Question Period: Mental Health Services

By: The Hon. Margaret Dawn Anderson

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Hon. Margaret Dawn Anderson: Quyanainni. My question is for the Government Representative, Senator Gold.

On October 3, 2022, after a disturbing increase in the number of deaths by suicide within the Northwest Territories, the Chief Coroner took the unprecedented step of releasing early data.

In 2020, the N.W.T. Coroner Service’s 10-year review reported that 10% of all deaths recorded in the N.W.T. are deaths by suicide. The largest demographics are males and young people between the ages of 20 to 40 in two key regions: the North Slave and the Beaufort Delta Region. In my home community of Tuktoyaktuk, there have been four deaths by suicide within the last three months.

Earlier this month, the federal government allocated an additional $11 million to the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, or ITK, for the organization’s suicide prevention strategy over the next two years. Unfortunately, the current financial allocation does not address equitable standards across the N.W.T.

Senator Gold, my question is as follows: With the mental health crisis in the Northwest Territories, what concrete steps is the federal government taking, both in the short and long term, to help the territory, communities and people address the key factors that contribute to death by suicide?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question, senator, and for underlining this tragedy — for individuals, families and communities — that this scourge represents.

The government has provided significant funding in an attempt to address the causes and to help prevent this tragedy from continuing. In 2021-22, the government provided the Northwest Territories with $730,000 for mental health and addiction services, which builds upon the targeted funding in 2017 for home and community care, and mental health and addictions.

You mentioned the $11 million that Indigenous Services Canada and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami have announced for the National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy. There is a commitment of a lot of money — $70 million — to this strategy to help the communities.

There is no dollar amount that can compensate for the lives that are lost to this tragedy. The Government of Canada is committed to continuing to work with the communities and their organizations to address this tragedy.

Senator Anderson: Thank you, Senator Gold. I want to point out that, if I am correct, the funding that was provided to ITK is under a funding formula whereby 13% of the funds will reach Inuvialuit in the Northwest Territories.

I understand that it is not just money. I know that right now the N.W.T. and specific interest groups are struggling in terms of economic prospects. They are running into red tape with legislation, regulations and rules that we set here. In addition to being part of the problem, we are the solution.

Moving forward, how will we — or you, as the Government Representative — ensure that funding is provided, as well as steps taken to ensure there is economic opportunity, working within the Indigenous communities, to advance and improve lives in the Northwest Territories?

Senator Gold: I wish it were in my power — or anyone’s power — to ensure the realization of those objectives.

I can tell you that I met with Minister Miller today. I know that he and his colleagues — Minister Dan Vandal and many others — are taking a whole-of-government approach to try to work on all aspects of this, especially for communities like yours, and others, that are more remote from decision-making centres and, unfortunately, too infrequently in those centres’ minds.

The government is committed to doing what it can. It is slow and laborious, and it is never enough. Minister Miller, to his credit, is quite open about that. I am convinced that this government will continue to work as hard as it can, with the communities, to address the social causes and the horrible consequences that you described so well.

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