This is page numbers 2083 - 2120 of the Hansard for the 19th Assembly, 2nd Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was health.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Diane Archie, Hon. Frederick Blake Jr., Mr. Bonnetrouge, Hon. Paulie Chinna, Ms. Cleveland, Hon. Caroline Cochrane, Hon. Julie Green, Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Johnson, Ms. Martselos, Ms. Nokleby, Mr. Norn, Mr. O'Reilly, Ms. Semmler, Hon. R.J. Simpson, Mr. Rocky Simpson, Hon. Shane Thompson, Hon. Caroline Wawzonek

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Item 2, Ministers' statements. Minister of Education, Culture and Employment.

Minister's Statement 116-19(2): Pink Shirt Day
Ministers' Statements

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R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We all share in the responsibility of ensuring that our schools and communities are safe spaces. Today, we take a moment to pause and reflect on how each of us contributes to safe spaces where bullying is prevented whenever possible and quickly addressed when it occurs.

In 2007, Nova Scotia teenagers David Shepherd and Travis Price organized a protest after a male grade 9 student in their school was harassed for wearing a pink shirt. The next morning, these two youths brought pink shirts to hand out to all male students. Their school was full of kids in pink that day, and 14 years later, Pink Shirt Day has become a global call to action as schools and workplaces are flooded with pink in solidarity against bullying. The national theme for 2021 is Lift Each Other Up, and I am happy to see so much pink around the House today, as we stand together on Pink Shirt Day.

As I am sure all Members of this House are aware, bullying can occur to anyone of any age at any time. It occurs when aggressive and repeated behaviours happen between one or more people in a real or perceived power imbalance. This imbalance can be based on a range of factors from size, age, or ethnicity to religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. No one, from any walk of life, is immune to becoming a bully or being bullying. This behaviour has negative impacts on individuals, families, and communities. It causes fear, emotional harm, and physical, psychological, and social distress. We must support victims of bullying and ensure we provide education and formative consequences to bullies so they can learn the harm in their actions and repair relationships.

Mr. Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories has Safe School Regulations that establish a Territorial Code of Conduct and ensure all schools have a Safe School Plan. These plans ensure students from Junior Kindergarten to grade 12 take healthy relationship programming and require schools to address instances of bullying in accordance with the regulations. A Safe School Plan ensures there are structured mechanisms in place for keeping students and staff physically, emotionally, and mentally safe.

Last year, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment released the Guidelines for Ensuring LGBTQ2S+ Equity, Safety and Inclusion in Northwest Territories Schools. We continue to support schools in upholding these guidelines and in the development of their gender sexuality alliances through our partnership with the Yellowknife Rainbow Youth Coalition.

Mr. Speaker, Northwest Territories schools should be safe and caring environments for the entire school community. We must continue our vigilance to ensure our schools are safe spaces where people respect each other's differences and recognize each other's similarities. When we see bullying, we need to speak up, and if we bully others, we must reflect on our actions and seek ways to do better. Let's lift each other up. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 116-19(2): Pink Shirt Day
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Ministers' statements. Minister of Health and Social Services.

Minister's Statement 117-19(2): Youth Mental Health Supports
Ministers' Statements

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Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today on Pink Shirt Day, we come together to commit to creating safe spaces for each other and for our youth, places where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all in significant ways and has highlighted the importance of supporting one another and advocating for those who need help and for youth in particular. We know that the harms associated with bullying can have devastating and long-lasting impacts on individuals, families, and communities. Having accessible mental health services is critical to support both victims and people who use bullying to heal from the wounds this behaviour inflicts.

Mr. Speaker, over the last three years, the Department of Health and Social Services has worked closely with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment on the phased establishment of child and youth care counsellors in NWT schools and communities. This approach was informed through engagement with NWT youth who told us they wanted access to confidential and flexible mental health services. The GNWT is currently in phase 3 of a four-year implementation plan. I am pleased to report that staffing these positions is going well. A total of 33 out of 39 child and youth care counsellor positions have been successfully filled throughout the NWT, along with five clinical supervisor positions. The child and youth care counsellor initiative, in combination with our work to eliminate wait times and establish same-day access for counselling supports, has greatly improved access to services for all NWT residents when they need it most.

Mr. Speaker, we have heard from Northerners about the need to provide a variety of options when it comes to mental wellness supports. One of the ways we are expanding options is through the implementation of e-mental health options such as the Strongest Families Institute. A year ago, the GNWT partnered with Bell Let's Talk and NorthwesTel to have the Strongest Families Institute provide telephone-based support for children and families experiencing mild to moderate anxiety, depression, and behavioural concerns. So far, we have seen a positive response to this service, and I would like to share some testimonials we received from parents. A parent of a 12-year-old said, "The coaching was instrumental in teaching me the skills and techniques I needed to feel more in control of my situation, build a stronger relationship with my son, and feel hope for the future." A parent of an 11-year-old had the following to say, "My coach with Strongest Families was super helpful, understanding, and supportive. She helped me to see and understand parenting on so many levels. The skills and strategies put in place are effective and are definitely worth learning."

While the pandemic has produced innovation in the area of virtual care, government recognizes that these types of services may not be easily accessible by all. As a result, staff across the territory are working to ensure that creative solutions are in place to support children and families who may not have access to a phone in their home. Some of these solutions include making space available within health centres, dropping off packages with information and resources at people's homes, and making use of community partners to ensure information about the availability of services is shared.

The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority now has a child and youth mental health coordinator who is leading the way with several key initiatives that will improve our approach to caring for children and youth with mental health needs. Some of these initiatives include:

  • working with the Stanton Territorial Pediatric In-Patient Unit to develop in-patient psychiatric admission processes and programing;
  • working with the Stanton team to build care pathways, therapeutic resources, after-care, and staff capacity;
  • supporting health centre staff across the territory with mental health system navigation and building their skill sets to care for children and youth in need of mental health services; and finally
  • leading the implementation of the Northwest Territories partnership with the Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto to improve access to specialized child psychiatric services across NWT regions and communities.

Mr. Speaker, the Department of Health and Social Services is also working with schools to support the delivery of the Talking About Mental Illness program, called TAMI for short. TAMI is a school-based program focused on increasing awareness and reducing stigma about mental illness. Programs such as these increase comfort talking about mental health and help to increase the likelihood that youth will access help if they need support. Additionally, children and youth can also access the NWT Help Line and the Kids Help Phone, both available 24/7 for free, confidential support.

Mr. Speaker, there is no single approach that will work for everyone when it comes to addressing youth mental health, but by providing a variety of options, we ensure that we are better positioned to support youth when they need it most. I urge each of us, on this Pink Shirt Day, to take the time to consider how we can support and lift each other up. Remember, a little kindness and compassion can go a long way. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 117-19(2): Youth Mental Health Supports
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Hay River South.

Addictions
Members' Statements

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Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, I speak about addictions and mental health. I was going to start by citing statistics. However, we need to hear real-life situations if we want to really understand the issues and develop workable and respectful solutions.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk about Jane, a fictional name of a young Aboriginal lady who was raised in a loving and caring family. At the young age of 16, she lost her way and began to hang around with others who found themselves in a similar situation. Drugs and alcohol appeared to be the solution to dull the pain of not fitting in to societal norms or the constant pressure from family to do well in school. Although she was strong academically, Jane never completed high school but went on to work for minimum wage in the retail sector. Jane did settle down some in her early 20's, had children with a man she soon left due to an abusive and toxic relationship. She again turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. This time she could not break the cycle of addiction. It was fortunate that her family stood by her and took custody of the children. Jane does see her children from time to time, but continues in another abusive relationship. If nothing is done to change it, she will be found dead at the hands of the person she is with.

Mr. Speaker, another person, I will call him Richard, recently finished high school. During his time in high school, he was bullied, turned to drugs, and became somewhat of a loner. Richard lives in a single-parent home where his addiction became drugs and gaming. He basically locks himself in his room and only associates with those who are also lost in a system that is not meant to inspire those who are not adhering to societal norms. Richard and his friends, some of whom are aging out of foster care, will most likely find themselves in the street, homeless, without support, and potentially end up as a statistic. Richard's parent is concerned that there are a number of at-risk-youth who are living in situations that provide them only one path, and that path is addictions, living with unchecked mental health issues and homelessness.

Mr. Speaker, Jane and Richard are only two of the many youth between the ages of 18 and 25 in similar situations. They and many others need this government's immediate support before we are asked to cover their funeral costs. Thank you Mr. Speaker.

Addictions
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Hay River South. Members' statements. Member for Deh Cho.

Alcohol Addiction
Members' Statements

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Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Alcoholism is one of the most common addictions in the Northwest Territories. Alcohol can be found from many sources. Where there is a will, there is a way, so the saying goes. The social acceptance of drinking can often lead to denial, and if left untreated, can have severe consequences.

Mr. Speaker, alcohol is one of the leading causes for family breakdowns that hurt not only the adults involved but also the children. Alcoholism has seen many good men make decisions that lead them to destruction and jail and, sadly, even death.

Mr. Speaker, many youth and young men across our territory have fallen to peer pressure and have taken up the bottle, and sadly, there goes any hope we had of grooming the young to be the next leaders of our communities. We feel as though we are losing the battle to combat alcohol and alcoholism in our communities. There are too many forces working against us. The well-intentions of a few community members, the very community members that may, in time, face burnout and fatigue. We have to be mindful of the fact that alcoholism-related diseases are stressing out our already stretched healthcare system.

Mr. Speaker, there are many ways this government can assist communities to address the ongoing problems with alcoholism. This government has the resources to assist the communities in addressing this addiction. I will have questions for the Minister of Health at the appropriate time. Mahsi.

Alcohol Addiction
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Deh Cho. Members' statements. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.

Mental Health
Members' Statements

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Steve Norn Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Marsi cho, Mr. Speaker. I just want to acknowledge Pink Shirt Day. I'm glad to see we're all wearing pink today and talk about mental health a little bit. I want to say that kindness, love, and support must shine through to fight these issues. I just heard a couple of my colleagues talk about crime and whatnot, so I'm going to segue into that.

Mr. Speaker, I last spoke about the Affirmative Action Policy and the hiring practices in November. At the time, I spoke of policy shortfalls, specifically Ministerial appointments, GNWT hiring practices. Today, I'd like to talk about individuals with criminal records and how they need to be given consideration when being hired. Many of us in this room are aware there are very high crime rates in the NWT, and it's even more magnified in our smaller communities.

Mr. Speaker, in my time working in the diamond mines, I was involved in community work, public relations, and worked with Indigenous governments. I worked closely with HR personnel promoting the product and actively seeking out any potential people interested in working at the time. One common barrier that we saw is that many of the interested candidates had criminal records.

Mr. Speaker, many industries that work in the North now know that our small population limits the available talent. As such, many skilled workers come from south of the border. One common-sense approach I observed was individuals who had a criminal record were assessed on a case-by-case basis by an HR team. These teams use their discretion before we had to make sure that there were no serious crimes against the person or serious property crimes.

Mr. Speaker, sometimes, we had to work with individuals who worked in smaller communities to help them get pardons for past offences. It should not be a barrier if one wants to work in the public service. I do support firm rules, though, when it comes to working with our vulnerable populations, and I don't expect that we stray from that. I fully support anyone who has paid their debts to society who are genuinely trying to make strides to better themselves. Everyone deserves a second chance. Marsi cho, Mr. Speaker, and I will have questions for the Minister of Finance at the appropriate time.

Mental Health
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh. Members' statements. Member for Kam Lake.

Mental Health and Addictions
Members' Statements

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Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Mr. Speaker, today marks 30 years since an impaired driver collided with my husband's family. His brother Michael was seriously injured and medevaced to Edmonton. That's 30 years since doctors prepared my in-laws for the worst: first, that Michael would not make it through the night; then the week; and then, that he would never walk or talk again. This community rallied behind their family for an entire year while Michael recovered in the Edmonton Children's Hospital. He made it through the night, the week, defied the odds, and started over at five years, one month, and 28 days old. The North wrapped itself around my in-laws as it does to support victims and survivors. That day, Michael, having never touched drugs or alcohol, was the victim of addiction.

There are two other victims in this tragedy. The vehicle that hit their family had both a passenger and a driver. They, too, are victims of addiction and trauma, but they did not receive the same wraparound care required to heal. Faceless victims struggle every day through mental health and addiction in our vast territory with limited community, regional, or capital-based support services. If NWT mental health and addiction rates match the number of breast cancer patients, we would call this an emergency. If the NWT COVID deaths matched the people we lose to mental health and addiction annually, we would call this an emergency. An emergency is defined as unexpected, and we are not in an unexpected place. We are at a time of intense difficulty, Mr. Speaker, and that is called a crisis.

Michael's journey led to change. He inspired the NWT's Students Against Drinking and Driving chapter. Students rallied to create awareness, and Michael's peers were change-makers who lobbied this GNWT for impaired driving legislative changes. The fight against impaired driving doesn't rest on planning a drive home, and the ring is not solely the driver's seat. The fight against impaired driving is equally routed in how we proactively heal our territory.

Michael was a victim with an entire community supporting his recovery, but victims of mental health and addiction who fall into the faceless cycles that weave through our territory need clear paths to gain sobriety and then stay sober with the same wraparound care we afford to those with physical injuries. Some fight a silent battle while others fight a violent battle, and sadly, some lose this battle. If we are not outraged, Mr. Speaker, we are not paying attention.

Mental Health and Addictions
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Kam Lake. Members' statements. Member for Thebacha.