Canada to Hold Emergency Debate on Aboriginal Suicide Crisis

Attawapiskat, population 2,000, has declared a state of emergency amid about 100 suicide attempts since Sept.

Canada's Parliament agreed Tuesday to hold an emergency debate on a suicide crisis in a remote aboriginal community after 11 people, nine of them minors, attempted suicide over the weekend and more than a dozen youths were overheard making a suicide pact.

Lawmaker Charlie Angus, who represents the northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat, said in Parliament the youth suicide crisis has shocked the world and people are asking how Canada can leave so many people behind. The full debate is later Tuesday.

Attawapiskat, population 2,000, declared a state of emergency Saturday. There have been about 100 suicide attempts since September and at least one death.

Anna Betty Achneepineskum of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation said police brought a 9-year-old and 12 others to a hospital on Monday for an evaluation after hearing them make a suicide pact.

The crisis spotlights the often bleak conditions for Canada's indigenous peoples.

"The conditions that First Nations and Inuit communities are facing are absolutely unacceptable and the mental health of young people particularly in these communities is devastating," Health Minister Jane Philpott said in Parliament.

"It is completely unacceptable that a country as rich in resources as Canada that young people should get to the point where their life seems worthless and they want to end it. We must respond to this."

Philpott said five mental health workers had arrived in the community and said they are investing more than $300 million per year in mental wellness in aboriginal communities.

Aboriginal youth are five to six times more likely to die by suicide than others. New Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the Attawapiskat news "heartbreaking" and said the government will work to improve living conditions for all indigenous peoples. Chiefs have often complained about a lack of money for tribal education and the poor conditions of reserves. Indigenous people are angered by the disparities between their standard of living and that of the rest of Canada.

Ontario Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Zimmer said fly-in communities present their own long-standing issues.

"They are very, very remote, they're small, there's no economy, there is a sense — especially among the younger people — of despair, a lack of opportunity and it leads to depression and anxiety and these sorts of things," Zimmer said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us