Somebody should listen to Pierre Daigle on military suicides - Macleans.ca

Somebody should listen to Pierre Daigle on military suicides

The military ombudsman on mental-health support

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Sean Kilpatrick/CP

Pierre Daigle could be on the nation’s front pages, were it not for the lingering, stubborn Wright-Duffy affair that’s remained Issue #1 in the nation’s capital for much of 2013. Why might Daigle find himself in the spotlight? He’s Canada’s military ombudsman, and four soldiers have apparently died of suicide in the last week—the kind of news that leaves people feeling raw, and asking why. Daigle’s the guy who looks at the military with a critical eye. At times like these, people ask him for answers.

As it happens, Daigle is asking hard questions about the number of mental-health workers employed by Canada’s military—the kinds of professional help that troubled soldiers can access, quickly, should they feel the need. The ombudsman told the Toronto Star that, in fact, the feds did find the money for 78 such mental-health experts, and even screened them for duty. But, an anonymous source tells the Star, thanks to rules that limit the number of workers in the appropriate division, the workers can’t get to work.

Yesterday, in the Commons, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair asked about the suicides during his opening round of questions. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau led with similar queries of his own. The government responded with some compassion, offered assurances that it was giving necessary support to those affected, and urged troubled soldiers to seek help.

But then, as has become standard operating procedure, the opposition returned to the Wright-Duffy affair. The suicides sparked further questions toward the end of Question Period—incrementally more hostile than Mulcair’s opening round—and Defence Minister Rob Nicholson stayed on message throughout.

As Daigle’s alarm bells ring, and 78 people who know how to help troubled soldiers sit on the sidelines, a casual observer might wonder what it takes to knock off the finer details of the increasingly complex Wright-Duffy affair as parliamentarians’ top priority each afternoon. Tempting as it is to keep the pressure on the Prime Minister’s role in a payoff of a senator’s expenses, there’s undoubtedly a certain unique urgency to Daigle’s concerns.

 

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