Minister admits Ottawa takes ‘a long time’ to set up suicide hotline

The federal minister responsible for mental health policy acknowledges that it is taking “a long time” for her government to set up a new three-digit national suicide prevention hotline.

Carolyn Bennett, the Minister for Mental Health and Addictions, declined to say on Monday whether the project could take months or even years longer.

She said the project may first be made available to urban Canadians due to technological barriers in rural areas.

His comments came 500 days after MPs unanimously agreed the government must act immediately to bring in the 3-digit service.

“Five hundred days is a long time,” Bennett said, “but even getting 911 in rural Canada was very difficult. Canada is a very diverse country in terms of technology and communications infrastructure. “

Todd Doherty, the Tory MP who tabled the motion to set up the helpline in the House of Commons, called the delay an “insult” to people struggling with mental health issues.

“Five hundred days of delay is unreasonable, unnecessary and unacceptable,” he said in a press release Monday.

The government, Doherty and mental health professionals all agree that a three-digit suicide prevention hotline could help people in crisis access existing mental health services.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) launched consultations on the project last June. The comment period has been extended until mid-March this year after some members of the deaf and hard of hearing community asked to comment in sign language.

Ottawa waiting for CRTC, says Bennett

In a statement to CBC News, the CRTC said it is currently analyzing submissions and is not providing a timeline for its decisions.

“I think we’ll be waiting for the CRTC’s assessment on this in terms of what’s possible and effective,” Bennett said at a news conference Monday at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto. She announced that CAMH and 13 distress centers across the country were receiving more than $3.7 million in new funding – part of a $50 million package announced in the 2020 Fall Economic Statement. .

Bennett said the timeline for the project depends in part on the CRTC’s findings.

“They may well tell us we can do urban sooner, which happened with 911, but we’ll wait to see their assessment,” she said.

Conservative MP Todd Doherty was the driving force in the House of Commons behind the proposed suicide hotline. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Bennett suggested that other countries are also struggling to set up suicide hotlines in a timely manner.

The United States is implementing a 3-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline which should be operational in June. But concerns have emerged about that timeline. A New York Times report suggested the hotline may not have enough staff to keep up with demand, which could lead to millions of distraught Americans hanging up without getting help.

While various reports suggest an increase in the number of calls to distress centers in Canada during the pandemic, other data suggests that the suicide rate has decreased.

A report concluded that Canada’s suicide death rate has declined – from 10.82 deaths per 100,000 people in the period just before the pandemic to 7.34 per 100,000 from March 2020 to February 2021.

Another suggested analysis there were no significant changes in the frequency of suicidal thoughts among Canadian adults between 2019 and 2020.

Bennett, Doherty and others say they still believe the 3-digit hotline is necessary.

“We, too, see it as a really important and essential service,” Bennett said.

Where to get help

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only)

In Quebec (French): Quebec Association for the Prevention of Suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), live chat at

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis center