Canada holds emergency debate over aboriginal suicide 'tragedy'

Tue Apr 12, 2016 9:01pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren and Rod Nickel

OTTAWA/WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canadian legislators told an emergency parliamentary session on Tuesday night that a rash of suicide attempts by aboriginal teenagers in a remote, poverty-stricken community was "completely unacceptable" and vowed steps to keep it from happening again.

Over the past weekend alone, 11 members of the Attawapiskat First Nation community in northern Ontario tried to kill themselves, prompting the chief to declare a state of emergency. Separately, a second group was hospitalized on Monday after suicide attempts.

The incident shocked the country, even though it is used to tragedies involving its 1.4 million aboriginals, who largely live in poverty, have a lower life expectancy than other Canadians and are more often victims of violent crime.

Health Minister Jane Philpott said the suicide rates among aboriginal youth were at least 10 times higher than for the general population of young people. Aboriginals make up about 4 percent of Canada's population.

"It is a staggering reality, it is completely unacceptable ... there is nothing more devastating than realizing someone has reached the point of no hope," she told the emergency debate in the House of Commons.

"Tonight has to be a turning point for us as a country in order to decide together that we will do better," she said.

Canada's new Liberal government said last month it would spend an extra C$8.37 billion ($6.54 billion) over five years to help the aboriginal population deal with dire living conditions.

In Attawapiskat, 28 people attempted suicide in March, some of them adults, health officials said. Children as young as 11 were among those who tried to kill themselves during the past few days and police began 24-hour patrols in response to the crisis.   Continued...

A tattered Canadian flag flies over a teepee in Attawapiskat, Ontario, in this file photo taken December 17, 2011. REUTERS/Frank Gunn/Pool/Files