MPs head to Nunavut to study ‘tragic epidemic’ of suicide
Nunavut’s struggle with a high rate of suicide will once again be in the political spotlight Friday, as a House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs hears testimony about the crisis in Iqaluit.
Six members of parliament will attend the meeting, where more than a dozen witnesses from Nunavut and the Inuit region of Labrador will talk about suicide and what they hope the government will do to help stop it.
Liberal MP Andy Fillmore, who chairs the standing committee, says it’s important to hear from people who can’t travel to Ottawa.
“There’s something about the comfort of being at home, when you tell a story that is so hard to tell,” he said.
“It’s very important that the committee travel to these communities and, in a very sensitive way, invite these conversations.”
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When the committee was formed after the last Federal election, Fillmore says MPs were tasked with deciding which issues were the most important to tackle — and he says the “tragic epidemic” of suicide was “the very first priority.”
Addressing the personal effect of suicide
Since the end of May, the standing committee has heard from a dozen experts in Ottawa, including ITK President Natan Obed and researcher Jack Hicks.
They’ve heard the statistics — the rate of suicide among Inuit is more than 10 times the Canadian average — but this visit will give six MPs the chance to hear about the very personal effect of suicide on entire communities.
“I’ve been there,” said Hunter Tootoo, Nunavut’s independent MP. “I’ve been in that state of mind.”
He’s not part of the committee, but says he will be at the meeting, encouraging people to speak up.
“If the rates were like that anywhere else in the rest of Canada, it would be a public health crisis,” he said. “I think it’s important that they hear that first hand from Nunavummiut.”
Tootoo says there needs to be “a push to be able to have programs and resources available to be able to help people deal with trauma.”
‘Every voice counts’
Before the group meets in Iqaluit Friday morning, they’ll visit Kuujjuaq in Northern Quebec. Fillmore says those won’t be the only indigenous communities the committee visits before it makes its final report.
Later this fall, the committee will visit several communities in Western Canada and, if funding allows, they hope to make another trip this spring.
At the end of the Iqaluit meeting, people in the audience will have an hour to talk to committee members.
Tootoo hopes the meeting room will be full.
“Come out and participate. Every voice counts and every story counts.”
The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. and runs until 5:00 p.m. at the Frobisher Inn in Iqaluit.
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The Kamatsiaqtut Help Line is available 24/7 for anonymous support: 1-800-265-3333.
For help in Inuktitut call 1-888-331-4433, or visit your community health centre.