The origins of this crisis can be traced back to the late 1990s, when the number of opioid prescriptions began to increase dramatically in Canada. Experts allege that drug manufacturers promoted this proliferation through a deliberate effort to minimize the risks associated with potent opioids like OxyContin.
According to drug safety expert, Dr. David Juurlink, the message that physicians should use these drugs more liberally was one they were happy to hear because of the limited treatment options available for chronic pain. Canada now ranks as the world's second biggest consumer of pharmaceutical opioids, second only to the United States.
To put that in perspective, 21 million prescriptions for opioids were dispensed in 2017. That is enough to stock every medicine cabinet in the country. In addition to the widespread dependency that was fostered by over-prescribing opioids, the escalating death toll that we are currently witnessing is largely attributable to the fact that the illicit or street drug supply in Canada has become toxic, overwhelmingly laced with poison and tainted with fentanyl.
A recent study by the B.C. Centre on Substance Use found that just 39% of drugs tested at two supervised consumption sites contained what the buyer thought they had been sold and there has been a devastating impact on first responders across our nation.
Given the scale and depth of this crisis, it is easy to succumb to despair and it is tempting to claim that there is nothing more that government can do. While there is no immediate or complete fix to this overdose epidemic, that does not mean we have exhausted all options for action. Indeed, there is much more that can and must be done.
Canada's New Democrats have a number of positive evidence-based proposals to bring this crisis under control. First, we must recognize that this crisis requires an emergency declaration at the national level. British Columbia, the epicentre of the opioid crisis, has been in a declared state of health emergency since April 2016. Canada's New Democrats have been calling for a similar declaration at the federal level for over two years. Unfortunately, the federal Liberal government has refused to use this tool. The Liberals claim that declaring a public health emergency is unnecessary, saying it would provide no additional levers for action. This is absolutely false.
Such a declaration would constitute a formal recognition that we have reached an emergency situation in this country when we are burying 11 Canadians a day. It would affirm to the public the urgency with which the federal government is approaching this crisis. In addition to its symbolic value, however, a declaration of a public health emergency would have the practical effect of empowering the federal government to coordinate a pan-Canadian response to this crisis, something it has not done to date.
Specifically, section 8(1) of the Emergencies Act grants the federal government clear authority to make orders or regulations that it believes are necessary for dealing with an emergency. This includes: the authorization of, or direction to, any person to render essential services; the regulation of the distribution and availability of essential goods, services and resources; the authorization and making of emergency payments; and the establishment of emergency shelters and hospitals.
This means we could cut red tape and allow the federal government to rapidly authorize and support overdose prevention services currently operating illegally and with no federal funding, but saving lives. This means that health professionals currently working at unsanctioned sites throughout Canada would no longer be forced to put their licences and personal liberty on the line to save lives. It would allow for the emergency allocation of resources on the scale needed to adequately address the mounting death toll.
Second, we must begin to treat substance use and addiction for what they are: health issues. Therefore, we need substantial new federal money for evidence-based addiction treatment across all modalities, from abstinence to 12-step to opioid substitution, tailored for every demographic from youth to women to indigenous Canadians. Treatment must be available as a fully insured service provided by our public health care system so that individuals and families can get timely access at quality facilities, regardless of income or ability to pay.
When people are ready to get treatment, they must get it immediately. They cannot wait even a day or they are risking a death sentence, yet on this score our public system fails utterly. For example, the wait-list for publicly funded beds at the Pine River Institute, Ontario's only residential treatment program for kids aged 13 to 19 years old, is a year and a half. Angie Hamilton, executive director of Families for Addiction Recovery, has rightly called the situation “unconscionable”. It is time to recognize that substance use disorder is a disease like any other. It is past time we closed the fatal gap in our health care system that fails to deliver the treatment that Canadians need.
Third, in the U.S., federal authorities have secured criminal pleas and over $600 million in fines, damages and other costs from Purdue Pharma for misbranding OxyContin with the intent to defraud and mislead. This summer, the NDP government of British Columbia also filed a civil lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors to recoup the enormous public costs of addressing this crisis. That lawsuit is open to every province and territory and the federal government to join. If corporate executives minimized or concealed the addictive qualities of prescription opioids in the U.S., it is very possible that they did so in Canada as well. The New Democrats say it is time for the federal government to support B.C.'s lawsuit and launch an investigation itself to determine if criminal sanctions are warranted under federal law.
Fourth, we must be willing to look past the discredited “war on drugs” ideology in favour of an evidence-based approach to drug policy in Canada. Given that overdose mortality rates are overwhelmingly being driven by the tainted illicit drug supply, as every police officer in the country will tell us, it is clearly necessary to explore the decriminalization and medical regulation of substance use. Indeed, it is obvious that we could avoid thousands of unnecessary deaths if, instead of consuming poison, substance users had consistent access to regulated chemicals in a known dosage through our health care system.
The example of Portugal shows that decriminalization works. In 1999, there was a drug crisis in Portugal, related to a cheap toxic heroin supply. Faced with rising harms, the Government of Portugal decided to treat substance use as a public health issue, not a criminal one. The crisis in Portugal soon stabilized and the ensuing years saw dramatic drops in problematic drug use, HIV and hepatitis infection rates, overdose deaths, drug-related crime and incarceration rates. Ninety per cent of public money spent fighting drugs in Portugal is now channelled toward health care goals and just 10% on enforcement. In contrast, in Canada, 70% of funding spent combatting drug use is spent on enforcement. In Portugal, six people per million die from drug overdoses. In Canada, the number is 110. It is time Canada explored this approach.
Finally, I wish to conclude my remarks by speaking directly to every Canadian who has lost a loved one. Their courage to show up, to speak up, to share their experiences and to demand more in the knowledge that we can do better, is inspiring. It is in the service of the greatest legacy we can pay to those we have lost to do everything in our power to prevent the avoidable, unnecessary death of another loved one to addiction. We can put an end to the marginalization and stigmatization of our country's most vulnerable citizens. We can turn the tide on this crisis and we can forge a better future based on courage, compassion, love and science. It is time we did so, and the New Democrats are working hard toward those goals.
View Marilyn Gladu Profile
View Marilyn Gladu Profile
2018-12-10 20:10 [p.24662]
Madam Chair, I would like to thank my colleague for all the dedication he shows on the health committee.
One of the things that is really disappointing is to see that the government is in its fourth year of its mandate and there has been a crisis with opioids from the time that the Liberals were first elected. We still do not see the urgent action that is required.
I was interested in the member talking about declaring a national emergency. I wonder if he could comment on how that might increase the urgency of the action to address this crisis.
View Don Davies Profile
View Don Davies Profile
2018-12-10 20:11 [p.24662]
Madam Chair, I think it is important to state that the number of opioid deaths in Canada has gone up every single year of the Liberal government's term. Either it is not taking effective action or when it says it is doing everything possible, it is clearly not enough. That is why the New Democrats are looking for creative, additional measures and steps. It is not acceptable to us that the death rate from opioids is rising. One of those steps is to declare it a public health emergency.
As I pointed out in my speech, it is important from a symbolic point of view. We cannot call this an emergency and have Canadians take us seriously if we are not actually prepared to use our powers legislatively and declare it so.
I think when the Liberal government refuses to declare this a public health emergency, it is sending a signal to Canadians that 11 Canadians dying every day from opioid overdose is not an emergency in their point of view. However, it is to New Democrats and I hope it is to the Conservative Party as well.
View Tracey Ramsey Profile
View Tracey Ramsey Profile
2018-12-10 20:14 [p.24662]
Madam Chair, I want to thank the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway for his work on this critical issue. It is an emergency issue.
I listened to the health minister earlier. She said that the government is doing everything it can across the country as though there were overdose prevention sites and safe injection sites in every community.
In my community of Windsor-Essex, there are none. Our community is having a raging debate right now about whether or not to have one. On the weekend of November 10 and 11 of this year, we had five overdoses in a 24-hour period. Four people died and one person survived. This is an emergency but we cannot even get a site because there is no funding for it.
As the member said, if the government used its powers under the Emergencies Act to declare a national public health emergency, it would help communities like mine in Windsor-Essex that simply have nothing at this point. We are relying on volunteers and medical professionals who are afraid of losing their licences.
I wonder if the member could please comment on how declaring this an emergency would help communities like mine in Windsor-Essex.
View Don Davies Profile
View Don Davies Profile
2018-12-10 20:15 [p.24663]
Madam Chair, under our federal legislation it is possible for a community to apply for a supervised injection site, but that takes a lot of paperwork and a lot of time. The New Democrats urged the government when it was first elected to change the Conservative legislation to make that happen more quickly and it has happened. There are more supervised injection sites in this country than there were before, but that is not enough.
We need overdose prevention sites to pop up in every community across the country because we cannot wait. We cannot wait another two years for a single supervised injection site to maybe open up in a particular community. We need these overdose prevention sites now and we need treatment facilities now.
The overdose prevention site in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver is operating illegally right now with no federal money. Brave people go to work every day and risk their professional licences in order to save lives. All it would take is the stroke of a pen by the Liberal government under the Emergencies Act to render that overdose prevention site legal and allow sites to proliferate across the country, but the government refuses to do it.
Worse still, the government is misleading Canadians by saying it has no powers under the Emergencies Act that would allow it to do anything more than what it is doing now. That is patently false. Any Canadian can read section 8 of the Emergencies Act and see for themselves, and ask the Liberals why they are refusing to exercise that power.
If the Liberals truly believe this is an emergency and they truly want to save lives, they should be doing it now. A New Democrat government would.
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2018-12-10 20:16 [p.24663]
Madam Chair, as the Minister of Health has talked about, this is a national emergency. It is a crisis. It is interesting to be following the New Democrat member, who was speaking about why Ottawa does not declare it a national emergency and invoke legislation to that effect.
During this debate, it is really important to have an appreciation of how important it is that Ottawa work with the provincial and territorial jurisdiction. I used to be a health critic in the province of Manitoba, and it is the provinces which are responsible for the delivery of health care services. When we talk about bed allocations, whether it is in a walk-in clinic, an emergency room in a tertiary hospital or a community hospital, or any other form of health care service, it is the provincial government which leads through the administration of health care. If we talk about nurses and doctors, who do people think is paying their salaries? The administration of health care is done through the provinces.
Canadians and Liberal governments from the past to the present have recognized how important it is that Canada demonstrate national leadership on the health care file. It is why we have a Canada Health Act. It is the reason we transfer hundreds of millions, going into the billions, of dollars every year to support health care. It is why we have a Minister of Health who meets with her provincial and territorial counterparts. It is one of the reasons we have direct relations with indigenous people in relation to health.
Canadians are not going to be fooled on the issue. We recognize it is an emergency, a crisis. The Minister of Health herself stated just minutes ago that every three hours someone dies in Canada as a direct result of this crisis. We have invested not tens of millions, but hundreds of millions of dollars to try to assist in alleviating this crisis situation.
As the opposition tries to point fingers and assign blame, we need to recognize how Ottawa can do more. We are exploring all sorts of ways in which we can deal with this crisis. The most significant ways to help would be to, one, provide financial resources, which we are doing in the sums of hundreds of millions of dollars, and two, to work with the different provinces. It is the provinces which have many of the levers. They too have tax dollars and are at the front lines. We need to work with the stakeholders.
This whole take-note debate was not only agreed to, but was pushed by the government House leader. Not that long ago, the member for Winnipeg Centre stood and talked about the crisis situation with crystal meth in the city of Winnipeg. To try to imply that this government is not doing anything on this crisis situation is bogus and disrespectful, because the Government of Canada is taking action. We are committing resources, negotiating and talking with different provinces and territories. We are working with the stakeholders, meeting with first responders and so forth.
We are making a difference. Whether the opposition wants to recognize it or not, lives have been saved by the actions of this government working with other governments and different stakeholders.
Yes, there is more that needs to be done. It is one of the reasons we want to hear this debate tonight. The opposition seems to be focused on just being critical of the government. Let us see genuine ideas come forward.
The biggest problem in Winnipeg North regarding overdose is crystal meth. It is destroying lives. It is killing people. It is causing all sorts of problems, including safety-related issues, in many communities in Manitoba. In Winnipeg North, it is very serious. In fact, a number of weeks ago, I had a tour with the Bear Clan. I understand the leader of the Conservative Party has been there. Our Governor General has been there. Other members have actually recognized the fine work that the Bear Clan has been doing in my home constituency of Winnipeg North.
As opposed to just taking a tour, if members really tried to understand the issue and the problems with crystal meth, they would have a better appreciation of why the different governments have to work together. It is not only the provincial and federal governments but the municipal government needs to work with them. We need to ensure that our first responders are engaged in this issue as well.
There is not just one issue. Declaring a public emergency under the Emergencies Act is not going to resolve the problem. The NDP members are really off-base on that.
If we want to have the biggest impact, the most significant thing we could do is provide financial resources. The government is doing that. We also need to work with the different stakeholders, the provincial entities, and to a certain degree, even our municipal governments. That is the way we are going to have a more positive impact on resolving the crisis that we are in today.
View Cheryl Hardcastle Profile
View Cheryl Hardcastle Profile
2018-12-10 20:30 [p.24665]
Madam Chair, I am thankful for the opportunity to stand to talk about a bogus and disrespectful display by the other side of the House with the previous speaker who was accusing this side of using some drama.
For all of the Canadians watching tonight, if they look back at the Hansard, they will see that the terms “bogus” and “disrespectful” were used to describe what this side of the House was doing when we have simply been passionate and asked to have resources leveraged and a public health emergency declared, which would not have to take very long. Now people are acting as if they are so distracted. We heard gruesome details, as if those are the only details. When we go home to our ridings, we see there is a true crisis happening right now. There is a way for all of us to maximize our resources and work together. We can cut this red tape and can have an immediate response.
There are 11 people a day dying from this. In Windsor and Essex Counties, we have government leaders at all levels watching and understanding how a pan-Canadian strategy could expedite the kind of response we need. That is why we are so incredulous to hear in the House someone swagger, raise their voice and say, “We're allowing a take-note debate tonight and are doing our very best. How dare you?”
How dare we say so? We have a real public health crisis that can be dealt with as an emergency if the government would truly take leadership and do that. To do otherwise is bogus and disrespectful to all of the families suffering today.
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2018-12-10 20:32 [p.24665]
Madam Chair, the issue at hand is a very passionate one because people are dying from it and lives are being destroyed. I see animation and yelling on the New Democrat side, and so there is nothing wrong with my also being a little bit passionate about this. What is good for the goose is good for the gander at times. I know sometimes that makes NDP members a little uncomfortable, but the reality is that the NDP is wrong on this issue.
The most significant things the Government of Canada can do is, one, provide financial resources, and two, work with the different stakeholders, in particular our provinces, to ensure that we are maximizing the benefits of the resources going to treatment programs. Our government has already brought in hundreds of millions of dollars and has already signed up, I believe, six provinces. Let us recognize how important our first responders are as a part of the solution.
As much as I raise my voice at times, it is only because, like New Democrats, I also care.
View Jenny Kwan Profile
View Jenny Kwan Profile
2018-12-10 20:34 [p.24665]
Madam Chair, I cannot take seriously the member's suggestion that the government cannot do any more to save lives. Just for the wannabe minister's records, I will note that in 2009, 428 people died of the H1N1 virus. Today, with the opioid crisis, over 1,400 people are dying a year in this country, yet we do not have a national health emergency. Why is that?
We heard the NDP critic, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, state very clearly that the government can exercise its right to declare a national health emergency and take immediate action to save lives.
If the Liberals really mean what they say and care deeply about the people whose lives are being lost today, why do they not take action? To suggest there is nothing more the government can do is simply bogus.
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2018-12-10 20:35 [p.24665]
Madam Chair, I think the member opposite is being unfair to the NDP governments of British Columbia and Alberta. At the end of the day, as I have indicated, political parties of all stripes govern our provinces. Once all has been said and done, members will find that the greatest resource to ensure that this crisis is dealt with is to place it with our provincial and territorial governments, with the support of Ottawa demonstrating national leadership, which it has done. The government has been working with the provinces and the territories. It has been providing financial resources. It has been working with first-time responders. It is listening to what the stakeholders have said, whether to the current Minister of Health or the previous minister of health.
Many of the concerns that NDP members might want to raise here could also be applied to their provincial counterparts. I would suggest to them not to be too harsh, because I believe that the NDP governments in Alberta and British Columbia are, in fact, working with Ottawa. Like us, they recognize the situation and know it is not going to be resolved overnight. Both levels of government are doing the best they can to ensure that we get the resources and treatment as quickly as possible to those individuals who truly need it.
View Jenny Kwan Profile
View Jenny Kwan Profile
2018-12-10 22:27 [p.24682]
Mr. Chair, I thank the member for her comments and for sharing the story of the loved one in her own universe who died of an overdose.
In the government House leader's comments, she stated that overdose prevention sites work. They do work. In my own community of Vancouver East, where they started, they have not lost one life at the overdose prevention sites. If the government House leader acknowledges that they work, why does she not call on her own government to declare a national health emergency and use subsection 8(1) of the Emergencies Act to allow them to become sanctioned sites, not only in Vancouver East but throughout Canada, to save lives.
Every month, the overdose prevention sites in my own community see at least 500 people come through, and they have not lost one life. They have no federal funding. They have zero support. Health care professionals are worried about working or being involved with these sites because they could lose their licences because they are unsanctioned. Will she call on her own government to declare a national health emergency and sanction all these sites?
View Bardish Chagger Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Bardish Chagger Profile
2018-12-10 22:29 [p.24682]
Mr. Chair, that member, having served in a provincial parliament, should very well know that when it comes to the administration of health care services, they are within provincial jurisdiction.
I can tell her that the federal government is here to provide billions of dollars in transfers, and we will always be a partner in that. I can tell her also that this House was able to quickly advance Bill C-37, which not only passed in the House of Commons but in the Senate, because we recognize that this is a crisis.
The member may choose to get into semantics. The member might want to have this determined a health emergency. What this government and I are about is lives. I personally have an individual who is impacted in my life. This issue is in my backyard. This issue is not only in my backyard, it is in every person's backyard. For me, it is not about semantics. It is about results. The government is advancing dollars. It is willing to work with provincial governments. That is what it will take. We are also working with municipalities.
All levels of government need to take this issue seriously. I can tell members that there is a federal partner that is more than willing to do so. We need to ensure that not only do these lives matter but that we provide the resources for them. This government is willing to do so.
View Tracey Ramsey Profile
View Tracey Ramsey Profile
2018-12-10 22:50 [p.24685]
Mr. Chair, I too have met with mothers in my office and with some children who they have been able to bring back from the brink but constantly have a watchful eye on. These are mothers who are looking for a way to be part of the solution and are desperately asking for urgent help from the government. Ten thousand people have died of opioid addiction in our country.
I do appreciate the member bringing up the issue of SARS.
I want to raise another emergency situation that we acted on and that was the H1N1 flu virus. In 2009, we had 428 deaths and we called a national public health emergency in our country that triggered mobilized centres working 24 hours a day, seven days a week for weeks. That stopped the deaths and put us back on a pathway to health.
New Democrats are not alone in calling for a national public health emergency in this country and we are doing so because the government is not doing enough. We in the House cannot pat ourselves on the back and say we are doing everything within our power. The government has the ability to call for a national public health emergency today and start to turn this conversation into one where we are saving people.
Could the member speak to what that would look like in her riding of Edmonton Strathcona and to the mothers that she has met with? What would it mean to hear the government respond in that urgent way?
View Linda Duncan Profile
View Linda Duncan Profile
2018-12-10 22:52 [p.24685]
Mr. Chair, I would like to thank my colleague from Essex. I would like to thank all of my colleagues in this place who have spoken tonight.
As a lawyer, I want to reiterate what my colleague said earlier. The law defines a national emergency as “an urgent and critical situation of a temporary nature that (a) seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians and is of such proportions or nature as to exceed the capacity or authority of a province....”
We have not heard any rational response from the government this evening as to why it does not see this crisis of 10,000 Canadians who have been killed by an opioid overdose, or why it does not think that this is a situation where we should be calling for a national health emergency and triggering every conceivable mechanism available at all levels of government.
View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Geoff Regan Profile
2017-02-02 10:06 [p.8351]
The Chair has received a request for an emergency debate from the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques. The hon. member has the floor.
View Guy Caron Profile
Mr. Speaker, as you know, I asked two questions here this week about the government's actions in response to the ongoing crisis in New Brunswick and on the Acadian peninsula in particular and what it is doing for the victims of last week's ice storm crisis.
Unfortunately, I have to say that the answers I got from both the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness were not satisfactory with respect to the federal government's action, or rather the lack of inaction I was hoping for, in response to a situation that affected more than 130,000 households and left more than 10,000 of them without heat or electricity in February.
This situation really hits home for me because I was in Montreal in 1998 during the ice storm. It was not as bad for me personally because we were lucky to have been heating with gas, not electricity, but we took in many stricken Montrealers and gave them shelter for 10 days.
We see everything that the Province of New Brunswick is trying to do at this time, as well as what the victims are going through, but unfortunately, we have no idea what exactly the federal government has done, apart from responding to a request made last Friday to deploy some troops to the Acadian peninsula, specifically to Shippagan, Miscou and Lamèque.
In that sense, I believe we need to have an emergency debate on this matter, so that we, as parliamentarians, can learn more about what action this government has taken, what it has committed to doing, and the work it has already done, in partnership with New Brunswick, for the victims in that province. Those people need to know what the federal government has done for them, especially if you consider the federal government's rapid response to the Fort McMurray fires and the floods in Calgary and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, three disasters that have happened in the past five years.
In that sense, Mr. Speaker, I respectfully ask that you grant my request for an emergency debate, so that the House can debate this extremely important and urgent matter.
View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Geoff Regan Profile
2017-02-02 10:09 [p.8352]
I thank the hon. member for raising this issue that affects the province right next to mine. However, I find that his request does not meet the exigencies of the standing order.
View Charlie Angus Profile
View Charlie Angus Profile
2016-06-09 14:34 [p.4279]
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the health minister for visiting Kashechewan and Attawapiskat with me last week. It is ground zero in the indigenous health crisis.
The minister met people who have lost loved ones because there were no doctors, and children with respiratory illnesses, because Tylenol is the only medication available, yet there was no money in the budget for the shortfall, and she did not make any new commitments on health services to the region.
I have a simple question. The youth and leaders will be in Ottawa next week. Would she be willing to put the money on the table so we can end this discriminatory, substandard, third world health standard?
View Jane Philpott Profile
Ind. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member knows, we did have a very important visit to both Attawapiskat and Kashechewan last week. I know that the young people from Attawapiskat are coming to Ottawa next week.
I want him to also know that yesterday I met with the Assembly of First Nations National Youth Council and had an excellent meeting discussing these very issues. We talked about strategies for mental health. We talked about what programs are being successful, and we will work with them to implement the most successful programs available.
View Andy Fillmore Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Andy Fillmore Profile
2016-05-19 10:03 [p.3557]
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the third report of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, entitled “Declaration of Health Emergency by First Nations Communities in Northern Ontario”. Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee requests that the government table a comprehensive response to this report.
View Charlie Angus Profile
View Charlie Angus Profile
2016-04-12 18:39 [p.2115]
That the House do now adjourn.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.
I would like to begin by thanking my colleagues for participating in this very important emergency debate.
As parliamentarians, we are responsible for keeping indigenous youth in Canada and all Canadian youth safe. We are also responsible for working together to find a solution to this tragic crisis and working with communities, leaders, youth, and their families. Canada's Parliament must make the necessary resources available to support the communities and help them find long-term solutions.
I want to thank my colleagues for being here. At the beginning I would like to pause and particularly thank Chief Bruce Shisheesh, the council in Attawapiskat, the teachers, the front-line workers, the police, the leadership in the region from Grand Chief Jonathon Solomon, and our Nishnawbe Aski nation.
This is not just about Attawapiskat particularly. This is about who we are as Canadians and our whole nation.
I want to particularly thank the young people. We see the image of these helpless communities and these lost children, but if we travel in these communities and see their faces and see the potential, we see that the greatest tragedy in this nation is that we would waste a generation of children and squander their potential.
I think of Shannen Koostachin, the woman who inspired me more than anybody except my wife, who had to lead a national fight at age 13 just to get a school. I think of Chelsea Edwards, who took her fight to the United Nations when she was living in boarding houses far from her home.
I think of all the young people who leave home at 13 to live in boarding houses in Sioux Lookout and Timmins because they believe there is a better future, and we fail them, and it has to stop.
Tonight might be the beginning of a change in our country. That is what I am asking us all to come together to do.
What do we need in the short term? We have to end the Band-Aids, the emergency flights and the hand-wringing.
This is not new. A 1999 coroner's jury for Selena Sakanee in Neskantaga had 41 jury recommendations. What happened?
In 2008, after the horrific Kashechewan fire and inquest, there were 80 recommendations. What happened to them? They are still sitting on the shelf.
After the 2011 Pikangikum suicide crisis that was so devastating, the coroner's report had 100 recommendations. What happened to them? They are still sitting there.
Now it is up to us. It is no longer possible to say that we did not know or we do not know and we will find out. We know what the problem is. From a parliamentary point of view, we have to end the nickel-and-diming of services. When we say to a young person in crisis that we will medevac them out on a flight, that is an extreme. Most times they are left on their own. However, if we do medevac them out, we send them back two days later because nobody in government will pay for the treatment centre they need.
We have to end the culture of deniability whereby children and young people are denied mental health services on a routine basis, as a matter of course, by the federal government.
Cindy Blackstock points out that in this budget the children are being failed because of child welfare issues. We have to close that gap. That is an issue of political will that we could change tonight.
We have to ask where the health care dollars are, because we know this crisis has been happening, and there are no new augmented funds.
We have to work with our front-line workers. I talked to the incredible police officers at NAPS, the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service, who suffer from PTSD because they are the ones who go in to deal with the children. We have to augment them and give them support so that we can keep drugs out of the communities and build communities at the grassroots.
What are our long-term solutions? The solutions come from the communities, from their culture, from their incredible relationship to the land, and most Canadians have no concept of how deep that goes. The solutions will not be from outsiders who come in. We need to put the resources there to help, because they know where the solutions are.
We need to get a mobile crisis unit in Mushkegowuk territory so that the communities can start to deal with this themselves.
We need healing centres and treatment centres. We actually have lots of them across the country, and they are just sitting empty, because governments built them but never put a dime in to fund the resources so that they could actually staff them. Among the ones that we have sitting empty, there is one in Attawapiskat. Where are the resources, the mental health dollars, to have those local healing and treatment centres for the young people when they need them?
We also have to talk to the youth. Maybe this is a moment to think outside the box. When the body of little Alan Kurdi was found on the shores, it shocked the world and it shamed Canadians. Canadians stood up and said that they would do whatever. All of civil society came together. Well, this is our moment.
I am thinking tonight of young Sarah Hookimaw who has left home to go to school in Timmins. She wrote me a message. She said, “I wish I could be there with the young back home, my cousins and my peers. I can't right now, but I am seeing the leaders standing up and I'm proud to be who I am, even though it is not easy. I want us to build a relationship with the government.”
This is the voice of the youth speaking.
Abagail Mattinas of Constance Lake First Nation wrote me a message tonight. She said, “I want to be part of the teams that will bring light in the dark time. Let me know how I can help so we can plan an assessment to end the suicides in our communities.”
Where is the will to take from the youth and start regional and national teams and empower youth to come to this Parliament and tell us what change should look like? The days of Indian Affairs and Health Canada dictating to them how their resources are going to be spent is a failed model, and it has to end.
I want to thank my colleagues in the House for their goodwill on this, because this is not a partisan issue. As parents, as adults, this is our primary responsibility. It is the fundamental responsibility, and we cannot use this in any cheap partisan manner.
There have been mistakes. There has been a 150-year system of systemic discrimination and racist denial, but by coming together, we can change that, and that is what I am asking for tonight. I want to see political will, because what I am hearing in the communities is that they do not want another declaration of emergency. We have lost count of the declarations of emergency that were lip service or were ignored or were denied. They are tired of that.
They want a nation-to-nation relationship, and it begins when we get past the talk. It begins when we get past the rhetoric and say that we will commit and put that money into the health services that have been regularly denied. We will stop fighting children when they need access to proper mental health services. We will deal with the crisis in education that still makes the children in my communities like Kashechewan go to school in rotten, broken-down portables.
We have to end that, because the greatest resource we have in this country is not the gold and it is not the oil; it is the children. The day we recognize that is the day that we will be the nation we were meant to be.
We will have this journey together for as long as the rivers run, as long as the grass grows, and as long as the sun shines. That is our commitment to each other, and I am asking everyone tonight to follow through and make it true.
View Todd Doherty Profile
View Todd Doherty Profile
2016-04-12 19:32 [p.2122]
Mr. Speaker, we are all gathered here today because of a state of emergency and we all need to step away from our speaking points for a moment. We have two communities that are facing difficult times in the ridings of our hon. colleague from La Loche and our hon. colleague from Timmins—James Bay. The communities are facing grievous emergencies. It has been two months since the incident in La Loche and it is still waiting for services.
Let us step away from our speaking points. I know that both ministers have great passion for this file, there is no two ways about it, and I commend them for that. However, as leaders within our communities, as leaders within our nation, as leaders in the House, let us step away from our speaking points and talk about what we are going to do for these two communities that are facing emergencies today. I implore the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs and the Minister of Health to please tell us what we can do to help now.
View Cathy McLeod Profile
Mr. Speaker, first I would like to note that I will be sharing my time with the member for Oshawa.
Certainly as we look at the current situation that has prompted the emergency debate, we see it is horrifying, tragic, and to be quite frank, a very sad reflection on what is a shared failure by all levels of government and Canadians. I do appreciate the comment from the member for Timmins—James Bay and also the more recent question of whether this will be an Alan Kurdi moment, when we take what is a very tragic situation and finally start to see what are some significant and important improvements.
It is a deeply personal debate, and many of us have talked about our stories tonight and how suicide has impacted us or how we have intersected with it in our careers. I reflect back, and as a nurse I had maybe a year or two of experience under my belt when I ended up in an aboriginal community with not a lot of community experience. I was pretty good in a hospital, but I sure was not ready to be thrust into a community as a solo nurse. During that first week there were three suicides. I can just remember thinking, “Oh, my goodness”. The community was reeling and I actually did not have the capacity or the skills to deal with it, nor were the resources there. That was in the 1980s, and it does not sound as if things have changed all that much since that time.
First I want to look at the nurses, the community health workers, and the drug and alcohol workers who are in Attawapiskat or in communities across this country, who are doing yeoman's duty in terms of dealing with very difficult situations, often situations that are really beyond their skill level. Everyone in this House should acknowledge the very difficult situation that the people, including the RCMP, are having to deal with right now.
How are we going to make a difference, and how are we going to make a difference forever? First I want to say that in this debate we are there in terms of making positive movements to go forward. I want to say that, unlike the H1N1 crisis, where it was leveraged for some political points with some very difficult literature that was sent out, we are there with them. However, we also are going to say this. What is happening in La Loche if two months later people are saying they cannot get help on the phone? That is not good enough. We know that has to be changed. There are people struggling with PTSD, and suicide rates are going up.
I have to go back to the whole framework that health care providers take to some of these issues. First, I have to say that solutions need to be within the community and in partnership with the community. However, we are always looking at a number of different levels of dealing with these emergency crises in communities, and certainly we would go back to tertiary, secondary, and primary prevention. We perhaps need to reflect on what we as the Government of Canada are doing in partnership with our provinces and within a partnership with our indigenous communities and indigenous leaders in every single one of those areas. We cannot just say that we have sent in some counsellors.
I do want to give the Minister of Health credit. From what I have heard of the current situation in Attawapiskat, it sounds as if there are some great resources there in a tertiary kind of model, people who are there supporting the community, whether psychologists, psychiatrists, or nurses. It sounds as if the government has deployed a relatively rapid response to that current situation. I do commend the government on that piece, but I am concerned to hear that two months later in La Loche that support is not there anymore. That sort of tertiary kind of prevention is not just a week, not a couple of days, but it is something that goes into a few months.
I am sure both the ministers have that same kind of framework when they look at how we are going to approach the secondary prevention element of it. There was a very intriguing photograph that I saw, and apparently it was done by the children of Attawapiskat, depicting what they need to help them in their community.
There were simple measures the children of the community asked for, recognizing that there was a crisis. They asked for recreation programs and things that many of our children take for granted. There was a board with three photographs that were powerful because they showed what the children said they needed to help life in their community become a little better.
We can call it many things, but what is most important is primary prevention, a new relationship, how we are going to solve the problems of 150 years. I hear that 28 years ago there was the same debate. Frankly, the progress we have made is not what anyone should be proud of.
However, I hope we do not look at everything as doom and gloom, because I look at some of the things that I was watchful for in the 1980s and I have seen some important progress. I will take mental health as an example.
Mental health used to be in the dark, but look at Bell Let's Talk or the Mental Health Commission of Canada. We have resources out there that now have structure in place, and we need to take those resources like the Mental Health Commission of Canada because it has expertise in mental health. We have communities with expertise in who their communities are and what those communities need. We need to start to marry them.
However, more important is the fundamental issue of poverty and economic opportunity. At the end of the day, perhaps these other areas have to be dealt with, but we need to create that future that is so important.
I am going to focus in on that particular piece. The government has some plans, and where the plans make sense, we do support it. I have to say that moving back from the First Nations Financial Transparency Act is a terrible disservice to band members and community members, because that is one way they can hold their leadership to account when dollars come to the communities for recreation and education. The Department of Indian Affairs cares, but the parents of the children care more. They want to see that the money for health care and education is going where it is supposed to. That is a critical step in how we shine the light for communities to look at their leadership and what it is doing.
In the budget, the government focused on education because it is critical. An area I thought was lacking was economic opportunity and equity partnerships. In British Columbia there is a group saying to please backstop a loan so that they can actually become a partner in some of the natural resource opportunities.
In conclusion, I believe everyone's heart is in the right place. We commit to working toward solutions and, if those solutions are not there, everyone will be hearing from us.
View Colin Carrie Profile
View Colin Carrie Profile
2016-04-12 19:53 [p.2124]
Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for allowing us to participate in this debate, and to thank all members in the House for being here this evening.
My heart goes out to all those who have lost friends and loved ones to suicide, and those individuals who have been affected by the recent crisis that has unfolded in our northern communities, such as Attawapiskat.
In response to the state of emergency, I think everyone in this House understands the tragedy of suicide and the need for all of us to do more. However, to understand what we need to do in the future, we need to understand what was done in the past. Therefore, I would like to bring to the attention of those here tonight some of the things that have been done in the past, so that we can understand what we need to do in the future.
I will talk a bit about the commitments that were made under previous governments with the co-operation of Health Canada, aboriginal communities, and additional stakeholders. That will be to better understand suicide and mental health to aid those who feel the internal pain that leads them to believe there is no other option.
With initiatives such as the ones made by previous governments, Canada is becoming better equipped to help those who need it, and to renew hope. Obviously there are still significant gaps, particularly with our aboriginal communities. However, these initiatives are in part helpful aids to the current government to help it continue the work that needs to be done on mental health research and suicide prevention in Canada. As we all realize, even though Canada invests significantly more now than ever before in mental health initiatives, more can and needs to be done.
The previous government had taken a strong stance, for example, on innovative research related to suicide and its prevention. We recognized the very real impact that mental health conditions have on families. We all have a role to play to improving the mental health of all Canadians.
Since 2006, our past Conservative government had invested over $32 million to support over 130 aboriginal community-based suicide prevention projects. These are the projects that we work in a partnership that is necessary to get to the root causes.
There has been $1 billion invested in mental health and neuroscience research since 2006. We helped to establish the Canada brain research fund, which provides matching funds to complement funds that have been raised by private contributions for research in brain disease and mental disorders.
Additionally, our government had increased health transfers to the provinces to unprecedented levels, by 70%, accounting for close to 25% of the federal government's total spending. Ontario alone received increases, from approximately $10 billion a year in transfers, to close to $21 billion.
Furthermore, I was very proud that our government, during our mandate, had the opportunity to help establish the Mental Health Commission of Canada in 2006. The commission has been able to help communities work together and find solutions for mental health and suicide prevention.
The commission has proudly trained 100,000 individuals to support good mental health, in addition to the following initiatives:
1. Promote mental health across the lifespan of Canadians in homes, schools, and workplaces, and prevent mental illness and suicide wherever possible.
2. Foster recovery and well-being for people of all ages living with mental health problems and illnesses, and uphold their rights.
3. Provide access to the right combination of services, treatments and supports, when and where people need them [across our country].
4. Reduce disparities in risk factors and access to mental health services, and strengthen the response to the needs of diverse communities and Northerners.
5. Work with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis to address their mental health needs, acknowledging their distinct circumstances, rights and cultures.
6. [And, of course] mobilize leadership, improve knowledge, and foster collaboration at all levels [of government].
The Mental Health Commission of Canada continues to advocate for opportunities to establish initiatives of suicide prevention. In response to the Prime Minister's wishes for his ministry to focus on suicide prevention as a top national health priority, a proposal was made and presented to the finance committee that had detailed a community-based suicide prevention program. Unfortunately, the national suicide prevention project did not receive funding in the 2016 budget.
The national suicide prevention project would have focused on specialized support, including a range of prevention and crisis services, such as crisis lines, support groups, and coordinating, planning and access. It would have provided training and networks to better equip community gatekeepers, such as physicians, first responders, nurses, human resource staff and managers, and teachers, by providing access to training and ongoing learning opportunities. Public awareness campaigns in each community via posters, brochures, and social media would have been included.
It recommended means restriction, by helping communities to identify hot spots, the methods or places where a high number of suicides occur, and restricting access to them by building barriers on bridges or railway crossings; and protocols for medication access.
Also recommended was research, to increase the suicide prevention evidence base. This would have included setting research priorities and evaluating the model itself.
I hope that the current Liberal government takes the wise advice of the Mental Health Commission as it continues to address this state of emergency and starts moving forward to come up with a more permanent solution. At the end of the day, it is about a permanent solution.
Further initiatives that were moved forward by the previous government include an act respecting a federal framework for suicide prevention, which was introduced by my colleague, the member for Kitchener—Conestoga. He will have the opportunity to speak during this debate on his private member's bill, which achieved royal assent in 2012. The member has been committed to addressing the difficult issue of suicide, and I welcome his experience and insight during the debate this evening.
I am proud to have been part of a government that saw no reductions in aboriginal mental health services. Indeed, they were at an all-time high. Over $200 million had been invested annually for aboriginal mental health services. As a matter of fact, since 2006, we invested over $2 billion to improve mental health and wellness of aboriginals across Canada. These included building communities; developing community-based mental health programming; the brighter futures program, which supports mental health and illness prevention programs; and 10 mental health and wellness teams for aboriginal communities, increasing access to services.
However, we all know that money cannot do it alone. Additionally, we did work to increase the flexibility for Canadian student loan forgiveness for doctors and nurses who work in remote areas. The nurse recruitment and retention strategy recruits nurses from schools and supports graduate integration. There were investments of over $25 million into the pathways to health equity for aboriginal peoples project. This innovative research has ensured that primary health issues are addressed.
In the wake of this recent crisis, I would like to mention that a timely response is essential when handling a state of emergency, especially to preserve the lives and well-being of a community. We applaud those who have moved forward in this approach.
The minister has confirmed the commitment of $300 million in funding that is aimed toward the health and well-being of aboriginal communities, enabling the continuation of health and wellness of aboriginal communities like Attawapiskat. However, there is more that has to be done. In addition to an emergency response, there is a need for the government to develop a long-term prevention strategy that will help communities receive the necessary tools that a national framework for suicide prevention can deliver.
Again, I applaud the efforts of all my colleagues in the House, especially my colleague from Kitchener—Conestoga, whose private member's bill received royal assent. I ask the government to table a framework to avoid further states of emergency related to suicide.
View Charlie Angus Profile
View Charlie Angus Profile
2016-04-12 20:04 [p.2126]
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for taking the time to participate in this debate. For people back home, when they hear numbers being thrown around, they do sound very impressive: $200 million in health; $300 million in the present, which has been stabilized funding. However, the issue happening on the ground is a crisis in community after community.
We have some great programs, such as brighter futures, the community health and well-being program, which do some really good work. We have suicide posters in all the communities. However, I go into communities where they have the posters on the wall, and when a child is in need, the wait times to get seen are extraordinarily long. What happens is that indigenous affairs will turn down that child for counselling, and then the child will have to go to Health Canada and it will turn them down. By the time they finish that back and forth, that child has either gone to ground or we have lost him.
I think it is important in the discussion tonight that we get our heads outside of Ottawa. The bureaucrats, the ministers, and politicians will make it all sound great. However, on the ground, those dollars are not helping in the way they need to help. That is what I am asking my colleagues to work toward. Can we find a way to break through that, so that the people who need it are getting the services required to save the children and give them the help?
View Todd Doherty Profile
View Todd Doherty Profile
2016-04-12 20:49 [p.2132]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Kitchener—Conestoga for sharing his time with me.
Mr. Speaker, I hope you will grant me a little leeway in the time, for I feel this might be a tough speech for me to get through in the allotted 10 minutes. I also want to thank our colleague from Timmins—James Bay for bringing us together tonight, for unifying us in this important debate.
It is with a heavy heart that I rise to speak to tonight's discussion on the state of emergency declared this weekend in response to the high number of suicide attempts in Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario. The state of emergency was declared by Attawapiskat's chief and council on Saturday night after the community's 11th suicide attempt in April alone. This comes after 28 suicide attempts last month and 100 suicide attempts since September, and the several hundred attempts that have come in recent years.
This is a reality that many ordinary Canadians simply cannot begin to grapple with. The living conditions are of such extreme poverty, with people not knowing if they will have shelter or food to put on the table or in the fridge. Words cannot properly express these deplorable conditions, which no human being should have to suffer through—conditions that oftentimes lag behind many of those in this country in terms of employment, education, safe drinking water, access to housing, and the infrastructure that we as Canadians often take for granted. This is a community that has dealt with more than its fair share of suffering. My heart goes out to this community, and our thoughts and prayers are with the people there.
However, words simply are not enough. Only immediate action will stop another unnecessary loss of life. Sending in a few additional health workers and a minister to pay a visit is a great start, but it is not enough, and we can do better. It is a temporary solution for a very complex issue. We are here tonight to call on the government to quickly provide immediate needs in Attawapiskat. Moreover, we are here to offer our help and, more importantly, to develop a long-term prevention strategy.
On March 8, 2016, we asked the House of Commons aboriginal affairs committee to study the staggering rates of suicide among Canada's indigenous peoples. Both Liberal and NDP members of the committee disagreed and instead chose to study general health issues in one specific community.
Studies have indicated suicide and self-inflicted injuries are among the primary causes of death among first nations, Métis, and Inuit people. In fact, Statistics Canada reported in January that more than one in five off-reserve first nations, Métis, and Inuit adults reported having suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives.
This is a subject close to my heart, as for a time I worked with at-risk youth and at-risk adults. I worked in their first nations communities at a time when fear paralyzed the discussion for fear it would only get worse, at a time when medication was the only preferred method of dealing with the issues. I know first-hand the experience of the importance of the availability of services such as counselling and mental-health support for those at risk or those silently suffering.
We need action to provide resources now. We need action to provide training for our communities, for our families, and for our schools so we do not lose another life. We need to break the stigma where, if people say they are hurting and in need of help, they are not seen as weak. We need to be better, all of us, because this can mean the difference between life and death. I have sat with teenagers who felt that their only way out was death. I have sat with families grieving because they had missed the signs; we could not reach their son or daughter to save him or her. I have missed the signs. Today, so many years later, I still bear the guilt—if only. Could I do more? What did I miss?
I have a quote from Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Bruce Shisheesh:
We are trying to be positive here, but at the same time we are emotionally drained. Our staff is breaking down emotionally, I’m talking about counsellors.
I’m homeless, leading my own community, I sleep on a couch. How would you feel if you were leading Attawapiskat and you didn’t have a home?
More needs to be done. Just overnight, we have learned that another 13 youth in Attawapiskat were part of a suicide pact. As a father of four, I find this truly heartbreaking. Kids should not have to grow up in poverty, and they should not have to feel that the only choice they have is life or death. They should not have to grow up in an environment where addiction, depression, and suicide are the norm.
Outlined in the Liberal budget 2016 is this:
To ensure that investments reflect the needs of Canadians and Canadian communities, the Government of Canada will consult with stakeholders in the coming months to determine where future investments in social infrastructure should be made.
We have a state of emergency declared. We have a first nations chief trying to lead from a couch. I am not sure what further consultations need to be done to demonstrate that this community and others facing the same dilemma are in dire need of resources. Do we have to lose another life? Do we have to have another La Loche?
Budget 2016 shows us that the Liberal government has no plan to ensure investments are reaching those who are in need and who need it the most. There is no plan to help first nations build economic opportunities on reserve, the most reliable solution for addressing the chronic poverty that leads to such tragedies.
While I commend the Liberal government on setting aside $8.4 billion to deal with aboriginal issues, this money is spread out over five years. We are only elected for four years. First nations need funding certainty. They need a budget that sets a plan for the next year, even for the next four years. A plan for year five, which the government does not have a mandate for, is ludicrous. It just goes to show that the Liberals have no idea where or how to get the money that these communities need the most.
The Minister of Health said in this House yesterday, “It is these funds that would actually restore hope to communities”.
Hope is not enough. A state of emergency means governments need to implement a course of action to address the emergency, and unfortunately, hope is not tangible. A plan is tangible; actions are tangible; both of which we have yet to see.
We need a national strategy that deals with the immediate emergency, one that looks at how we as a nation deal with current mental health issues affecting all Canadians.
We sit here tonight because an emergency debate was called, and it involves a community that needs help. A crisis likes this opens our eyes to the fact that we still have so much to learn. After all these years, we have so much to learn. Sadly, it takes a crisis to bring us all together, as citizens, as community members, and for those of us sitting in this House, as parliamentarians.
I think I speak for all of my colleagues when I say we took this job as a member of Parliament with the hope of leaving behind a better country, a better Canada for the next generation, a better Canada for all. First nations communities deserve the same level of services that the rest of Canadians have.
Sometimes partisan politics need to be put aside and members need to come together to find solutions to prevent another unnecessary loss of life, to give a voice to those who feel they are not being heard, to give every Canadian equal opportunity to succeed, and give every Canadian the resources to lead healthy lives, and if faced with the unimaginable, that we never miss those signs.
View Todd Doherty Profile
View Todd Doherty Profile
2016-04-12 21:01 [p.2134]
Mr. Speaker, I apologize for the emotion.
We can leave a mark and we can leave a legacy. We can do better. Regardless of political stripe or background or social background—it does not matter whose name is on it and what we are doing—we need to get together. We need to get around a table and work together to find solutions. There is time for debate and there is time for arguing. There is time for us to hold the government accountable, but today we are faced with an emergency not just in Attawapiskat but across our nation. Today we need to talk. Although I used speaking notes, we need to stop using the speaking notes and speak from the heart. We need to talk about solutions, final solutions, and implement those solutions together so that we do not lose another life.
View Michel Picard Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Michel Picard Profile
2016-04-12 21:05 [p.2134]
Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to take part in tonight's debate. I want to inform the House that I will be sharing my time with the member for Pontiac.
I first want to thank the member for Timmins—James Bay for moving this motion.
The member's request for an emergency debate includes several references to the word “hope”. It refers to the need to bring a hopeful solution to the desperate situation we see in many northern and indigenous communities. It calls on us to join together to turn the issue into a moment of what he refers to as a “hope-making”. I can assure the member opposite that we share his strong conviction on this issue.
For a long time, the indigenous people across the country have called for change, called for hope. They have sounded the alarm about the rising rates of suicides and suicide attempts, the lack of clean water and proper housing, and the urgent need for action to address violence against indigenous women, children and men.
In just five months, the government and the Prime Minister in particular have taken swift action to begin addressing many of these issues.
Very early on in his mandate, the Prime Minister spoke before the Assembly of First Nations and pledged to renew and restore the relationship between the federal government and indigenous peoples.
Our government is committed to moving forward to implement the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The issue of health and safety of indigenous communities was also on the agenda of this past January's meeting between the federal, provincial, and territorial ministers responsible for justice and public safety.
In March, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness addressed the Assembly of First Nations during the Indigenous Public Safety and Policing Forum. The goal was to open a dialogue on the government's work and how to move forward.
The funding allocated in budget 2016 will support education and infrastructure on reserves, which will start to address some of the root causes of poverty and build a brighter future for indigenous peoples.
By improving circumstances in these communities, we can make a difference in reducing the unacceptable and chronic overrepresentation of indigenous people in the justice system. This funding to address root causes is a good start for our work on public safety issues, many of which fall under the purview of Public Safety Canada.
In addition, Public Safety Canada is working closely with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, the Department of Justice, and Status of Women Canada to carry out the important work to be done through the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
Of course, a critical element in building strong and healthy communities is ensuring the safety and security of the individuals who live there. This means engaging meaningfully with these communities to make real progress on priority issues such as community safety, supporting youth at risk, and policy.
This becomes all the more urgent in the face of the crisis unfolding in Attawapiskat, where so many young people have attempted to take their lives that the community has declared a state of emergency. Last month we saw a similar action taken by the community of Cross Lake, Manitoba, where an epidemic of suicides prompted leaders to call for urgent emergency help for their community. Also, we cannot forget the tragic events of La Loche, Saskatchewan in January that saw four lives lost and seven others wounded. Sadly, these events are not isolated. There are many communities at risk.
The government is determined to work with the communities that are facing this challenge in order to create lasting solutions that come from the communities, and not from the top down. Public Safety Canada has an important role to play in that regard.
Through the community safety planning initiative, the department helps community members work together to identify risks that can lead to crime and victimization, and builds on local community strength to respond to those risks and to keep people safe. This is a government-supported but community-driven process at work with indigenous communities to identify risks and potential solutions to community safety issues.
The first nations policing program is also key to our work, and lays a strong foundation upon which to build strong, safe communities. The program, which was first introduced in 1991, provides funding to support the provision of professional, dedicated, and responsive policing services to first nations and Inuit communities.
Financial contributions under the program are shared between the federal government and the province or territory, with the federal contribution providing 52% toward eligible costs. To date, there are 186 multi-year agreements in place, which provide funding for 1,299 police officers who are serving 410,000 residents in approximately 400 first nations and Inuit communities.
This program has had a measurable, positive impact on the safety and security of many communities that receive policing services. As members may know, the current agreements expire in two years. Public Safety Canada officials are already exploring ways to ensure that indigenous communities benefit from a renewed and sustainable program that delivers quality policing services beyond March, 2018.
We want to build on the success of the program and the evidence about what works to respond effectively to the policing and public safety needs of indigenous communities. We know that to meet the requirements, we need to consider alternative and innovative approaches in program delivery.
I mentioned earlier that our work must include community input, and our efforts to renew this program will be informed by meaningful engagement with the communities themselves on these important issues.
We are convinced that together with our partners, we will create a strong and renewed program that will provide financial viability and predictability to the first nations policing program.
I would also like to mention the work being done in terms of youth at risk in communities across Canada, including in remote and indigenous communities, under the national crime prevention strategy. When families and youth face bleak futures, the compulsion to turn to crime can be overwhelming.
This is why it is so important to address the root causes of crime and to emphasize prevention. If we want to build a safe society, we must first make our homes and communities safe. This often starts with our children and young people. That is why we need programs for youth at risk.
Through Public Safety Canada's national crime prevention strategy, we can support and nurture critical crime prevention programs. Through this strategy, we can make a difference where it matters, by implementing measures in specific communities that will have a direct impact. The strategy allows us to support programs that reach out to youth through the schools, community centres, and neighbourhood organizations to help steer them away from drugs and gangs. It also helps us to support programs that provide counselling and support to families, and strengthen communities.
Of the 67 active projects, nearly half, 32, focus on indigenous peoples. The majority of these are interventions that are delivered in indigenous communities. I would note that we have a well-established project in place in La Loche, and another is in development. These are the types of programs that build community and provide hope for the future for these youth.
In sum, our government is committed to taking bold steps to create a new and stronger relationship with indigenous peoples.
By working together we can give hope to these communities.
View William Amos Profile
Lib. (QC)
View William Amos Profile
2016-04-12 21:19 [p.2136]
Mr. Speaker, I honestly do not know how to debate this topic. I do not even know where to begin because it does not feel as though it ought to be a debate. I appreciate the word “discussion” and it feels as if we have actually got to the point where we realize the problems are bigger than what politics can solve.
I tried to write notes for this and it did not work. It made no sense, so I took a different tack. I called the chief of Kitigan Zibi community in the northern part of Pontiac, an Algonquin community. Chief Jean-Guy Whiteduck was kind enough to give me some advice. I called his brother and former chief Gilbert Whiteduck gave me further advice.
I got a text from the executive director of the Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council, Norm Odjick. He had further sage thoughts. I asked him to help me understand this, to help me articulate something to the Canadian people who were struggling themselves to figure out what a state of emergency meant, day after day, suicide after suicide, suicide pacts. It does not feel as though it is one community in a state of emergency. It feels like Canada is in a state of emergency. It feels as though our Parliament is in a state of emergency.
The only comfort that I take in this discussion right now is that I feel intensely uncomfortable discussing this. I feel intensely uncomfortable that I have a comfortable place to sleep tonight and I know my kids are tucked in tight in bed.
This is the message I would like to convey at this point in time.
I would like to build on what my hon. colleague from the Green Party said. Her comments echoed the words of Gilbert Whiteduck.
He said to make sure that we say loud and clear to the kids of Attawapiskat, and everywhere else, in other aboriginal communities, that we love them. Let them know that they matter. If we do not stop and ask what it will take to make sure they know they matter, then our nation is at a place where we have to question how we are going to go forward.
I really appreciate the members opposite who sought an emergency debate on this topic. That is so important and so appropriate. I would not have thought of it myself as being an appropriate injunction at this stage. It is appropriate, and I appreciate the opportunity to listen, so I thank all of my colleagues.
We need to convey in so many different ways saying yes to government programs, to funding initiatives, to emergency presence in communities. We need to take every possible way that these children will not be ignored. They have a right, just like every other child in this country, to clean water, good health care, a safe environment to learn in, economic opportunity.
It is a combination of these factors that the current chief of Kitigan Zibi, Chief Whiteduck, talked about. If there is a community that has no economic opportunity, where the quality of the water is not fit for human consumption, when there is a history of abuse stemming from a colonial relationship, and when there is health care and mental health care that is not adequate, it is a recipe for collapse, for a society that does not function.
We know we can do better. I hope that the debate will not end after tonight. This weekend I am going to reread sections from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples that are relevant specifically to health, but also the historic relationship between aboriginal peoples and the crown, because what was discussed in that commission remains relevant today.
It is not as though these issues have not been discussed before. We have looked at them repeatedly, and we know we have much to overcome. That does not mean that we have all the solutions. I am not going to stand here as a member of the government and say that any government could have all of the solutions. I think we are on some of the right paths. I am proud that this government is standing for a new nation-to-nation relationship. I am proud that we are making significant investments in some important areas of aboriginal infrastructure. Does that mean that we have it all right? I highly doubt it. There is no way that one government could get it all right.
Having an honest conversation about what is going to bring multiple indigenous nations closer to a place where they feel they are part of a great project together is where we have to start moving, because there are clearly entire communities with children who do not see Canada in the way that so many of us more fortunate individuals see Canada.
View Arnold Viersen Profile
View Arnold Viersen Profile
2016-04-12 21:32 [p.2138]
Mr. Speaker, a single suicide is a tragedy. A pandemic of suicide is not only horrific, it is unacceptable. Last weekend, the Attawapiskat First Nation experienced a terrible tragedy. On one night alone, 11 young people from that community tried to commit suicide. It is reported that children, some as young as nine, planned a group suicide to end their lives. It is hard to imagine the level of desperation that these youth felt as they saw death as their only course of action. As a society, we cannot and must not ignore this level of desperation. It is truly appalling that such hopelessness even exists in Canada.
I want to thank the member for Timmins—James Bay for calling this emergency debate on this issue. I know it is an issue that he has raised many times in this place. My colleague from Kitchener—Conestoga has also done extensive work on suicide prevention and has kept this important issue in front of Parliament.
A 2010 study of some Ontario first nations reported that the suicide rate for children under age 15 is more than 50 times the national average. We must remember that historically suicide was extremely rare among indigenous peoples. There are many factors that lead to this level of despair, and like any solution to a complex problem, the solution needs to be multi-faceted and comprehensive. Many indigenous peoples live in abject poverty. They lack resources. They lack opportunities. Indigenous communities suffer from overcrowding, a lack of clean drinking water, and crumbling infrastructure. Any of these things can lead to desperation, but the cumulative effect of all these factors increases the impact tenfold. The conditions become overwhelming and unfixable, a way of life that offers no hope.
Before I continue, Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I plan to share my time with the member for Lethbridge.
It is a profound tragedy that this way of living has become the norm in some of our communities. It is not a new problem. In fact, I would argue that this is a cycle that has gone on now for generations. Consider the history of the residential schools and the profound impact they have had on an entire generation of indigenous peoples. They lost their identity. They lost their language. They lost their culture. They suffered from mental and physical abuse during their time at school. This despair has cycled down through the generations, and yet it is only one of the factors that continues to contribute to the high suicide rates among indigenous peoples. The question remains: How do we interrupt this cycle of despair and provide hope and health to our indigenous communities?
Suicide is not just a mental health issue; it is also a public health issue. As such, it should be considered a health and safety priority. Suicide is a complex problem involving biological, psychological, societal, and spiritual factors. All of these can be influenced by societal attitudes and conditions. A long-term solution must look at all of these facets. Mental health services need to be improved. Overcrowding, housing shortages, and substandard infrastructure need to be addressed. Proper sewage facilities and clean water need to be provided. Bullying at school and rampant substance abuse need to be managed. Long-term healing can only come when these factors are dealt with. A strong, healthy community will provide the social and spiritual structure needed to raise spiritually whole children who have a future with hope. Abject poverty breeds hopelessness.
I recently spoke with Chief Perry Bellegarde at the indigenous and northern affairs committee. Our discussion was focused on the importance of sustaining life and suicide prevention. Chief Bellegarde emphasized the importance of looking at all aspects of what it means to be human. He stated:
When you look at a holistic health, you think of the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. These are the four quadrants of an individual's being and they all have to be in balance. Mental health is a huge issue, and there are not adequate resources. The suicide rate is high among the Inuit and it's high among our youth. It really has to be addressed. Where are the adequate resources to deal with this?
He went on to say the following:
Children are gifts from the creator. The role of the grandparents was huge and key in raising the family as a unit. Everything has been displaced.
Chief Bellegarde is absolutely correct. Children are a gift from the creator, and we must do everything we can to nurture and protect these gifts. Life is sacred and must be protected, from the beginning to the end.
Indigenous people also emphasize a holistic approach to the four stages of life: childhood, youth, adulthood, and elder years. Through each of these stages, each indigenous person's challenge is to find the Creator, celebrate the Creator, and to be of service with one's gifts to all of mankind.
I believe that in many cases indigenous youth are struggling to find the purpose or the gifts that the Creator has given them. As a Christian, I share this belief that our Creator has created us with purpose.
Professor Margaret Somerville wrote, “Hope is the oxygen of the human spirit; without it our spirit dies, with it we can overcome even seemingly insurmountable obstacles.”
Thus, I strongly feel that a critical part of the solution to end suicide in indigenous communities is to help enable indigenous youth to find hope in the purpose and the gifts that the Creator has given them. I believe that it is necessary for us to approach the issue of suicide by combatting hopelessness through an informed use of resources. We must concentrate on all four quadrants of holistic health: mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical. An effective multi-pronged approach will provide the long-term solutions we need and ultimately will help to heal our indigenous communities.
The level of heartbreak our indigenous communities have had to bear is staggering. We would not accept this suicide rate in any other community in this country. We must not accept it in our indigenous communities either. It is heartbreaking that Attawapiskat had to suffer yet another tragedy such as this before this topic was thrust back into the national spotlight.
This is 2016, and we are not a third world country. These kinds of deplorable conditions should not exist in Canada. We must put aside party politics and come together as a nation to address this truly horrific event.
I want to applaud that resources have been mobilized by the government to deal with the immediate crisis at Attawapiskat, but it is a short-term solution. I urge the government to develop a long-term suicide prevention strategy that addresses the hopelessness and the factors that lead to suicide.
Life is sacred from its beginning to its end. As parliamentarians, we must ensure that we do all that is in our power to preserve life and fight suicide in indigenous communities.
As we struggle here today to come up with solutions, I ask the Creator for his help that we may send our thoughts and prayers to those affected in this community. We want to give hope to all those who are wrestling with despair throughout indigenous communities in Canada.
We hear them, and we are listening.
View Randy Boissonnault Profile
Lib. (AB)
View Randy Boissonnault Profile
2016-04-12 22:13 [p.2143]
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the invitation to participate in this important debate this evening.
As a Canadian and as an adopted Cree, I am deeply saddened by the loss of life and the profound feelings of despair that have brought us here tonight.
Although this evening's meeting was planned as a result of urgent situations in specific areas of the country, particularly Attawapiskat First Nation, we understand that these same issues also affect other communities across Canada.
Improving the health and wellness of indigenous communities is a critical issue for our government. I am confident we can do better and recognize, as do my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, that we must do better to support first nations and Inuit communities in crisis across the country.
The government acknowledges the scope and seriousness of the health and mental issues that exist in some indigenous communities. The crises in these communities remind us of just how important it is to work collaboratively with first nations and indigenous peoples across the country to address the very real challenges facing their communities.
Our government is personally and directly involved in the states of emergency that have been declared recently. We have initiated discussions with indigenous leaders in order to determine how we can work together to provide short- and long-term aid.
When a significant health-related event occurs in a first nation community leading to a crisis situation or a state of emergency, our government responds by reaching out to community leadership to identify potential needs, partners, and supports.
If additional resources are requested, such as nursing and mental health surge capacity, the federal government ensures that the community receives them, either by providing them directly or engaging with other partners to secure them.
Close collaboration with community leadership is essential.
As we all know, some very high-profile incidents have occurred in various indigenous communities, which have brought to light a number of social and health problems.
In every case, our government is working actively and closely with community leaders and other partners in order to give members of the community access to the support they need. I would like to point out a few measures taken by our government to support the communities that are currently experiencing a health-related emergency or crisis.
In February, the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority and the Nishnawbe Aski Nation declared a state of emergency over the state of health care in their communities. Our government is already taking action to enhance care in all of these remote first nation communities. We are improving access to mental health supports, improving infrastructure, and working to ensure that needed equipment is available. In addition, we continue to meet with the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority, the local chiefs, and the Province of Ontario to develop a plan to improve access to health care in the short, medium, and long terms.
In Attawapiskat First Nation, a state of emergency was declared last week as a result of an alarmingly high number of suicide attempts. To address the urgent need for additional mental health resources in the community and with the help of our partners, Health Canada has responded by deploying two counsellors, one crisis worker and coordinator, and two youth support workers, and additionally, one psychologist will arrive in the community this afternoon.
Health Canada is also working with the community, the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority, and the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care to coordinate our response to this crisis in the community. As well as enhanced services for youth at risk, this health authority has deployed five additional mental health counsellors to Attawapiskat, including a departmental manager from the James Bay Community Mental Health unit. The Province of Ontario has deployed an emergency medical response team, which consists of nurses, nurse practitioners, and mental health workers. The province is working closely with the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority to coordinate this support. Together these collective efforts will provide approximately 18 new resources to support the community of Attawapiskat in its time of extreme need.
In March, Kashechewan First Nation received widespread media attention after skin rashes presented on a number of local children. A medical team examined more than 30 children and diagnosed the vast majority with eczema along with a few cases of scabies, impetigo, and psoriasis. These are skin conditions that are fully treatable, and the children are getting the treatment they require. While we are relieved to know there is no immediate medical emergency in the community, the situation in Kashechewan is another troubling reminder of the many social and health challenges faced by first nations and Inuit communities. Our government continues to work with first nations leadership to respond immediately to needs identified by the community.
In the northern Ontario community of Pikangikum, a tragic house fire occurred in March. Nine family members were killed, and concerns were raised about overcrowded houses, lack of capacity to fight fire, and access to clean drinking water. Trauma teams were mobilized to provide counselling for community members, and the federal government is working with the province to respond to the tragedy.
In recent months the Cree in Cross Lake, Manitoba, have been experiencing a high incidence of suicide attempts and cases of suicide ideation. We have reached out to the community leadership to offer our assistance and have made additional funding available for mental health surge capacity. We will continue to work with the community to help address its mental health needs in this difficult time, to respond to the complex issues facing the community. We are also working with the Province of Manitoba and other partners to look at the long-term health needs as they pertain to mental health, child welfare, education, and employment.
Since the unfortunate events that occurred in La Loche, Saskatchewan, in January, our government has provided assistance to the community of La Loche and the nearby Clearwater River Dene Nation.
Health care workers were deployed to offer assistance, and we are supporting the people who had to be evacuated. We are working with the Meadow Lake and Clearwater River Dene Nation tribal councils to implement a long-term response and recovery plan. We are also looking at medium- and long-term mental health care needs.
We must also consider the alarming statistics on suicide in Nunavut. We are committed to working with the Government of Nunavut and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, or ITK, to determine the underlying causes of this crisis.
The minister will present the ITK's suicide prevention strategy in the summer of 2016. This strategy should guide all of the partners so that they focus on preventing suicide rather than responding to it.
To fully respond to the crises and emergencies in indigenous communities, the root causes, such as health inequalities and social determinants of health, must also be addressed. To reduce health inequalities and to justly walk the path of reconciliation together also requires a robust urban aboriginal strategy that involves all orders of government.
Our government attaches a great deal of importance to these factors and their impact on health. We are constantly working with our provincial and indigenous partners on several fronts to address the factors that are not a direct part of our mandate.
In order to truly improve the well-being of indigenous peoples and give communities hope, our efforts must focus on improving their socio-economic conditions. In Ontario, for example, the federal government is working with the province to set up a consultation forum in order to make it possible for the federal, provincial, and territorial governments to work hand in hand with first nations leaders to find concrete solutions. The work is already under way.
Making real lasting change that also addresses the social determinants of health requires a new fiscal relationship with first nations, one that provides sufficient and sustained funding for first nations communities. That is why our government has laid out historic investments in budget 2016, which includes $8.4 billion for better schools and housing, cleaner water, cultural and recreation facilities, and improvements for nursing stations.
In closing, I would like to emphasize our government's commitment to a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples. As part of this commitment, we will continue to prioritize issues of importance to indigenous communities, including community health and mental wellness.
If my great-grandmother Lucy Iseke Brenneis were here, she would remind us of a Cree phrase that was used centuries ago when settlers first arrived: “miyotôtâkewin tatawaw”, which means, “Guests, you are welcome. There is room here.”
It is vital to our nation's future that the federal government work in genuine partnership with indigenous communities and the provinces to ensure better health, social and economic outcomes for all indigenous peoples. At a minimum, this is what we owe to our fellow citizens.
View Randy Boissonnault Profile
Lib. (AB)
View Randy Boissonnault Profile
2016-04-12 22:27 [p.2145]
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.
Clearly, in any emergency situation, whether it has to do with mental health or general health, it is crucial that our government work closely not only with the chiefs but also with community leaders, including mayors of the surrounding communities and health care officials.
Of course we are working closely with the provinces and territories. That is important in each and every case. I know the minister spoke with Mr. Bellegarde about the situation in Attawapiskat. That is important. Through not only our investments, but also coordination with the system, we will finally come up with some long-term solutions, and not just emergency solutions.
View Cathy McLeod Profile
Mr. Speaker, I thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs for her very powerful speech, one of many we have heard tonight. I do acknowledge that the government has put significant resources into a long-term plan.
I want to focus my comments on the short term, so it is a two-part question.
We have heard about the needs of Attawapiskat, and we heard about La Loche. One of the things that concerned me was what I heard from the member of Parliament who represents La Loche, that services were flown in, but within two months those services were no longer there, and as we can imagine, the trauma impacting that community was significant.
In the short term, given all the speeches tonight, given the fact that she has a very important and critical role, what will my colleague be recommending to the minister and cabinet in terms of what we should do immediately, the next steps?
View Yvonne Jones Profile
Lib. (NL)
View Yvonne Jones Profile
2016-04-12 23:24 [p.2153]
Mr. Speaker, immediate action has already been taken. No one has been sitting around waiting for a debate or a discussion. This is about a longer-term fix and being committed.
In the short term, Health Canada, along with INAC, has despatched numbers of health care workers, mental health workers, and all the services that have been required to respond to the critical needs existing in the community immediately. Will more be necessary? Absolutely it will.
Funding has been available for the first nations to secure the programs and services that we think will help in the short term. There have been a number of recommendations made to government of ways in which we should be approaching this and working with the communities. We will continue to take their advice. We will continue to partner with them, and we are there every step of the way. Let there be no doubt about that.
View Niki Ashton Profile
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this House, following a very powerful speech by my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, to take part in this historic emergency debate.
I first want to acknowledge that we are on unceded Algonquin territory.
I want to thank the members of our NDP team, and particularly my colleague, the MP for Timmins—James Bay, for pushing for this debate.
Today, as many have said, is not about talk; it is about action. It is about the need for the Prime Minister and his government to take action to end the suicide crisis that is taking place in first nations and northern communities across our country.
On March 9, in Pimicikamak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba, leaders declared a state of emergency. In a span of a few weeks, these young people took their lives: Anita, Joni, Cody, Finola, and Lucille. Over 100 suicide attempts have taken place in Cross Lake. Families are grieving. A community is in pain. However, this pain and this trauma is not recent.
Amber Muskego, a courageous young woman in Cross Lake, stated, “If you were to drive into my community, you would notice billboards along the road. They are signs of horror, with the pictures of missing and murdered people of our community. Their cases are still unresolved. And if you go on social media today, you will see that it is flooded with the silent pain of hopelessness and misguided trust.”
Suicide on first nations is twice that of the national average. Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are among the leading causes of death for first nations peoples. However, this did not just happen. In fact, the trauma that is apparent through suicide and through the suicide crises across Canada is the direct result of our history of colonization and decades of racist policies passed through this House, approaches, policies, and laws that have sought to silence, intimidate, assimilate, and kill indigenous peoples.
Let me be clear. The despair that many people on first nations face is a direct result of our political and economic policies that have systemically sought to steal the lands of indigenous peoples so that governments and corporations can exploit their wealth without consent. These policies forced first nations people to live on small parcels of land, reserves, often some of the most uninhabitable land in this country. So oppressive was this reserve system that it served as the foundation of the apartheid system in South Africa.
As Julian Brave NoiseCat said this in his powerful article in The Guardian:
This is how First Nations live in the Bantustans of Canada's north [...] They look on as hundreds of millions of dollars worth of resources are mined from their ancestral homelands. This is not an emergency–a catastrophe for which Canada was unprepared and never saw coming. No, this is and always has been part of the design and devastation that colonization wrought.
Let us talk about taking responsibility. It is important that we recognize that at the federal level it has been Liberal and Conservative governments that have implemented such policies. Tonight we have heard many times that this is not a partisan issue, and it is not. However, let us be clear that the reasons behind this epidemic have been partisan. They have been ideological, and they have been founded in the politics of colonization, of white supremacy, and of greed.
It is strangely ironic that today, the day we hold a debate on the suicide epidemic in first nation after first nation, is also the very day of the 140th anniversary of the Indian Act, a piece of legislation that is the symbol of colonialism. This piece of legislation and the way it is imposed on first nations is deeply connected to the oppression that exists today.
As Chief Isadore Day explains, the suicide crisis in Attawapiskat and far too many other ongoing crises across the country are rooted in the poverty and despair that was created by the Indian Act .
The list of policies goes on: residential schools; the administration of colonial science; the theft of land; the prohibition of ceremony, of spirituality, of language; the criminalization and incarceration of indigenous peoples; the forced relocations that so many first nations and Inuit communities have faced; the imposition of the 2% cap, a cap that cut education funding to first nations, a cap that I know many of us have seen first-hand what it has done to first nations in our ridings: mouldy classrooms, freezing portables, not enough books, not enough pencils, and fire systems that do not work. What message does that send to first nations youth?
There are the cuts to band capital funding that have led to inadequate housing, overcrowded homes, lack of water and sewer services, and inadequate services to fight fires. There is the overall prevalence of third world living conditions.
These assimilationist views, these colonialist views that pushed these kinds of policies continue to be perpetuated even today.
A former prime minister of Canada when asked about the suicide epidemic in Attawapiskat perpetuated such assimilationist views in suggesting that first nations peoples should just leave their communities. He said, “The problem is sometimes you cannot. You know, it’s—you know, people have to move sometimes”.
First nations people and many people who work in solidarity with them know that these views are unacceptable.
Where do we go from here? We listen to first nations. First nations have been leading the way. They are calling for a nation-to-nation relationship, a relationship founded in the treaties. They are calling for the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. They are calling for approaches that involve decolonizing our approaches to development, to governance, and to the future.
As Cheryl Hunter Moore said, “I think it's about time that Canada allows us to live freely and not as wards of the state”.
Canada needs to recognize aboriginal sovereignty and respect aboriginal rights once and for all. It means ending the crushing poverty that exists on first nations. It means investing in housing to end the horrific impacts of overcrowding. It means working with communities to create jobs on first nations. It means supporting first nations in their language and cultural education.
As Charlie Ettawacappo from Norway House said, “Now our next step for first nations is to heal. We need to start by teaching our children about the residential school, treaties and our mother tongue...then our children will be proud of who they are and know where they came from.”
It means having serious conversations about suicide and untangling the impacts of colonialism and the need to support LGBT youth.
Alex Wilson, from the University of Saskatchewan, and an Opaskwayak Cree Nation member said, “The issue of LGBTQ first nations people and suicide has yet to be addressed. In northern communities, suicide rates for this group are extremely high. We need to consider LGBTQ people in every and all conversations and solutions when addressing suicide.”
It means listening to first nations youth, youth like Amber Muskego, who are calling for recreation services in their communities, who want a drop-in centre, like young people have in communities across the country. It means ending poverty. After all, we know that reconciliation requires action.
As I conclude, I think of the elders, the strong leaders, the incredible women, the supportive men, the inspiring young people who live on first nations in our north and across the country.
I think of their fight, their resistance, and their protection of their traditional teachings and knowledge. I think of their commitment to the next generation. I think of how Amber Muskego, that young woman in Cross Lake from Pimicikamak, said that she is a voice for the voiceless. Today, let us join our voices to that of Amber Muskego and young first nations people across this country in saying never again and saying that together we will work in solidarity and commit to action so that no other life is lost and we can truly achieve justice.
View Romeo Saganash Profile
Mr. Speaker, let us go from Bay Street to Attawapiskat. The chief of Attawapiskat was once again forced to declare a state of emergency on Saturday, following a rash of suicide attempts by young people in his community.
While the Prime Minister talks about how saddened he is by the situation, the fact is that it is getting worse and nothing is being done about it.
The government refused to conduct an inquiry, and requests for mental health services are often denied. The government is turning its back on young people.
When will the government take action and put an end to this tragedy?
View Jane Philpott Profile
Ind. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question and for changing the topic in the House.
This is one of the most serious and pressing tragedies that our nation is facing. I am devastated by the situation that is taking place in Attawapiskat. I am working with my colleague the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to respond to this tragedy.
I was in conversation yesterday with National Chief Bellegarde. I spoke today with Chief Shisheesh from Attawapiskat. We now have five new mental health workers in the community. We are responding to both the immediate needs and long-term needs of this community.
View Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Profile
View Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Profile
2016-03-21 14:37 [p.1814]
Mr. Speaker, one month ago, the community of Kashechewan declared a state of public health emergency. A month later, nothing has changed.
A number of children are grappling with serious skin infections. The photos of these children are unsettling and disturbing. How can we let this happen to our children?
It is no secret that there are problems with drinking water, mould, and housing. This is going to take more than a band-aid.
What measures will the government take to fix these problems once and for all? These problems should not be happening in a country like ours.
View Jane Philpott Profile
Ind. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, Health Canada is fully aware of the concerns with first nations children in Kashechewan. We have been involved in that community and will continue to be.
There are immediate steps that have been taken. A number of children have already been transported out of the community to get the medical attention they need. There is a medical team from Moose Factory going into the community to identify further cases by going door to door. There will be further steps taken to prevent further infections.
We will address the public health needs in the community as well as the social determinants of health.
View Charlie Angus Profile
View Charlie Angus Profile
2016-03-21 14:38 [p.1814]
Mr. Speaker, it has been over a month since the communities of Treaty 9 declared a medical state of emergency, and this weekend Canadians saw that shocking face in the children of Kashechewan.
I want to thank the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs and the Minister of Health for working with us on an emergency plan for the most severe cases, but they know the crisis is systemic—the mould, the lack of clean water, the need for a proper medical system.
Will the minister commit to a timeline and a plan so we can end this state of emergency and reassure these children that they can grow up in their communities, healthy, hopeful, and safe?
View Jane Philpott Profile
Ind. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member is aware, Kashechewan First Nation is among a number of communities in our country facing very serious gaps in health outcomes. We are absolutely determined to address these gaps.
I am working with my colleagues in Health Canada to address not only the immediate health needs of communities like Kashechewan and many other indigenous communities across the country that are facing serious concerns, but also to look at how we can prevent these conditions.
I am working with my colleague, the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, to address the underlying causes, and we will make sure that the health gap has been addressed.
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