Twice-rejected suicide prevention bill passes in Sask. legislature

The suicide prevention bill NDP MLA Doyle Vermette has tried to pass twice in the Saskatchewan Legislature has gone through. 

Work is just beginning, says NDP MLA who but bill forward

NDP MLA Doyle Vermette came to the final day of the Walking With Our Angels camp to show his support. (Radio-Canada)

New legislation that requires the government to develop a strategy for suicide prevention, passed in the Saskatchewan Legislature Friday, after failing on two previous attempts. 

NDP MLA Doyle Vermette first proposed the legislation in 2018. He said he was grateful the bill finally passed, but that the work is far from over. 

"This is your victory. This is [for] everyone who has walked, signed a petition, [for] mothers, fathers, grandparents who have lost a loved one, [for those] who asked us, 'Don't give up,'" he said.  

"A lot of work went into it. Pressure was put on government to do the best thing for Saskatchewan people and I think that's what we've had here today."

Vermette said he was happy his colleagues in the Saskatchewan Party voted with him this time. 

The bill states that the health ministry must establish a provincial strategy for suicide prevention "that recognizes that suicide, in addition to being a mental health issue, is a public health issue and that it is a health and safety priority."

Among other things, annual reports are required now, and the ministry has to "promote the use of research and evidence-based practices for the prevention of suicide."

The government has already gone ahead with their Pillars for Life suicide strategy. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Everett Hindley, said the bill solidifies what Pillars for Life is already doing, but was vague on particulars about how the bill and the strategy will inform the work of the other. 

He said they heard a lot about the bill when they were campaigning last year, and thanked Vermette for his work on this issue.  

"But we were hearing since that point in time from the voters, from the people of Saskatchewan that they felt it was also important to pass this legislation as well," he said. 

"The two will work hand in hand. We're serious about the spirit of collaboration and making sure that we consult and work with a wide variety of groups, organizations and people across this province as we continue to build upon our suicide prevention strategy."

'A step in the right direction'

When the bill was voted down in 2019, it served as an impetus for Tristen Durocher's campaign to raise awareness about suicide in the province, which included a 635-kilometre walk from Air Ronge to Regina and his 44-day fast in Wascana Park.

Chris Merasty walked with Durocher last year. He's also the founder of Men of the North, a men's support group in La Ronge, Sask. He said he was really glad to hear that the bill passed.

"I'm very honoured and very humbled to know Mr. Vermette," he said. 

"This bill is definitely a step in the right direction, not only for our community, but communities right across the province."

Chris Merasty (left) and Doyle Vermette stand at the Walking With Our Angels camp in Regina last year. The camp was meant to call attention to suicide in Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Chris Merasty)

Merasty said he was grateful and relieved that the Sask. Party came to understand the importance of the bill.

"Last year when we did Walking With Our Angels, I often heard young Tristen Durocher reiterate 'not my child, not my problem,'" Merasty said. 

"So now with the suicide prevention bill, that is your child and that is your problem."