Thunder Bay

'This is a health crisis'- Ontario MPP calls for action after Bearskin Lake youth suicide

A northwestern Ontario MPP pressed the Ontario government to do more to stop the "pandemic" of Indigenous youth suicides after a 13-year-old girl took her own life in Bearskin Lake this week.

13-year-old girl took her own life in the community on Wednesday morning

Sol Mamakwa, the NDP MPP for Kiiwetinoong, pressed the Ontario government for action during Question Period on Thursday after a 13-year-old girl took her own life in Bearskin Lake this week. (NDP/Submitted)

A northwestern Ontario MPP pressed the Ontario government to do more to stop the "pandemic" of Indigenous youth suicides after a 13-year-old girl took her own life in Bearskin Lake this week.

Sol Mamakwa, the NDP member for the Kiiwetinoong riding, raised the issue this morning during Question Period at Queen's Park.

Mamakwa addressed his question to Premier Doug Ford, and said the suicide took place Wednesday morning in Bearskin Lake, and that the community is concerned there will be more tragedies to come.

"This concern is well founded," Mamakwa said. "In 2015, a 10-year-old girl took her life. This was also in Bearskin Lake. What is the Premier prepared to do to ensure that these pandemics of our young Indigenous people killing themselves stop once and for all?"

Question Period reportedly fell silent while Mamakwa spoke.

Ford referred the question to Christine Elliott, Minister of Health.

"Thank you very much for the question," Elliott said. "It is something that we take very seriously on this side of the House, as well. I know that in many indigenous communities there are no adequate supports for young people for physical or mental health, and mental health is health.

"That is something that we are going to seriously address, as we are filing and completing our system on mental health and addictions."

Elliott said the issue is not just one of "health counselling," but also education, housing, and "communications with others."

"There's lots of work that we need to do," she said. "But I look forward to working with you, to visiting your communities and to understanding from people directly what supports they need. Then we will do our best to make sure that we can provide those supports."

'This is a health crisis'

Mamakwa then followed-up with a supplementary question:

"Two years ago, the suicide rate for children under the age of 15 in First Nations I represent was 50 times higher than the national average," he said. "But what has changed since these children took their own lives? This is a health crisis. This is a mental health crisis. This is an intergenerational trauma crisis. This is a housing crisis."

The 13-year-old girl, Mamakwa said, lived in a rundown home, which was without electricity.

"What is the premier prepared to do today, long-term, to ensure that the community of Bearskin Lake and other remote communities in Ontario have the resources they need to prevent more deaths of our young people?" Mamawka said.

Elliott referred the follow-up to Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services.

"I remember sitting in opposition myself, asking questions about suicide prevention," MacLeod said. "Yesterday I met with the independent child advocate regarding this specific issue, and last week with the coroner regarding this same issue. This government is committed to working with you and our First Nations in order to put the proper supports in place so that these tragedies don't continue."

"I know when someone loses their life by suicide, when they make that decision, it rocks an entire community," she said. "I can understand, just standing here with you, how emotional this is. I'd like to speak with you after question period so that we can make sure that we have a plan in place that fully supports you and helps your community get through this."