Sask. NDP bill focused on suicide prevention defeated by government

The bill, which was defeated Friday, called for the provincial government to establish a provincial strategy that recognizes suicide as both a public health issue and a mental health issue.

Bill would have required the provincial government to recognize suicide as a health and safety priority

NDP MLA Doyle Vermette's proposed suicide prevention bill got turned down in assembly on Friday. (CBC)

A bill focused on suicide prevention put forward by an Opposition MLA was defeated by the provincial government Friday at the Saskatchewan Legislature.

The bill was put forward by Doyle Vermette, the NDP MLA for Cumberland, who said he was at a loss for words after the bill's deafeat.

"I'm exhausted," Vermette said. "I'm hurt, I'm angry."

The denial of the bill comes the same day Premier Scott Moe announced an inquest into the death of Samwel Uko, who was found dead in Wascana Lake in May.

His family said he was turned away at the hospital after seeking mental health treatment.

The bill would have required the provincial government to establish a provincial strategy that recognizes suicide as a not only a mental health issue, but a public health issue as well.

According to the Saskatchewan Coroners Service, 2,338 people have died by suicide from 2005 to 2019 in the province. Twenty-eight per cent of the those people were Indigenous.

'We've announced a plan': health minister

The Saskatchewan government released a suicide prevention strategy in May called Pillars for Life. The plan aims to improve specialized supports, training, awareness and research within the province regarding suicide.

"The intent of [Vermette's] bill was to move forward with a suicide prevention plan. We've done that," Health Minister Jim Reiter said Friday, pointing to the policy directives in Pillars for Life.

"Policy is more flexible. We don't think it needs to be in legislation, but the sincerity and the intent of his bill, I have no question."

Reiter said he and Minister of Rural and Remote Health Warren Kaeding have met with Vermette in the past, as well as NDP critic for mental health and addictions Danielle Chartier.

"I realize this is a difficult topic and there's many different opinions on it," Reiter said. "I think the important thing is that we need to take action. We've announced a plan. We're going to be working on it. It's a work in progress." 

But NDP Leader Ryan Meili said the current plan has been criticized by experts as "wholly inadequate."

"One of the key elements of Doyle's bill was consultation with First Nations and Métis leadership, with community leadership, with families," Meili said. "And none of that went into the development of this plan."

The NDP said additional funding for a suicide prevention strategy is needed.

Prevention 'everyone's responsibility'

The proposed bill, The Saskatchewan Strategy for Suicide Prevention Act, said suicide is a complex problem which involves many different factors, including biological, psychological, social and spiritual factors. It said suicide can be influenced by societal attitudes and conditions.

"Suicide prevention is everyone's responsibility," the bill said, adding it is "preventable by knowledge, care and compassion."

It called for the Saskatchewan Health Authority to take responsibility for improving public awareness about suicide, distributing information about prevention, making existing statistics publicly available and promoting research and evidence-based practices for prevention.

The proposed bill called for "consultations with relevant non-governmental organizations" and a detailed report every two years.

'Actions speak louder than words'

Vermette expressed his disappointment with the provincial government's decision and said that disappointment was also felt by the families of suicide victims who came to the assembly in support of the bill.

"The families that have lost loved ones, they feel that they're not getting the attention of the government that they should," Vermette said.

He said the government's "actions speak louder than words."

"It was so simple to do this, to work together," Vermette said. "There was nothing in it that we could not have worked together on."

Vermette said that while he gives the government credit for their current strategy, it "needs more teeth."

"We need some action. Like, enough," Vermette said. "We can't lose any more young people's lives."

If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, help is available.

For an emergency or crisis situation, call 911.

You can also contact the Saskatchewan suicide prevention line toll-free, 24/7 by calling 1-833-456-4566, texting 45645, or chatting online.

You can contact the Regina mobile crisis services suicide line at 306-525-5333 or Saskatoon mobile crisis line at 306-933-6200.

You can also text CONNECT to 686868 and get immediate support from a crisis responder through the Crisis Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone.

Kids Help Phone can also be reached at 1-800-668-6868, or you can access live chat counselling at