OTTAWA — A Conservative MP who lost a daughter to suicide choked back tears Monday during the first debate over an NDP MP's private member's motion calling for a national prevention strategy.
The motion, titled M-174, was introduced last year by NDP MP Charlie Angus. Among other things, it calls for national public health standards to identify and monitor at-risk groups and for Parliament to publish an annual progress report complete with updated statistics.
For Calgary Signal Hill MP Ron Liepert, the issue is deeply personal. He addressed the House of Commons by saying his remarks were his exclusively and "not prepared by anyone else."
Thursday will mark the one-year anniversary of his daughter's death by suicide, he said. "It's a call that no parent should ever have to receive."
Talking about the issue helps erase stigma: Liepert
With an election on the horizon, Liepert said the arrival of M-174 comes late in the parliamentary calendar and may not move beyond the debate stage. It's still important for MPs to at least talk about the issue to help erase the stigma that surrounds suicide, he maintained.
"Hopefully, if at least one person hears our words today and decides not to act, it will be time well spent," Liepert said, adding in his experience, talking about the issue "does help to get rid of some of that anger."
Watch Tory MP Ron Liepert's full speech:
Angus said suicide has been a major issue among First Nations in his northern Ontario community where young people have been dying "in twos and threes" in recent years.
Suicide rates among First Nations youth are five to seven times higher compared to their non-Aboriginal peers, according to Health Canada.
Without a national strategy in place to guide provinces, it's "one horrific crisis after another," Angus said.
He used the example of Quebec's multi-level model as a successful policy to replicate nationally. Quebec's prevention strategy, implemented in 1998, has reduced the number of youth suicides by 50 per cent.
Motion calls for 'culturally appropriate' prevention programs
Though Quebec's strategy has been hailed as a success, the province's coroner doesn't collect information about ethnicity — impairing government's ability to develop suicide prevention programs for Indigenous populations.
Angus's motion specifically calls on the government to develop tools to collect this information so "culturally appropriate community-based suicide prevention programs" can be created.
A comprehensive national strategy is needed because entire communities can be impacted by a "psychic shockwave" following the death of a young person by suicide, the Timmins-James Bay MP said.
At an earlier press conference in Ottawa, youth representatives of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation voiced their frustrations over the government's mitigation what some advocates have called a looming epidemic.
"First Nations across Nishnawbe Aski Nation declared states of emergencies but the government did not act or fully deliver on their promises for help," Ashley Bach told reporters Monday.
"These young people, and so many more, were strong Indigenous youth but they were feeling the effects of intergenerational trauma," she said. "Many of them were in child welfare, they were feeling poverty, the poor housing conditions, and a lack of clean water."
She asked the government to act: "The time for action was yesterday. So many lives have been lost."
The last thing we need is another Health Canada campaign with posters.NDP MP Charlie Angus
According to Statistics Canada, suicide is the ninth leading cause of death in the country, accounting for 3,890 deaths in 2009. Indigenous Services Canada's website acknowledges there's "solid evidence that suicide rates can be significantly reduced over the long term by using prevention programs."
Angus said when it comes to the development and implementation of a national suicide prevention policy, Canada is an international laggard.
"The best you get is a minister saying it's a tragedy," he said during debate. "The last thing we need is another Health Canada campaign with posters."
Canada is the only G7 nation that does not have its own national suicide prevention strategy, according to 2016 report published by Calgary-based Centre for Suicide Prevention.
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When asked to respond to Angus's criticisms about the government's handling of the file, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor told HuffPost Canada in a statement that "there are few things more devastating to a family and community than suicide."
Petitpas Taylor said her 25-year experience as a frontline social worker allowed her to see the evolution of mental health care programming.
"Thanks to the work of incredible organizations providing services and support in communities, conversations on suicide that once happened in hushed voices are now front and centre," she said.
"But we know there is still work to do, and that's why our government has taken action to raise awareness and reduce stigma, better connect people to information and resources, and accelerate innovation and research to prevent suicide."
Are you in a crisis? If you need help, contact Crisis Services Canada at their website or by calling 1-833-456-4566. If you know someone who may be having thoughts of suicide, visit CAMH's resource to learn how to talk about suicide with the person you're worried about.