Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Motion to Authorize Committee to Study the Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention--Debate Continued

December 14, 2021

Hon. Dan Christmas

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in strong support of Senator Kutcher’s motion to authorize the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology to study the Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention.

My remarks today will be brief, but hopefully compelling, as I share the impact of suicide on a young Mi’kmaw man whose life was seemingly filled with promise, yet sadly ended well before its time.

I do so today because I feel I must, rooted in reality that First Nations people, living both on and off reserve, Métis and Inuit, die by suicide at a higher rate than non-Indigenous people. I’ve seen suicide not only result in immeasurable loss to family and friends, but also to our communities and their social fabric, especially when the victim is a young person.

As I mentioned, I knew such a young man. He was a member of a family from the Millbrook community in Nova Scotia. I would like to share his story with you now, honourable senators.

His name was Cody Glode. Cody grew up in a warm and loving family. His parents, Matthew and Lisa, described young Cody as a rambunctious child with a wonderful sense of humour which would carry on into his teenage and young adult years. He was the type of man that literally lit up a room when he entered it.

What’s more, Cody was an achiever, some might say even an overachiever. At 19, he became the youngest full-time firefighter with the Truro Fire Service and the only Mi’kmaw person in its ranks.

He was also a rising star in the local mixed martial arts scene with dreams of making it to the pinnacle of his sport.

He had a healthy obsession with martial arts, which saw his pastime become his passion. It was his sense of passion and determination that masked his personal battle, for you see, Cody was a high-functioning depressive.

Eventually at age 20, after suffering for eight years, Cody’s symptoms were such that he sought help from the local mental health helpline. When he didn’t get immediate assistance, he tried the emergency room at a hospital where he was told to follow up with his family doctor, who then recommended he see a psychologist.

Faced with a two-month wait time, which for him felt like an eternity, his light of hope immediately dimmed. Three weeks later, on March 2, 2016, he took his own life, feeling totally defeated.

Three years afterwards, his mother was asked whether she wished she could bring her son back. She replied she would not, noting that “To do that would be so selfish because he was in so much pain.”

Yet, indirectly, Cody Glode has left a legacy that has helped to illuminate a path forward, where lives like his might be spared and a system in disrepair might be made right again.

In 2017, the House Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs studied the suicide crisis in First Nations communities and issued its report, Breaking Point: The Suicide Crisis in Indigenous Communities.

Members of the Glode family courageously appeared before the committee as witnesses. I will let their words give voice to the legacy of their son and nephew, Cody Glode.

His father, Matthew, spoke of Cody’s plight in seeking help with his mental illness:

For a lot of people suffering from mental illness, who are deep in that pit of despair, making a phone call would be climbing Mount Everest. If Cody had gone into the office with a bump on his head, high sugars, chest pain, or even a broken foot, help would have been immediate. Mental health issues need immediate action. “Mental health” are words that people have to be comfortable with. Our son was not crazy. He did not have bad nerves. He was not lonely. He suffered every day from mental illness. If it had been cancer, there would have been all kinds of help available.

He then described the impacts of suicide and mental illness and offered his advice in the face of this:

Mental health is lonely and crippling. It kills its victims. We as a nation need to make mental health a household word. We need to put in place a system that saves lives, one that, if need be, holds that person’s hand until they get the help they need. We need people there to continue the care even after help has been given and received, whether that be with a simple visit or a phone call, or a person in place who would offer a hug, words of encouragement, or a listening ear. Sometimes it’s so simple, but yet crucial to that person on the dark and lonely road of mental illness.

Cody’s Aunt Pam is Executive Director of the Halifax Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre. She offered the committee context and clarity around mental health issues in the Indigenous community. She said:

I’ve just listened to a young girl say she was broken, and I take great offence at that. I take great offence that this young girl or any of our children feel like they are broken. As a people, we are not broken. The systems are broken and the policies are broken, and that’s what needs to change. In our community, whether you’re on reserve or in an urban context, we are not broken. The systems are broken. They’ve been broken. They’ve been designed to fail us time and time again. I’ve seen it happen over and over again.

I believe in my heart of hearts that there is a way forward. We talk about reconciliation—everybody throws that word around now—and it’s where we need to go. I actually believe that it can be done. I believe that it will take a long time to be done. I believe that it will take us doing things together, not having government do things to our community, but with us, beside us, not in front of us, and not behind us. I believe that those policies need to be joint and they need to be done together.

I believe in my heart that our community can get better. I believe that when society as a whole recognizes.... [that] we need to have understanding of why things are the way they are. Don’t hold it against us that our families were put into residential schools or that there was the sixties scoop, or the past and all of those things that created this, like the Indian Act. They’ve all been created to assimilate and to eradicate the Indian problem, and those are real things.

People need to be treated with respect. It breaks my heart knowing that out of everything we do, we couldn’t even help my own nephew. I questioned what I do because of that. However, I also believe that what happened to Cody, for me, is the changing point even in my life. I believe that something good will come from Cody’s passing.

. . . we have to start doing things together, not in silos, not separately, and not in Ottawa, but together. We talk about a national strategy. We talk about all these things. The reality is that we have to start doing things together. I don’t mean at each other. I mean together. We need to have that honest truthful conversation, and humility has to play a role in that.

Honourable senators, if we ever needed a wake-up call, this is it. How can we not move forward in support of this motion after hearing such words of truth as these?

There’s an adage of unknown origin which says, “Suicide doesn’t end the chances of life getting worse. It eliminates the possibility of it ever getting any better.”

Honourable senators, supporting the adoption of this motion can help measurably improve the possibility of mitigating the seemingly endless tragedy of suicide and its destructive impacts. It has been said of our noble institution that some of its best work is achieved in committee.

I wholeheartedly support Senator Kutcher’s position that our committees can be informed by what this chamber considers to be priority areas, and I hope and pray that our collective voice in response to this motion affirms that studying the Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention is indeed of significant import to permit its deliberation by the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.

Cody Glode suffered. So many others have suffered, and there are so many still suffering but thankfully still with us. It’s been said that “All storms end with the rising of a new dawn.” Yet, we are still dealing with the darkness of suicide.

Let us hopefully hasten the dawn with our deliberation of this vital matter in this place, and its committee, through the speedy adoption of this motion.

Wela’lin. Thank you.

Hon. Stan Kutcher

Would Senator Christmas take a question?

Senator Christmas

Yes, I would be happy to.

Senator Kutcher

Thank you for sharing Cody’s tragic story, Senator Christmas, and for pointing out to us in the words of his family that what needs to be done is not being done. In your opinion, in this situation, was there something that could have and should have been done that wasn’t?

Senator Christmas

Thank you, senator. I have reflected on the situation many times. When Cody went to the emergency room and asked for help, the emergency room physician referred him to a psychologist, and that had a two-month wait time. I wish what had happened was that there had been a mental health triage — that within 24 hours, a mental health professional had talked to him, ideally in person but even over the phone, and assessed his mental health to see what kind of mental health services he required. I think if Cody had had someone reach out within 24 hours, it could have made the difference.

Unfortunately, as you know, senator, the mental health system is unable to react that fast. I hope a time comes when we do have a system that is not broken — that is fixed — that will enable young people or anyone who is faced with mental illness to be reached immediately, and from there the care would begin.

Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition)

Your Honour, I want to say, personally, I know this is very important, but right now I will adjourn debate. I hope to get to this soon. Thank you.