Suicide Prevention

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, sometimes there are questions that are tougher to ask than other questions here in the Senate. I am sure that folks on the other side, on our side and all across the country are trying to come to terms with a real tough question, and that is the issue of suicide.

Today, in this particular city, there is a sad story taking place concerning a young man and his funeral. He was bullied because of his homosexuality, and he took his own life.

You can be anything you want to be in this country. You can be a fighter in the National Hockey League and you can be alone with your thoughts. However, as a nation, I believe we still have to try to come up with answers to those tough questions regarding people who are struggling and who decide to end their lives.

Last week, members in the other place gave near unanimous support to a motion calling on the government to establish a national suicide prevention strategy. My question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate is whether she might tell us what steps the government is taking to implement a national suicide prevention strategy.

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, first, may I share Senator Munson’s words of sympathy to the family of Mr. Hubley. What happened to their son is a terrible tragedy. When things like this happen, it makes one ask: What are we doing with our kids and what are we doing about bullying? It is a terrible situation.

I am well aware of the support for the motion of the honourable senator’s counterpart in the House of Commons. Obviously, this issue cuts across all party lines, and all walks and stations of life, rich or poor. No one escapes. As a result, too many families have had to suffer the anguish, including political families. As honourable senators know, a few years ago, a member of Parliament from Saskatchewan committed suicide. It was a very sad case.

As a government, we have provided significant funding. We have established the Mental Health Commission of Canada, headed up by our former colleague, the Honourable Michael Kirby. We have supported special programs for mental health matters in Aboriginal communities. In 2010 we invested, in the Aboriginal community, $75 million for the National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy.

With regard to the specific question about further steps the government is planning to take, honourable senators, I will be happy to take that portion of the Senator Munson’s question as notice and respond as quickly as possible.

Senator Munson: I thank the leader and appreciate that answer from the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

I guess sometimes, as a nation or as folks, there is a hesitancy, even in this great world of communications, to talk collectively about this serious issue. We have a tendency to talk as families, and then we have a tendency to react to it by saying, “Is that not sad,” and we move on.

The leader is right, in that we, the Senate, should be proud of the work that happened here through the mental health commission. However, I think there is more than, “Let’s talk.” I think it is, “Let’s do more.”

Is there a way that all parties — our side of the house and the official opposition in the other house and others — perhaps with the Prime Minister, could have a national discussion, not necessarily to get to the root cause, because we will never understand, but to show more compassion and reach out more in this regard while leaving the politics at home?

Senator LeBreton: I thank the honourable senator for that question, and I could not agree more.

All honourable senators know the story. There are many of us here who were part of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology when we did the health care study and subsequently launched into the mental health study. Every single one of us around the table knew all of the physical illnesses of various members of our family. I knew about Senator Kirby’s wife’s struggle with cancer; he knew about my husband’s struggle with heart disease.

However, when the committee started to talk about mental health on a personal level, every single one of us had members of our immediate family that had been touched by mental illness. As a result of that study, and the work of former Senator Kirby and the commission, we are making some headway, though not nearly enough, in terms of removing the stigma. There are many miles to go.

I agree with Senator Munson. Anything that parliamentarians can do collectively to move this issue forward to more meaningful solutions, I would fully support. I thank the honourable senator for his suggestion, and I will inform my colleagues, not only in the Department of Health but in other areas of government that deal with the mental health issue on the basis of their portfolios.