Speech on Bill C-211 Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Act

February 10, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank the member for Cariboo—Prince George for bringing this very important issue before the House, an issue that is silently affecting many Canadians everyday.

Post traumatic stress disorder is a matter close to the hearts of many, even in the House, as the member has said. Some members have honourably served on the front lines of emergencies. Some have families and loved ones whose lives have been touched by those working tirelessly to protect them. In fact, my grandfather immigrated from England, serving the Royal Engineers in World War I, and spent many months in the Brandon sanatorium, being treated during a time when there was very little known about these disorders.

The government stands proudly behind our country’s police officers, paramedics, and firefighters. We stand behind indigenous emergency managers, correctional officers, 911 dispatchers, and border guards. We stand, of course, behind the members of our armed forces and all of the brave women and men who have pursued the noble path of public service and put their safety and well-being at risk for the sake of their communities and their country.

In the Liberal platform, we committed to developing a national action plan on post traumatic stress disorder and the Prime Minister’s mandate letter to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness instructs him to “Work with provinces and territories and the Minister of Health to develop a coordinated national action plan on post-traumatic stress disorder, which disproportionately affects public safety officers”.

Indeed, the research shows that between 10% and 35% of first responders will develop post traumatic stress injuries in their lifetime. An estimated 70,000 Canadian first responders have already been diagnosed. That is why I am proud to say that our government is hard at work developing the action plan to address post traumatic stress disorder among public safety officers that we promised during our campaign.

Immediately after our government took office, Public Safety Canada launched an extensive consultation process, beginning with sessions in Ottawa and Regina, to hear from stakeholders about PTSD, other operational stress injuries, and about what kinds of supports they needed. As part of these consultations, we heard directly from public safety officers, as well as from health care practitioners, and all levels of government.

We heard about barriers people face when seeking assistance. We heard about cases of limited access to treatment options, the challenges of geographic isolation, and a general lack of awareness regarding operational stress injuries and PTSD, including a lack of awareness about the symptoms and available supports. We agree with the many voices who told us that much more needs to be done.

In particular, we heard about the need to address three key themes: research and data collection; prevention, early intervention, and stigma reduction; and support for care and treatment. Stakeholders’ voices have recently been bolstered by a report from the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, as was mentioned. That committee also heard from a wide range of organizations and individuals, including the Canadian Police Association, the Mood Disorders Society of Canada, and many experts on psychiatry and mental health.

At this point, I want to mention that Mood Disorders Society of Canada is in my riding of Guelph. In fact, Phil Upshall, the society’s executive director, has made it clear to me that our nation needs to do more to assist those who suffer from this condition, especially when so many who are afflicted by it are our nation’s service members or first responders.

Another unique Guelph organization that is leading the nation in treating PTSD is Homewood Health Centre. Homewood has developed the program for traumatic stress recovery, one of the few in-patient programs of its kind in Canada. The program for traumatic stress recovery helps patients recover from the after-effects of trauma and creates a community that helps trauma patients through the healing process.

We have to look at those Canadians who have helped us in so many ways to provide safety for our communities and in the process of so doing, have stood in the way of danger themselves.

The committee has also received briefs on the Badge of Life Canada, the Royal Ottawa Health Centre Group, and the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, among many others. The final report affirms that the well-being of those who serve our communities is absolutely vital to the safety of all Canadians. The report makes 16 recommendations.

As the Minister of Public Safety wrote in the government’s response, the committee’s report presents important considerations to inform the government’s approach to supporting those who have dedicated their lives to protecting our communities. The report will be a valuable resource as the government moves forward with its commitment to supporting the well-being and resilience of Canada’s public safety officers.

Through all this momentum and action, a clear consensus has emerged. National leadership and coordination are needed to address this issue effectively. Resilience and reintegration and the need for coordinated national research have all been identified as important themes. There remains a broad view that a national plan must recognize that effective support demands coordinated national baseline research. An action plan must recognize the importance of collaboration in providing access to prevention, education, and training measures as well as to innovative care and effective treatment.

Finally, we have heard loud and clear that we must promote awareness for public safety officers and their families of both the symptoms to watch for and the treatment resources that are available to them. Strengthened by all of these voices over the last year, we are moving this action plan forward, helping to bring post-traumatic disorder and operational stress injuries out of the shadows and into the light. I am pleased that our discussions in this chamber make that light even brighter.

Indeed, over the course of the last year, members have had more opportunity than ever before to bring this issue to the forefront. We are making sure that we are talking to the right people moving forward in a way that reflects the voices that we have heard and working closely with all partners as this plan develops.

We have reflected this priority every way we can, including through the budget process, with budget 2016 reflecting the government’s commitment to an action plan. But this goal is beyond commitment, it is a responsibility of the government and of all of us who represent our communities that rely on the tireless and selfless contributions of the brave women and men who keep us safe, and to those men and women we give our thanks.