N.W.T. MLAs call for improvements to mental health and addiction services

The Standing Committee on Social Development received a public briefing regarding Community Mental Wellness from the Minister of Health and Social Services, on Thursday.

More community outreach, and better youth services among ideas suggested at Standing Committee

Julie Green, Minister of Health and Social Services, gave a public briefing regarding community mental wellness at the Legislative Assembly on Thursday addressing a range of concerns from MLAs regarding homelessness, addiction and mental health in the N.W.T. (Mario De Ciccio/CBC)

Mental health and addictions services in the N.W.T. are under close review this week, following a report from the Office of the Auditor General of Canada that exposed a severe lack of equitable care across the territory. 

Following Tuesday's report, the Standing Committee on Social Development received a public briefing last night regarding community mental wellness from the Minister of Health and Social Services.

During the briefing, several MLAs called for changes and gave suggestions as to how to improve the level of care for residents, and youth struggling with addiction and mental health. 

Ronald Bonnetrouge, MLA for Deh Cho, asked Health Minister Julie Green how the programs that are in place are helping N.W.T. residents with addictions. He acknowledged that some services do exist in the territory, but said he sees "the same ones" struggling in his riding and that support services aren't breaking patterns of addiction. 

"It's not changing," he said. "I don't see it changing." 

Bonnetrouge added that throwing more funding into on the land programming is not a solution and that there needs to be a more hands on approach to supporting struggling residents.

In response, Julie Green said that they can't force anyone to access services. 

"In the time that they are struggling with their addictions or their recovery, our major job is to keep them safe," Green said. "To make sure that they have their basic needs met and that they are treated in a respectful and dignified way." 

During Thursday's briefing, Semmler emphasized the need to support youth. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

During the briefing, Lesa Semmler, MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes, focused primarily on Indigenous youth struggling with homelessness, mental health and addictions. She says that many do not want to seek care through child and family services, adding there was a stigma attached. 

"As Indigenous people, we try our hardest to keep them out of child and family services."

Semmler suggested that child and family services should work in collaboration with income support so that youth could access funding for necessities without having to go directly through child and family services. 

Bruce Cooper, Deputy Minister of the Department of Health and Social Services, told the committee the department needs to take a closer look at why some youth choose not to seek help through child and family services. He accepted Semmler's suggestion that integration of services could be a solution, and said the department would take that into consideration. 

"Certainly there is a clear understanding of the need and direction for better teamwork," Cooper said. 

The Department of Health and Social Services and the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authorities agreed to implement a list of seven recommendations from the Auditor General of Canada's report. 

Some of those recommendations include surveying residents with a questionnaire to better address the needs of different communities across the territory, as well as adapting hiring approaches to improve the cultural safety of addictions services. 

The departments said they would put the recommendations into practice by the 2023-24 fiscal year.


Celeste Decaire

CBC Reporter

Celeste Decaire is a reporter with CBC Ottawa. She can be reached at and on her Twitter account @celestedecaire.