Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

MP Doherty questions need for consultation on 988 suicide prevention hotline

It's been 466 days and counting since House of Commons passed motion, leaving Doherty frustrated

Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty was in anything but a celebratory mood when consultation on establishing a three-digit suicide prevention hotline recently passed a milestone.

Nearly nine months after it began, the process of providing public comments to Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on the matter ended March 17. 

The news prompted the Conservative MP to condemn the slow progress since his private members bill in support of a 988 hotline won unanimous support in the House of Commons.

"We are at 466 days since the motion passed December 11th of 2020 and if we use the stats that we know about, 11 Canadians die by suicide per day. That's 5,126 Canadians who've died by suicide," Doherty said Tuesday. "275 Canadians attempt every day and just using those numbers alone, that's 128,000 attempts in 466 days.

"We know that COVID has caused a mental health crisis too, so those numbers are likely higher. It's absolutely shameful that it's taken this long."

No until six months after MPs passed the motion did the CRTC issue a call for comments. 

Then the deadlines for submissions were delayed another 5 1/2 months after the CRTC agreed partway to issue the notice in sign language and to accept submissions in the same format through video.

Doherty questioned the need to take the matter to the CRTC in the first place.

"For what reason? The last time this question was posed to the CRTC in 2006, they said it wasn't needed. Instead, they took the number that was going to be designated and turned it into a weather information line," Doherty said.

A decision posted in July 2006 on the CRTC website confirms Doherty's statement.

The CRTC went on to suggest 1-800-SUICIDE as an alternative, noting its use in British Columbia, part of Quebec, and the United States and "is currently available for use in the remainder of Canada, should other suicide prevention centres choose to use it."

It also suggested piggybacking on the 211 information and referral service as a possibility.

In a posting on the current consultation, the CRTC acknowledged the value of a 988 hotline: "When a person is in a mental health crisis situation, remembering or finding the correct seven- or ten-digit number can be especially daunting, and can prevent a person from receiving the assistance they may urgently need." 

In the United States, a 988 suicide prevention hotline will be online by July, the CRTC also noted.

But it said a review is needed, in part because a similar service is available through various "N11 codes" and so "could be subject to the same regulatory framework."

It also noted that 988 has been used as a central office code in certain area codes in Canada, such that its use as a three-digit code requires ten-digit local dialing.

"With seven-digit local dialing, once a central office code is dialed, the switches are programmed to receive an additional four digits, and calls dialed with less than seven digits will not complete. There is already mandatory ten-digit local dialing in the majority of area codes in Canada.

"While seven-digit local dialing is still the norm in certain areas, ten-digit local dialing is in the process of being implemented, is scheduled to be implemented, or will be scheduled to be implemented in the near future, in some of these areas."

Currently, the Canadian Suicide Prevention Service, which can be reached at 1-833-456-4566, offers bilingual voice support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and text support provided through a short code (45645) in English from 1 p.m. to 9 a.m. Pacific time.

By the end of the comments period, the CRTC had received 254 submissions. It will be some time yet before a decision is issued.

"Now that the public record has closed, we are analyzing the comments and evidence that were submitted during the consultation. We do not have a timeline for the decision at this point yet," a CRTC spokesperson said in an email to the Citizen.