When Tristen Durocher found out the suicide prevention bill had passed, he was hesitant to celebrate too early.
“I wanted to know if it passed in its original form without a bunch of amendments,” he said. “I learned that it did and I was happy.”
The suicide prevention bill was tabled by Saskatchewan NDP MLA and critic for mental health and addictions Doyle Vermette. He presented it to the provincial government in 2018 and 2019 but it was turned down both times.
Vermette again presented the bill to the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly on April 30, 2021, where it unanimously passed. It was a victory many who took part in last summer’s movement embraced.
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“It was very surprising and very unexpected,” Durocher said. “It shows that there was enough impact [last] summer in the public space to get enough people caring about this issue.”
Durocher led a movement last summer that brought attention to the issue of suicide in northern Saskatchewan. He and a group calling themselves Walking With Our Angels trekked 635 km from Air Ronge in northern Saskatchewan to Regina’s Wascana park across from the Legislative Building.
He set up a tipi camp and embarked on a 44-day fast to represent the 44 Saskatchewan Party MLAs who voted down the suicide prevention bill in 2018 and 2019. For years, Vermette advocated for the implementation of a suicide prevention strategy in the province. It was a win for everyone, as he says.
“This is just one of many steps needed to start to combat this crisis. We know that suicide and mental health is a leading contributing factor to Indigenous deaths in this province, especially in the North among our youth and we need to move quickly on this,” Vermette says, according to a media release from April 30th.
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“Now we need to ensure that this government follows through and begins to consult with those on the ground and gets the ball rolling on this as soon as possible.”
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It is something that Durocher will continue to observe as he watches how the provincial government will address suicides in northern Saskatchewan.
“I’m hoping with the right consultation and with the right care providers giving the support and the help they need, they could make a lot of change to happen,” Durocher said. “I’m glad this is a step in that direction.”
Durocher connected with Vermette following news of The Saskatchewan Strategy for Suicide Prevention Act, 2021, Bill 601, passing and did not expect to hear Vermette’s response to his contribution.
“[Vermette] said that he believes that the walk had a lot to do with the [bill passing],” says Durocher. “He said ‘congratulations and thank you’ when I wanted to answer the phone and say ‘congratulations and thank you.’”
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The bill mandates the ministry of health to begin consultations with appropriate stakeholders and other relevant groups within 180 days of coming into force. The ministry of health is also mandated to establish a suicide prevention strategy and an annual report to record the progress and what is still required from the ministry.
Some of those requirements include providing guidelines to improve suicide awareness and knowledge, make suicide data and risk factors available, collaborate together to find solutions, best practices, and promotion for the prevention of suicide.
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