The lifeless body of three-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi last summer spurred the kind of shame that galvanized good people into action.
Charlie Angus says the same must happen now on behalf of children facing a crisis of hopelessness on Canadian shores.
"This is our moment," the NDP MP said Tuesday at an emergency debate on the suicide epidemic rocking the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario.
NDP MP Charlie Angus speaks during an emergency debate in the House of Commons in Ottawa on April 12, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Twenty-eight people in the remote community attempted to end their lives in March and there have already been 11 attempts this month. Earlier on Tuesday, a suicide pact by 13 people was thwarted by local leaders and police.
A nine-year-old child was among those who had pledged to die. Nine.
Angus, who represents the community and asked for the debate, delivered an emotional speech focused on children forced to fight for the kind of education not possible in rotten portables. And he mentioned those kids forced to move away from their families to escape despair.
But he was also careful to note all that's possible for the so-called lost children from that place and the culture they deeply love.
"The greatest tragedy in this nation is that we would waste a generation of children and squander their potential," Angus said.
No time for 'Band-Aids'
The time for "the Band-Aids, the emergency flights and the hand-wringing" is long gone, he continued, as is the "culture of deniability" and nickel-and-diming of mental health services for those most in need. It's something, he suggested, that goes beyond partisan politics.
"Tonight might be the beginning of a change in our country," he said, adding some needed optimism to the profound sadness.
Turning to the image of Kurdi, Angus spoke of how it shocked the world and chastened Canadians. Then, he amplified the voices of young people from Attawapiskat by reading their letters aloud in the House of Commons.
One girl who left the community to go to school in Timmins, Ont. wrote that she wished she could be with those struggling back home.
"The greatest resource we have in this country is not the gold and it is not the oil. It is the children."
— Charlie Angus
"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," Angus read from the letter, his voice shaking. "I want us to build a relationship with the government."
Another girl wrote to him about wanting to be part of a team that can "bring light in the dark time," offering help to end the miserable cycle.
There's been 150 years of discrimination and denial, Angus said. It's well past time to move beyond talk.
"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."
Watch Angus' full speech:
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