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Suicide prevention hotline consultation drags on

Doherty, Conservatives, call on Liberals to make hotline "top priority"
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Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty

More than a year after Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty's call to establish the service won the House of Commons' unanimous approval, an ending appears to be in sight for a long-running consultation on how best to implement a 988 suicide prevention hotline. 

Doherty's motion to take “immediate action” was passed in December 2020. 

In the aftermath, the item was sent off to the Canada Radio-telecommunications and Television Commission to seek comment on a series of issues, many of them technical.

Among them is whether to move to 10-digit local dialing in all areas of the country as 988 has been used as a prefix in certain area codes. 988 is preferred because that will be the same number for a similar service scheduled to be live in the United States by July 16.

The CRTC's consultation first began on June 3, 2021 with a deadline of Sept. 1 2021 for submissions and Oct. 1, 2021 for replies.

But due to an apparent oversight, the process hit a snag. In August 2021, a coalition of advocates for the deaf and hard of hearing requested that the notice be provided in sign language and that it accept submissions in the same format through video.

In answer, the CRTC agreed to take the step and while also revising the deadline for comments to January 31 and giving participants until March 17 to submit responses. As of the first deadline, 254 comments had been submitted.

To mark the January 31 deadline, the Conservatives issued a statement calling on the Liberal government to make the hotline a "top priority." 

"We are calling on the Trudeau government to publicly commit to a timeline and ensure every possible resource under its direction is made available to guarantee a national three-digit suicide prevention hotline is implemented without further delay,"  said Mike Lake, Conservative critic for mental health, addictions, and suicide prevention.

As of January 31, it had been 416 days and counting since Doherty's motion had passed.

Particularly given the mental health concerns brought on by the pandemic, Doherty expressed urgency for getting the hotline in place.

"Let's get it done," he said from Ottawa last week, and added it's a "non-partisan" issue.

In a response, federal Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions said the government remains committed to "fully funding" the initiative and noted that the 2019 budget included $25 million over five years to get the service up and running.

"We continue to monitor the CRTC’s progress and ongoing work to make this service accessible, including for Canadians with disabilities. We understand the urgency of implementing this crisis line and we will ensure we get it right," the ministry said.