Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention Bill Third Reading


Bill C-300, Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention Bill (third reading) December 13th, 2012

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Ataullahjan, seconded by the Honourable Senator Meredith, for the third reading of Bill C-300, An Act respecting a Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention.

Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I would like to begin by thanking Member of Parliament Harold Albrecht for bringing forward Bill C-300, An Act respecting a Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention. It is clear from his testimony before our committee that he is very sincere in working to prevent suicide in Canada.

We know that there are more than 4,000 deaths by suicide in Canada every year and over 400,000 attempts each year. These numbers are astounding. As Mr. Albrecht stated at the committee:

We know that suicide is a public health issue but we have developed no best practices to treat it as such.

We know that there have been efforts previously by parliamentarians to work together in a non-partisan way on this issue. In October of 2011, the Liberal opposition day in the House of Commons was used to debate the issue of suicide prevention. Bob Rae's national suicide prevention strategy motion was unanimously passed in the other place.

Bill C-300 stops short of calling for a national suicide prevention strategy; instead, it proposes a national framework. Honourable senators, there is a difference. A framework is an excellent first step, but it is not a strategy. The United Nations and the World Health Organization recognize suicide as a major health problem. They have developed guidelines and have asked countries to establish national suicide prevention strategies and national coordinating bodies. All developed countries, with the exception of Canada, have endorsed these international guidelines from the United Nations and the World Health Organization.

This bill is a very good first step. Let us hope that the government will use this framework to develop a Canadian national strategy for suicide prevention. Let us have strong federal leadership in health care to develop a strategy to continue what is a good first step with Mr. Albrecht's bill.

When the bill was studied at committee, Senator Eggleton attempted to bring an observation to be attached to the committee's report on the bill. His suggestion was:

That the government be requested to bring the bill into force within a few days of Royal Assent.

This observation was suggested to ensure that action to implement the bill would begin immediately following Royal Assent. He was trying to hurry the process along. I believe that this was a very positive suggestion.

His second suggested observation was:

In relation to clause 4, efforts be made to report progress to both houses of Parliament before the four-year time frame is reached.

Again the purpose was to suggest a report earlier than the time frame suggested in the bill. This would allow parliamentarians to be informed earlier in order to determine how much progress has been made on suicide prevention by the government. The four-year report timetable as contained in the bill is a long time to wait for a progress report. During those four years, an additional 16,000 suicides and 1.2 million more suicide attempts would have occurred.

Another observation that I suggested be included in the report, or as an attachment to the report, was:

The government should consider including such groups as young people, members of the LGBT community, Aboriginals — including young Aboriginals — and media in the consultation process.

This observation was made in light of the testimony we heard by the excellent witnesses we had. The media can play a valuable role in promoting suicide prevention strategies. Groups such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and young people, particularly young Aboriginals, where suicide rates are higher than the average, could certainly provide important input to the government.

I am pleased that Senator Ogilvie spoke about these observations in his speech today.

By the way, with regard to the vote by the committee to not allow the observations, Liberal senators voted unanimously to include the observations, and the Conservative senators voted unanimously to not include the observations. We were told at the committee by a Conservative senator that the observations would slow down the bill. In fact, he referred to the observations as ornaments — ornaments — when he stated:

I think that the more ornaments we hang on this tree, the more in danger we are of confining rather than expanding the base of the work.

The reference to ornaments was made on two additional occasions during the discussions.

Honourable senators, this is a very serious issue, and I know that senators from both sides of this chamber have taken the role of examining this legislation very seriously. I believe that the discussions and observations suggested by Senator Eggleton would move the process along more quickly after the bill has received Royal Assent. The suggested observations regarding consultation were intended to allow the framework process to be more inclusive in terms of who would be consulted.

Members of the committee, no matter their political stripe, should be there with sincere efforts to improve this important piece of legislation. For a senator to treat this serious issue in such a frivolous and glib way by dismissing the observations as ornaments on a tree is incredibly insensitive and disrespectful to committee members and to the families who have lost loved ones to suicide.

The Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee was the author of the outstanding report on mental health, mental illness and addictions entitled Out of the Shadows at Last. It was recognized by Canadians and stakeholders across the country for its recommendations. It was also instrumental in the establishment of the Mental Health Commission.

Honourable senators, this is the chamber of sober second thought, and Canadians expect that we take our role very seriously when examining legislation.

Honourable senators, the testimony we heard from the witnesses at the committee was very moving and illustrated the realities of suicide and its effect on loved ones. One statement from Dr. Alex Drossos, a board member of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, spoke of the tragedy and trauma of suicide. He said:

Sadly, when someone dies of suicide, the pain is not gone; it is merely transferred to others — family, friends, communities; and their injuries are largely invisible and suffered mostly in silence.

Again, I would like to thank Mr. Albrecht, who is the sponsor of this bill. He should be congratulated on the work he has done in bringing the issue of suicide prevention to Parliament. Honourable senators, Bill C-300 is a good step in the right direction.

Senator Ogilvie: I wonder if Honourable Senator Cordy would take a question.

Senator Cordy: Yes, of course.

Senator Ogilvie: Would the honourable senator like to revisit her comment that the Conservative senators voted unanimously in the vote? My recollection is that the vote was 6-4 and that there were 11 senators at the table.

Senator Cordy: Senator Ogilvie chaired the committee and, if I recall correctly, he did not vote. I am sorry; I should have excluded the chair. The honourable senator is absolutely right, and I thank him for correcting that. The rest of the Conservative senators on the committee voted against accepting the observations, but the chair did not vote. For that clarification, I thank Senator Ogilvie for bringing that to my attention.

Hon. Joseph A. Day: I have a question for Senator Cordy, if she is prepared to take another question?

Senator Cordy: Yes.

Senator Day: I would like to thank Senator Ogilvie for tabling the letter of December 11. I have had a chance to read it. I do see where a good number of people were copied on this letter that was sent by the chair of the committee to the minister.

I wonder if Senator Cordy could tell me if it was the unanimous agreement of the members of the committee that the chair would send a letter summarizing his views or the committee's views following the committee hearings?

Senator Cordy: I received a copy of the letter when it was sent to everyone else, so, no, the contents of the letter was certainly not discussed at the meeting. I think Senator Ogilvie in his speech said that he took it upon himself to write the letter. It was not done as a committee.

Senator Day: Thank you.

Senator Munson: Would Senator Cordy take another question? Just as a point of clarification, while the vote may have been 6-4, who led the debate on the observations that were had before the vote took place on the observations?

Senator Cordy: I am trying to recall who actually led the debate. The Liberal senators were certainly the ones who wanted the observations. We certainly led the debate in trying to make the report to the Senate a much better report.

In fact, if one looks at who asked the questions to the witnesses at the committee, it was the Liberal senators. We had three hours of testimony. Senator Martin did ask one question of Mr. Albrecht. Other than that, every Liberal senator asked a question at every hearing for the three hours. The Conservative senators asked no questions and only started discussing it when we said that we should bring forward observations. I am not sure if that answers the honourable senator's question.

Senator Munson: I thank the honourable senator for that comment. Did the chair, before the other Conservative senators participated in debate, participate in the debate and give his point of view before there was a vote?

Senator Cordy: I am trying to look to see who said what. I have the transcript of the debates for the committee. Just give me a moment.

Senator Cordy: The Speaker has been most generous. I appreciate that. I think sometimes the more one tries to read something quickly, the more confusing is starts to look.

When I looked at the minutes of the meeting, Senator Eggleton presented his observations, then I presented my observations. If honourable senators will recall, my observations were to be inclusive in terms of people who would be consulted. The chair then spoke and, in relation to my observations, which are in clause 2, he said:

Frankly, I was quite pleased with the list of items under clause 2, because the pursuit of those will, I think, actually inform a national strategy really well. In fact, if we listen to the witnesses today, many of the things they were requesting came to items that are even specifically mentioned in here. . . .

Then he went on to say:

With regard to the time -

- and that was Senator Eggleton's observation -

- I will certainly not argue with the basis of Senator Eggleton's request, but I frankly would be astounded if this was not a bill that comes into force quickly, based on the overwhelming support for this concept and, indeed, the government's own -

I think this was before we voted, so the chair is absolutely right, he did not vote. He certainly did allow his opinion as to whether or not the observations should be voted in favour of to the members of the committee.

Hon. Wilfred P. Moore: Would Senator Cordy take another question?

Senator Cordy: Yes.

Senator Moore: Honourable senators, this is a very unusual process we are engaged in here. I would not want it to be considered a precedent. We have a sole-sourced letter from the chair of the committee being tabled here. I would have thought it would go back to the committee for consideration, but that has not happened.

Does the contents of this letter reasonably contain the observations the honourable senator was hoping for?

Senator Cordy: I agree, it should have been a letter coming from the committee as a whole. A draft presented to the committee would have been the preferable way, I believe, for it to have happened.

Part of the letter says, "I urge that you bring this bill into force in the briefest possible delay following Royal Assent." I think the observation that Senator Eggleton made regarding that would have been much more detailed and would — may I have five more minutes, please?

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Is five minutes granted, honourable senators?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Cordy: I thank honourable senators.

I read Senator Eggleton's observations into the record, and they were very clear and very specific in terms of trying to hurry the process along. This certainly touches on it, but I think the observations would have clarified it much better.

Again, the letter says, "There is such broad support for Bill C-300 that I urge you to provide updates on the progress towards the development of a framework." Again, it touches on Senator Eggleton's observation, but his observation was very precise. The bill actually says that the first progress report be given four years after the implementation of the bill and then every two years thereafter. Senator Eggleton's observation was that, in fact, this report should be given after two years, rather than waiting four years, which is what the bill suggested. Senator Eggleton's observation would have made it much faster. This touches on it, but, again, I would say that Senator Eggleton's observations would have been clearer.

The letter also talks about recognizing subgroups and suicide rates within the Canadian population. I think it is important to look specifically at subgroups, and that is what my observation leads to, that we would look at young people, members of the LGBT community where suicide rates are quite high, and certainly Aboriginal peoples overall, but specifically Aboriginal youth.

This was not even an amendment; it was an observation. It would have been much clearer for the minister to determine who these subgroups with high suicide rates within the Canadian population were. The observation would then have clearly outlined what subgroups they would have been.