Canadian community declares suicide emergency

2016-04-11 22:51
Canadian Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau. (Nicholas Kamm, AFP)

Canadian Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau. (Nicholas Kamm, AFP)

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Toronto - A remote Canadian aboriginal community of 2 000 has declared a state of emergency after 11 people attempted suicide over the weekend.

Christina Lazarova, a spokesperson for Canada's health minister, said on Monday there were four suicide attempts on Friday and seven on Saturday in the Ontario community of Attawapiskat. She said there were 26 attempts in March and 86 since September. There has been at least one death.

On Twitter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the news "heartbreaking" and said the government will work to improve living conditions for all indigenous peoples. Two mental health workers have arrived in the community, and three more were expected on Monday.

Assembly of First Nations chief Perry Bellegarde said the situation is too common in indigenous communities and that they need a sustained commitment to address long-standing issues that lead to hopelessness. He noted that the Pimicikamak Cree Nation in Manitoba declared a state of emergency last month in response to youth suicide.

Attawapiskat resident Jackie Hookimaw said her 13-year-old great niece, Sheridan, took her own life in October after struggling with multiple health conditions and school bullying. She said the latest round of youth suicide attempts started with Sheridan's death. Sheridan's peers didn't have the support they needed to manage their grief, Hookimaw said.

The local federal Member of Parliament, Charlie Angus, said northern communities aren't given the resources they need to deal with complicated grief. He called the wave of suicide attempts a "rolling nightmare".

Trudeau has promised to improve conditions for Canada's indigenous peoples. Chiefs have often complained about a lack of money for tribal education and the poor conditions of reserves. Many young indigenous people are angered by the disparities between their standard of living and that of the rest of Canada.

"To truly improve the wellness of indigenous peoples, we must focus our efforts on improving the socio-economic conditions they face," Health Minister Jane Philpott said in a statement on Monday.

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