Ontario gambling-linked suicides rise

A CBC investigation into suicides in Canada has found a rise in deaths linked to gambling in Ontario.

Some provinces don't keep gambling-death records

A CBC investigation into suicides in Canada has found a rise in deaths linked to gambling in Ontario.

Twelve people troubled by gambling-related debt or addictions took their own lives in Ontario in 2006, the last year for which complete information is available. That was up from nine in 2005 and seven in 2004.

"We take very seriously the incidence of any deaths that may be linked to gambling," said Rui Brum of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. "Even one such death is a tragedy.

"OLG is committed to responsible gaming. For example, OLG helps people get the assistance they need as soon as they ask for it."

Quebec continues to have the highest number of gambling-related suicides with 22 cases reported in 2007, down from 26 in 2006.

"I'm suspicious of those numbers and think they are probably even higher," said Brian Yealland, a chaplain at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., and spokesman for the group Gambling Watch.

"Ontario and Quebec probably have the same levels of suicides," Yealland told CBC News, raising questions about how coroners in each province investigate.

"Whether a suicide is attributed in some way to gambling ... is partly to do with whether coroners specifically probe that suicidal person's background and lifestyle," said Yealland.

Gambling critics have complained for years about inconsistency between provincial coroners in how seriously they treat problem gambling and the criteria they use to investigate a suicide.

In 2003, chief coroners and medical examiners from all provinces and territories met at a conference in Iqaluit, where they pledged to develop a system to track the national scope of gambling-related deaths, given the rise of a $13-billion-a-year gambling industry run by governments.

No national record-keeping system

This past week, CBC contacted all the provinces and territories to ask for the latest data, only to find there is still no national record-keeping system and some provinces now refuse to keep such records.

Nova Scotia stopped tracking the problem in 2004 and no longer documents reasons behind any suicide. 

"This is because there are likely a myriad of reasons relating to why a person might commit suicide and … it is difficult to attribute any suicide to one particular cause," Carla Grant, spokeswoman for Nova Scotia's Department of Justice, wrote to CBC.

Prince Edward Island, Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan also don't keep records.

The reasons given range from too few gambling-related deaths in the territories — where there are no casinos or gambling other than lotteries — to a lack of up-to-date, proper database technology in the coroner's system in Saskatchewan.

The Canada Safety Council, an independent advocacy group, says it believes more than 200 compulsive gamblers take their lives each year in Canada.

On its website, the council states: "There are no national statistics on suicides and attempted suicides related to gambling addiction. In part, this is because they are very hard to collect. Those investigating or treating an incident may not always pursue gambling as a possible factor."

Lawsuit shaping up against Atlantic Lottery Corp.

Keith Piercey of Corner Brook, N.L., knows first-hand the tragedy of losing a family member to gambling addiction and then suicide.

His daughter, Susan Piercey, became addicted to video lottery terminals while a student at Memorial University in St. John's in the mid-1990s. She became so hooked, and subsequently so deep in debt, she took her own life with an overdose of pills in July 2003.

Keith Piercey is now suing the Atlantic Lottery Corp. on behalf of addicts and the estates of gamblers who have committed suicide. 

He is the representative plaintiff in a proposed class-action lawsuit that was filed last month.

Piercey argues that VLTs are inherently deceptive and misrepresent the odds to potential gambling addicts. He alleges the Atlantic Lottery Corp. is knowingly putting deceptive and harmful machines in bars and corner stores.

CBC documentary: The Lens: Playing the Machines, Tuesday, March 24. at 10 p.m. ET on CBC Newsworld

Piercey's lawsuit, headed up by St. John's class action lawyer Ches Crosbie, claims ALC is violating the rights and freedoms of addicts under the Charter of Rights, by denying them their Section 7 rights to "life, liberty and security of person."

"Not only are they cheating the public for money," Crosbie says in a CBC Newsworld documentary airing this month, "but it results in evils such as suicide, ideas about suicide, attempts at suicide, family breakup, bankruptcy and untold misery among, in [Newfoundland and Labrador], many thousands of people."

The first attempt at a lawsuit was dismissed late last year when a Newfoundland and Labrador judge ruled the Atlantic Lottery Corp., as a Crown agency, is not subject to rules for other industries laid out in the province's Trade Practices Act. 

The Atlantic Lottery Corp. is reviewing the latest claim.

On March 24, CBC Newsworld will air Playing the Machines, a documentary examining gambling addiction and suicide in Canada, focusing on the role of VLTs and other video gambling machines.