N.W.T. MLAs call on government to take immediate action on suicide prevention

Caitlin Cleveland brought forward Monday’s motion as the chair for the standing committee on social development. She said the motion is all about removing red tape and creating clear access to suicide prevention funds. (Sidney Cohen/CBC)

Members of the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly are calling on the government to take immediate action on suicide prevention. 

A motion passed Monday in the legislature called for commitments to fund each region in the territory and allow them to decide where the money can best be spent.

It also calls on more recreational activities and subsidies for existing ones.

The motion suggests a yearly fund of $250,000 per region to be “expedited directly to communities in suicide crises without application.”

Caitlin Cleveland, chair of the standing committee on social development, brought the motion forward.

She told CBC News the committee is trying to remove red tape and create clear access to funds.

“Don’t make communities tell you exactly what they’re going to do and fill out the paperwork to do it,” she said. “Let communities simply go straight to the action piece of this.”

Cleveland said the recommendation to increase recreational options is being recycled from the committee’s review of the Child and Family Services Act, published March 29.

She said that was something the committee heard repeatedly from their engagement efforts and that the committee “feel[s] the recommendations were not honoured,” by the territorial government.

Motion follows coroner’s report

Last month the N.W.T.’s chief coroner released early data on suicide rates in the territory, highlighting the upsurge of deaths by suicide that he said “alarmed us quite a bit.”

Twenty-nine people in the N.W.T. died by suicide since January 2021. Eighteen of those deaths have been in the last 10 months.

At the time, chief coroner Garth Eggenberger said he “felt it was necessary to release the figures for 2021 early so that there could be a response.”

The Beaufort-Delta region has seen the most deaths this year with seven — though Eggenberger noted that not all potential suicide death investigations in 2022 have been completed and more cases could be reported.

The N.W.T.’s chief coroner early release of suicide data breaks down the number of deaths by region. (Source: N.W.T. Coroner’s Office)

Jackie Jacobson is the MLA for Nunakput. He told the house he was honoured to second Cleveland’s motion considering his region was hit the hardest.

He recognized all those lost this year to suicide and spoke to the need to be proactive rather than reactive.

Jacobson said recreation through sports and arts are among the ways that can be achieved.

“Recreation should be available for all youth so we can have things to look forward [to and have] positive outlets in life.”

He said that sports tournaments and art classes, for example, “give us a chance to see our friends and strengthen bonds in our community.”

“There’s a lot we can do for our youth, but we have to do it. We can’t just talk about it anymore,” Jacobson said. “It could save a life.”

All nine MLAs present at Monday’s sitting addressed the motion while the six ministers and the premier abstained.

Minister R.J. Simpson said his side of the house would be abstaining since the motion makes recommendations to the government, and the government does not make recommendations to itself.

The government has 120 days to respond to the motion.

If you or someone you know is struggling, here’s where to get help:

This guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health outlines how to talk about suicide with someone you’re worried about.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Mental health in Arctic Canada – Can community programs make the difference?, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Climate change worries Finland’s young reindeer herders, Yle News

United States: Lack of village police leads to hiring cops with criminal records in Alaska: Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Public Media

Natalie Pressman, CBC News

Natalie Pressman is a reporter with CBC North in Yellowknife. She can be reached at natalie.pressman@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @natpressman.

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