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Framework for Suicide Prevention

Hon. Salma Ataullahjan moved second reading of Bill C-300, An Act respecting a Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention.

She said: Honourable senators, I previously spoke about my daughter’s friend, John. A funny, gentle and positive kid, John was a joy to have around. However, John faced demons that none of us knew about. Recently, John died by suicide. I can still picture his face, his shy smile and his glasses.

At the time I wondered, “Could I have done something to help him?”

This has severely impacted the lives of my daughter and her group of friends. To this day, they have not met together as a group because it is too painful. My daughter did not want to have a birthday party because John would not be there. One of her friends was so distraught that she could not stop crying; she is now in therapy.

Stories like this are not unheard of in Canada; in fact, they are becoming fairly common. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among young Canadians aged 10 to 24. Are we failing our youth?

In a statement during Mental Health Week, Senator Cowan asked the same question. He pointed out that mental illness is a factor in most suicides in Canada, and that 20 per cent of Canadian youth suffer from a mental disorder. Senator Cowan also mentioned that positive change begins with one small step by one person.

Honourable senators, today I am pleased to speak on a bill that was introduced by one such person, MP Harold Albrecht. This bill is one small step by one person — a step that will make a huge difference. Bill C-300, an Act respecting a Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention, will create positive change not only for our youth but for all Canadians.

It is astonishing to learn that 10 Canadians die by suicide each day. About 4,000 lives are lost prematurely each year, and that has a severe impact on the family, friends and community of the deceased.

In addition to the high prevalence of suicide among our youth, other groups such as Aboriginal peoples, the LGBT community and veterans are at greater risk relative to the general population.

The suicide rate among Aboriginal youth is five to seven times higher than that among non-Aboriginal youth. Suicide accounts for 22 per cent of all deaths among First Nations youth aged 10 to 19, and 16 per cent among First Nations adults age 20 to 44. The suicide rate in regions of Canada with a high proportion of Inuit residents is 11 times higher than in the rest of Canada.

While there is no way to calculate the loss to families, our communities and our country, there is a significant economic cost involved. It is estimated that for every suicide there are 22 emergency room visits and 5 hospitalizations for suicide-related behaviour. The cost of suicide and self-harm in Canada is more than $2.4 billion per year.

Honourable senators, suicide is not only a mental health issue or a social issue. This is a public health issue. The preamble to Bill C-300 states that:

. . . suicide is a complex problem involving biological, psychological, social and spiritual factors, and can be influenced by societal attitudes and conditions . . .

I will repeat: “can be influenced by societal attitudes and conditions.”

In a recent survey by Harris/Decima, conducted on behalf of Your Life Counts, it was found that 86 per cent of Canadians did not know that suicide was the second leading cause of death among our youth. Over one third thought suicide was a small problem or not a problem at all. Over 96 per cent of respondents stated that in order to reduce suicide, the topic should be freely discussed without fear or shame. An overwhelming 84 per cent believed that government should invest in suicide prevention.

The first stage of suicide prevention is engaging in conversation. There is a stigma surrounding this issue, one that can be broken by frank and open discussion. As a government, we can no longer hide from this issue but must face it head on. Suicide prevention starts with us.


Canada is one of the only countries in the world without a national suicide prevention strategy in place. There is a need for national leadership and unifying coordination of the great efforts of community groups across Canada.

Bill C-300 requires the Government of Canada to develop a federal framework for suicide prevention in consultation with the relevant nongovernmental organizations, the relevant entity in each province and territory, as well as the relevant federal departments.

I stated earlier that 10 Canadians die by suicide each day, but we are not certain that that is an accurate number. Due to the stigma surrounding suicide, many cases are often unreported.

The idea behind a national framework for suicide prevention is to serve as a central repository, where we will be able to track our statistics and report our progress. Information regarding best practices would be shared to promote consistency among communities, including medical professionals.

Federal coordination and leadership is required for integration on initiatives, programs and services. There is a strong economic case for national coordination, but more than that, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that more lives are not needlessly lost.

Honourable senators, this is a non-partisan issue. I am sure that everyone in this chamber has been affected by suicide in one way or another. Members of all parties of the other place have voiced their support of this bill, and I believe that here it will be the same. We can all agree that a dialogue and momentum is needed towards preventing suicide.

Dr. David Goldbloom of the Mental Health Commission of Canada stated that:

. . . the narrowest thinking about suicide prevention—is the barrier on the bridge that prevents the person from jumping off that bridge. There actually is good evidence that putting up those barriers, whether they’re on the bridges or in the subways, makes a difference. But it doesn’t change one iota what brought that citizen to that point in his or her life when he or she goes to that bridge or subway.

Honourable senators, we need to look at the broader picture. Suicide is preventable through caring, compassion, commitment and community. Action on this issue is imminent and has been long-awaited. Bill C-300 is a catalyst to do just that.

My hope is that Bill C-300 moves quickly through the Senate. The sooner it receives Royal Assent, the sooner we can improve the lives of Canadians.

On a final note, I would like to commend Member of Parliament Harold Albrecht for his hard work and dedication. It is his passion to this cause that has driven this forward. Like Mr. Albrecht, I believe this is not the end of the road but is that vital first step towards hope.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Will Senator Ataullahjan accept a question?

Senator Ataullahjan: Yes.

Hon. Roméo Antonius Dallaire: Honourable senators, we have had 158 casualties killed in Afghanistan. There are still figures being put together, but we are estimating well over a dozen injured veterans, mostly psychologically injured veterans, have committed suicide since their return, principally due, in fact, to their time in combat. That is what the boards are showing.

What authority will the bill have on government departments to implement preventive measures with regard to suicide? Will they be compelled to respond to a central agency or element that will be monitoring this?

Senator Ataullahjan: The bill is being examined now. We are hoping that Health Canada, in cooperation with the Mental Health Commission, will be looking at this. We do realize that, with respect to the suicides amongst the troops that the honourable senator speaks of, we are seeing incidences. They do need the help, and this bill will go towards helping them.