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Motion calling for national plan on suicide prevention passes in Ottawa

A motion introduced earlier this year in the House of Commons by NDP Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus – calling for a national action plan on suicide prevention – passed in Ottawa May 2.

NDP MPs Don Davies, left, and Charlie Angus, along with suicide prevention expert Jack Hicks, address the media prior to a debate on Motion 174 calling for a national action plan on suicide prevention in the House of Commons May 2. The motion passed.
photo courtesy CPAC

Prior to Motion 174 passing, Angus, fellow NDP MP Don Davies, and suicide prevention expert Jack Hicks presented a united front at a news conference, calling for all-party support.

"I’ve been seeing the effects of suicide on communities and families first-hand for as long as I've been an MP," stated Angus.

"It’s time that we say ‘not one more’ to suicide in Canada. I urge my colleagues in other parties to support this important, non-partisan motion."

Hicks, who has previously been involved with suicide prevention strategies in Nunavut, and most recently in Saskatchewan, drafted the motion for this second attempt at a national strategy. Hicks says the 2011 attempt was shot down by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and then-Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq.

"The debate in the (House of Commons) was compelling, and at times emotional. No one spoke against the motion, and so many MPs wanted to speak that the Speaker extended the time allocated to it. There was then a voice vote," said Hicks.

The Hansard, the record of the debate, reflects that no one is untouched by suicide.

"I think there are many of us here in the House who either know someone or who have experienced it within their lives, and I can sympathize with that. I have had an uncle, a cousin, a cousin's husband, a cousin's child commit suicide, so I really appreciate the
tone in the House and the stories that are being shared and the fact that everyone here seems to be on the same page about the need to do something," said Assistant Deputy Speaker Carol Hughes.

Dan Vandal, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous Services, provided statistics.

"On average, 11 people die by suicide each day. That is about 4,000 suicide deaths in Canada per year. Suicide rates are higher than the national average in many Indigenous communities and among all Inuit regions in Canada. In fact, suicide was the ninth leading cause of death among all Canadians in 2016. It is also the second leading cause of death after accidents among children, youth and young adults aged 10 to 34," he said.

Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo was not present for the debate and vote, according to Hicks, who praised Angus for his determination to get the motion approved by the House of Commons.

"It's noteworthy that no MP from Nunavut, past or present, has shown similar leadership on suicide prevention," said Hicks.

In terms of potential impacts of a national action plan on Nunavut and Inuit Nunangat efforts at suicide prevention, Hicks says there likely won't be much in the short term.

"With the Nunavut Suicide Prevention Strategy and the National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy, Inuit are far ahead of the rest of the country, with the notable exception of Quebec, in terms of suicide prevention," he said.

"I’m sure that other jurisdictions and Indigenous groups will be wanting to learn from Nunavut and ITK (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami) as work on implementing the motion takes shape."

But Hicks adds that over the long term, effective suicide prevention at the national level should offer programs, expertise and funding to Inuit regions.

A recorded vote is scheduled for May 8.