In the wake of tragic circumstances in Attawapiskat—where a spate of suicides has triggered the sixth state of emergency for the small community on James Bay in the last decade—the House of Commons agreed to hold an emergency debate on Tuesday night. For six hours, MPs spoke of a united front, offering their thoughts to the community of Attawapiskat and discussing potential solutions to the ongoing crisis.
Read the full debate, taken from Hansard transcriptions, of the discussion below. You can also click below for a few highlights from the conversation.
The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mr. Anthony Rota):
The House will now proceed to the consideration of a motion to adjourn the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter requiring urgent consideration, namely the situation in indigenous communities.
Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP) moved:
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.
Mr. Robert-Falcon Ouellette (Winnipeg Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Timmins—James Bay for his comments and for making this debate happen. This is extremely important.
I had the opportunity of going to Cross Lake just a few short weeks ago with a gentleman by the name of Robb Nash. Robb Nash is a gentleman who gives motivational speeches through rock and roll, trying to connect with youth in order to stop suicide.
At the end of his concert and motivational talk, nine students went up to him and presented him their suicide notes. It is an absolutely incredible thing to witness. We often just read about it in the newspapers, but for people to actually see it with our own eyes not only touches our hearts but really drives us to action. I know members feel the same way.
I know there are things we can be doing in this country to make a difference in the lives of our fellow citizens. I know there are many people who care about this issue very deeply. The House, even though this is a special debate, is relatively full, and I think that is a testimony to our commitment to ensure that all citizens have the opportunity to make sure they are not forgotten, that they are important, that they can have hope, and that their voices will be heard even though those voices might be in the wilderness of our country.
I am very thankful for this debate and I hope we can have it with great respect and try to understand some of the consequences of what is going on. Hopefully, somehow we will come to a conclusion so that we can move forward in some way.
I would ask the member of Parliament for Timmins—James Bay if there is a solution he sees that we could carry into the future, something concrete that will actually make a difference.
Mr. Charlie Angus:
Mr. Speaker, there are concrete steps that parliamentarians can take.
Number one, we have to close the gap on child welfare. As Cindy Blackstock said, kids cannot be left behind. Let us dedicate that money and let us do it now. We need to close the gaps in terms of health care dollars, the lack of services, and the culture that exists deep within the federal government of denying the basic needs of indigenous children.
My colleague mentioned a rock and roll tour. We need to be looking to all the departments of the federal government to play a role in a national youth vision. For example, I remember the days when the Debajehmujig Theatre Company used to go into the isolated communities. Those actors transformed lives. They had young people who felt hopeless who were learning to act and grow, but it costs money to tour. Fifteen or 20 actors cannot go into isolated communities. The government wanted them to do it on the cheap and they could not do it.
Where is the health care? Where is Indian and Northern Affairs? Where is the justice department? Where is arts and culture? If we talk about a national youth vision that we are going to commit to with a road map for it, they all have to be there.
We can start to do this now. Just talking is the beginning, but we can do this.
Mrs. Cathy McLeod (Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Timmins—James Bay for what was clearly a very passionate speech. His speech indicated what an incredible amount of concern he has on this very tragic issue.
I appreciated his first question, which asked what the next steps are. I think there are both long-term and short-term answers. I also represent a rural area, so I would like the member to talk about acute indigenous service provisions as well as general concerns about the provisions of rural psychological services, which are both important issues, and speak to the whole issue of how to deliver critical health care services to both indigenous rural communities and rural communities in general.
Mr. Charlie Angus:
Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question. In the rural regions in the north and in all our communities, we see a crisis in health care, in particular a lack of access to mental health services. However, up in the far north, in indigenous country, the disparities grow exponentially. That is why we are two months into a health state of emergency in Treaty 9 territory. We can look at the crisis in rural Canada and then see how magnified it is.
If we put the resources in, it will save us money. We will not be bringing young people out by medevac, we will not be dealing with suicides, we will not be dealing with the traumas. Let us put the resources in now for front-line services, and then we can start to build the kind of future that we all believe in as parliamentarians.
Ms. Georgina Jolibois (Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is very important for me to stand up in the House today and take part in this debate, not only to speak for Attawapiskat, but also to highlight the challenges being met by the residents in my riding.
Before I begin, though, I want to share a personal story. Suicide has affected me and my family. My brother has had the challenge of losing three of his children to suicide in the past eight years.
Over the years, I have seen how both levels of government fail communities like La Loche by not providing services in mental health and other programs. This is a very touching, sensitive issue.
I have received many stories to share in this House and, before I begin, I want thank everyone who has shared their stories with me so that I could share them in the House of Commons. The personal stories are very sensitive, heartbreaking, and very sad. These stories also show the resilience and hope that exists in our communities and reserves across Canada.
The personal stories indicate that the first nations and Métis children, young people, and their families require immediate help and support. They need immediate help now and help in years to come. The personal stories indicate that first nations and Métis children across Canada are looking for us to give them hope. They are looking to the Canadian government for hope, and to industry, service providers, and all levels of government.
This first story comes from a health care provider in northern Saskatchewan. This health care provider had to travel 600 kilometres to Saskatoon from her community to seek help for her daughter, who had tried to kill herself in the previous few days. She could not find help in her own community because the existing health care services are inadequate and insufficient.
She, as a health care provider, struggled with getting a referral for a mental health specialist. I can just imagine how hard it is for people who do not have access to medical and other services. Not all families in northern Saskatchewan, Attawapiskat, and other communities have the resources to take their children to see specialists.
Reports from northern Saskatchewan, the far north, and other northern communities, indicate the lack of services and how poor these communities are.
Let me share another story, from a member of the Gitksan community in B.C. This person knows of over 100 suicide attempts in their community alone, and some were successful. The community was seeking to build a new arena so that the children could find a place to gather and play, without having to bargain with major companies to have it done.
This past weekend alone, I am very sad to say that there were more suicide attempts in La Loche. Since the shooting on January 22, 2016, I have stood before House of Commons parliamentarians requesting additional services from both levels of government. Unfortunately, help has not come from the many government levels.
Children and youth in La Loche and surrounding communities are showing signs of PTSD. They have no one to turn to and nowhere to go. The schools are doing what they can to provide services, sports, and recreational programs, but that is not enough. Families are left to fend for themselves and to try to take care of their problems, with no help from the health centre and no help from anywhere else.
Today another person wrote to me that the suicides and the attempted suicides across the country are a symptom of systemic failure, and I could not agree more.
Parents feel hopeless as they try to do their best to provide for their children. We live in Canada. We should not feel hopeless, and yet our first nations and Métis communities across Canada feel hopeless. We can speak to the issues of a lack of cultural and recreational facilities and programs, the high rate of unemployment and poverty, poor housing, poor infrastructure, the high cost of food, high cost of living, and no mental health supports or other services.
Communities like La Loche, Attawapiskat, Cross Lake, Gitksan, and others across Canada, require help, not band-aid solutions. It is nice to get visits, but that is not good enough. We need concrete help. We need more funding to assist our communities across Canada to make sure we are helping our young people and their families deal with the problems at hand.
Some examples by the residents who shared their stories include language immersion programs and retention programs, in Dene, Cree, Michif, and other first nation languages. Other suggestions are for more cultural and recreational facilities to keep young people and their families busy.
Cindy Blackstock has a dream for Canada’s birthday: a country where first nations children no longer have to fight for equality. I share her dream, but we cannot wait until next year. We have to fight for them now. We cannot lose any more of our children to suicide in Attawapiskat, Le Loche, and beyond.
The government promised to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations in its entirety. This is the time to act because it is 2015. Oh, I forgot; it is now 2016.
Mr. Michael McLeod (Northwest Territories, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for her attention to this very serious issue across Canada. I come from the Northwest Territories, and suicide is also a very big issue there.
The suicide rates in the Northwest Territories are double that of the national average, and they are not restricted only to aboriginal people. However, it is the leading cause of death among first nations, Métis, and Inuit people across Canada.
Suicide is the ninth-leading cause of mortality in all ages and genders. The government of the Northwest Territories did a study in 2014 and concluded that there were 121 suicides within a 15-year period. They were highest among the Inuit, three times the territorial rate. The non-aboriginal population made up 27% of the suicides.
Of the suicides, 79% were male and 21% were female. There are many risk factors that we can point to for this. Alcohol and drug use, depression, emotional stress, housing, poverty, education, and trauma are all issues that contribute to this issue.
We need to be able to prevent suicides. We need to have people connect to the families and the culture. We need clinical care for mental, physical, and substance abuse disorders.
There are many other things we can point to, but we have to conclude that people who are committing suicide usually feel overwhelmed, hopeless, helpless, desperate, and alone. We need programs and preventive strategies that target specific high-risk people.
I would like to ask the member how a nation-to-nation relationship would help on this issue.
Ms. Georgina Jolibois:
Mr. Speaker, I cannot believe that my friend is asking this question. I am a Dene-speaking person, and he comes from the Northwest Territories.
Nation-to-nation first of all means to me language retention. I speak Dene, and I want to be able to have our first nation communities teach Dene to continue our language, and across Canada, with other first nations and Métis.
Nation-to-nation also means spirituality being acknowledged. These are practices of sweetgrass burning; medicine smudging; having access to an elder, a priest, a pastor of any kind, for the ability to pray.
Nation-to-nation means that I feel respected and welcomed. As an aboriginal woman, it means I do not have to feel scared in Canada, because statistics prove that as an aboriginal woman I run the risk of being murdered or going missing.
Nation-to-nation means for me, and for all first nations and Métis people across Canada, feeling safe and valued .
Mrs. Cathy McLeod (Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for a very powerful speech. She talked about how La Loche did not get the services it required. I wonder if she could elaborate, both in the short term and the long term, but mostly the short term, on what she was hoping would be there in terms of support and what is missing.
Ms. Georgina Jolibois:
Mr. Speaker, young people, children, and their families, when they are feeling the effects of PTSD, need to go to the health centre or the band office clinic and say that they need to speak to someone because they are feeling stressed and overwhelmed. They go in, and there is no one to talk to them. That is the immediate help needed in the area of mental health, counselling, and other areas.
I have heard, and I have read over and over again, how when young people, children, and their families have access to programs and services, they are kept busy and have other things to do in their lives. They feel important and valued. That is one area.
Another area for families, children, youth, moms and dads across Canada, is that we have heard in the House over and over again about the importance of employment. Yet, when we turn to statistics, unemployment is very high in northern Canada among first nations and reserves. To feel that important level of nation-to-nation, there must be opportunities in our communities for employment. It is not there. Therefore, a number of areas of help, from all levels of government, is required.
Hon. Jane Philpott (Minister of Health, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be dividing my time with the member for Toronto—St. Paul’s.
I want to start by thanking the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay for the care and compassion he has shown to his constituents, to first nations communities throughout Canada, and from all of us here, the leadership he has shown in calling for this emergency debate. I want to thank him for his willingness to work with fellow parliamentarians to draw attention to this crisis, to address it, and to find a way to bring help and hope to these communities.
I would also like to thank all of my colleagues for being here to participate in this important debate. Despite our many different points of view and perspectives on the best way to govern the country, our common denominator is that we are working to serve the people in the best interest of all Canadians.
I think we can all agree that we as a government we must act quickly and compassionately to ensure that we address the ongoing mental health crisis in indigenous communities.
Suicide rates among aboriginal youth are among the highest in the world, and even domestically, as the members here well know, the gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous groups are staggering.
When I use the term “youth”, I mean someone up to the age of 19.
A first nations male youth is 10 times more likely to commit suicide than a male non-indigenous youth. Worse still, suicide rates among first nations female youth are over 21 times higher than their non-first nations Canadian counterparts.
The numbers are no more encouraging for Inuit youth. In fact, they are worse. The rate of suicide by Inuit in Inuit Nunangat, the Inuit homeland, is more than 10 times the rate for Canada as a whole. Suicides among Inuit male youth are 35 times higher than their Canadian non-Inuit counterparts. Among Inuit female youth, it is 27 times higher than comparable Canadian females.
I want to pause for a moment to ensure that we have reflected on what I have just said: 35 times higher than the average should be. It is a staggering reality, and it is completely unacceptable.
I am a family doctor. As I have been sitting here tonight, I have been reflecting upon patients of mine who have either taken their own lives, or more commonly, have had someone in their families have who taken their own lives. There is nothing more devastating than realizing that some people have reached the point of no hope, that they think there is no possible way that they can go any further, and that the only solution to end the pain is to put an end to their lives.
When I think that there are communities in our country where young people, as young as my 15-year-old daughter and even younger, in groups are deciding that there is no hope for their future, we must do better. We have to find a way to go forward. I agree with the member for Timmins—James Bay that tonight has to be a turning point for us as a country to decide together that we will do better.
I have been listening to the words of despair out of many of the youth in Attawapiskat. They talk about bulling, low self-esteem, and not thinking their lives are worth anything. They talk about a lack of things to do, overcrowding, and so many other reasons why they and their peers are turning to suicide or other forms of self-harm.
Something must be done to stem the tide and reverse these disturbing trends. If the people in this House are not the people who will take a stand and commit to doing something, then who else will?
We cannot do it on our own. It is going to be a project with the entire nation. It is going to be working hand in hand with our counterparts at all levels of government, with our counterparts in first nations, Inuit, and the Métis nation, to find a way forward.
There is no doubt in our minds that the health conditions of these communities across Canada are deplorable. They must be fixed. The health outcome gaps are real and unacceptable. These are issues that move well beyond the scope of health care, and yet they have a devastating impact on health nonetheless.
In January, I personally visited the community of La Loche. I also visited other communities in Saskatchewan, including Standing Buffalo First Nation. I have had some opportunities to see the challenges that are faced in respect to social conditions, health, mental health, and health care.
Recently, we have been hearing pleas repeatedly for improved access to quality care from first nations in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the list goes on. We all would agree that these problems are complex, that they will not be solved overnight, but we know that our response in return has to be broad, multifaceted, and interconnected. I agree with the member opposite that this is not a time for partisan gamesmanship; this is a time for us to work together as Canadians, one and all, to find solutions.
We need to be transformative in our work. We need to address the socio-economic conditions that will improve indigenous people’s wellness in addition to ensuring that first nations and Inuit have the health care they need and deserve. If we are to truly succeed in placing these communities on the path to renewed and sustained health equity, we will need to focus less on treating symptoms and focus more on finding and fixing the causes.
A serious discussion about suicide prevention in first nations and Inuit communities must be informed by understanding the social, political, and other health inequities that exist and the way these inequities work together to negatively influence the environment in which many of these young people grow up. Every parent here would agree that we want our children to have the best chance in life. We know that best chance means getting a good education and access to nutritious food and being able to have clean water, a good solid roof over their head, and access to quality care. These are the basics.
I find it so troubling that in a country as affluent as ours there are citizens who struggle to achieve these very basics. Unfortunately, I am no stranger to these types of inequalities. In fact, this was one of the reasons why I chose to pursue politics.
I lived and worked for almost 10 years in the country of Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world. It was there that I came to truly understand the social determinants of health and the way that the good things of life were so unevenly divided across this world, so unevenly divided from one country to another, from one ethnicity to another, and that this uneven distribution of resources could converge to make one community prone to sickness and disease while another community, sometimes very close by, enjoyed good health and prosperity. We know this is not right.
I also know there is only so much doctors and nurses can do to respond to improving these conditions. It is that realization that brought me to enter into politics and to this noble profession that we share in the House, where we have a responsibility to close these inequalities and to directly influence the social determinants of health that are at work in these communities.
To that end, we need to enter a new era of federal, provincial, territorial, and indigenous co-operation. I intend to work with the members of the House. We are committed to change. We are committed to not only respond to the needs of these communities in the short term, but to ensure that the actions are sustained over the long term.
It is known in the House that in the recent budget our government laid out a comprehensive plan to invest that will go a considerable way to addressing these health gaps. It includes $8.4 billion that will help provide better schools, housing and clean water. It will provide better nursing stations where nurses will want to stay and work, where young people will feel comfortable and can go to have their needs taken care of.
These are some of the immediate measures, but I know the House is aware that we need to take long-term measures. I look forward to doing that and to hearing the members’ questions. I look forward to working on this with all the members. With each of us working together, along with indigenous partners, we will find a way forward, we will find hope.
Mrs. Cathy McLeod (Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, on January 22, there was a horrific tragedy in La Loche. A lot of people went to the communities and expressed their concerns over what was happening.
As a physician, the Minister of Health would be very aware that PTSD would be significant. There was a trauma to the community.
Tonight the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River has told us that people do not even have someone to whom they can talk. People cannot pick up a phone. There is no one for them.
Two months later, have they been forgotten? Is there nothing there for those people with PTSD who have suffered significant trauma from this event?
Hon. Jane Philpott:
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member’s question draws to mind a very important reality. Crises such as we have seen in recent weeks are very important because they draw attention to a situation. The media is paying attention to this as are Canadians. As well, we are having this debate in the House of Commons.
However, these things have not just happened recently. They have been going on for a considerable period of time. All of us in the House can agree that there are generations of wrongs that have led to the situation we face today.
It is for that reason that Health Canada’s first nations and Inuit health branch continues to work in communities. I know it has been working with colleagues in the provincial government in Saskatchewan to continue to provide support in La Loche. I will certainly look into ensuring that those supports continue to be there. It is my understanding that they are. I look forward to talking to the member opposite and ensuring that those supports are in place.
This has not been easy, but I want to acknowledge that, clearly, we have not done enough. However, there are mental health services across the country, to the extent that we are investing $300 million this year in mental health and wellness programs in indigenous communities. We will continue to address this. I will continue to work to find the mental health resources these communities need.
Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for the work she is willing to do with her teams in the communities I am honoured to represent.
The minister talks about dealing with this long term, because we are dealing with historic wrongs. The historic wrongs are built into the operational policies of the government. The task the minister has is to deconstruct those discriminatory and racist policies. Those policies prefer to destroy indigenous families by taking their children away, rather than supporting the families in their home environment.
The Human Rights Tribunal ruling said that the department routinely denied access to drugs that were prescribed by pediatricians, and to medically necessary devices. We heard the story raised at the Human Rights Tribunal of the four-year-old child who suffered severe cardiac arrest and an anoxic brain injury. The federal government would not pay for a lifesaving bed for her to return home. That is a systemic problem.
We need to implement Jordan’s principle and stop talking about it, but I do not see the money for it. We need to close the gap so the child welfare shortfall ends once and for all, so children can stop living in the hotels away from their families. However, I do not see the money for that.
I know there is existing money for health care, but we know the shortfalls and the crisis. How will the minister come into line with the Human Rights Tribunal and start to dismantle the system that she has inherited and that she must oversee, so the doors are finally blown open and so “no means no” suddenly becomes “yes” for the children whenever they need it?
Hon. Jane Philpott:
Mr. Speaker, I want to point out a couple of things that the member may find interesting.
First, in terms of Jordan’s principle, obviously it is something to which we must adhere. In that regard, we had a meeting just a week or so ago in Ontario, where the chiefs of Ontario met with the provincial health minister and myself. It was at that meeting where we said that there was no longer any excuse for arguing whose jurisdiction it was. We have to work side by side, the federal government, the provinces, the territories, and indigenous leaders, to ensure people get the care they need.
It is unacceptable to have multiple tiers of health access. We would agree that all Canadians, regardless of where they live, what their ethnicity may be, or what language they speak, need to have access to the medical care they require based on that need, not based on where they live or whether they can pay for it. This is a fundamental principle that I will uphold.
Along that line, I will be working, as I work toward a new health accord, to ensure that the accord is reached in co-operation with first nations and Inuit leaders across the country. We will be looking at the health gaps, finding out what it will take, what kinds of investments are required to ensure that all Canadians enjoy the health they deserve.
Hon. Carolyn Bennett (Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to acknowledge that we are here on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
I particularly want to commend the member for Timmins—James Bay for his unwavering commitment to the health and well-being of northern Ontario indigenous communities, particularly the young people.
As I heard him speak, I was thinking of my trip to Attawapiskat and one of those terrible homes and seeing this 10-month-old baby on the bed and thinking that baby cannot pay for whatever else is going on around it. That baby deserves a chance.
We are deeply concerned about the number of suicide attempts recently in Attawapiskat and other first nation and Inuit communities all over Canada. I want to offer my condolences to the families and to the communities that are dealing with these tragedies.
We join these communities in their grief and healing, and we know it is not just Attawapiskat. While adequate health and mental health supports are essential to dealing with the current situation, as the member for Timmins—James Bay reminds us, these communities need hope.
The children need to know they are valued and have value, and that we as a larger community support them. Tonight as we speak, I hope that the member will convey that to the community. Everyone here, and we are hoping by tonight all Canadians, will let these children know they have value. They need to know there is hope for them and we will be with them on this journey.
The Minister of Health has explained how we have been working with the Province of Ontario and how Chief Shisheesh and Grand Chief Fiddler have been working together at this particular time.
Those who know me know that the difference between health and health care is very much part of what my job is as the minister of social determinants of health, but also as the minister of reconciliation. We actually know that suicide is not just a consequence of individual vulnerability. It is about the causes of the causes. It is the numerous historical, structural, and societal determinants impacting mental health. This is racism, colonialism, the legacy of residential schools, child abuse, inadequate child welfare, lack of educational opportunities, overcrowded and unsafe housing, lack of access to healthy food and clean water, and limited access to health care services.
It was my friend, Bill Mussell, from the Native Mental Health Association of Canada, who a long time ago taught me that resilience comes when young people are grounded by a secure personal and cultural identity, when they are proud of who they are, when self-esteem and a sense of control over their life provides them with hope and vision. That results in good health, education, and positive economic outcomes. These are hugely important aspects of the overall picture of healthy communities.
There is no single answer to addressing this. We have all been clear that it will take a whole-of-government approach, as the member for Timmins—James Bay pointed out. It must be collaborative and co-operative, spanning a wide range of policies and programs in order to deal with the root causes of what we see going on in Attawapiskat, and what I know I will see on Friday in Pikangikum when I go there with Grand Chief Fiddler.
It is also so important that respect for community autonomy and self-determination, respect and recognition for rights and self-government are there.
We know from the very important research of Chandler and Lalonde in British Columbia that when communities have their language, as the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River spoke of, that is huge, as is control over their health care, education, doing their ceremonies. That is how suicide rates went down to zero in some of the communities that were studied.
In budget 2016, we committed to making historic investments.
We know that these investments have to be transformational for indigenous communities and that we will work nation to nation to actually set the goals for those communities and support indigenous-led initiatives.
I want to focus on two things. One is on education in kindergarten to grade 12 and what we are learning about what happens when a kid does not make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. If kids in grade 3 cannot make that transition, they end up faking it for the next number of years, until grade 8 and grade 9. As Dr. Stan Kutcher says, they are not stupid; they know they are not going to be able to cope and it is because the education system let them down.
The other piece I want to talk about is the effect of a staggeringly horrible child welfare system. We have more children in care than we did at the height of residential schools. This actually has to stop. Children are taken from their families, their language and culture and they do not see their place or any pride in who they are.
That includes the effect that child abuse has in that high-risk situation. Eighty per cent of people with addictions and 80% of people in prison are victims of child abuse. We have to talk out loud about that now. We have to talk about Attawapiskat, where Ralph Rowe abused over 500 kids as an Anglican priest and a boy scout leader, the people that Grand Chief Fiddler is trying to help. There are 20 years of abuse in that region. It was not difficult to understand and make the links as we heard that testimony in the TRC of what happens when a child is abused and then ends up in trouble with drugs, alcohol, violence, and often incarceration.
That region has an amazing program called Feathers of Hope. I would hope that any member here would listen to the children who have been in care, to hear what happens when a child gets put in a home with people who do not respect the child’s religion but expect the child to respect theirs, or a child who is brought to a farm, or pulled away from his or her sibling and the child runs away to try to find the sibling. This is just unacceptable.
We are very keen to work with all members to change this child welfare system with the provinces and territories and to get on with dealing with the kind of distinctions-based approach that means that we will deal with first nations, Inuit, and Métis differently. This cannot be a pan-aboriginal approach. As the Minister of Health said, in Inuit Nunangat, the Inuit homeland, the suicide rate is 10 times the rate for Canada as a whole. We need an evidence-based approach that is Inuit specific in nature, but globally informed.
Tonight is about ensuring hope and a brighter future in partnership with all indigenous communities. It is our shared responsibility. We know that doing it top-down will not work. We know we have to listen to the communities that know what they need and then help them get what they need.
I want to thank the member for Timmins—James Bay and all the members who are participating tonight. This is a night about getting all Canadians onside and turning this around.
Mr. Todd Doherty (Cariboo—Prince George, CPC):
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.
Hon. Carolyn Bennett:
Mr. Speaker, I wish it were only two communities.
I think that the community the member comes from has been through a terrible time, and ended up with an abusing judge, with the youngest-ever serial killer, and a medical examiner that had to be fired because the answers were not forthcoming in an honest way. I think all of us know what it is like, and I think that we are going to put in place the kinds of things that will offer prevention.
The member representing La Loche had asked us to look into things like Project Venture, which can take 100 kids in the summer out on the land. If we could ramp that up to 250 kids, I would like to help her do it. We know that getting out on the land and being back in touch with one’s history, culture, and skills can prevent this. I do not want to wait until those kids are having trouble with addictions or are in trouble with the law. I think that we can work on programs that communities know have worked for them. We have to work together to make that happen.
Ms. Georgina Jolibois (Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate both ministers in the Liberal government for their understanding and the level of compassion that they have.
I thank the minister for bringing up Project Venture. I have a question around that which is coming from residents in my community.
In the budget, there was no mention of Project Venture or dollars to support it. Am I hearing correctly that, at least for my community, the Project Venture initiative will receive funding?
Hon. Carolyn Bennett:
Mr. Speaker, because it had been funded through crime prevention and the budget of the Minister of Public Safety, it is something that we are working on together in terms of reinstating that program.
I look forward to working with the member. I do not know the details of the minister’s budget in the same way, but I hope that we can find the money.
Mr. Bill Casey (Cumberland—Colchester, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I was elected 28 years ago, and one of the first debates we had was the debate that we are having tonight about the plight of aboriginals.
I remember exactly what the prime minister of the day said at the time in this building. He said that we could all go home that weekend and try to think of a way to harm our aboriginals, because we could not do any worse than what we had done over the last 100 years.
It was 28 years ago that we had that debate, and we are here now having the same debate again. I believe we have an opportunity, and every single one of us has to be committed to this. Every single one of us has to help the ministers involved.
I believe we have the right ministers. I believe our Minister of Health is committed and able to do this. I believe our Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs is the most passionate in the House.
My question is for every one of us. Are we ready to help? Are we ready to do something so that we do not do this in another 28 years, so that we do not have this debate in another eight years? That is my question for all of us, and not for the ministers.
Hon. Carolyn Bennett:
Mr. Speaker, I think the challenge was put to all of us. On behalf of all of us, I hope that we can rise to the task that the member has set for us.
Mrs. Cathy McLeod (Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, CPC):
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 it 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.
Mr. Ken Hardie (Fleetwood—Port Kells, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it seems clear from the commentary so far that we have a really good grasp of the symptoms. I do not know, personally, if we know enough about the malaise, certainly not about the cure. As we approach this, the will that we hear from all sides of the House is that we have to do something, so let us get something done.
It occurs to me that Bobby Kennedy a long time echoed this quote, “Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” Maybe there is a germ of something in there that we should be thinking about.
Can we not ask the people right in the centre of this, the first nations people themselves, community by community, what their vision is of a good world, a good life, and work with them to reverse engineer that? As we understand what the end should look like, the steps that we take, which might have to be unique from community to community, will all of a sudden start to reveal themselves.
I was on the radio in northern B.C. playing rock and roll for the kids in Neskonlith, Greenville, and Kincolith. I was also in Kenora. I saw the grinding misery of the Whitedog and Grassy Narrows First Nation reserves.
Does the member from my old area of Kamloops think that this is a good place to start? Can we say, one day, the future is wonderful, and live up to it?
Mrs. Cathy McLeod:
Mr. Speaker, as my remarks indicated, there was some work done today, as I understand, in Attawapiskat. The children were saying what they needed in terms of perhaps giving them some opportunity and hope.
I really think the government needs to come up with a structure and a way to move forward on what is a tragedy and an issue. If I were looking at the horrifying circumstances of 1980 that were still there today, I would have to go back and say it is a sheer failure.
Ms. Linda Duncan (Edmonton Strathcona, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for her very heartfelt speech. I get the impression that the speech was very much because of her background as a nurse, and it is very much appreciated.
I have to go back to the response by Cindy Blackstock, the head of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, who said that she was very disappointed with the budget. Her statement was, “Children only get one childhood and they can’t wait for a government to treat them equally”.
Have the member and her colleagues rethought the previous position? We obviously want a lot more immediate and direct support for the mental health of the entire aboriginal community whose members are suffering this distress and committing suicide.
We need to look at the root causes. As my colleague raised earlier, one of them is the lack of basic facilities, even for the education of the children. In many cases they have to leave their own home and family to get a basic education.
I am wondering if the member could speak to whether or not, as a result of these mounting crises for aboriginal children in Canada, she and her colleagues have rethought the previous decision to withhold the funding to provide schooling for all aboriginal children in Canada?
Mrs. Cathy McLeod:
Mr. Speaker, money is important, but sometimes how things are organized and structured is also critically important.
I understand that in response to the tribunal’s report, the government does not have a lot of time but it is going to take a little time because it has to make sure it is done right. Money is important. We had a solution in terms of a piece of legislation that we thought would actually create some structure that was going to improve results for the students. Obviously that piece of legislation has not gone through.
We anticipate that there is going to be, and there should be, some equal work, in terms not only of money but in creating a system and a structure that will achieve the results we intend to achieve.
Mr. Colin Carrie (Oshawa, CPC):
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.
Mr. Robert-Falcon Ouellette (Winnipeg Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, there are systematic issues in the communities. One of the major issues is child and family services. These are the departments in the provinces that are responsible for children. In my riding, we do not just deal with immigration issues; I deal with child and family services issues, especially among first nations children.
In Manitoba alone, 11,000 children are in care of the state, which would work out to over 100,000 children in Ontario, or 90,000 in Quebec. Out of that, 10,000 are indigenous children, and 8,000 are first nations children. In fact, in the province of Manitoba, before the age of 15, around 22% to 23% of first nations children will be in the care of the state at some point. Is this any way to raise a child, or to love a child? Is this a way to produce good, long-term outcomes?
We often talk about suicide, but when I was on my trip to Cross Lake, I discovered that some of the children who had committed suicide, unfortunately had been in the care of the state. They had been taken from their families. In this House, in 2008, we made an apology in order to ensure we would not repeat the mistakes of the past with residential schools, yet we have been unable to do so.
Unfortunately, I do not have enough time to do this, but my comment would be to look at customary adoption. We do not seem to be going toward the area of a very simple solution, to allow indigenous families to make choices themselves.
Mr. Colin Carrie:
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Winnipeg Centre for his comments. I also want to thank him for his advocacy for children in his community and communities across Canada. He brings forward a very important point, in that the way we have been doing things has not been working.
My wife had a friend whose young child committed suicide. I cannot imagine the feelings of a mom and a dad who have lost a child, someone who had their entire future ahead of them, a child who thought there was no future and no hope.
I think all of us present in the House realize that we cannot continue doing what we have been doing in the past and that we need to work together. It is comments such as the comments from my colleague, the member for Winnipeg Centre, which add to the knowledge of the House and help us work together to develop programs. They will help us work with local communities to come up with programs so that we can prove we are committed to doing better. I thank him for his comments.
Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP):
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?
Mr. Colin Carrie:
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for the question. We all realize that he is on the ground. I think his participation tonight, and also asking for this debate and allowing us to discuss it, helps to bring this issue to the forefront.
I know, being a health care professional, that he is absolutely right. We have to ensure that the dollars are being utilized properly on the ground, and we have to be open to looking at things in a different way.
I know from my travels to remote first nation communities that what is important is that we start to put forward the importance of respecting culture and historical ways of moving these communities forward. I think with the understanding and compassion of learning what has been done in the past and what has worked successfully, we maybe have to take a step back so we can embrace these things moving forward into the future. I thank my colleague for that.
Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member across the way for Timmins—James Bay for providing us with this very important opportunity to have this substantive discussion. I certainly want to acknowledge all members who are in the House to participate in this debate.
I am very proud to come from the small community of We Wai Kai, off the west coast of British Columbia. I am proud to be an indigenous person standing in this honourable House to speak to this important subject, the issues of indigenous peoples in our country, and to participate in the debate.
I add my name to the many names of people who have spoken with respect to the incredibly sad situation that exists in Attawapiskat, and in communities like La Loche and so many indigenous communities across the country, where we see conditions of poverty, despair and lack of hope. As an indigenous person who was raised to be proud of who I am and where I come from, when I look at indigenous communities across the country, I want to ensure that we collectively create that sense of hope and that sense that if they work hard, they can achieve anything they want to in our country.
I want to applaud all of the members who have spoken to this issue and who recognize that immediate measures need to take place within the community of Attawapiskat, and other communities.
I am here today as the Minister of Justice and a member of this honourable House, and I would like to speak to the critical work that is ahead of us all.
I thank my colleagues, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, for recognizing the importance of not only addressing the immediate needs and the situation that exists, but for understanding the need for meaningful and systemic change. We, in the House, must not lose sight of the role this change will have in ensuring the health and safety of communities like Attawapiskat. Collectively, we must chart a path forward.
The Prime Minister has tasked us to work with indigenous peoples to establish a nation-to-nation relationship that is based on recognition. A relationship based on recognition is transformative. It is a relationship based on respect, co-operation, and partnership. In doing so, we can make real progress.
As the former regional chief of the BC Assembly of First Nations, I had the great fortune and opportunity to work with the chiefs and community leaders in British Columbia to develop mechanisms and to build institutions of government to assist first nations in the transition. I did this as well as a council member in my home community of We Wai Kai.
Indigenous peoples from across the country are at an important juncture in our history as they seek to deconstruct their colonial legacy and rebuild their communities. We all have a role to play. Even with political will, support and resources, only the colonized can decolonize themselves.
Change is not easy. It is not easy to remove the shackles of 140 years of life under the Indian Act. Our government, and I hope all members of this honourable House, is committed to ensuring that we work in partnership with indigenous peoples to do just that. Relationships with indigenous peoples in Canada are of paramount importance, and we are committed to renewed relationships that recognize that solutions to one of the biggest outstanding public policy issues in our country need to be addressed in a substantive way.
For Attawapiskat, and for all first nations, the Indian Act is not a suitable system of government. It is not consistent with the rights enshrined in our Constitution, the principles as set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or the calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.
In addition to the need for social and economic support urgently needed in Attawapiskat, all first nations, all indigenous peoples, need to be empowered to take back control of their own lives in partnership and with the full support of all Canadians. The good news is there are examples of how this can happen. There are successes in indigenous communities across the country, and we need to build on those successes.
The problem is that those successes are few and far between. Change has not happened quickly enough nor evenly throughout our great country, and Attawapiskat is one of those places. Our government is committed to establishing a nation-to-nation relationship, one, as the hon. member across the way said a moment ago, that respects an approach that will lay the framework for true reconciliation with indigenous peoples.
I have a few more words to say, Mr. Speaker, but I am pleased to share my time with the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River.
For indigenous peoples, the challenge is not easy. It is complex. Indeed, for far too long it has been ignored as a task, as too difficult and monumental. However, we can and must do better. This work, as has been said, is non-partisan. It is broader than the Department of Justice and it does not fall only to the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
A nation-to-nation relationship is one of the most challenging public policy issues of our time, and I challenge all members of the House to work with us in building this relationship. There are no quick fixes to these issues. A substantive nation-to-nation discussion with indigenous peoples is needed. We need to sit down and work jointly to ensure that indigenous communities are strong and healthy, and in charge and in control of their own destiny. We need to bring life to and move beyond the scattered programs and initiatives. Reconciliation is a national project that requires full engagement and commitment at the highest levels of government.
This transformative work in Canada is far from complete. Some positive steps have been made. There have been positive steps made in the budget but more needs to be done. We need to develop a national reconciliation framework in partnership with indigenous communities, and that requires the support of all parties and all members in the House. That reconciliation framework needs to survive the life of one government.
We have incredible challenges to meet with respect to our relationship with our indigenous peoples. We have incredible opportunities to gain from engaging substantively. As the Minister of Justice and as one of the members in this honourable House, I look to international minimum standards that are articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We need to ensure that we look at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations. We need to ensure, with respect to our relationship with indigenous peoples in the country, that we put it in place in terms of the constitutional relationship that is required with respect to section 35. We need to ensure that we breathe life into section 35 and that we complete the unfinished business of Confederation.
In doing so, we will have strong and appropriate governance in first nations communities wherein they have moved beyond the Indian Act. We can ensure that they are benefiting from the economy, that they are playing a substantive role in our country, ensuring the ultimate objective that I believe every Canadian wants to achieve, which is to improve his or her quality of life. In assisting indigenous communities to improve their quality of life, we can ensure that the amazing cultures, languages, traditions and the pride that I felt and was taught, rooted in the potlatch which is our governing system, is felt in indigenous communities and within indigenous youth. This is our national project of reconciliation. I look forward to every member of the House standing with us and ensuring we can achieve that.
Mr. Kevin Waugh (Saskatoon—Grasswood, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, we are all passionate about this, but unfortunately it has been brought up in the House that it has been 28 years. I would say we have been dealing with this issue for over a century.
One of the things that surprised me when I came to the House was the issue of education on reserves. I know the discrepancy of what first nations get from the federal government and what each jurisdiction and each province gives first nations. It is the value of education. We have been told many times that education is a way out of poverty. We have overstepped our boundaries because we have no accountability here.
I was a school board trustee for 10 years in Saskatchewan. For the first time ever we had a premier gather all 28 school divisions together because we had been doing things the same way for centuries and we were failing. It was Premier Brad Wall. He wanted to see accountability from the school boards, from the teachers, from the parents, and from the students. He said that we needed education and we needed graduation rates to increase by 50% by 2020.
Could we have accountability in education? I am shocked that we do not have an education minister on that side dealing with this. We need accountability—
The hon. Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould:
Mr. Speaker, I share the member’s comments with respect to the importance of education. I recognize that education is the means to unlocking the potential in indigenous people as well as all people.
In terms of education and moving forward, I am pleased to be part of a government that is investing in education. We are not only just investing in education, such as flowing money to indigenous communities, but we are looking to indigenous communities for the solutions they have developed. We are looking to indigenous communities to ensure that we can approach and embrace first nations control of first nations education. There are examples right across the country of indigenous communities stepping up, and we are working with those communities. I will continue to work with my colleague the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs and government.
On the issue of accountability, indigenous communities have developed their own accountability mechanisms from first nations administration laws through education programs. We need to embrace their solutions.
Mr. Romeo Saganash (Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I have been following indigenous politics for the last 35 years, but I have not had the opportunity to hear that kind of speech on indigenous relations.
The minister referred to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She rightly pointed out that the standards that were provided for under UNDRIP were effectively the minimum standards for the survival, dignity, and well-being of indigenous peoples.
I recall when we negotiated and drafted this U.N. declaration for a period of 23 years. We tried to think about every possible situation in the indigenous world when we drafted those articles. There are a couple of articles in the declaration that refer to health, articles 21.1, 21.2, and 24.
I want to ask the minister a simple question. I have been listening carefully to the Prime Minister. I have read carefully the mandate letters to the ministers and they all refer to the implementation of UNDRIP. Call to action 43 of the TRC refers to adopting and implementing the declaration. Does the minister make that distinction? Is that a simple oversight? If we adopt legislation and we—
The hon. Minister of Justice.
Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould:
Mr. Speaker, I would like to acknowledge the hon. member across the way and thank him for his ongoing efforts and his commitment to ensuring the advancement of indigenous peoples in this country through such mechanisms as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
We have been very clear that we will embrace the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ensure that the minimum standards that are articulated in the declaration are brought home here to Canada to ensure that we take declarations and mechanisms as such and translate them to form practical and meaningful benefits on the ground in communities here in Canada.
Under section 35, we have an opportunity with the minimum standards articulated in the declaration to ensure that we work together to define exactly what that means and how we can translate those into practical standards on the ground.
Mr. Don Rusnak (Thunder Bay—Rainy River, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, there can be no question that the high suicide rates experienced in first nation communities are a national tragedy. Every suicide attempt and every life lost is one too many, and there are definitely far too many, as the staggering statistics underline.
There can also be no question that the Government of Canada is determined to work with first nations and their leadership to turn these distressing numbers around. We will do everything possible to support communities like Attawapiskat to prevent further suicides.
While much of the attention in the past few days has focused on the situation in Attawapiskat, we all know that it is not an isolated case. The recent work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission underscored the extent of the social breakdown in many communities, often the result of the residential school experience that damaged so many individuals and families. Suicide is the most alarming manifestation of these serious social challenges.
The loss of life to suicide and feelings of despair affect us all. They reinforce how important it is to work with first nations and indigenous peoples across the country to address the very real challenges facing many communities. It is vital to our country’s future that the government work in genuine partnership with indigenous communities and provinces to ensure better social and economic outcomes for indigenous peoples, especially youth.
The government is currently working with all partners to design an engagement strategy for developing a national reconciliation framework. This reconciliation framework will be informed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations, calls to action, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Through our work on reconciliation, we commit to do important work where mental wellness, intergenerational trauma, poverty, child welfare, justice, and discrimination intersect. Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and Health Canada are collaborating with other federal departments, provinces and territories, and other partners to look at long-term needs in mental health, child welfare, education, infrastructure, and employment in indigenous communities.
Specific to mental health challenges, “Changing Directions Changing Lives”, Canada’s mental health strategy, has placed a priority on working with first nations, Inuit, and Métis to address their distinct mental health needs. Priorities for action have been developed through dialogue between the Mental Health Commission of Canada and indigenous organizations.
Following discussions with Mr. Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the TRC, the Mental Health Commission of Canada pledged to bring a greater depth of understanding to indigenous issues through activities and capacity-building related to cultural competencies. It has created the position of senior adviser of indigenous affairs and is providing indigenous cultural competency training to all staff.
Of course, making real change also requires a new fiscal relationship with first nations, a relationship that provides sufficient, predictable, and sustained funding for communities, and that is what budget 2016 delivers, because there is no relationship more important to this government than the one with indigenous peoples.
We know first nations, Inuit, Métis, and northern communities need urgent action now. That is why budget 2016 invests a historic $8.4 billion over five years to improve the socio-economic conditions of indigenous peoples and their communities.
As the chief of Attawapiskat First Nation told reporters this week, indigenous suicide is not just a mental health problem. Unemployment, lack of access to education, and substandard infrastructure are contributing factors. Economic hardships and the legacy of colonialism are key factors in high suicide rates also.
Understanding this, the Government of Canada is taking a comprehensive approach to social investments, from repairing and constructing homes and schools on reserve to providing early childhood development programs, from increasing supports for child and family services to boosting funds for skills development and job training.
We are keeping our promises for a renewed relationship with indigenous peoples, one based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership—in short, reconciliation—a relationship that provides sufficient, predictable, and sustained funding to first nations and indigenous communities, a relationship based on the understanding that unilateral decision-making and top-down solutions do not reflect the needs of indigenous peoples, and a relationship that understands that a secure personal and cultural identity is the bedrock of success for their communities.
The budget and our efforts to date demonstrate this government’s commitment to closing the gaps and ensuring social justice.
As we move forward together in a spirit of reconciliation, honouring and respecting the cultural identity of indigenous people, we will sow the seeds for a more promising future to give youth both hope and opportunity to create a better country for us all.
Mrs. Cathay Wagantall (Yorkton—Melville, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I really appreciate this opportunity we have tonight to discuss this issue. The comments from the leadership on the other side of the House as well as here have been really encouraging to me.
As a member of Parliament who has three reserves in my riding, I want to say that we need to work together and that I need the help of hon. members.
When I hear that we need to be empowering the people in their bands, I fully support that idea. As the minister knows, I have individuals coming to my office who are dealing with an incredible amount of loss of hope, partially because of what we discussed in this room tonight—our responsibilities as a country for colonialism and government—and partly because they are people who are not getting the support they need from their band leadership.
Politics exists at every level, and when I was running for office, I studied reserves and found that there are reserves in this country that, as the minister said, are doing phenomenally well. I believe they are doing really well because they have strong leadership on the ground in reserves where they value their people.
I am a new member of Parliament. I am at an age when I am really not interesting in pretending or playing politics. I want results for the people living on reserves in my riding who, quite frankly, live in fear and do not where the money is or where it has gone, and they want that education. However, we have very complex issues here.
Mr. Don Rusnak:
Mr. Speaker, I have been dealing with and working with first nations communities in Alberta, British Columbia, and northern Ontario, and I can tell the hon. member that all members of first nations governments want to see the best for their communities. No one wants to see the horrible tragedy that occurred in Attawapiskat or the other tragedies that have occurred across the country.
To lump all first nations communities into the same category, the pan-aboriginal approach, is not productive. We need to talk to each individual first nations community and have them develop their own solutions. We as a government, with our provincial partners, need to work with them to solve the problems in the communities.
Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I want to follow up on my colleague’s comments about solutions being at the grassroots level.
We are talking great things tonight, but the worst thing that can come out of this would be a program that would fail.
No offence to the Department of Indigenous Affairs or Health Canada, but they come up with a program and they announce it. Then every single community in the country has to try to fit the criteria. Then they are denied by bureaucrats. That is not useful.
I would like to see a commitment come out of tonight’s debate. When ITK and the Inuit have a mental health strategy, if it is a qualified plan, they implement it themselves. In the Nishnawbe Aski Nation territory, if they have a plan for mental health that works for their communities, they implement it. It is no longer the hamster wheel of programs running in these various departments, because they are programs that fail.
In terms of mental health services, I would like to hear my colleagues say that we will take the funds here and put them into the regions so that they can do what needs to be done, culturally and correctly.
Mr. Don Rusnak:
Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member knows, we sit on the indigenous affairs committee together. We will be studying a lot of important issues as we move forward.
I know the departments are reacting right now to serious crises, but we need to come up with solutions that are long term and that will help communities get out of the cycle of dependency and despair.
The hon. member well knows that we work collegially at the committee, and we hope to have answers and solutions for the government going forward so that we do not spin our wheels as we move forward.
Mr. Harold Albrecht (Kitchener—Conestoga, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Cariboo—Prince George.
I want to thank my colleague from Timmins—James Bay for opening up this opportunity to discuss this important issue tonight.
I rise in the House this evening to lend a voice to a topic which lies heavily on my heart and I know the hearts of all my colleagues on both sides of this chamber. This is not the time to debate what could have been done or what should have been done, but rather, we need to come together with a solution to the issue we are currently facing. There is no time to waste on partisanship when lives are at stake.
Canadians need us to lead by example by coming together and rallying around this hurting community to help them in every possible way. In that spirit, I use the word “discussion” rather than “debate” because I am convinced that the House is eager to take action on the national tragedy that suicide represents.
This is an epidemic that is larger than Attawapiskat and unfortunately, it is growing. It is not okay that the leading causes of death for first nations people under the age of 44 are suicide and self-inflicted injuries. It is not okay that first nations youth die by suicide five to six times more often than non-aboriginal youth. It is not okay that suicide rates for Inuit youth are among the highest in the whole world. This issue needs to light a fire inside all of us to do all that we can to not allow this epidemic to continue.
There are many views on how this is best done, and I share my view from some of the experiences I have accumulated over the past 10 years serving as a member of Parliament. There have been many good steps taken to address this tragic issue of suicide, but much more needs to be done.
As co-chair of the all-party Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care, I, along with NDP and Liberal colleagues, conducted a study on the complex issue of suicide prevention and our findings are recorded in the report called “Not to be Forgotten”.
What became clear is that suicide is a complex phenomenon with multiple, often intertwining and overlapping causes. The complexity of suicide makes it obvious that solutions cannot be reduced to a mental health approach alone, but must take all aspects of the person into account, including physical, social, cultural, and spiritual factors.
One witness who appeared before our parliamentary committee was Dr. Antoon Leenaars, a psychologist and suicide researcher. He shared with the committee:
Suicide is multi-determined. The common psychological factors…are unbearable pain, cognitive constriction or tunnel vision, ambiguities about life and death, a mental health disorder, a weakened ego, a disturbance in a relationship or some other ideal like one’s health or youth, rejection-aggression, and a desire to escape. This complexity calls for diverse suicide prevention strategies. This is necessary to not only solve what is sometimes assumed to be primarily a “medical problem”, but also to address the deep taboo and its stigma, and to address the problem with specific vulnerable groups, such as First Nations and Inuit people, armed services personnel, youth, and elderly (especially those facing end of life issues). The complexity of suicide dictates the necessity of a parallel complexity of solutions. There is never the solution. Therefore not only a mental health approach, but a public health approach, is urgently needed.
Research done by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, as recorded in our committee report, found that the culture of first nations peoples was thrown into turmoil by the policies of colonialism. In this report it was clear that the whole complex of relationships, knowledge, languages, social institutions, beliefs, values and ethical rules that bind people together and give a collection of people and its individual members a sense of who they are and where they belong plays a profound role in mental health and well-being.
Prior to the breakdown of their culture, suicide was rare among first nations people. However, as I previously stated, today, suicide among first nations youth is at epidemic proportions. The development of a sense of healthy identity is profoundly related to one’s culture and its ability to reproduce itself in its members. Thus the anthropological and sociological dimensions can have a deep impact upon the psychological.
It is important to be reminded that suicide intervention really does work and many lives are saved every year. Despite this fact, Canadian response is mainly due to the efforts of individuals and private groups who strive against the tide with very few resources. We have many great examples of local groups across Canada that are doing heroic work in preventing suicide.
When I first heard the news of the 11 suicide attempts in Attawapiskat, my heart sank and I immediately remembered an incident from 2011 when I was contacted by Tana Nash of the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council. She informed me of the fact that three suicides had occurred in three different high schools in Waterloo region in one week. Help was urgently needed. At that moment, I knew that I wanted to do something to deal with issues; albeit, I knew my attempts would be less than adequate. I knew that something must be done to address the tragic loss of hope, especially among our young people. To that end, I embarked upon drafting Bill C-300, an act respecting a federal framework for suicide prevention.
As a nation, we have not done enough to implement a coherent program of suicide prevention. Some provinces have begun to make great strides, especially Quebec. Yet, in general, efforts to prevent suicide are still a patchwork, depending upon the generosity of individuals, many of whom have been personally impacted by suicide.
This is why it is so urgent that the government implement the federal framework on suicide prevention as soon as possible. With its immediate implementation, we would be able to give to the groups on the ground the much needed tools and resources they so desperately need.
When fully implemented, Bill C-300, through the Public Health Agency of Canada, would provide guidelines to improve public awareness and knowledge about suicide. It would disseminate information about suicide, including information concerning its prevention. It would make publicly available existing statistics about suicide and related risk factors. This is one of the weak points that many of the groups which came to our committee pointed out: the statistics relating to suicide are so old and so out of date that there is really no way to plan forward in going ahead. The bill would promote collaboration and knowledge exchange across domains, sectors, regions, and jurisdictions. It would define best practices for the prevention of suicide. It would promote the use of research and evidence-based practices for the prevention of suicide.
The principles embodied in Bill C-300 could be contextualized and individualized to communities, depending upon their unique circumstances. I want to underline that fact. This is not a bill that would tell communities how to do it. My colleague earlier pointed out that we need to give communities the ability to contextualize within their own communities.
Furthermore, safeTALK training for all front-line service workers and volunteers on reserve would be a major investment in proactive prevention of suicide. Community members, such as teachers, doctors, nurses, coaches, pastors, club leaders, and many more, are in a unique position to recognize the early warning signs and would be able to ask the right questions that could very well lead to saving a life.
I am certain that everyone in this chamber can tell us how they, their families, or a member in their community, has been negatively impacted by suicide. Each of us knows someone whose sense of hope was overcome by despair and who ended his or her life by suicide. However, we know that suicide does not end the pain. It simply transfers it to the family, to the friends, and to the community.
This particular community that we are discussing tonight is currently in extreme pain. Now is the time to do all that we can to deliver hope.
Evidence is accumulating that when aboriginal communities design their own interventions, typically based upon traditional cultural values and practices, the efficacy of these interventions is high. Therefore, there is hope, but much more needs to be done. We need to offer hope to those who are facing this unbearable pain and who subsequently descend into a state of hopelessness and despair.
Hope is dependent upon having a sense of connection to the future, even if that future is short term. Hope is the oxygen of the human spirit. Without it, the spirit dies.
I am a person of hope. The very fact that this important discussion is happening tonight in the House of Commons in Canada is a huge step forward in providing hope.
We stand with our brothers and sisters in Attawapiskat to provide immediate practical help. We want them to know that they are in our thoughts and prayers. I pray they will know that their lives have value and meaning, that they are loved by their families, their friends, their fellow Canadians, and their Creator.
Mr. Doug Eyolfson (Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to sincerely thank the hon. member for his comments and his work on this issue. I appreciate his passion on this, and I agree completely on how important this issue is.
The hon. member for Timmins—James Bay made reference to medevacing people out from remote communities. This reference resonates with me personally. Since starting in the mid-1990s, I spent 13 years as a flight physician with the Manitoba air ambulance. On more than one occasion, I personally performed medevacs to first nation communities, airlifting young people who had attempted suicide out. Some of them survived, but tragically, others did not.
Appallingly, as much as it is unacceptable to see this once in one’s life, I lost count of the number of times I saw this. My colleagues said the same thing. We knew this was a pattern for years, and this was 20 years ago. This is not a pattern that has occurred under the watch of any one provincial or federal government. We saw several governments come and go over this time.
These incidents did not make the press; they were individual tragedies, but we have been brought together by some high-profile tragic events.
I have no question, but I would simply thank the hon. member for his comments and assure him that I think we are all going to work together toward the same goal.
Mr. Harold Albrecht:
Mr. Speaker, I think all of us in the House are grasping for ways to effectively address this tragedy. It is so heartening for me, not only tonight to hear the kind of commitment that we are making, but over the last number of years on the initiatives that I have embarked on along with many colleagues on all sides of the House. I find that we are committed to working together to provide hope to those who have descended into a cycle of despair.
Mr. Jim Eglinski (Yellowhead, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, the problem that we are talking about tonight has been around for a long time. I go back to my first week as a police officer in early 1968. I do not think I was on the job three days before I had my first suicide, and I have never seen them stop. They need to stop.
We need to work together with our aboriginal communities, and we need to do something now. There is a lot of discussion of what we are going to do with programs, but we need to do something now.
I ask my hon. friend if he could tell us some of the things that we could do immediately to look at the problem and try to resolve the situation that we are faced with today.
Mr. Harold Albrecht:
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his service to our country. I cannot imagine the trauma caused by observing the results of some of these unfortunate incidents. In my comments, I referred to the fact that suicide does not stop the pain, but simply transfers it to others who are left to bear that burden.
If there were a simple solution, or even 10 simple solutions, I am sure everyone in this room would be sharing them with us tonight, but there is none.
One of the suggestions I have that I think is a help, not the answer, involves our front-line workers, and I listed a few of them. I think of hockey, baseball and lacrosse coaches. These men and women are working weekly, if not daily, with our young people. I think we do a disservice by not equipping these kinds of volunteers with the skills. Yes, we teach them first aid and how to apply a splint to a broken ankle, but we could also teach them how to use safeTALK. It is an effective mechanism that has been developed to teach lay people like me how to possibly intervene. I do not have to solve the problem, but I have to listen and possibly discover that a person is crying out for help and then get them to the available resources.
I think that implementing safeTALK across Canada, especially on our reserves, would be one way of possibly reducing the number of unfortunate premature deaths that we are observing today.
Mr. Todd Doherty (Cariboo—Prince George, CPC):
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.
I want to thank the member for achieving the difficult task of staying within his 10 minutes. The difficulty we have this evening is that so many members want to take part in this very emotional debate. It is hard not to be moved by it. However, because so many members want to take part, we do need to stay to the 10 minutes.
Now, we are on to questions and comments.
Ms. Kate Young (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, you are right. We all want to take part in tonight’s important discussion on this incredibly tragic issue.
What we are hearing tonight are heart-wrenching stories, and I would not expect anything less. I agree with the member when he said that words are not enough.
Just last week I had the honour of attending a grade 3 class at the Standing Stone School on the Oneida Nation of the Thames near London, Ontario. I heard from the students who had all written letters to the Prime Minister imploring him to make a difference. They questioned me on whether we were going to follow through on our commitments and on the mandate letters. I was so impressed with these grade 3 students who were all of seven or eight years old. They were asking me really tough questions. I realized at that point that words are not enough, that we must do more. The fact that we are all here tonight discussing this important issue makes me believe that we are on the same page and that we will make a difference.
Mr. Todd Doherty:
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.
Mr. Gord Johns (Courtenay—Alberni, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank all members in the House for being here tonight to talk about what is really a tragedy in our history and in our time.
A fiend of mine, an elder of the Tla-o-qui-aht people, Moses Martin, when we were talking about building a recreation complex in our community, said that if we can save one life, it is worth it. I hope tonight, when we come up with our ideas, we can do better. I hope we can save more than one life. More than that, we have to find a solution. My hon. colleague and friend from Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo talked about this going on for 28 years and not much having changed; so tonight we have to make change because our communities deserve it.
In 2005 in Ahousaht nation, 60 people attempted suicide in a six-month period. Fast forward 10 years. Last August, 15 people attempted suicide in that community of 1,800. Not much has changed.
Will the hon. member join me in calling on the government to invest more immediately to deal with mental health to help these communities?
Mr. Todd Doherty:
Mr. Speaker, I will join my hon. colleague in imploring the government to invest more immediately.
One of the reasons I tabled my Bill C-211 is to look at a national framework to deal with PTSD for first responders and veterans, because mental health issues affect all Canadians. We need to have a national strategy. In putting forth that bill I hope to not only help those who run toward danger when others run away from it, but to have this discussion so that we can serve all Canadians and build a national framework so that we can stop this incredibly horrendous epidemic.
Mr. Michel Picard (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Lib.):
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 tum 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.
Mr. Mel Arnold (North Okanagan—Shuswap, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a comment first, then ask my colleague a question. I want to recognize another colleague on this side of the House who made a very compassionate speech this evening.
The silence in the House this evening is deafening. It says to me one thing: we are here listening. I would like to challenge all members in the House and all the members of the House to do more than just listen into the late hours tonight. Let us spend some late hours at home listening to what our communities think will help solve this problem. Then let us follow that up with action. Would the member support me in that?
Mr. Michel Picard:
Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague raised a very important point about listening, but I would also add sharing, since sharing plays an important role in indigenous culture. This is exactly the sort of action we have started to take and will continue to take in the coming years. After March 2018, our contribution to the aboriginal policing program will start with consultations focused on listening to and sharing the needs of communities.
Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP):
Mr. Speaker, I agree. I want to commend my Conservative colleague and echo his comments. This is an evening that rarely occurs in the House of Commons where we are united in our sense of deep grief and, at least for myself, a sense of helplessness.
We are members of Parliament, and we want more than anything else to reach out to those kids in Attawapiskat and tell them we are here for them. They matter to Canada. We love them. They should not allow dark thoughts to cloud their future or steal it from them.
However, how we act will be very difficult. It is incredibly important that we find a way to solidify and crystalize our collective will as parliamentarians in this place to let nothing stand in the way of providing the help that kids need in Attawapiskat, in Cross Lake, in every first nations and indigenous community, and indeed every non-indigenous community in our country, and that we put our children first. Would the hon. member agree with that?
Mr. Michel Picard:
Mr. Speaker, the only one possibility with tonight’s initiative is to all agree on common efforts to support our kids and their families.
On our side, we are involved in the field with projects for which we are waiting some answers to keep on improving those actions. For example, a second crime prevention project called “Strengthening Families Program” was put in place in La Loche in 2014. It is scheduled to run until 2019.
There is some action in the field. I can promise, having been in the field in a previous life, there is no colour, no size and no partisanship. Everyone is working for the same reason.
Allow me to salute and congratulate the efforts of all these officers, namely at Attawapiskat, for the incredible work they are doing and for the incredible workload, hours and stress they are facing in helping our kids everywhere.
Mr. William Amos (Pontiac, Lib.):
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 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.
Mr. Harold Albrecht (Kitchener—Conestoga, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for speaking from his heart, and for his initiative in connecting directly with aboriginal leaders to get their perspective on how we could move ahead in dealing with prevention on this issue.
Most of our discussion tonight has been focused on prevention, and rightly so. However, there is another aspect to suicide that I referenced in my talk, and that is on those who are left behind. There are a number of good postvention initiatives out there. I am going to list a couple of them, and then I will ask my colleague if indigenous leaders may have referenced some tools that they would recommend and that we should be aware of in the House.
The collateral damage project, run by Scott Chisholm of Thunder Bay, is an excellent resource. If members are not aware of it, I would encourage them to go online. The collateral damage project helps those who have walked through the trauma of having lost a loved one to suicide.
There is another website, and in our modern age, it is important that we avail ourselves of all the tools available. I am certainly not suggesting that online tools will help to eliminate all suicide, but it is another active way that we can be involved. Your Life Counts is another online tool that I think would be helpful.
I am wondering if my colleague is aware of other postvention initiatives to help those who have been traumatized by the scourge of suicide within their communities or in their families.
Mr. William Amos:
Mr. Speaker, I will admit that I was not made aware of that in my conversations today with the Algonquin leaders.
There are certainly projects being undertaken that can lead us in the right direction. One example of a project that is near to my heart, and that I know is near to the hearts of a number of members of the Anishinaabe community, is the friendship centre in Maniwaki. This is an idea that is gathering steam. It offers the potential for both on-reserve and off-reserve first nations to achieve better integration and find support where they need it, whether it is employment support, health care, or community and culture.
These are projects that are exciting, but I think one can recognize quite quickly that they are not going to solve the overall challenge.
Ms. Linda Duncan (Edmonton Strathcona, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his speech and welcome him to the House. We have worked together previously under different mantles.
I know the member is a lawyer, and I would like him to respond to the same question that the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou put to the justice minister. It is related to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. A number of people in the House tonight have asked if it is perhaps not time to let the aboriginal communities themselves, whether they be first nation, Métis or Inuit, deliver these programs—education, health care, and so forth—on their own.
Would the member, with his legal background, agree with the recommendation by my colleague, who previously tabled a bill to this effect, that international law, including the UNDRIP, does not become the law of Canada until a bill is adopted in the House? Does he support the call by my colleague that we take that first step, which would then recognize the rights of the first nations to order their own business?
Mr. William Amos:
Mr. Speaker, that is an interesting question. It is a question that has a number of layers to it.
There was a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and there were recommendations that flowed from it. Among the recommendations was a reference to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and obviously our government has made specific commitments in relation to those recommendations.
I am not an aboriginal law specialist, and I do not think it would be appropriate for me to comment on how the Government of Canada ought to incorporate the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into the legal fabric of our country, which is in fact a legal fabric that has in many ways protected aboriginal rights in a fashion that is remarkable. Recent Supreme Court judgments in Calder, Sparrow, Delgamuukw, and Tsilhqot’in have achieved a number of different things, so I think it would be difficult to answer that.
Mr. Arnold Viersen (Peace River—Westlock, CPC):
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.
Mr. Gord Johns (Courtenay—Alberni, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, earlier in the debate, one of our colleagues apologized for showing emotion with tears. I do not think there is a need to apologize for the tears. I think the children deserve our tears. If anything, we should be apologizing to the children that we have let down in this country.
In British Columbia, which is what I know, children from Haida Gwaii, from Ahousaht, and from every corner in British Columbia, the children in the highest need of mental treatment, children suffering from post-traumatic stress, on suicide watch, get sent for help, for therapy, to the Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre in Burnaby. At that facility right now there is a one-year waiting list to get help. How many of those children are going to make it a year? We are letting them down.
Will the member join me in calling on the government to end that wait list, end the wait lists for the children of Attawapiskat, Ahousaht, La Loche, and the children of this country so that no other child waits for the help he or she needs?
Mr. Arnold Viersen:
Mr. Speaker, I said in my speech that we should put aside party politics, and I really appreciate the tenor of the debate this evening. We can all stand here together as one voice for all of Canada in saying that we need to fix this issue. However, I do not feel that I have the tools in my hands at this point to be able to fix it. As I said in my speech, it is going to take a multi-faceted approach.
The organization in Burnaby that the member mentioned sounds like an amazing organization.
Within humanity, we have the ability and the tools to fix these issues. I hope that we can all come together to fix this issue.
Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP):
Mr. Speaker, my friend the hon. member for Peace River—Westlock is a new member of this House, but I have come to know him through another connection, and I am impressed by his eloquence.
I want to put to him something that was just posted on Twitter by Cindy Blackstock. I think it would unite us as we are already united. Cindy is, of course, a great champion for first nations children across Canada. She wrote:
Parliament needs to pay as much attention to children as they do to the economy. Then Canada will truly be a wealthy country.
I think that she is right. It is a hard thing to do. We almost worship the economy. However, we also love our children. Can we imagine that Parliament in Canada would, in Cindy’s words, pay as much attention to our children as we do to the economy?
Mr. Arnold Viersen:
Mr. Speaker, for sure we must pay attention to our children. Our children are what this country is all about. I have two children of my own. It is when we have children that suddenly the world becomes a bigger place. We realize that it is not just about us. It is about leaving a legacy, providing for our children and all of that, and building a nation that they will truly prosper in.
When we talk about the economy, we talk about it in abstract terms, but we always should bring it back to why we want a good economy. We want a good economy so that we can provide an education for our children, provide a house for them to live in, provide water for them to bathe in, all these kinds of things. We work hard so that we can provide for our families.
When it gets into the abstract of debt or all the aspects of what the economy is and the terms that we use, we sometimes fail to remember that we need a good economy in order to pay for the things that allow our families to thrive. I would agree with my colleague that we should always bring the discussion back to our families and to our children.
Ms. Rachael Harder (Lethbridge, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, collectively as members of Parliament and as Canadians we were shocked to find out about the recent events in Attawapiskat.
As members of Parliament, we tend to be hopeful individuals. Though we may not agree on the method, I believe that all of us share a common goal and that common goal is to make Canada a better place. When a tragedy like this unfolds before us, it is absolutely shocking and very sad.
Sadly, this crisis is not something that is unique. Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading cause of death for first nations youth and adults up to the age of 44. The suicide rate for first nations male youth ages 15 to 24 is 126 out of 100,000. It is only 24 out of every 100,000 for non-aboriginal youth. That is five times more. For females, the suicide rate is 35 out of 100,000 among aboriginals versus five out of 100,000 for non-aboriginals, a rate that is seven times higher than the national average.
These statistics, however, cannot convey the personal tragedy of a life lost to suicide. When we talk about these individuals, we are talking about daughters, sons, friends, brothers, and sisters. At the end of the day, we are talking about deeply loved individuals.
Suicide is clearly a symptom of something that goes much deeper, something that is deeper and faced within this community. The challenge we collectively face as parliamentarians and as a nation is how to create hope. None of us here has lived in Attawapiskat, and so none of us is able to speak with authority on what it is like to live here. We do not know the stories that the elders have to speak of or the personal tragedies that they have endured. We do not know what challenges the youth have faced or what they have overcome.
Nevertheless, I believe that there is an understanding and a hope to be found in the experience that is lived by other aboriginal communities in Canada.
I did a little research in preparation for today. The Centre for Suicide Prevention explains, “In communities where there is a strong sense of culture, community ownership, and other protective factors, it is believed that there are much lower rates of suicide and sometimes none at all.”
To further support this point, there was a recent study done by Dr. Chandler and Dr. Chris Lalonde in British Columbia. They found that more than 90% of youth suicides are concentrated in only 10% to 15% of first nations bands. While some communities suffer rates as much as 800 times the national average, more than half of the province’s 200 first nations bands have not experienced a single suicide at all. Therefore, the tragedy of youth suicide is not endemic to all reserves. This is an important point to make, because it brings hope. It brings hope that youth suicide is not inherent to the aboriginal culture. Let us make no mistake. Also, it provides hope to communities that a solution is in fact possible.
To offer a paraphrase of the research that Chandler and Lalonde completed, they said that suicide becomes a serious option only when one’s sense of connectedness to a hoped-for future is completely lost. According to their research, the common denominator among all aboriginal suicide victims is a lack of identity and purpose, particularly in light of significant life changes.
It is being able to understand why we are here and what our purpose is that provides us with the ability to imagine a better tomorrow and the pathway to achieve it. This sense of purpose and destiny is imparted by the community around us. The culture shapes our world view.
We all know that many factors have eroded the culture of our first nations people. The list of historic grievances is quite long. The intergenerational trauma of these events is largely to blame for the systemic challenges that we face today. I truly believe that regardless of partisan affiliation, every government has conducted itself with the best intentions in order to address the systemic problems that these historical events have in fact created.
If there is one thing that history has taught us, I believe it is that government-imposed solutions will not resolve the issue that we see before us today. Both the Liberal and the Conservative governments have funded national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategies.
From 2006 to 2015, our previous Conservative government spent over $131 million on the Attawapiskat reserve, including the construction of 60 new renovated houses and a brand new school. This was to support a community of about 2,000 people. The previous Liberal and Conservative governments have provided resources, emergency supplies, and expert advisers to this community, yet we are still facing this crisis.
While suicide rates within aboriginal communities do fall slightly with increasing wealth, the correlation is proven to neither be statistically nor socially significant, so it is clear that a budget line will not resolve the deeper issue that is before us today.
There is no doubt that having greater access to education, mental health counsellors, and better community facilities could help in the short term. However, until this community feels a sense of ownership over its destiny, we will continue to see recurring crises such as this.
By ownership, I mean ownership of cultural destiny. That is the ability to connect with the best hopes of the past in order to fulfill and attain the dreams of the future. We know that this is possible because it is the lived experience of many other aboriginal cultures across Canada. Many have created a positive culture connected to the past that enables them to build for a hopeful future.
How we support such a future, as a matter of government policy, is difficult to prescribe, given that vastly different approaches are employed by band leaders across Canada. However, there are probably some principles that we could approach this with.
I believe the focus should be on empowering every member of a community, not just its leadership. I believe that transparency is fundamental to any democracy, including band councils. Without informed choice, ownership cannot be found.
I believe the rule of law matters and that many have lost faith in those who are supposed to protect them. The perceived impunity to crime on reserves undermines the hope for a better future. Equality before the law cannot be realized until the rule of law is properly enforced.
I believe that economic empowerment is key. Without the ability to see a way to provide for oneself and one’s family, it is difficult to feel in control over one’s future and to have hope.
This is where I would say the Conservative approach has perhaps differed from the Liberals. The Liberals have been very good at working with the chiefs, but the chiefs offer a very limited perspective on how to approach these issues. This is why the previous Conservative government worked on empowering individuals on reserve to enable them to contribute to a positive future for their community.
We passed matrimonial property rights to give women the same equality as men on property rights, something non-aboriginal women have had for over half a century in Canada. We created transparency in band finances, including transparency on the salary and benefits that band leadership received. We also invested significantly in job training and job creation so that community members could take ownership of their financial future. We signed new treaties in order to provide ownership for bands in British Columbia. As well, our government worked with all parties to issue a national apology for the residential schools program in order to fully and finally acknowledge the tragedy that took place.
I am sincerely grateful for the thoughtful approach that has been taken by the Liberal government in addressing this recent crisis. The solution to this crisis cannot be found in government programs. Instead, the solution is found in the connection of history to purpose to future.
This is something that has to be discovered. It cannot be administered through a program.
Mr. Robert-Falcon Ouellette (Winnipeg Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I thought I would highlight a little incident that happened many years ago when I was discussing Attawapiskat with someone. This person said, “We are spending so much money on this community. Look at all the money they have wasted and everything they have let go. They have not pulled themselves up by the bootstraps. Look at all the federal money the government has spent on them.”
Then I said, “Let us look at Quebec City”, where this person lives. The provincial government spends $12,500 per year on each person. Then the federal government spends around $11,500 per citizen. Then the city government spends around $2,500. Added up, it is over $26,500. However, if we look at the spending in Attawapiskat, where the sole responsible level of government is the federal government under the Canadian Constitution, it is around $13,000 a year. The difference is absolutely enormous. If we expect to see different results when we spend so much less, then I think we need to start considering our own values and what we can actually do.
Perhaps there is a role for the government to play. I am not saying it is the only role, but it certainly has an important role to play, especially in relation to the structures of society.
Ms. Rachael Harder:
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his question.
I may be misunderstanding you, but it would appear that you are insinuating that perhaps government dollars—
Order, please. I want to remind the member to address the Speaker. There has been some of this, but let us try to keep that in mind.
Ms. Rachael Harder:
Mr. Speaker, I may be misunderstanding the member, but my understanding of what was said was that government dollars would help structure—he used the word “structure”—and would perhaps solve the issue before us here today.
As I said in my speech, I am not convinced that this is about putting another government program in place. I believe that this is about creating hope, about facilitating hope in a generation of people, in a culture of people. I believe that one of the best ways we can do that is by empowering them to take ownership, to be free citizens, to live great lives, and to embrace their culture. I do not believe the best way to do that is by creating government programs flooded with bureaucracy and regulations that hinder people rather than empower them.
Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague, but I have to say that what I am hearing is a lot of claptrap.
The member stood in this House and said that spending money on indigenous children is what governments should not be doing. Rather, we should give them hope. We should tell them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. We should talk about transparency.
Under her government, every single year $100 million was promised to indigenous schools. Then it was pulled back and spent on tax cuts. The Conservatives promised the money and never gave it. We could not find where the money went. That was the lack of transparency under her government.
The numeracy and literacy rates in the Ontario region of Treaty 9 were down at 21% and 28%. Literacy rates that low cannot be found anywhere else except sub-Saharan Africa.
What did her department do? It decided not to follow up or do any more studies because it could spend the money better elsewhere. We are talking about chronic underfunding of education, whereby children in Kashechewan and Attawapiskat get half of what kids in the public system in Ontario get, and the previous government said that it would not throw any more money at it.
They did not have the money for mental health services. That is why people are killing themselves. It is not because they do not have jobs. We have children killing themselves on reserves where they do have jobs, but they cannot access mental health services. Still, if white kids in suburban Canada need it, they get it.
Let us talk about the role government should be playing here. Let us not talk about giving them hope but not giving them a dime to be able to get an education.
Ms. Rachael Harder:
Mr. Speaker, I do not believe there was a question there, but I will respond to the hon. member’s comments.
I believe that money is a tool. It is not the answer. It is not the solution. It is simply a tool. It is something that we use, and if we use it correctly, it can perhaps create a solution or contribute to a solution.
In this case, as the Conservative government, we did believe in using money effectively as a tool. We would give it to bands and then we would ask for transparency. We would ask for accountability measures. Unfortunately, the Liberal government that is in place today just took all of that back. Now we are allowing band members to spend money as they will, with absolutely no transparency and no accountability. Unfortunately, at the end of the day this hurts the people on reserves. This hurts our children in the aboriginal communities. That is incredibly unfortunate.
Hon. Hunter Tootoo (Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Edmonton Centre.
Thank you for recognizing me and allowing me the opportunity to stand in the House today to discuss this heartbreaking and family-shattering issue.
Sadly, suicide is a word we all know only too well. Nowhere is the pain of self-inflicted death more prevalent and more poignant than in our indigenous communities.
My heart bleeds for the residents of Attawapiskat First Nation, and I thank my hon. colleague, the member for Timmins—James Bay, for asking for this emergency debate today.
As we previously heard, I hope that this is not a debate but a coming together of all of us in this chamber to truly begin to search for solutions.
In the north of our land and in the east, the west, and the centre, we all know the pain and anguish of losing someone close, but those of us of indigenous descent also know far too well the tragedy of suicide and the despair that caused it and that it left in its wake.
I have been personally affected by the suicide of family members and friends. Can members imagine telling their cousin’s five-year-old son that his father is not coming back again? I had to do that. I had to cry with my aunt over the loss of her son, my cousin. I have had to talk to my teenage daughter, who lost one of her best friends to suicide.
Nunavut has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world. Almost every person in our territory, as well in Nunavik in the north of Quebec, has been personally touched by the suicide of a loved one. Rarely a week goes by that there is not a suicide in our territory. There have been roughly 500 suicides in Nunavut since it was created in 1999.
The rate of suicide of Inuit in Nunavut is about 10 times the national average. It happens far too often among Inuit boys between the ages of 15 and 19. In fact, it is 40 times higher than it is among their peers in the rest of Canada. This is unacceptable.
This rampant crisis has an impact on all aspects of life in Nunavut. It affects the well-being of the family. It affects students in schools who have lost a classmate or a friend. It has an impact on the spirit of the community and on society as a whole.
While the rate of suicide is staggering, these numbers do not even include those who have attempted to take their own lives and luckily have received help in time.
Many Nunavut Inuit work hard to prevent suicide despite the trauma, grief, and loss that overwhelm them. I have seen many parents who have lost their children to suicide in Nunavut take up the challenge and do what they can to help prevent this crisis that is affecting us. I know how hard it is for them to talk about it.
We are working in partnership with Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated and the government of Nunavut to identify joint actions to improve mental wellness in our territory.
Last month, the government of Nunavut, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, the RCMP, and the Embrace Life Council released Resiliency Within, a one-year suicide-prevention strategy action plan. The plan incorporates recommendations from a 2015 coroner’s inquest and outlines a number of initiatives for community engagement, as well as training, programs, and support. This is a first step toward the development of a longer-term plan, and I will do what I can to support this initiative.
I know that Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami is also seized with this issue, and I want to recognize Natan Obed, the president of ITK, for his leadership on this issue. ITK is in the midst of drafting a national Inuit suicide-prevention strategy that will be released in August. It will help coordinate suicide-prevention efforts among the four Inuit regions: Nunavut, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut, and the Inuvialuit region. This is very valuable and important work.
While the responsibility for the provision of health services rests with the territorial government, Health Canada considers the high rate of suicide in Nunavut a big priority. Health Canada is investing $96.5 million over five years in the territory to support mental health services. This includes money specifically for suicide prevention. It is also providing $33.4 million over three years to the territorial health investment fund that is aimed at improving health services, including projects that help increase mental health services in Nunavut. Health Canada is also working to ensure nurses are prepared and trained to work in northern communities.
I could go on about the investments our federal government is making to try to reduce the number of suicides in Nunavut and elsewhere, and there are many. However, the fact is that in our territory, in Attawapiskat, in Nunavik, and in other indigenous communities across this great country there is a tragic, urgent situation where so many young people are ending or attempting to end their lives. This is a complex issue that requires a broad response. It is not and cannot be the sole responsibility of one level of government or one organization. It is the responsibility of all of us as a society to work together to find lasting solutions that will change the lives of people and make them feel that life is worth living. We need to deal with this crisis now, but we also need to look to the longer term and address some of the underlying causes. That means better access to housing, health care, and other social services, as well as education, training, and employment opportunities—in other words, a future.
It is not a partisan issue. It is one that we all need to make a priority, no matter where we live and no matter which party we represent.
Qujannamiik, merci, thank you.
Mr. Todd Doherty (Cariboo—Prince George, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank our hon. colleague from across the way for his heartfelt speech and also apologize for the losses that he and his family and his communities have gone through.
We have heard a lot of passionate discussion tonight. My question for my hon. colleague is this. Does he feel that we are at a point where pride can be swallowed, where blame can be put aside, and that an all-party group—a special committee, or whatever the name is—can be formed so that together we can solve these issues and work together for solutions?
Hon. Hunter Tootoo:
Mr. Speaker, in my speech I did not show any pride; I did not show any partisanship. What I am hearing here tonight is that we are all in this together and we need to work together. I believe there is an aboriginal affairs committee. I am not sure if the member is a member of it, but I am sure that committee will look at this issue and hopefully bring some recommendations forward for the government to look at.
Mr. Romeo Saganash (Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the minister for his speech. The minister and I share similar ridings, in terms of not only size but also population, so I can relate easily to the stories he brought to this House today.
I would like his comment on a quote that I will read to members. It is a quote from a former prime minister of this country, a former minister of Indian affairs, and also the architect of the 1969 white paper. After explaining that these kinds of things are complicated, are complex, and take some time—a long time, as a matter of fact—he said, “There is no economic base for having jobs and so on and sometimes they have to move like anybody else”.
I would like his comments on that comment, particularly from a former prime minister. Also, I want to ask him if this national tragedy will continue under his own government or if he will make sure that this time is the right time, that this time is the time for real change.
Hon. Hunter Tootoo:
Mr. Speaker, I do acknowledge that we both share a lot of commonalities in our ridings and the issues and challenges we face.
Our Prime Minister has said he wants to work at a renewed relationship with aboriginal people. When we met with folks in the leadership at ITK, he said he wants to work with them to be able to unleash the untapped potential that we have in our northern communities.
If we look at the Washington declaration that was signed in Washington by the Prime Minister and President Obama, we see it talked about building stronger northern communities and it included housing, mental wellness, and education. So, I do believe the proof is in the pudding with this government. The time is now, and we are taking action.
The Deputy Speaker:
Before we resume debate, I will just let hon. members know that, during an emergency debate, members are able to sit in whatever seat in the House they wish. They can be recognized to speak or to pose questions and comments from any seat. This is just a reminder for hon. members on that rule.
Resuming debate, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
Mr. Randy Boissonnault (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Lib.):
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.
Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, what I am hearing tonight is a desire to move beyond talk. We need to tell the people of Canada that the House of Commons can be transformative at historic moments, and I see the goodwill of all parties.
I want to relay a message that I received from Sarah Hookimaw, who is watching the live debate tonight. People are watching this back home. They are watching this in Indian country. She asked me to thank everyone because hope gets rekindled by the smallest spark. We can do a heck of a lot better than a small spark in this place. Otherwise, why are we here?
I want to ask my colleague an unorthodox question for all the young people in all the communities that have the ideas and hope. Will the government agree that we could put together some form of youth initiative, to start regional round tables where young people can come together and start to talk about their hopes and dreams? Then we can bring it to a national level, where they can address the Parliament of Canada to say what it will take, from their points of view, and give us the instructions, as the adults, to start moving forward? I am sure I have the support of my colleagues in the Conservative Party and the Green Party. I ask my hon. colleague if we can move forward with something unorthodox but transformative so we can follow through on these small sparks into a brighter future for all young people.
Mr. Randy Boissonnault:
Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague opposite and I had the opportunity to speak when he was at a convention in my riding of Edmonton Centre on the weekend. I want to thank him for fanning the flames of care and humanity as it pertains to this issue and for bringing this debate to the House today.
I live in a riding that, within two years, will have highest concentration of indigenous peoples of any city in the country and the highest population of youth, my riding of Edmonton Centre. I expect unorthodox questions from the hon. member opposite. It is part of his parliamentary charm.
I cannot speak on behalf of the entire government, but as the member of Parliament for Edmonton Centre, I embrace this suggestion and in Edmonton Centre there will be a round table of young people. If that is the spark that it takes to make this happen, that is what we will do. Then I will encourage my colleagues to join me.
Mr. Michel Picard (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, in a previous speech, I was surprised to hear from members opposite that the Liberals were only consulting chiefs of communities, as though we were holding back on the resources and tools to achieve results.
Therefore, I invite my hon. colleague to speak more about how we have benefited from communicating with the chiefs of communities.
Mr. Randy Boissonnault:
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.
Mr. Len Webber (Calgary Confederation, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House this evening. I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan.
As always, I thank my constituents of Calgary Confederation for their ongoing support and encouragement, and the opportunity to speak to important issues such as the one we are discussing tonight.
I could not have imagined that I would be rising here to speak under such dire circumstances for the people of Attawapiskat. In my prior political life as an MLA in Alberta, I was the minister for aboriginal relations. This position allowed me to see first hand the challenges facing many of our indigenous people, and the grief and the stress it placed on every member of these small and close-knit communities.
Just over six years ago I lost my wife Heather. Nothing can prepare us for it and it hurts more than anything we can imagine. In my times of need and my times of grief, I was fortunate to have a strong network of family and friends, and in particular, counselling to support me and my three daughters.
Sadly, this is not the reality of most in Attawapiskat. I cannot imagine what it must be like to have lost loved family members and not have the proper support or help. The stress, the despair, the unanswered questions must all be so stressful and seemingly never ending. It is with these thoughts in mind that I cannot even imagine what it must be like to be a parent in Attawapiskat at the moment.
Parents must be on the edge like never before, wondering if their family will be the next to suffer a challenge or a tragedy. The loss of a child is the most tragic of all family tragedies, yet we sadly see this becoming a routine part of many reserves, especially at Attawapiskat.
I realize it is not only the youth in these communities that are being directly affected by these suicides. People are losing their parents, their spouses, their siblings, their friends and their relatives. The community is dying from the inside out and the government needs to take urgent and defining action.
The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that the suicide rate in Canada is 15 people per 100,000. We cannot even compare that with Attawapiskat, which only has an on-reserve population of about 1,500 or so. Based on the national suicide rate and its population, this community should expect to see one suicide every four to five years, but right now we are at the point where we are counting mere hours between suicide attempts.
Before I speak more about Attawapiskat, let me make it clear that this is not a problem on this reserve alone, or among this community alone.
In my past, I have visited many communities like the ones we are discussing tonight and the conditions vary greatly from one to another. However, it ought to shock many Canadians that suicide and self-inflicted injuries are among the leading cause of death for our indigenous people. That is shocking and tragic embarrassment for a country like Canada.
Aboriginal leaders have called on the federal government to develop a national strategy to combat indigenous suicide, but this sounds like a lot of reason to talk rather than to act. We already know many of the causes of their despair and why people turn to suicide. Any previous suicide or mental health study has dozens of recommendation that the government should look into right now.
There are those, and there are many, who suggest we should relocate this community to some urban area to solve the problems. I do not believe that is a solution. Statistics show that among indigenous populations, the suicide rate is no better when they live in our urban areas.
The sad reality is that the federal government has responsibilities to serve these communities and it is not upholding them. Folks in these communities do not have access to the resources they need to prevent suicide or to deal with the grief following one.
Many of us in this House were affected by the sudden and tragic loss of our friend recently, member of Parliament Jim Hillyer. Every member of this House and their staff were offered grief counselling, and it was immediate. The plan was a good plan, and it was in place. It responded to our needs, as it should have.
Unfortunately, we are not offering this same level of service to those we are supposed to be providing services for. Governments of all stripes have watched Attawapiskat suffer suicide problems for decades, and still the problem persists. We must help Attawapiskat.
Tonight I am asking the minister to take a proactive approach with these communities and to please not let their situation become as dire as Attawapiskat. We need to see the government take a proactive approach to these issues, to tackle them sooner, when it is relatively easier and the chance of success is higher. Once we have a total collapse, like the one at Attawapiskat, it takes a lot more resources to help the community than if we had intervened earlier.
I cannot imagine what it must be like for health care workers in this community. I gather from news reports that they do not even have the necessary training to deal with these mental health issues. The stress, the pressure, and the feelings of despairs amongst these workers must be tremendous. I imagine that their families are also suffering as a result.
The problems in the community are not new, which means that these workers are not quitters. They have endured, and they have tried to do what they can. We need to help them. Their courage is unbelievable, and their determination is unmatched. However, they too have a limit.
Through this entire process, I am personally asking the minister to make sure that these workers get the support and the help they need. In many ways, they remind me of our soldiers who have suffered after witnessing horrific circumstances on the battlefield. Tragically, we know what outcomes are possible when we ignore their needs too.
This community is broken, and it will take a lot more than a few brave social workers to fix it. I took great care this evening not to blame anyone for this problem because I do not believe that would help. For far too long, too many have expended too much energy blaming others for the problems instead of putting that energy to good use.
I would like to see all governments, including first nations leaders, stop the blame game and instead focus on solutions. I would like to see honesty. Let us be honest about what works and what does not, what could work, and what would be a waste of time and money. Sadly, both are in a limited supply. I want the government to work proactively to identify other communities before things get bad. It would save time and money, but most importantly it would save lives.
I truly hope that we can do more than just speak to the issue tonight. As they say, when all is said and done, there is often a lot said and little done. Let us hope that that is not the case here.
Ms. Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, first I would like to acknowledge my colleague, the member for Timmins—James Bay for bringing this very important emergency debate to this House. I thank him for his relentless advocacy in highlighting the issue.
This is a national emergency. Many of the members spoke about their specific experiences, what they are seeing in their own communities. In the community of Vancouver East, we have perhaps the largest urban aboriginal community in the Lower Mainland. We have a community called the Downtown Eastside, where we struggle with these issues each and every day. We have poverty beyond measure, and a lack of housing. We have aboriginal women who have lost their children, and the only reason is because they cannot get safe, secure, affordable housing. They cannot get their children back. We have endless tragedies that happen. Despair is beyond measure, in that sense.
Yet, in spite of all of that, we have incredible resilience as well. What I am hearing today is the goodwill from every single member of this House to work together to address this as a national issue.
I want to ask whether I can count on every single member in this House, across all parties, to come together and bring forward solutions for each and every one in our own respective communities, to put resources in it, to put in a team of people across government, to work collaboratively with the local MPs to find solutions, so that nobody has to lose a life again and we do not ever have to have this debate in the House again.
Mr. Len Webber:
Mr. Speaker, I absolutely agree with everything that the member said. I too represent an inner city riding, in Calgary, where we have a large population of aboriginal people who are struggling day to day. It is heartbreaking. I have served on the Calgary Homeless Foundation for a number of years, and I have met with many of these individuals. We have done what we have been able to do to help them.
We all need to come together as a government, all parties, to ensure that this cannot continue. We have to take this more seriously than ever.
Ms. Julie Dabrusin (Toronto—Danforth, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for sharing his thoughts and his personal experience with grief and loss. There is a tremendous amount to be learned from our own personal experiences that we bring with us to the House.
What I would like to ask my colleague is what he believes would be the best possible support response that we could provide to Attawapiskat and similar communities at this time.
Mr. Len Webber:
Mr. Speaker, in my time as a provincial aboriginal relations minister, I focused more on the long term, with regard to aboriginal education. I know that to build a foundation around education for a child is of utmost importance. It is what will enable them to continue to learn as they get older and enable them to thrive in society.
With regard to the short-term solution to deal with what is happening in Attawapiskat, we need to bring in counselling services immediately. There are so many things that we need to do. We need to assure these children that there is hope in this world for them and that we do care for them. We want them to thrive in this society, in this world.
I do not know what the solution is. I truly do not. We just all need to work together with the aboriginal leaders to come up with something of substance that encourages young people, and all of society, to have hope for the future.
Mr. Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to this critical issue.
All of us know in the House that there is an urgent need for action. There are many challenging parts to this issue. There are no easy answers.
I think it is important that we do not wrap this particular issue exclusively in just the broader question of the challenges facing aboriginal communities. There are many challenges facing first nations communities. However, we also need to have a specific strategy to address suicide, because suicide is a challenge like no other.
We have all been moved by the tragedy in Attawapiskat, and the broader context in terms of suicide within aboriginal communities is horrifying. Suicide rates in aboriginal communities have been shockingly and persistently high. Not only are the numbers high, but while the overall Canadian suicide rate has declined, these rates have continued to rise in aboriginal communities.
Existing numbers may in fact under-report the levels of suicide in aboriginal communities. In many cases, suicides may appear as accidental death, and aboriginal communities have significantly higher rates of accidental death as well as suicide.
I spent some time today reading a report prepared for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation called “Suicide Among Aboriginal People in Canada”. I would certainly recommend the reading of this report to all members in this place.
There are a few points in particular from this report that I would like to highlight, because I think they may help us chart a way forward.
First of all, the report highlights the significant need for more study, specifically about suicide within aboriginal communities. There is a need to dig deeper into the specific dynamics, problems, and potential solutions that apply here in Canada.
I know my Conservative colleagues recently proposed a study at the aboriginal affairs committee specifically on the staggering rate of suicides among Canada’s indigenous people. Our colleagues in other parties disagreed and preferred instead a study focused on general health issues. It is not to suggest that is not important, but I think we need to recognize suicide as a specific and distinct kind of challenge.
It was interesting for me to read in this report that there is significant variation across different aboriginal communities. This is important. It gives us an opportunity to study communities where things are working and to try to facilitate connections between communities with significant challenges and communities that may already have some solutions. Let us explore the possibility of facilitating partnerships between communities and also studying the significant variation between communities.
The report highlights how suicide can spread in small communities with close interconnections. The report reads as follows:
In small Aboriginal communities where many people are related, and where many people face similar histories of personal and collective adversity, the impact of suicide may be especially widespread and severe.
Later on, the report tells us this:
Early interventions with families and communities to support the healthy development of infants and children may reduce the prevalence of personality disorders and other mental health problems, which are more difficult to address in adolescents or adults.
Therefore, we know the importance of that early intervention.
The report highlights strategies that make a difference: restricting access to the means of suicide, providing education on coping skills, training youth as peer councillors, training those who come into regular contact with youth, mobilizing the creation of community-based suicide programs, and ensuring that mass media portrays suicide and other community problems appropriately.
Through all of this, I think we all recognize that there is a role for government but that government policy is not the central factor. The report I referred to highlights that we need to explore and support local solutions to strengthen individuals, families, and whole communities. Certainly I would again underline the emphasis on the need for further study.
There is one final and perhaps somewhat distinct point that I want to make about these tragic suicides. Very soon in this place, we are going to be debating legislation on physician-assisted suicide. I know that we will all have an opportunity to debate this latter point, but I do want members to think about that debate in light of this one and of this situation. The young people who took their lives I am sure felt that they faced serious and irremediable suffering. Indeed, anyone who commits suicide likely feels themselves to be experiencing serious and irremediable suffering.
Most systems of morality or law rely on absolute moral or legal rules. When morality or law is seen as situational, it becomes more fluid, more subject to individual situational justification. That is why moral rules like “thou shalt not kill” are important. Any time modifications are introduced to previously understood absolute moral rules, they may induce a relaxation in the social taboo beyond the parameters of the proposed modification.
For example, Oregon legalized assisted suicide in 1997 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report showed suicides within men and women ages 35 to 64 increased by 49% in Oregon between 1999 and 2010, compared to a 28% U.S. national increase overall. It seems to be that when clear immutable behavioural standards are removed, behaviour changes.
Certainly, whatever we do on that issue we particularly need to make sure that we are listening to the voices and concerns raised by indigenous Canadians.
I want to quote at some length from comments that Dr. Alika Lafontaine, the president of the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada, made before the special joint committee. He said:
In reviewing these hearings, I feel obliged to identify the absence of the major national indigenous organizations. I believe there has not been meaningful consultations with indigenous peoples, although meaningful mainstream Canadian consultations have been carried out by many other organizations that have presented here. You are all aware of the widening health disparities among indigenous peoples and the rest of Canada. When considering the overrepresentation of indigenous peoples in nearly every category who may qualify and pursue medically assisted dying, it should be strongly considered that you may be ignoring the largest proportional demographic that is eligible to pursue this service. I hope the apparent absence of indigenous consultation is remedied prior to any final decisions regarding indigenous patients and medically assisted dying.
He went on to say:
My personal experience with indigenous patients and their concerns regarding medically assisted dying are very different from my experience with mainstream Canadian patients. One reason is that medically assisted dying has existed in our communities for more than a century.
When residential schools exposed children to nutritional deprivation and medical experimentation, that was medically assisted dying.
When child and family services apprehend indigenous children at an alarmingly high rate—if not the highest rate of all demographics—with medical decisions made by the crown, and an inconsistent quality of standards that contribute to children dying in care or going missing, that is medically assisted dying. When the trauma of residential schools is perpetuated intergenerationally and we do nothing to stem the tide of abuse, addiction, and suicide that overwhelms our indigenous communities through insufficient mental health intervention, except in crisis, that is medically assisted dying.
When indigenous peoples have programs designed without their input, then are chastised for poor engagement in mainstream health care, that is medically assisted dying.
When there is no monitoring, tracking, or enforcement of standard practice that every other Canadian can expect when receiving medical care, that is medically assisted dying. If an indigenous person dies and no one tracks it, does anyone care?
What we are pleading for in indigenous communities is not medically assisted dying. That already exists in more ways than can be counted. What we are pleading for is medically assisted life.
Those are the remarks of Dr. Lafontaine. I think we need to listen to them. We need to take his concerns seriously. Going forward, let us leverage the collegiality we have seen tonight to build a better country for everyone.
Mr. Greg Fergus (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member and all hon. members for the debate tonight. Certainly, when I listen to this debate it is very easy to become overwhelmed by the challenges faced by our aboriginal youth, especially as symbolized by the crisis that we are facing in Attawapiskat.
However, my head, my heart, and my faith also convince me that the first nations indigenous communities and their youth, as challenging as the problems are, also have the resilience and the strength to deal with these problems if only we were to offer some form of co-operation with them.
Let me tell a story from my own riding of Hull—Aylmer, which is a place where a lot of first nations communities come. Parents come to study to improve themselves, to go to CEGEP or to go across the river to a college or a university, and oftentimes they bring their children. The children face a difficult transition of moving from school to school. Yet, let me mention one school in my riding, Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School, where the kids got together and under the guidance of a first nations music producer, David Hodges, produced a fabulous video in which the elementary students themselves told their story. They wrote the song. They wrote the music. They produced the video. It really was a positive demonstration of what can happen when they come together. It was the first time that a lot of those students felt that they were paid attention to and they had that opportunity to express themselves.
There are many ways in which people in a community can take action themselves. I wonder if the hon. member would have a comment on that.
Mr. Garnett Genuis:
Mr. Speaker, I think the point the member makes is right to suggest that really there is a lot of resilience and a lot of hope within aboriginal communities.
In my speech I talked about identifying aboriginal communities where things are going relatively better and looking at ways that we can help build those connections. Many of these solutions are not going to come from government. As the member alluded to, they are going to come from individual groups, communities, schools, and families. However, we can play a role as well in helping to facilitate those connections and those conversations.
Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP):
Mr. Speaker, I think all of us tonight are feeling very united in a commitment that is shared and non-partisan. I want to make this more as a comment than a question because I do not want to put my hon. colleague on the spot.
The systemic violence of the residential school system over 100 years is clearly part of the context in which these young people are struggling. I just wanted to have at least some opportunity tonight to reflect on the importance of the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. While we are talking about immediate steps to address a mental health crisis, a crisis of hopelessness in specific communities, we should not forget the searing violence that may have played, and I think likely played, a large role in making beautiful young people think of their future in muted greys, that they have lost the full spectrum of the rainbow of beauty that awaits them if they would just believe that they have a real future, being loved and embraced by all Canadians.
Mr. Garnett Genuis:
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her work on this, and certainly for her passion as well.
Yes, the circumstances in residential schools, most would suggest, were a significant contributing factor to high levels of suicide in aboriginal communities. The report that I referred to earlier identified community challenges as well as individual factors that can lead to higher rates of suicide. I think we need to always be talking about both, about the individual factors that may predispose or create risk for an individual and also the factors that create risk in the community.
The apology that happened in this place was an important step, but of course, there is much more work that we can do. There may be disagreement about some of the specific details, but I think there is a consensus in this place about the need to move forward with reconciliation and with support for our aboriginal communities.
Mr. Robert-Falcon Ouellette (Winnipeg Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from Newfoundland and Labrador.
I am proud to stand here on the unceded land of the Algonquin people, the meeting place of the Métis Nation, the united first nations, the Inuit people, and the home of all Canadians.
I have a message for the people of Attawapiskat, for the people of Cross Lake with whom I have met, for every indigenous person, whether they live in Quebec City, on a reserve or in a city, in Newfoundland, in Winnipeg, or in Regina. Wherever they are in Canada, each and every one of them matters. Every life matters.
An elder said to me, “We need to fight hard to keep the spirit of suicide out.”
The pain those people feel is real. It is a pain that I have felt myself. They may feel powerless. They may feel despair. They may feel hopelessness. However, there are cracks in the world, and that is where the light can come in. If they can hold on through that pain and muster their strength to make it through another day, that pain can fade, and they are never alone. There are people across Canada who care about what happens to them. This is a demonstration here tonight of the people who care about them. They matter. They are important.
The only thing harder than losing someone is losing someone before his or her time. The pain he or she is feeling is a part of grieving. It is part of honouring a lost life. Grief is hard, but it is not evil. It is our spirit that is in pain because we have been split away from the one we loved. However, the loss of hope that we feel is something greater, more profound, and it is real.
The reality of the lives of the people in Cross Lake and Attawapiskat needs to be heard across the country and around the world. Life in first nation communities is hard, and it is harder than it needs to be. There are too many communities like Cross Lake and Attawapiskat, across Manitoba and across the country where too many people, young and old, are living without hope. There are many indigenous people living off reserve who struggle with poverty and racism in our great cities. We, as their brothers and sisters, as their fellow citizens, as their fellow human beings, have let them down.
There is a prophecy that was told to me by an elder, Winston Wuttunee, who comes from the west. The prophecy as told is that after contact with Europeans, the indigenous people will suffer greatly. However, upon the shoulders of the seventh generation will fall the task of lifting up the people. Starting in greater numbers, they will start to take pride in themselves, in their culture, in their religion, and in their families. They will realize that their culture and their ancestors are strong, and that their ancestors are standing behind them willing them on to success.
There is a second part to this prophecy, which is that the seventh generation will not do this by themselves. Rather, hand-in-hand with newcomers they will bring change to their common society, because we all know it has to change and the change must be deep and structural. We must embrace deep change for our communities. I believe that change is possible.
Despair can give way to hope, and fear can give way to joy, but it will take an awful lot of work. It will take work from every level of government, from the esteemed members of this chamber to every chief and band council across the country, to provide the deep change that is needed. It will also require the work of corporations and our fellow citizens. It will take the federal governments, provinces, cities, and first nations, the Métis nation and the Inuit people, because too often when we hear about a tragedy or a tragedy-on-tragedy in first nations communities, our very first thought is to separate ourselves from the problem and pronounce our own innocence. Too often we, as Canadians, say, “What are they doing? What is their leadership doing to solve their problems?” We do not ask what we are doing. We do not ask what our leadership is doing to solve our own collective problems. These are our collective problems.
Since before the first European set foot on Turtle Island, the territory we now call Canada has always been home to not one but many people. Today, Canada is home to many people from many nations, and first nations and all indigenous peoples are Canadians. We are still many people united as one. It starts with hope. Everything begins with hope. Making hope a reality takes work, effort, and resources.
I will urge them to do something more. Every single one of them is stronger than they know. Every single one of them is better than they know. When times are at their hardest, I urge them to use the spark of sacred energy within them to hold on to hope, to look to the light, to look within them to keep moving forward, even when hope seems lost. If they hold some guilt or shame within them or think of themselves as a bad person, they should know this: that they can change, they can grow, they can be forgiven, and they can forgive themselves. They are not born good, nor are they born bad. We become good by doing good deeds. We become generous by doing generous acts. We can inspire others to goodness so they can join with us. If they wake up in despair, they can say, “Today is a good day because I am alive and I matter.” The road ahead may not be easy.
Basil Johnston, an Anishinabe elder, wrote that each and every one of us has a life path, a potential, a destiny. We start with many possible paths, but we must choose one path. For some in our society, that path is steep and rocky. The young start climbing the hill. Some walk, some run, some crawl, and some stumble. Those who arrive at the top of the path and see the path continues, they move along that path getting older. Some youth will pick a different path, a path which will not lead to their full potential. They arrive at the top of a rocky hill. They look over to the other side and the road continues. Some will give up and not realize their full potential, but others will continue and conquer that mountain and see that promised land that we heard about over 50 years ago.
The elders are victors for they have walked many winding paths, yet they still stand at the top of the mountain and can look back and see the young, the youth, and the adults in the distance behind them and still look forward into the sun and see the grandfathers in the distance.
However, each of them have a road and a path they can follow out of the darkness and into the light.
I will carry them in my heart on my travels and I will remember them and think of them, and I will invite them to work with me, for themselves and for all of us to see the deep change we need.
However, we know that hope is not enough and words are fleeting, especially off in the highest chambers of our land.
Hope is a good breakfast, but a poor supper.
In the midst of darkness, we need to redouble our efforts and offer not just words but action. We must offer not just hope but opportunity.
We can build homes for the homeless. We can provide jobs for the jobless. We can provide better health care and education. It is our duty and our plan to do so, but we must do more.
We have an opportunity to move forward, not simply in reconciliation, as survivors waiting passively for the house of Canada to come to the rescue, but we must move forward in celebration of indigenous peoples as a founding people of this land in recognizing the covenant that we have together.
There are four directions in my indigenous tradition. There are four seasons in this land. There are four founding peoples. They are the indigenous peoples, the English, the French, and the newcomers who have come from around the world who now call this place, Canada, home. That is the true nature of our nation.
We did not make this broken world that we inherited, but we do not have to leave it to our children.
It is about recognizing dignity and freedom and care for all Canadians, about recognizing that each and every one of us is a human being, worthy of respect, that each and every one of us matters.
Tapwe akwa khitwam.
Mr. Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, earlier my colleague from Timmins—James Bay told the House that the greatest resource in Canada is not oil. It is not our metals, our forestry, our fish, or our agriculture. It is our children, and our children’s greatest resource is hope. It is that wholehearted optimism about positive outcomes, that special way that children seem to approach each day as they wake up. I have seen it in my own twin daughters every day, and it is a remarkable thing to behold.
Children are the future of every community across this vast land we call Canada, and that is why it is so devastating when children lose that hope.
In 2012, Cowichan Tribes Chief Harvey Alphonse, in response to 52 suicide alerts in his community, said, “My personal experience is that a couple of individuals that have approached me have considered taking their life…. They’ve given up because they feel there isn’t any hope for them.”
The gap still exists in first nations children funding despite the promises in the budget, so I ask the hon. member if he will stand and say that his government is going to commit to developing that greatest of all resources, the hope of our children, so that all children will have that full opportunity.
Mr. Robert-Falcon Ouellette:
Mr. Speaker, I do agree that our children are the future. We are imperfect as adults. We have done things imperfectly, but our children can have the perfection that we can never have.
There is a need for deep and profound change within our Canadian society. We need to ensure that we see the deep change, that we think about the long term, the structural change that needs to occur in governance structure. We need to think about empowering people, ensuring that first nations are able to come together like the James Bay Cree and have the opportunity to create a society that fulfills their long-term potential.
When I think of successful first nations, I think of the James Bay Cree. This first nation has been able to govern itself since 1975 and be autonomous to a large extent. It still has issues with some relations with other governments, but at the same time it has always been able to build capacity and build a future.
The differences are stark between Attawapiskat and its brothers just on the other side of the Quebec border. That is telling about the different types of structures: one exists under the Indian Act, and the other exists in self-determination under its own governance structure as proud indigenous people.
Mr. Nick Whalen (St. John’s East, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Winnipeg Centre for his inspiring words earlier, not only to the people in the House but to anyone who might be listening at home on CPAC.
Our party campaigned and won on a promise to implement the recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. The path forward under that is very long and will not necessarily provide solutions immediately, so in addition to those recommendations, I ask the member for his personal opinion on things we might be able to do to allow us to see more immediate results. I think that would be helpful to the House.
Mr. Robert-Falcon Ouellette:
Mr. Speaker, we do not have to do one specific thing. We could be doing many things on all sorts of fronts.
First off, we need to ensure that indigenous peoples have the monetary resources to raise their children properly. No child should live in poverty. I hope some of our new government programming will go a long way toward providing that in the form of a type of guaranteed income. Though not enough, it would certainly be a very good start.
I also hope that we can perhaps look at some of the treaty territories, such as Manitoba first nations. Perhaps we can look at Treaty 4 territory. Perhaps this area is now ready for self-determination. Perhaps it is ready to look after itself. With 34 first nations, perhaps it is ready to work together to build communities among itself and use them as an example of what we can build off from the James Bay Cree. Perhaps we could then move into Treaty 4 territory and then perhaps Treaty 6 and look at building long-term relationships, an actual nation-to-nation relationship, and look at building long-term capacity. An individual community of 500 might not be strong enough to develop the necessary long-term capabilities to provide for themselves, but if first nations work together, perhaps they will be able to in the very long term.
Ms. Yvonne Jones (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank all colleagues in the House of Commons this evening for their contribution to this important discussion we are having around youth suicide in indigenous communities. I think the discussion tonight actually marks a full understanding of the action that is needed toward strengthening, supporting, and ensuring survival and success of our indigenous youth, our indigenous communities, and families.
The member for Timmins—James Bay came to the House of Commons today asking for the help of Canada and Parliament to respond to the unfortunate acts of suicide in his riding in the community of Attawapiskat. He also knows that there are many other communities that share these sad circumstances and events across our country’s indigenous community.
In my own riding, I have full communities today that are filled with grief on a monthly basis as they are forced to say goodbye to another hopeful young person who decided to take his or her own life.
It is even those young people who have lived a full life in indigenous communities, some who became strong leaders. I remember a young girl whom I met in one of the communities in my riding. Her name was Duru. Everyone knew her as Duru. She was a fantastic young woman in high school, leading as a great example for young Inuk women and young Inuks in the community. She was a strong leader. She led the celebrations of life in the loss of many of her peers. She led the youth healing circles. She led the youth onto the land. She worked with the elders. A few short weeks ago, she took her own life because the grief and trauma of despair that surrounded her in trying to raise up the young people in her community was too much.
Even our healthiest young indigenous people, who are out there trying to make a difference, do not often see the path forward. Sometimes we have to stop and reflect on the impact it is having on all people who try to lead in circumstances like this.
Tonight, as we discuss this important issue in Parliament—and it is getting close to midnight—I want us to remember that there are children in communities who are not able to close their eyes this evening because of fear and trauma, because of pain, because of the feeling of hopelessness they experience. There are many young indigenous people today who are unable to close their eyes because of the addictions they suffer from. There are many of them still walking the streets in our villages. They are probably not even aware of what they are looking for. However, the feeling of restlessness, of hopelessness, is the one thing they cannot fix.
There are children this evening without a safe house, without a comfortable bed, not even looking forward to a better day to wake up to tomorrow. That is why we are here having this discussion. Suicide in indigenous youth in our community is in a state of turmoil.
It may be one community that brings a motion to Parliament, but it is shared by so many more, so many that we never hear about in the news. So many young people take their lives in indigenous communities everyday and never make it to a public announcement. What does that say about us as a society when we become accepting to a certain degree?
I am proud to stand here tonight among people who are not prepared to accept this, and I pray there will be a way forward. I know there is a way forward. What we have just recently seen in our country, the real change in attitude toward indigenous communities and indigenous people, the real change of reaching out and lifting them up because we know they have been left behind, is going to be the path forward. Simply recognizing that there is a responsibility by the people of our country to lift up indigenous people, the first people who came here, in itself will be change.
Today, as I sat in the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, I listened to the president of the National Women’s Association of Canada. She spoke very eloquently, very passionately and emotionally about the work she had been doing in our country to help women, families, and children. She talked about the progress they had made, but then slipped back. She talked about funding cuts for critical programs that were making a difference in communities that now were lost.
Why does this happen? When we find models that work and people who are willing to give every ounce of energy they have to make the change, why do we walk away? I do not want to see those things ever happen again. Every time we turn our backs on helping one person, that is one person who is falling through the cracks. For every one, there is another.
When I listened to the president of NWAC today, I was reminded of the good people in our country, those who give their time and energy, their commitment, their heart, and their patience to make this change. That is why is up to us to work with them.
The budget was just presented. Historically, we will invest $8.4 billion over the next five years to improve the socio-economic conditions of indigenous people and their communities. It deals with clean water, early education, support for housing and addressing poverty, shelters, counselling, support for services, and health care. All of these things are included. Why are they included? Because it is a recognition that we have to start with the basics. The basic foundation has to change.
We have to support indigenous communities and indigenous people. We also have to recognize that they are not all the same. There is not a one size that fits all. For the first time in our country, we have a budget that recognizes that the needs of Inuit are different from first nations and Métis, and we are able to invest in those directions.
I heard people this evening say that it was not about investing money. When children in first nations schools are getting far less education, then it is about money. When children in first nations communities do not have proper health services and counselling, then it is about investment and money. Do not confuse the fact that there is no investment required, because Liberals recognize that. Even in the first budget we have made moves to do that, and we will continue to do it.
A number of people this evening talked about the fact that it is 2016. Well, it is 2016, and I am proud that we have a Prime Minister and a government in this country that is recognizing the real need for reconciliation and that it requires investment in first nations.
I am happy that my colleague opposite is bringing these issues to the House of Commons. That is where they need to be. This is the house of people. This is where ideas and solutions should get generated. This is where we should be responding to people, and I am proud to stand this evening and say that I will do my part to ensure that we help lift up the indigenous communities in this country and lift up our young aboriginal people who are bright and brilliant and who need us right now.
I look forward to working with the minister, our government, and all my colleagues to make that happen.
Mrs. Cathy McLeod (Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, CPC):
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?
Ms. Yvonne Jones:
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.
Mr. Romeo Saganash (Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, the speech of the parliamentary secretary was very inspiring indeed.
She mentioned in her speech something very fundamental that I want to raise with her. She said that the basic foundations of this country need to change. I happen to agree with that.
In a speech before the Assembly of First Nations, Special Chiefs Assembly, the Prime Minister made a commitment. He said, “Finally, we will conduct a full review of the legislation unilaterally imposed on indigenous peoples by earlier governments”.
If there is one piece of legislation in this country that is pernicious, insidious, and archaic, it is the Indian Act.
Will the parliamentary secretary tell the Prime Minister to uphold that commitment to change the Indian Act?
Ms. Yvonne Jones:
Mr. Speaker, I have great respect for my colleague who has been a tremendous advocate on all issues involving indigenous people in this country.
We also understand the need for changes to the Indian Act. The Prime Minister has made that commitment. We are planning to move forward with some review in terms of the Indian Act. How that review will look is still being undertaken at this stage.
We have heard this recommendation from every indigenous group we have met with. All I can say to the member right now is that we stand by that commitment. We know it is important to make that change and adjustment.
Mr. Romeo Saganash (Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I want to indicate that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Churchill—Keewatinook Aski.
First of all in this debate, we need to try to understand where we come from as a country. We need to reflect on where this country comes from and on the basis it was founded almost 150 years ago.
When I came out of a residential school, I set out on a mission to bring us back together. I set out on a mission to reconcile with the people who put me away for 10 years. They had incarcerated me culturally, linguistically, and politically. When I came out of there, I wanted to make sure that this would not happen to any indigenous children in this country anymore.
The historical and contemporary situation in Canada includes many long-standing injustices. In a broad context, members may remember that the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recounts that “No segment of our research aroused more outrage and shame than the story of residential schools”.
The royal commission went on to describe the incredible damage done to indigenous peoples in this country. There was a loss of life, denigration of culture, destruction of self-respect, destruction of self-esteem, rupture of families, and the impact of these traumas on succeeding generations.
The assimilation policies of the Canadian government involved the forced transfer of large populations of young aboriginal Canadians. Such government acts also had the aim and effect of depriving aboriginal peoples of their integrity as distinct peoples and of their cultural values and identities.
I recall in 2005, the former federal justice minister Irwin Cotler said that the decision to house young Canadians in residential schools was the single most harmful, disgraceful, and racist act in our history.
Therefore, it is useful to consider the broader context of how we came to what we are discussing today and the policies relating to aboriginal peoples. For instance, from 1927 to 1951, it was an offence under the Indian Act for Indians to raise funds or retain a lawyer for purposes of their land claims. That is shameful. This discriminatory policy contributed to the further dispossession of aboriginal peoples’ lands and resources, and today, as we see, their dependency.
Indigenous peoples had their integrity, security, and well-being undermined. Indigenous peoples in Canada were persecuted on the basis of their culture.
As members probably know, and as my colleague from Winnipeg Centre pointed out, I have the good fortune of being from the James Bay area in Quebec, where we signed Canada’s first modern treaty in 1975. When people talk about indigenous issues here in the House, they often say that these issues are so complicated that they are almost afraid to go anywhere near them. I have been hearing these kinds of comments for nearly five years now.
I know, however, that when the will to address these issues is there, we are capable of great political and legal imagination. I have no doubt about that. I have seen it and experienced it first hand in my part of northern Quebec.
I have participated in this debate from the very beginning, and I have listened to all the speeches. It is important to remember, in looking for a solution, there is no lack of precedents in our history. We need only think of the James Bay Cree, in northern Quebec, as members opposite pointed out. There are solutions. However, there must be respect for indigenous peoples, and we must recognize their most fundamental rights. That is what is missing most of the time.
I was also involved in the process that led to the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the United Nations General Assembly. This process lasted 23 years and I was involved from start to finish. This document contains provisions that inform the issues we have been discussing for several hours.
Article 21.1 pertains to health services. Article 21.2 is another example. Article 24.2 concerns the possibility of indigenous peoples controlling the programs that we are discussing here today. Article 43 is key. It states that the rights recognized in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity, and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the country. That must be the basis for our work.
The Prime Minister made a commitment to work with indigenous people to implement the principles and goals of the declaration as well as to adopt it. I asked the question twice this evening. People talk about implementing the principles and goals of the declaration, but the members on the other side of the House never once said anything about passing legislation to adopt it. I find that unfortunate, but the private member’s bill I plan to introduce will fix that. I hope to have the support of the members opposite when I introduce it.
I want to assure the House once again of my full co-operation in this process. I have had many years of experience, 35 years, in dealing with these issues, and I am prepared to contribute to this process.
I want to quote the highest court in 2012 in the case of Ipeelee. The court said:
…courts must take judicial notice of such matters as the history of colonialism, displacement, and residential schools and how that history continues to translate into lower educational attainment, lower incomes, higher unemployment, higher rates of substance abuse and suicide…
Genuine reconciliation cannot be successful as long as colonialism is perpetuated. I said over the weekend that true reconciliation is not possible in the absence of justice. We need to remember that.
Finally, I spoke briefly about my mission when I came out of residential school. We know that South Africa also had its own process of truth and reconciliation. I will quote Nelson Mandela on how he described his own transformation during 27 years in prison:
It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed…[for all have been] robbed of their humanity.
When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both.
That is our mission today. That is our mission for the next couple of years. Let us hope that we walk on that same path.
Mr. Kyle Peterson (Newmarket—Aurora, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I want to give my hon. colleague the opportunity to elaborate on how his private member’s bill can be part of the solution to this grave problem that our nation faces. If he would like to elaborate on that, we would be happy to hear that elaboration.
Mr. Romeo Saganash:
Mr. Speaker, there is a lot of talk about reconciliation nation-to-nation since the government arrived on October 19, so it is important to elaborate on that.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission adopted a very important report. In that report are 94 calls to action. Most governments in the country, provincial, territories, and the federal government, have committed to implementing those 94 calls to action. However, the most important call to action is 43, which deals with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The commission makes the distinction clearly between adopting and implementing. The commission calls for the full adoption, the full implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
I argue that the UN declaration already applies in the country. Not too many years ago, Supreme Court Chief Justice Dickson mentioned that international instruments like declarations were persuasive in relevant sources to interpret domestic law in the country. Therefore, the declaration already applies. My private member’s bill proposes to translate that legislatively through the House.
Ms. Sheila Malcolmson (Nanaimo—Ladysmith, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the dialogue in the House tonight and for all the people watching at home, especially to the front-line workers who are supporting Attawapiskat and other communities in great peril. They are doing hard work.
I would like to urge my fellow colleagues to give as much hope as we can to the people supporting us and the people supporting these communities. We will do our full work and use the full extent of the powers that we have in the House.
Things that come to mind are upholding our international human rights obligations, as my colleague has so beautifully put it; funding first nation children, as is our great responsibility and absolutely their right; reconciling with residential schools survivors, not fighting them in court; stopping litigating against first nations that argue quite rightly rights and titles. We have to stop interfering. As legislators, we have to start working together.
I urge all members of the House to do everything we can to do the work that the people in our home communities elected us to do, and that is to make change on the ground for people every day. I urge my colleagues to stand with me in that important task.
Mr. Romeo Saganash:
Mr. Speaker, I do not think there was a question in that comment.
However, I will take this opportunity to thank my colleague from Timmins—James Bay for his initiative in bringing the debate to this august chamber. I think discussing this issue thoroughly for the first time was important. It was unprecedented.
I would especially like to thank the members who stayed here for much of the evening to listen to the other speeches. Once again, I thank the House for allowing me to speak to this subject.
Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP):
Mr. Speaker, it is inadequate to thank my colleague for a truly deeply moving and important speech in this place. When will the private member’s bill that the hon. member is putting forward come up for a vote? How can we help?
Mr. Romeo Saganash:
Mr. Speaker, seeing the openness and collaborative spirit that the current government showed when it got elected, I proposed to the minister that somebody from the other side co-sponsor my private member’s bill. She has not come back to me on it, but nevertheless the private member’s bill is ready and it is going to be introduced next week.
Given that the current government supported the bill that I had in the 41st Parliament, I am hoping that the Liberals will do the same with this private member’s bill because it is the framework for reconciliation. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission indicated, it is the framework of reconciliation.
However, we cannot say that we will implement the entire calls to action except that we have a slight problem with number 43. That is not how it works.
Ms. Niki Ashton (Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, NDP):
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 women 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.
Hon. Larry Bagnell (Yukon, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for the many solutions she offered, the member for Timmins—James Bay for his work on this and many other aboriginal issues, the four ministers who spoke so passionately tonight, and all members who are giving hope tonight to the people of Attawapiskat that they have a future and that all parties in Parliament are behind them.
I have three suggestions, since we are now into solutions a couple of minutes before midnight. Of course, everyone has mentioned the vast need for mental health services, addiction services, and counselling services. This is the tip of the iceberg. As the Mental Health Association of Yukon says, one in five Canadians has mental health problems at some time in their life and far more services are needed.
The second of my three suggestions stems from child development scientists making it clear that the most important part of a child’s life that affects his or her future is the first two or three years. Hopefully, there will be huge investments in those first three years of life of aboriginal children.
Finally, in my riding of Yukon, there are 11 self-governing first nations. Their future is in their own hands and they control their own government. That takes away the helplessness. There is nothing more depressing than being in terrible, intolerable situations and having no control over them. If they are self-governing, they are given back the autonomy to rule themselves, as they have for centuries, and it will give them hope for the future. They will have their own destiny in their hands and it will provide hope. They had great societies for hundreds of years before we even came here.
Ms. Niki Ashton:
Mr. Speaker, I am aware of the important work being done by first nations in his territory in the struggle for self-governance, as well as their opposition to oppressive legislation that was put forward by the previous government, legislation that they opposed so clearly.
We have heard from many people here tonight about the commitment to hope. There is no question; none of us can disagree that hope guides us in the work we do, but hope requires action and investment. It requires putting our money where our mouth is. I find it unacceptable that the government is not living up to the necessary commitments put forward by the Human Rights Tribunal when it comes to child welfare; and it is unacceptable that the government is not living up to the kinds of commitments that are required for first nations education.
While hope is important, let us also be clear that, in order to make a difference in the lives of first nations young people, there must also be action.
Mr. Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I feel honoured and blessed to have shared the conversation with my friends from Manitoba and Quebec, with their words of wisdom, hope and encouragement, and the specific things that we as parliamentarians must do. The region I represent in northern British Columbia has, unfortunately, seen its own episodes of severe loss and tragedy. In Hazelton, in the northwest, there was a suicide attempt every few days for almost a full year, particularly by young people. If any members of Parliament have had the opportunity to sit with the families, they will know that it is impossible to imagine that we do not have the power and intelligence to do more.
My specific question for my friend is this. There has been a lot of talk and, as she said, a lot of offers of hope, praise, and encouragement, but one specific thing that the government could do, beyond just words, through a budgetary measure or the support of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, is offer actual concrete actions that young people, in particular, living in first nations communities could cling to. They could hear it in this debate tonight and understand that this is a Parliament that is starting to understand and does not repeat the errors of past governments.
As the past prime minister said, the great thing about Canada is it has no colonial history. That ignorance has to take a step back; and the acknowledgement of reality, our history, and the actions we need to take are what Parliament and this country desperately need.
Ms. Niki Ashton:
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley. We all know of the important work that he has done for years, working in solidarity with first nations in his part of the country.
His question is about what concept or thought we can put front and centre in this whole discussion, and I want to hark back to the speech made by our colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, who talked about the central importance of the concept of justice.
It is clear to me that in the struggles that young first nations people are waging on the ground, what they are fighting for is justice—the justice that they deserve, that their nations deserve, that their peoples deserve. They get it, but it is we who need to understand that.
I am proud of the work of our party, the NDP, in pushing for de-colonization and seeking that pursuit of justice. I hope that tonight all members in this House will join in that struggle to achieve what so many young people deserve: the fundamental understanding and the reality that is justice.
The Deputy Speaker:
It being 12 midnight, I declare the motion carried. Accordingly this House stands adjourned until later this day at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).
(The House adjourned at 12 a.m.)