Sudbury

Parliament passes Charlie Angus's motion to establish national suicide prevention action plan

As parliamentarians voted unanimously Wednesday evening in favour of a national suicide prevention action plan, Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus, who proposed the private member's motion, says he was reciting in his head the names of all the young people lost to suicide on northern Ontario First Nations.

Timmins-James Bay MP says crises in northern Ontario First Nations prompted motion

NDP MP Charlie Angus says his experience with suicide crises on First Nations in northern Ontario drove him to put forth the motion calling for a national suicide prevention plan. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

As parliamentarians voted unanimously Wednesday evening in favour of a national suicide prevention action plan, NDP MP Charlie Angus, who proposed the private member's motion, says he was reciting in his head the names of all the young people lost to suicide on northern Ontario First Nations.

"It was a very emotional moment," said Angus, who represents Timmins-James Bay.

"But, out of the darkness can come determination and hope."

M-174 establishes a "national suicide prevention action plan, including among its provisions (i) commitment to the actions and resources required to establish culturally appropriate community-based suicide prevention programs as articulated by representative organizations of the Inuit, First Nations, and Métis peoples."

Crises in Attawapiskat, Wapekeka inspired motion

As a tribute to those who have lost their lives, Angus says he carries an eagle feather given to him following his visits to Attawapiskat First Nation on the western coast of James Bay.

He says it was given to him following the state of emergency called in that community in April 2016, when 11 people attempted suicide in one day.

It was while responding to repeated crises in northern Ontario First Nations, and what he calls the government's piecemeal approach to them, that Angus became motivated to do something.

"It was particularly the deaths of young girls in Wapekeka (an Oji-Cree First Nation near the Ontario-Manitoba border), when we held that press conference in January of 2017, and the leadership of the community begged the prime minister, begged him, to sit down and say we've got to find a way forward," Angus said.

"That, to me, was really the moment I thought we've got to stop being reactive, we have to be pro-active here."

Online hub for services

The motion also calls for the creation of a national public health monitoring program for the prevention of suicide and the identification of groups at elevated risk.

As well, it mandates the "creation of a national online hub providing essential information and guides to accessing services, in English, French, selected Indigenous languages, and other languages spoken widely in Canada for suicidal individuals, their families and friends, people bereaved by a loved one's suicide, workplaces and other stakeholders concerned with suicide prevention."

'it's about time,' says Jonathan Solomon, Grand Chief of Mushkegowuk Council, of the national suicide prevention plan. He says the Cree communities in northern Ontario he represents have been raising the alarm about suicide for years. (Jean-Loup Dodard/ Radio Canada)

Jonathan Solomon, the Grand Chief of Mushkegowuk Council, representing Cree communities in northeastern Ontario, says he hopes the strategy will save lives.

It's an issue that Mushkegowuk Council has explored and attempted to address itself.

On Jan. 20, 2016, Mushkegowuk Council released a report titled, "The People's Inquiry Into Our Suicide Pandemic."

The report followed two years of public hearings and the documentation of personal stories. It identified possible solutions to address the suicide pandemic that was crippling the region.

Solomon says the toll on families continues.

"We were losing so many young people, even babies as young as 10 years old. We begged there should be a national strategy. So I would say it's about time," he said.

Solomon cautions that for the plan to work, it needs to be culturally appropriate.

"I think it has to be specific, very unique, because our communities are unique and isolated," he said.

"It has to be appropriate in the culture of the community by utilizing the land-based healing that is so important in our communities."

As for next steps, Angus says he'll be pushing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to set aside financing for the goals set out in the motion.

He cautions the plan isn't real yet, and the grassroots will need to keep pressuring the government to make it a reality.

About the Author

Kate Rutherford

Reporter/Editor

Kate Rutherford is a CBC newsreader and reporter in Sudbury. She reaches across northern Ontario to connect with people and their stories. She has worked as a journalist in Saint John, N.B and calls Halifax, N.S. home.