Speech – 2019.05.02 – M-174 – Suicide


Motion M-176 – Suicide

May 2, 2019

Mr. Len Webber (Calgary Confederation, CPC): Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Motion No. 174 brought forward by the member for Timmins—James Bay. The motion suggests that the government establish a national suicide prevention action plan with numerous provisions, provisions such as setting up culturally appropriate community-based suicide prevention programs and conducting analyses on a long list of subjects relating to suicide. The motion also includes an annual reporting requirement to Parliament of implementation and progress.

Suicide is a word that has carried with it so much shame and stigma throughout human history. It is a topic we tend not to discuss, acknowledge or deal with. It claims more lives annually than other more openly discussed issues, such as motor vehicle collisions, homicides or industrial accidents. Its relative absence from our common vocabulary speaks volumes.

How many obituaries fail to acknowledge suicide as the cause of death? How many suicides get reported in the media? Not many, perhaps because it is our fear of it, our inability to fully comprehend it. People who die by suicide or attempt suicide usually feel overwhelmed, hopeless, helpless, desperate and alone. In more recent times, we as a society have opened up the discussion mental health, but we do have a long way to go.

Just a few weeks ago, my home town of Calgary was rocked by a suicide, a suicide that was reported by media outlets due to the shock and sadness stemming from it. It was the suicide of a nine-year-old girl. Our community was stunned. How does a nine-year-old girl come to this decision? It is something we just cannot imagine.

When this young girl, Amal Alshteiwi, took her life, we all wanted answers. Why? What would bring her to this point? Many of us believed such a course of action was not even within the realm of a nine-year-old girl’s thinking. It is something parents of young children want to believe is not even possible.

It turns out her story is not a new one. She was bullied in school, bullied to the breaking point. As a Syrian refugee, Amal, I suspect, already faced a lifetime of adversity just to be able to go to school. It should have gotten better coming to Canada, not worse. There are media reports that her bullying went unnoticed by teachers, not because it was done in dark corners but because it was done in her native language out in the open. This highlights just another complexity in dealing with such situations.

Amal’s name translates into “hope”. I know this motion has been brought forward to Parliament in that spirit of hope. I know the member for Timmins—James Bay is hoping to address the rampant rates of suicide among the indigenous communities in his riding and across Canada. Sadly, youth suicide is a large problem within these communities, within so many communities. I hope, we hope that we can make progress in addressing the root causes of suicide. Once identified, we need to address the problems to reduce our suicide rates in Canada.

As I read through the motion, I find, and I suspect most others would find, little to disagree with. Suicide is a big problem. We do not talk about it, so people do not realize how big the problem really is.

I recall talking to a police officer in Edmonton when I was at the Alberta legislature. He told me that there was an average of one jumper off the high-level bridge in Edmonton per week. He said that it was a place for people in Edmonton to go when they were finally ready to kill themselves. One per week, never reported, of course, in the media. The high numbers were a shock to me, and I am sure would be a shock to many of us here. The city has since built a suicide barrier on the bridge, but more needs to be done than building the infrastructure.

Every day in Canada, 10 people die by suicide and 200 others will attempt to take their lives. If that many people a day died in plane crashes, Canadians would be up in arms demanding government take more action. However, when 10 people die by suicide every day in Canada, when their cause of death is often unmentioned, when their cause of death is not up for discussion, then it is destined to continue.

Suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in Canada, and much of it is preventable. Men are at a much higher risk, well, sort of. Men are three times more likely than women to die by suicide. However, women are three times more likely to attempt suicide.

No community is immune to suicide. From the most remote communities in Canada to the busiest downtown street, suicide knows no bounds. The causes are similar, as much as they are different. However, the resources to address mental health issues vary widely from our biggest cities to our smallest communities, from one province to another, from one city to another. Like much of our national health care system, outcomes will vary greatly depending on where one lives. That is just not right.

Throughout Canada, there are already calls for more mental health funding, and this motion repeats that call. Throughout Canada, there are already calls for better, more culturally appropriate education and prevention programs, and this motion repeats that call. I could go on, but my point is that this motion does not call for anything we have not already heard before.

I do plan to support this motion, because I do not oppose any of its calls to action, calls often heard before. We certainly need to do something more than what we are doing now.

I am sure we all know of someone who committed suicide. Many just do not talk about it. We all know someone who tried to commit suicide. We just do not talk about it. We all know that more needs to be done to prevent and treat suicide. We just do not talk about it. This has to change, and that is why I am very happy that we are discussing this here today.

I want those who need help to reach out for it, to demand it. I especially want kids to get the help they need. The Kids Help Phone line is a fantastic resource for young people needing to talk to someone: 1-800-668-6868. All parents should post this number conveniently in their house and speak to their children about it. It could make a world of difference later.

Again, I will be supporting this motion. Any time we can discuss and support mental health issues and initiatives, any time there are efforts to raise awareness and remove the stigma surrounding mental health issues, I truly believe we are helping those in need. We just need to do more than talk.

We need action.

I also want to express my sincere condolences to the hon. member for Flamborough—Glanbrook for his great loss.