Mr. Wajid Khan (Mississauga—Streetsville, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, last summer the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health announced Canada's first ever Mental Health Commission. Mental health groups from across the country gave an enthusiastic welcome to this long overdue action to help some of the most vulnerable in our society.
Those who failed Canadians sit on the benches on that side of the House. After years of struggling in the shadows under the previous government, individuals and families dealing with mental health issues can finally count on help from this federal government.
Could the Minister of Health inform the House on how this Conservative government is keeping its promise to help Canadians?
Hon. Tony Clement (Minister of Health and Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, let me first thank the hon. member for an excellent question. I would say to the House that even in good economic times there are those at risk of being left behind, but Canadians are guided by the values of compassion, kindness and generosity. That is why we created the Mental Health Commission in the first place.
That is why the Minister of Finance, demonstrating those important values himself, announced funding in budget 2008 for the commission to establish five pilot projects across the country to help show the way on how we can help those who are homeless and suffering from mental illness.
I heard Clement's response before visiting the MHCC website and was immediately struck by Clement's associating mental illness with homelessness.
'Homelessness' would be better defined as 'houselessness'. There are those who are labelled homeless who have chosen not to be surrounded by bricks and mortar. Are they therefore mentally ill because they have chosen differently?
Then people who have not chosen houselessness may legitimately feel depressed, stressed, and anxiety-prone. But should that basic, normal survival response be labelled as mental illness? The cynical answer is Yes - for the sake of a robust mental health industry.
One of the many houseless women I met through my work with WISE described how she'd lived for 30 years. It was near the top of a mountain in the Yukon, in a tiny one-room shack whose walls and roof were of ill-fitting timber and other natural products, whose washing facilities and toilet was nature itself, and a shovel. She cooked by fire and whatever food needed storing she kept frozen in snow or dried. Nature was her food source.
Each morning this woman, Anne, stepped out from her home on the mountain and saw nature's expanse laid out before her. "I felt so rich," she told me, with a sigh and eyes warming in remembrance.
Another woman, also from the Yukon, was still houseless - and loving it. The owner of a large acreage had allowed her to set up her tent on a small section of the property. This gave her an address and with that, she was able to obtain part-time employment. The job was just a few hours per week, but that's all she wanted. It was her sole source of income and brought in $6,000 per year. According to her, with that $6K she had more than enough to live the life she wanted. She'd equipped her well-insulated tent with a cookstove and had use of the main house's bathroom facilities.
The first time I saw this woman, Barbara, she'd come to participate in our Scarlet Letter Campaign workshop. She arrived on her scooter, dressed up in full black leather and helmet. She didn't look 'poor'. Her clothing was high-quality, bought at used clothing outlets, and she carried herself with confidence.
These women take a different view of life than the larger society which surrounds them. The first - whose poems have been published and won awards - now lives in Kamloops and misses her life in the Yukon. Now she's on the system, has been diagnosed with a mental illness, etc., etc., etc. The second woman gets a kick out of baffling people. She too gets stereotyped and has been labelled mentally ill.
How these women got to their houseless state is one question, but it's not the most important one. The most important question is how they choose to continue their life. Ancillary questions are how society judges the women's choices, by what right it does so, and how it treats the women who make them.
NB: The names are fictitious.
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