Canadian Veterans Advocacy

Friday, October 31, 2014

New announcement: Soldiers, veterans worried about Cirillo's benefits

Soldiers, veterans worried about Cirillo's benefits

David Pugliese More from David Pugliese
Published on: October 31, 2014Last Updated: October 31, 2014 6:09 PM EDT

Some veterans and serving soldiers are worried that Cpl. Nathan Cirillo may not receive the same medals and his family may not get the same death benefits as regular force military personnel or those who die fighting overseas.

They say that Cirillo died in the defence of his country, but unlike a regular force soldier, his status as a reservist on duty in Canada could mean fewer benefits for his family.

Cirillo, from Hamilton, was gunned down at the National War Memorial in Ottawa while serving as an honour guard. The attacker then rushed to Parliament Hill, where he was killed by security.

Days before that attack, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53, a regular force soldier, died after being deliberately struck by a vehicle in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. The driver, a known supporter of extreme Islamist causes, was shot to death by police.

"We've had concerns a long time now about the second-class treatment of reservists," said Mike Blais, a retired army member who helps run Canadian Veterans Advocacy. "(Cirillo) and his family should be accorded the full rights and entitlements, as if he were killed in a war zone."

Serving soldiers, who asked that their names not be published, have sent emails to the Citizen raising concerns that Cirillo and his family may be treated differently in terms of benefits because he is a reserve soldier.

Ottawa lawyer Michel Drapeau said he doesn't know about Cirillo's specific case but noted that part-time soldiers in positions such as honour guards at the war memorial are usually considered "Class A" reservists. Because of that, they and their survivors receive significantly fewer benefits than a regular force soldier, he added.

The family of regular force personnel who die are eligible for a supplementary death benefit, whether in Canada or overseas, said Drapeau, a retired colonel.

Reservists operating in what is known as a Class C position, such as those who went to Afghanistan, also qualify for that benefit, which is equal to twice the military member's salary.

Reservists who are not Class C can be eligible for a "death gratuity," according to Canadian Forces regulations. "In the case of a member who dies or is presumed dead, a one time payment shall be made based on a period of 20 months at the basic rate for a member of the Regular Force of the same rank and classification or trade group," the regulations note.

Johanna Quinney, spokeswoman for Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, said the thoughts and prayers of the government are with the family and friends of Vincent and Cirillo.

"The Departments of National Defence and Veterans Affairs have been directed to make the entire suite of benefits and programs available to ensure the Veteran and the Veterans dependent family are supported during this difficult time and in the years to come," Quinney stated in an email. "Due to privacy we cannot speak about specific benefits or services that will be provided."

In her email, she also included website links to the overall benefits available to veterans and soldiers. It is unclear from those websites what, exactly, Cirillo would qualify for.

Blais said it is bizarre that the government is claiming it can't release details of compensation or benefits.

"We have Prime Minister Harper at the (Cirillo) funeral saying he is going to recognize the sacrifice. Well, let's see it," said Blais. "Cirillo should be accorded full benefits."

Some veterans have also raised concerns that neither Cirillo or Vincent would qualify for a Sacrifice Medal.

The Sacrifice Medal was created because of increased casualties in overseas operations and is meant to recognize those who die as a result of military service or are wounded by hostile action. The medal may be awarded to members of the Canadian Forces and civilian government employees "on the condition that they were deployed as part of a military mission" and have "died or been wounded under honourable circumstances as a direct result of hostile action," the military has noted in its criteria for the medal.

The medal may also be awarded to regular and reserve force members who died "as a result of an injury or disease related to military service."

Drapeau said the military could easily make the decision to award Sacrifice Medals to Cirillo and Vincent. In the past, such medals have been awarded to families of Afghan veterans, suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome, but who committed suicide in Canada.

"It is a policy written by some bureaucrat somewhere," he explained. "It can be changed at a moment's notice."

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‘They’re hoping for us to die’

'They're hoping for us to die'

By Roberta Bell, Orillia Packet & Times

Thursday, October 30, 2014 8:31:18 EDT PM


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The federal government has pledged to make upgrades to the veterans charter, but "they're certainly not breaking their back ..." says one local Second World War veteran.

Bud Weeks said the feds' treatment of veterans has improved since he returned to Canada in 1946 after serving four years overseas, but it's almost come too late.

"If we'd had some of this help, some of it, back about 40 years ago, it would have helped immensely," the Orillia man said.
In October, the Conservative government agreed to implement 14 recommendations to strengthen the charter, made by the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs in June.

The charter was introduced in 2006 and amended in 2011.

It was only after the 2011 amendment Weeks was granted compensation for the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) he has lived with for more than 60 years.

Weeks landed in France 48 days after the Normandy invasion. He came dangerously close to suffering the same fate as the 20 or so Canadian soldiers who were infamously murdered by the SS at Ardenne Abbey in 1944. He said he was captured by the same SS division that shot those soldiers in the back of their heads and was spared only because an ordinary German soldier threw him down a flight of stairs at the last minute.

"It was one hell of a feeling with that SS bugger behind me taking his pistol out of his holster," Weeks said.

"I can remember every … darn minute of it and every thing else," he said.

Weeks first applied for compensation in 2007, after he realized soldiers returning from Afghanistan were being awarded it, but was told he didn't qualify.

"I just got a letter back saying it wasn't covered. That was it. That was the end of it. So, I let it go," he said.

Ramara Township resident Harold Rowden was among the soldiers who stormed Juno Beach on D-Day. He said he only began receiving compensation for PTSD in 2012.

"They're just hoping for us old farts to die and then they won't have to pay nothing," he said.

Rowden feels the government's treatment of veterans has improved in recent years, but, like Weeks, he was frustrated by earlier experiences while seeking compensation.

He survived the D-Day invasion only to be knocked unconscious a few weeks later in a barrage of enemy artillery fire. He woke up in a hospital with one of his legs mangled.

"When I came back from overseas, I was assessed. I think they called my wound a 3% wound," Rowden said. "They didn't give you a pension unless you were 5%."

Rowden received a letter from the government in 1967 telling him his services were worth $150 and sent him a cheque.

"Wasn't that damn decent?" he said.


Before 2006, any kind of disability pension was provided under the Pension Act, including pensions for post-military service, said Simcoe North Conservative MP Bruce Stanton.

"The New Veterans Charter was brought in to overhaul that and to try to improve and address the varied complaints they received about the limitations in the Pension Act," he said.

When asked why Weeks was given the runaround when he sought compensation, Veterans Affairs Canada declined to comment.

However, Janice Summerby, the department's media relations adviser, said in an email the federal government agrees with "the spirit and intent of the majority of the of the recommendations" made in June.

When asked what recommendations the government didn't agree with, Veterans Affairs again declined to comment.

The recommendations came following another review of the veterans charter. The focus of the review was on the delivery of programs and supports, including financial ones, for the most seriously disabled veterans and their families.

Implementing the recommendations will be done in phases.

"The first phase of the government's formal response to the committee report includes ensuring that Canadian Armed Forces personnel are medically stable before they transition to civilian life …" Summerby said in the email.

When asked if former officers were previously reintegrated into society unstable, the department again declined to comment.

As part of the first phase of implementation, the number of counselling sessions available to veterans' families will be doubled, Summerby said.

She said the government will reduce the amount of red tape around processing benefit applications.

The department did not provide a timeline for implementing the recommendations.

The federal government's "benefits and investments for veterans have increased by more than $4.7 billion since 2006," Summerby said in her email.

Stanton said the government "knows and understands" Canada owes its veterans everything.

"We really cannot do enough for them for what they did for us. That's the sort of jumping-off point that we begin with," Stanton said. "Each and every case that a veteran brings to us, we have to take up with the greatest degree of interest and attention and compassion. Where that does not happen, we need to find out about it and do what we can to make it right."


Although the government accepted the recommendations, there are veterans' organizations that still have concerns.

There are three major issues the Royal Canadian Legion says still need to be resolved.

Two pertain to perceived inadequacies with the earnings-loss benefit, a monthly sum that currently raises veterans' total incomes to at least 75% of their pre-release military salaries.

The legion said the figure should be higher for former officers and reservists.

The legion also said the disability awarded to soldiers must be raised so it is consistent with damages awarded to injured civilian workers in courts.

Jack Gillard, president of the Orillia Army Navy Air Force Club, attended the veterans' organization's Dominion Command meeting shortly after the recommendations came down.

Gillard said he hasn't heard negative feedback in response to the proposed changes from local veterans but noted working with the government to rejig the charter is "an ongoing thing."

"They still haven't fully listened, but strong voices have been talking to them in the past few years," Gillard said.

The Army Navy Air Force Club recommended compensation reservists get while serving with regular forces be upgraded, Gillard said, as well as enhanced coverage of funeral costs.

Both are being looked at, he added.

"We would not be where we are today had it not been for the many who gave the final sacrifice for the benefits and freedoms that we have today," Gillard said. "And I think that is the most important part …"

— With files from QMI Agency

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Julian Fantino: 2014 annus horribilis

Julian Fantino: 2014 annus horribilis

Veterans have become less amused as Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino's tenure unfolded. The contrasts with his predecessor, Steven Blaney, are stark.
Published: Monday, 10/06/2014 12:00 am EDT

NIAGARA FALLS, ONT.— Without doubt, 2013-2014 was a terrible first year for Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino. The fledgling minister immediately endeared himself with the veterans' community, penning a widely-distributed editorial saying that he too was a veteran. Fantino declared, erroneously, that he had smelt gunpowder, been in the trenches, invoking images of Canada's stellar military history without ever swearing allegiance to the Queen or donning the uniform graced with traditions that pre-date Confederation.

Veterans were not amused.

Veterans became less amused as Fantino's tenure unfolded. The contrasts with his predecessor, Steven Blaney, were stark. Blaney understood the obligation, was eager to engage veterans' stakeholders in dialogue and encouraged collective discussions through the enforcement of mandated bi-annual departmental stakeholder meetings. Blaney promoted inclusiveness, accessibility. Fantino, conversely, is seldom accessible and prefers exclusion over inclusion. The departmental stakeholder meetings his predecessor encouraged and often attended have been abandoned. Not one single departmental stakeholders meeting has been convened since Fantino was appointed.

The singular ministerial meeting held in early October 2013, was nearly derailed when Fantino's exclusionary policies forbade the stakeholders to have observers present. Gordon Moore, then president of the Royal Canadian Legion, arrived with Brad White, Dominion secretary. An ultimatum was delivered. Either White attends or the Royal Canadian Legion would not attend the meeting.

Fantino blinked. The Dominion secretary was allowed access, but other than the Canadian Veterans Advocacy, none of the other organizations present had an observer. Not that it would matter, the meeting was designed to introduce the new minister to the stakeholders, provide a recycled brief of the New Veterans Charter and engage in general discussion that was very interesting, but really served no purpose because a year later, no changes of significance have been implemented.

Fantino did, however, take the opportunity to announce that the Harper government would appeal a favourable ruling for wounded veterans before the B.C. Supreme Court (Equitas Lawsuit) regarding their quest for equality to the Pension Act. Equality was denied when the Harper government enacted the New Veterans Charter in 2006, creating a second class of veteran just as Canadian participation in the Afghanistan war entered the combat phase of a mission that would ravage the nation of 150 valiant lives and account for thousands of injuries and wounds. The government will argue it has no sacred obligation and no social contact with those who have sacrificed dearly under Harper's stewardship of the war.

It is virtually impossible for a minister to effectively manage such an important portfolio when he is absent from Ottawa/Charlottetown so often and for prolonged periods of time. The complexity of the Veterans Affairs Canada portfolio and the increasing obligation to the wounded being medically released from the Forces after 12 years of war must take priority over ceremonial events. Despite raising public awareness of the severe problems veterans are confronting and the oft-catastrophic consequences, Fantino appears more focused on attending ceremonies celebrating, at tens of millions of dollars, the war of 1812 and anniversaries of battles from World War I and World War II.

No novice minister of Veterans Affairs has embraced the role of Canada's ceremonial figurehead with such zeal. Within the course of a single year, Fantino traversed the globe. He went to Hong Kong, Korea, Italy, France, the United States, Cyprus, and Belgium and there was even time for a trip to the Vatican. A recent domestic cross-country tour presenting minister's commendations and awards to Canada's surviving World War II veterans in tightly-controlled photo opportunities have added significantly to the minister's ever-growing air miles card.

When the minister is in Ottawa, veterans have not fared well. Fantino has done very little on the portfolio other than perform his duties to slash his department's budget with characteristic unwavering loyalty to the Conservative fiscal line. Last fall, a "comprehensive" review was initiated on the New Veterans Charter with promises that the sacred obligation inadequacies would be addressed.

Fantino will be tabling the departmental response in early October. Considering the Conservative-dominated committee's recommendations, it is unlikely that the wounded seeking equality for their sacrifice to the Pension Act provisions will be satisfied or that Memorial Cross Widows currently living in poverty due to exclusion from the NVC's anti-poverty/earnings loss benefits will be provided respite.

Who will forget how ineptly Fantino handled the closures of several Veterans Affairs district offices located across the nation. Remarkably, the restrictions of services provided the catalyst for hundreds of veterans in the affected regions to protest the closures through local public assemblies. A representative delegation of veterans travelled to Ottawa in January 2015 to encourage Fantino to repeal this policy with the understanding that many Afghan war veterans will soon be medically released into these communities and will require direct assistance, and not a 1-800 number to a contracted entity

The delegation included veterans from World War II to Afghanistan, expanding the level of community discord and derision beyond those affected by the substandard policies of the New Veterans Charter. It will be some time before Canadians dismiss the images of an arrogant minister snapping at a World War II veteran Roy Fields who, chest adorned with campaign medals denoting this nation's proud history, had the audacity to declare the minister's excuses hogwash while raising his index finger to make the point.


Perhaps an apt description of the minister's performance considering the profound level of disrespect demonstrated and the direct consequences, a decorated United Nations veteran bolting from the room in frustrated tears. Let us not forget, the minister for Veterans Affairs duty is to serve veterans, not to bully and berate them.

Michael L. Blais is president and founder of the Canadian Veterans Advocacy.

The Hill Times

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

New announcement: From soldier to champion for mental health

From soldier to champion for mental health

Charlie Fidelman, Montreal Gazette More from Charlie Fidelman, Montreal Gazette
Published on: October 30, 2014Last Updated: October 30, 2014 9:34 AM EDT

Stéphane Grenier stepped off a Hercules aircraft under a blast of gunfire with the Canadian peacekeeping forces during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. That, recalled the retired lieutenant-colonel, "was the beginning of the rest of my life."

He became addicted to the adrenalin of dangerous war zones and peace missions — Afghanistan, Cambodia, Kuwait and Haiti to name a few — anything was better than home. Civilians, he felt, couldn't relate to soldiers returning from war-torn areas with a combination of grief, stress, trauma and depression.

After struggling alone with undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder, Grenier transformed himself from a suicidal soldier to a champion for mental health. Before he left the army in 2012 following 29 years of service, he had already spent a decade developing peer support and education programs for the military.

Grenier then developed a federal accreditation program for corporate peer-based mental health, supported by the Mental Health Commission of Canada; he says he is obsessed about changing the current workplace approach.

Grenier will be speaking Thursday at 7 p.m. at Oscar Peterson Concert Hall, at an event sponsored by AMI-Québec, a non-profit organization that offers support to families dealing with mental illness.

Grenier spoke to the Montreal Gazette. The interview has been edited for space.

Q: The military has been criticized for its effort in rehabilitating soldiers. Suicide claims more soldiers than Afghanistan. What's your take?

A: The military is having problems because it lacks innovation in the field of mental health services. I don't want to give the impression that psychiatry is a thing of the past — absolutely not. I still see a psychiatrist and abide by my medical regime of medication. When you're sick and not feeling well, if you're really lucky you'll see mental health professional once a week … if not, maybe once a month. What happens to patients between medical appointments? They don't live in their doctors' offices. Soldiers do not suicide when seeing their therapists … it's on the streets, off bridges and hitting pillars, when they are the most isolated. What have we done to stop the isolation that happens with mental illness? According to the literature, the lack of support is the biggest risk factor in predicting who will succumb to mental illness.

Q: What do you mean by workplace mental health programs?

A: Most services are a fridge magnet and a pamphlet that refers employees to an 800 number. It's a fast-track to a mental health professional. A good thing. But unless we close the gap (between appointments) and continue to rely on professionals we will continue to fail. We've been socialized to believe that we need to keep our dirty laundry to ourselves. When I was crying in the years after Rwanda, hiding in the stalls in the bathroom, wondering what the hell was happening to me, and when colleagues asked, 'Hey, Stéphane, are you okay? You look sick.' I'd say I had allergies. Self-stigma is a chapter in itself. And your perceptions when you are suffering are totally skewed.

Q: Why is human interaction, the peer-to-peer model, so powerful?

A: I'll give you a real life example. In 2000, this Cpl. Christian McEachern in Alberta drove his SUV truck through a building on a base in despair. He got arrested, put in jail and then transferred to a psychiatric ward. At the time I had a supportive commander in Toronto. I asked for permission to visit that soldier. I'm a French Canadian, he's English; I'm Catholic, he's protestant; he's a corporal, I'm a major … in our culture we have nothing in common. I flew over. He doesn't know I'm coming. I go to the hospital and I sign him out. We spent the entire day together. A lot of moments we didn't say a word. But we bonded. With no words I know exactly what (he) was talking about. This is the essence of peer support. On the flight back, I developed a two-page proposal for the military to do what I do today for civilians.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

New announcement: Walt Natynczyk, head of the Canadian Space Agency, moves to veterans affairs

Walt Natynczyk, head of the Canadian Space Agency, moves to veterans affairs

By Peter Rakobowchuk | Oct 29, 2014 6:34 pm

pace industry officials expressed surprise Wednesday after learning that the head of the Canadian Space Agency is leaving the position after barely more than a year on the job.

Walt Natynczyk will become deputy veterans affairs minister, effective next week Monday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement.

Natynczyk had been head of the space agency since August 2013, when he replaced former Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean.

In a separate statement released by the agency, Natynczyk said it was an honour to have served as its president.

"The agency has extraordinary potential and an exciting destiny," he said. "I believe in its employees. I believe in its mission.

"Space touches every Canadian, every day of their lives. No matter where I am, I will continue to support Canada's space program."

The retired military general served as the Canadian Forces' chief of defence staff from 2008 to 2012.

Industry Minister James Moore tweeted later on Wednesday that Luc Brule, the space agency's current vice-president, will take over on an interim basis.

Iain Christie, executive vice-president of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC), expressed surprise when informed of Natynczyk's move.

"It's not something we had prior knowledge of," he told The Canadian Press in a phone interview. "But that's not unusual."

The association represents about 100 of Canada's aerospace companies, including MDA, the builders of the Canadarm; Lockheed Martin Canada Inc; Magellan Aerospace; and Telesat Canada.

But Christie, who has had extensive dealings with the space agency, also sounded a positive note.

"Having General Natynczyk there I think has been very good for the agency and we're in a much better place than we were when he was originally appointed," Christie said.

"So I'm looking forward to working with whoever the government does appoint to keep the progress moving forward."

Marc Boucher, acting president of the Canadian Space Commerce Association, described the agency post as a revolving door.

"I'm surprised and I'm disappointed," he said. "Unfortunately it seems to be a pattern where presidents of the Canadian Space Agency don't seem to last long in the job for whatever reason."

He noted that, after being on the job for less than two years, Natynczyk has left a lot to be done, adding that employees at the agency are probably scratching their heads at developments.

Boucher, whose industry group represents about 40 small and large space companies in Canada, was harshly critical of the Harper government.

"It just shows that there's a lack of support for the Canadian Space Agency and the industry as a whole," he said.

"Basically the government has just been doing the least that it can to keep things going and I don't see anything changing in the near future."

The government now has an opportunity to find a new leader who will stay for a while, he added.

"I hope they find somebody to run the Canadian Space Agency for a longer period of term who will actually be able to do something constructive."

Marc Garneau, a Liberal MP and a former CSA president, had no comment.

An aide said Canada's first astronaut would wait to see who Natynczyk's replacement would be before speaking out.

"He's holding his fire for now," the spokesman added.

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New announcement: Stigma & Mental Illness: History & Our Hope by Dr Antoon A. Leenaars

Written requested testimony/submission to the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care, Ottawa, February 2, 2012.

Stigma & Mental Illness:
History & Our Hope

Antoon A. Leenaars, Ph.D.
First Past President, Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention
Windsor, Canada

Mail: Antoon A. Leenaars, Ph.D., C.Psych.
1500 Ouellette, Suite 203
Windsor, ON
Canada N8X 1K7
Tel: (1) 519-253-9377
Fax: (1) 519-253-8486

People are generally perplexed, stressed, confused, and even experience prejudicial reactions when they are confronted by mental illness. There is a tremendous stigma attached to mental illness, psychopathology, psychiatric disorder, imbalance - whatever we may wish to call it. Mental disorders have always fascinated, yet frightened people. There is a modicum of comfort in regarding the imbalanced as "different" from the rest of us "healthy" Canadians. We see mental illness as something another person is plagued with, or punished with, or jailed for. We are not responsible! We, the sane Canadians - at least those on Parliament Hill - are immune to those sicknesses. "They" are sick, sick, sick.

"No brain, no mind" is my first premise. Mental illness is multifaceted with biological, cultural, sociological, interpersonal, intrapsychic, logical, conscious, unconscious, and philosophical elements present, in various degrees, in each incident. I do not want to be viewed as being reductionistic. Some reduce psychiatric disorders to the biological roots only. Efforts aimed at identifying the potentially mentally ill individual using demographic, social developmental and psychological factors are seen as too ephemeral to have clinical utility. It is believed that the biological perspective, which has grown out of the expanding research on the biological basis of mood disorders, is the predominant approach to research. Utilizing only this view will lead us astray, however, on the topic at hand. (Stigma and mental illness are not simply biological anomalies). Imbalance is complex, more complex than most people are aware. It is not only the brain. It is not only the mind.

My point is that the last time that I looked at my anatomy book, the brain is an organ, no different from the heart, lungs, etc. - yet, despite that obvious fact, there is enormous stigma to having an emotional disturbance, but not (or at least, less so) a kidney disturbance. That is prejudice. That is stigma. This stigma, sadly, was/is/will be suicidogenic!

A definition: Stigma is a branding, as a sign of disgrace or discredit (Oxford English Dictionary [OED], n.d.) " Stigma is a term once used to refer to a mark branded into the skin of slaves and criminals, so others would know to shun them, especially in public" (Nielson, 2011, p. 8). It is a blot, brand, disgrace, slur, stain, taint, and so on (OED).

Let us look back, to allow us to understand stigma and mental illness:
Some History on Mental Illness and Stigma

During classical Greek times, Aeschylus saw mental illness as being due to demonic possession, whereas Socrates believed that it was heaven-sent, not shameful. Hippocrates believed that psychopathology was due to natural medical causes and melancholia. Mental illness was seen differently; yet, over time, it became primarily seen as a mental (intrapsychic) problem. The person was to blame; they were sinners or criminals. Evil spirits, moral weakness, personal inferiority, and so on, caused the disorder. They were outcasts, and surely different from the majority of "moral" people. At times, they were accused of witchcraft, sorcery, devil worship, and other crimes. Stigma was well established, and still is!

There are many details to the history (Foucault, 1965; Rabkin, 1972). In the 'Western world', from 1500 to 1800 the mentally ill became to be seen very differently (Foucault, 1965). From the Middle Ages when insanity was seen as part of everyday life and "fools" and "madman" were considered part of the community, to the time when these individuals were considered a threat, asylums were built for the first time, to keep a wall between the mentally ill and the rest of humanity. The "madman", by many, was seen as a sinner or a criminal. (Of course, many people with physical illness were seen no different). By the middle to late 1800's, "insanity", especially by medicine, was believed to be inherited. A core 'medical' belief was that people with mental illnesses are genetically inferior, weak, and so on. (Again, no different from the "fact" espoused of the genetic inferiority of people with physical impairments and disabilities). Suicide was believed to be "the most hereditary type of insanity" (Colt, 1991). We, not so inflicted with bad genes, are superior. Although medicine eventually espoused that suicide was not genetically transmitted, a new stigma arose. Colt (1991) writes:
"All the superstitious fear of the queer and the mad attached itself to suicide; the instinctive withdrawal of the sane from the tainted extended itself…" wrote Henry

Fedden in Suicide. Finally, these new medical ideas hardened family prejudice against suicide: a suicide in the family became tantamount to insanity in the family, a stigma not confined to one member, but attaching jointly to the whole group of its descendants." With birth of the medical approach to suicide, the act of self-destruction was no longer viewed primarily as a sin and a crime but as something abnormal and sick" (Colt, 1991, p. 188).

Therefore, mentally ill people were still seen as abnormal, weak, and "sick". Stoff and Mann's (1997) edited volume, The Neurobiology of Suicide, begins to outline the current understanding of the neurobiology of suicide. On a critical note, however, one could see Stoff and Mann's view as being too reductionistic. They reduce suicide to only biological roots. Ironically, these biological doctors state that the earlier medical beliefs in psychiatry and psychology, that mentally ill people were genetically inferior, were based on unscientific myths. They are evidence-based. Therefore, the stigma continues.
The main finding of our historical dig is that we see ourselves as normal; and they as being abnormal. I'm ok, they are not ok! Of course, there were mental health providers and advocates who wanted to change and tear down the walls or barriers. Many of those, who themselves were accused of crimes, witchcraft, etc., and who have made a difference include: Galen, who considered psychic factors in the brain to cause mental illness; Campbell Meyers, who in 1906 started Canada's first public general hospital unit for mental illness at the Toronto General Hospital; Dorothy Dix, who began advocating in America for benevolent care; Rev. Bruce McDougall, who started the first outreach telephone crisis line, in 1963 in Sudbury, ON; and many more advocates for justice. However, even today in Canada and the U.S. there is a great deal of stigma. Hollywood gives us a window. Most of the portrayals of mental illness in film are demonizing; for example, think of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. They foster the difference, "not ok". Who can forget the portrayal of insanity and the standard of care by Nurse Ratched? The stigma of mental illness has not been eradicated! It is alive in Canada. It is a major barrier to wellness for many in Canada today.

There are, of course, many historical case examples. Given my focus on police (see Leenaars [2010], Suicide and Homicide-Suicide among Police), I will illustrate with a classic example of mental illness among police:
'Suicide in police is at epidemic levels.' These were the headlines in the New York media, 1934-1940. Ninety-three New York police officers died by suicide. Anyone who wants to know something about police and mental illness needs to know about the classic study of the great 1930's suicide epidemic in police. It was the work of Gregory Zilboorg. It still is a unique but common window to the topic of psychopathology and suicide among police. Zilboorg's work offers an avenue for an effective study of mental illness. There was enormous stigma to having a mental disorder then, which is no different from today. On this, we read:
One manner of handling the mentally or physically ill patrolman was to take him away from regular duty. This most frequently meant placing him on the duty called "raided premises," which usually consisted of guarding raided houses or hotels used by prostitutes. The purpose appeared to be that of keeping prostitutes from again inhabiting the place. The patrolman sat quietly by himself in one spot for a full eight-hour shift. In other instances, the recipient of light duty was given a simple errand or clerical job. In the case of both assignments, the average policeman felt much contempt for the job and condescending sympathy for those assigned to it. Some of our cases avoided and feared these assignments, saying, "I'll be damned if I'll cut paper dolls all day." As one said, "It's the next step to the nut house." One patrolman who felt that he was being "discriminated" against refused an inside assignment with the words, "That's no job for a man." In his disturbed behavior he thought people were claiming that he was "not a man." (Leenaars, 2010, pp 84-85).

How many Canadians feel so? Estranged?
Basic Human Rights and Standards of Care

The United Nations Working Group on the Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and for the Improvement of Mental Health Care (United Nations, UN, 1991) has offered some principles of basic human rights. The UN's first principle on basic rights has as its second clause: "2. All persons with mental illness, or who are being treated as such persons, shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person". Canadians need to adopt that principle. Furthermore, The United Nations describes standards of care: "1. Every patient shall have the right to receive such health and social care as appropriate to his or her health needs…" and "2. Every patient shall be protected from harm including unjustified medication, abuse by other patients, staff or others or other acts causing mental distress or physical discomfort". These are standards, I believe, we Canadians should hold. Stigma needs to be eradicated. It is harm.

The Standing Committee of Social Affairs, Science, and Technology's report Out of the Shadows (2006), agrees; stigma is the number one problem for people with mental illness. The Mental Health Commission of Canada has developed an anti-stigma initiative out of the report's recommendations. Yet, as Nielson (2011), a senior advisor to the Mental Health Commission, stated we need to do more: "Ultimately, the vision is to create a Canada where all citizens are supported in their efforts to be physically and mentally healthy, and where those in need of help are able to get it – and where those to whom they turn can provide it." (p.9)

My personal core belief: The only reason for stigma towards mental illness is our own anxieties! It is a defense (intrapsychic [within the mind], interpersonal, and social/cultural): denial and projection. It is bullying!

A definition: Bully is browbeat, coerce, domineer, frighten, harass, intimidate, oppress, persecute, threaten, torment, tyrannize (OED). Lindsey Leenaars and David Lester (2011) have found that individuals with significant mental health concerns are more likely to be victimized and bullied. They are not only more frequently subjected to physical and verbal bullying, but also more likely to be \ostracized, rejected, and humiliated (Leenaars & Rinaldi, 2010). However, Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist wrote: "Mr. Bumble… had a decided propensity for bullying… and, consequently, was (it is needless to say) a coward."

The Complexity of Anti-Stigma Initiatives

The complexity of our topic calls for diverse strategies. This is necessary to not only solve what is sometimes assumed to be primarily a "medical problem", but also to address the deep taboo and its stigma. Our history shows that silence was the goal. Secrecy was Canada's national strategy. It was effective. There was/is secrecy. Allow me, my example, on suicide: The recognition of suicide as a major health problem is relatively new. Marc Lalonde, the Minister of Health, had commissioned a study of public health problems in the 1970's. His White Paper (1974), as it became called, identified suicide as a major cause of early death, especially in the young. This was a surprise to most Canadians, including the government. It was/is a taboo. The deep taboo, and the associated stigma, continued and little, actually nothing was done. There was secrecy. There was silence. I believe more needs to be done about the siblings - suicide and mental illness - by the federal government, professionals, survivors, stakeholders, and the public alike to break the silence.

There are general characteristics of the Canadian system that lead to the existence of strong psychological and social taboos. These traits minimally include:
1. Secrecy. Mental illness has been and is all about secrecy, the importance of keeping our disabled, not only mentally disabled, in the home. Mental illness is believed to be a mark on the family – and all descendants. The secrecy creates, however, a culture of not knowing; there is masking or dissembling. There is deception, even self-deception. One is indoctrinated, not necessarily directly, to keep silent.
2. Appearance. It is important to keep up "appearances". Social-self (a mask) is you. The social/cultural appearance of stability and strength is everything. This belief needs to be reinforced in order to maintain the mask! There is, in fact, a huge prejudice in Canada towards imbalance, instability, mental illness, depression – and especially, suicidality.
3. Denial. Mental illness must be denied. Canadians must keep all the feelings, fears, or "normal" familial stresses under wraps. What it does mean for most families is that the realities of mental illness are not expressed, fears are not shared, and the need to ask for help or request assistance goes unnoticed. A core belief: To get help is weakness!
Therefore: Secrecy, "appearance", and denial are walls! These characteristics often determine whether Canadian citizens seek treatment. To the extent that seeking mental health treatment is defined as "weakness", people in need may be slow to obtain and pursue services. (The road to wellness takes perseverance). Often this reluctance to seek help delays treatment, which ends up pushing many beyond tolerable stress levels, and some to suicide – also a few to homicide. Addressing these characteristics may decrease the chance of citizens denying or minimizing symptoms, and thereby help them benefit from a professional's ability to normalize their beliefs about fears, stigma, and future treatment. Mental illness and suicide risk can be effectively helped (Leenaars, 2004).

My belief: Not talking about mental illness will cause more imbalances. The "insane" were kept secrets. They were a societal shame! The problem was kept invisible. The main reason was stigma. One would hear, "Oh, Joe is a basket case." Or, "Sally is crazy". It was not acceptable to be mentally ill - all too often suicidal - or to get help; somehow it was more acceptable in Canada to lie in a coffin. I hope that we can count on this parliament's intention to change this iatrogenic attitude (belief).

A final thought to ponder: People with mental illness have often been described as being manipulative. "It is just to get attention" is a common belief. The mental health patient is seen as just weak and is often described as a person who is actually just dissatisfied with life. He or she is a coward. People with psychopathology are often described as "immature, inadequate, and sociopathic". In Canada, there is stigma and very high Canadian walls. (Would you reveal your "cowardly weakness" in such a cultural milieu?)

Mental Illness, Stigma, and Culture

Understanding mental illness is not enough. Helping professionals, such as institutional administrators, medical personnel, and mental health professionals, must also understand the unique culture in which mental agony is experienced and endured. The set of beliefs and attitudes shared by people in Canada forms the context of community care. These cultural beliefs sometimes make it difficult for citizens to acknowledge their own stress, or to fully engage in a partnership with helping professionals to reduce their 'howling tempest' of the mind (Styron, 1990). There is enormous fear and anxiety in Canada!

Culture is diverse - and allow me just to scratch the surface: When investigating cultural differences, a distinction is often made between Western or individualistic cultures and non-Western or collectivistic cultures. Individualism is "a social theory favouring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control", whereas collectivism is the "practice or principle of giving a group priority over each individual in it" (Oxford English Dictionary, n.d.). Stigma is known to be greater in most collective cultures (Leenaars, Sayin, Candansayar, et al., 2010). There is greater silence, dissembling, and shame. For example, one of the major social obstacles in getting help for psychopathology or suicidal behaviour is stigmatization (Grad, Clark, Dyregrov, & Andriessen, 2004). Grad et al. argued that stigma surrounding suicide may occur for different cultural reasons including religious sanctions and judicial laws, and may be expressed differently through discrimination from religious, or social communities (There are, of course, other discriminations or barriers; for example, age. Ask the elderly). It is not only the person with a mental disorder, but also the larger community. The stigma surrounding mental illness has a profound effect on family and community members and can bring with it shame, guilt, disgrace, and alienation. Canada is a diverse country; immigrants come from individualistic and collectivistic cultures. Greater stigma exists in collective cultures. The immigrants of those countries not only bring their culture with them, but also how it impacts on mental illness and suicide, and even their rates of suicide. Some countries have high rates, some low. Allow me to illustrate the marriage of culture and stigma with mental illnesses' sibling, suicide:
Religion plays a large role in how mental illness and suicide are viewed. In Canada, which is predominantly Christian, suicide is still condemned. Traditionally, and in most cases today, suicide is seen as a serious sin in Judaism, Christianity, and Abrahamic religions (e.g., Islam). Beliefs about suicide in India's religions are diverse; for example, it is considered a sin in Hinduism, the predominant religion, with some exceptions; it is allowed in Jainism; and is seen as a negative action, but not condemned in Buddhism. Religion plays a role in our taboo. Furthermore, there are wide cultural differences in the stigmatization of suicide around the world, which affects individuals' responses to a suicide trauma (Grad et al., 2004). Some do not see nor help those in need. This is true in Canada.

The stigma associated with suicide has a long legal history as well (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [SEP], 2008). In ancient Greece, a person who committed suicide was denied the honours of a traditional burial. In 1670, Louis XIV ordered persons who had committed suicide to be dragged face down through the streets, hung, or thrown on top of garbage, and all property confiscated (Durkheim, 1897/1997). In more current history, suicide has only recently been decriminalized or continues to be punishable by law (SEP, 2008). For example, in Australia, although suicide is no longer a crime, a survivor of a suicide pact can be charged with manslaughter. In Western countries such as the U.S. and England, suicide has only recently been decriminalized. Specifically, suicide was made lawful in 1961 in England with the Suicide Act of 1961. Yet, in Ireland, decriminalization only occurred a few years ago. There are many countries around the world where attempted suicide is still a crime. In Canada, legislation in 1972 removed section 213 in the criminal code; attempted suicide was then no longer considered a crime. Imagine, only 40 years ago, not 100! That is not only stigma, but also a crime. Our culture needs to change; we need to change what we can. Our efforts must be culturally and community/socially sensitive, however. Canadians need courage to change what they can!

Public Health and Anti-Stigma Efforts

Public health approaches target the factors beyond the individual. They are primarily focused on the community and societal levels, but may also be at the relationship level (e.g., with family members, with health providers). (See WHO [2002] ecological model). Community or public health aims to maximize benefits for the largest number of people. It is interdisciplinary and evidence-based. It draws upon knowledge from many disciplines, including biology, medicine, psychology, psychiatry, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, politics, ethics, political justice, and so on. It emphasizes collective action. Furthermore, most importantly, it has been proven to be effective. The public health approach is an innovative, rational, and organized way to marshal prevention efforts (Leenaars, 2005; Jenkins, McCulloch, Friedli, & Parker, 2002). This is not to say the approaches with an individual, such as psychotherapy and/or pharmacotherapy are not effective, only that public health approaches attempt to address the problem in a different way. This is necessary when dealing with stigmatization, by definition.

Stigmatization is a preventable public health problem. The factors isolated to date that can help include: decreasing stigma; building social networks and help-seeking behaviours; and enhancing understanding of mental health in the community. A truly Canadian public health effort is paramount – to stop the fear of mental illness. As in the past, so too today a Canadian citizen with a mental illness, who feels Canada's stigmatization, will thus feel sick, sick, sick. This in turn may heighten his or her risk for suicide, and even homicide – which has obvious implications for what we do in Canada. Shame and disgrace would be predicted – the Canadian culture makes it so.

Does this live up to the UN principle?
Standard of Care and Stigma

Care for people with a mental disorder(s) should be reasonable and prudent. Yet, what is "reasonable" and "prudent"? The community typically defines the yardstick (Leenaars, Cantor, Connolly, et al., 2002). We can all agree, however, that stigmatization is not reasonable and prudent care. Although this is relevant in all treatment, such as psychotherapy and medication, I need to make a special comment on hospitalization. Hospitalization is complex; all treatment of people with a brain illness is complex. Many issues are involved, but stigma is one. The topic is so vast that it would call for a report of this honourable Committee on the topic itself. The main point: Hospitalization should never be eschewed, if needed. It probably works best, however, if stigma is eradicated. Hospitalization will save lives. Of course, treatment must be not only a multi-method, multidisciplinary approach, but also it has to be not iatrogenic! Otherwise, it should be eschewed! To quote a father of suicide prevention, Edwin Shneidman (1980), "the quality of care from doctors, nurses and attendants is crucial."

Most alarming is Rosemary Barnes' (1986) study of care in Toronto hospitals. She found strong evidence of stigma and prejudice among health providers. Among health providers, there were negative beliefs towards mental health patients - some suicidogenic. A main finding was that the negative attitude was especially evident towards patients who repeat suicide attempts. She found: The greater the number of attempts, the greater the negative attitudes. This is not a strong basis for quality care. This is tantamount to failure in care! Our attitudes can be life-enhancing, but also death-promoting. Case studies converge on this topic. As a forensic expert, I have provided opinion in cases of wrongful death, including in hospitals; quality of care is paramount. Stigmatization was often a factor. The question: Was stigma the "last straw"? Barnes' Canadian research says it can be. Shneidman and I agree! At times, in forensic cases of institutionalization, I noted even deliberate indifference!

What constitutes wrongdoing? What is malpractice? What is "stigmatization"? When are mental health workers liable? Gutheil (1992) suggested that there are fundamentals of malpractice, related to the following: the existing clinician-patient relationship; negligence or the breach of duty (although negligence itself does not necessarily equate with liability); the negligence results in specific danger or harm; and the fact that the clinician was negligent resulting in the patient committing suicide, if the element of causation is determinable. Demonstrating causation is often difficult; this would be true in the case of prejudice, and even more so deliberate indifference, which stigma may imply. Gutheil offers a metaphoric example that best illustrates the issue. He writes:
Consider a camel with serious osteoporosis of the spine, whose back is laden with straw. A final piece of straw (the proverbial "last straw") is placed on the back, and the camel's back breaks. In utilising a clinical analysis of the situation, the clinician would consider the pre-existing condition of the camel and its back, the burden posed by the pre-existing straw, and the final straw leading to the condition of clinical compensation. (Gutheil, 1992, p. 150)

The legal viewpoint, at least in Canada and the U.S., focuses on the last straw, which is called the "proximate cause". The question is a "but for", and we quote Gutheil again, "But for this last straw, the camel's back would not have been broken" (p. 150). In suicide, the relation is more perplexing; yet, the metaphor applies. The question is, did the failure in care/stigmatization cause the suicide? The answer lies in the statement "Dereliction of a duty directly causing dangers" (Gutheil, 1992, p. 150). Prejudicial and negative attitudes, such as identified by Barnes, can be dereliction. Anti-stigma efforts have application to in-hospital suicide, outpatient suicide, and so on.

What do we need for a change in care? From a public health perspective, this is a question for all levels of government, including the federal one, as well as for our communities. On January 14, 2011, my city's newspaper, The Windsor Star (Scaheli, 2011) presented a front-page story of the needless suicides of Steven Kokotec and Margaret Draskovich. They were suicidal and sought care, but they were turned away and/or escaped from a hospital. Within minutes of the estrangement, they were dead. Having courage, the survivors have shared their stories and, understandably, have pleaded for action. They do not want this to happen to other Canadians and their families! Was there dereliction of care? Was there stigma? The survivors reported that they felt the stigmatization! I was interviewed for the article, and called for focus, not on what was done wrong, but on what we can do to stop such needless deaths! What will help? What can be done at a federal level?

A Few Observations on the Cognitive-Dynamics of Stigma on Mental Illness

As you have learned, within Canada, the common existence of a person with mental illness is estrangement. The person is disenfranchised! All too often the wish to live is replaced with the wish to die. The root psychological cause of suicide is trauma, the traumatic experience of loss and/or rejection of a significant highly cathected person, such as a loved one, or a doctor, or a therapist, and all too often society (Freud, 1917/1974, 1920/1974), or some other ideal (e.g., youth, health, citizen hood) (Leenaars, 1996). This "overpowering affect of aloneness which makes life unendurable for a large number of suicidal individuals can be understood within a general class of primary (automatic) anxiety. The eerie devastation of adult aloneness (not loneliness) probably repeats the empty hours of an infancy where no empathic soothing was available to relieve imperative needs and fearful tensions." (Maltsberger, 1986, p. 7)

Suicide is an intrapsychic drama on an interpersonal stage (Leenaars, 1996, 2004). The common state of mind of an estranged person with psychopathology is pain. The common stimulus in suicide is unbearable psychological pain (Shneidman, 1985). The suicidal Canadian is in a (automatic) heightened state of perturbation, an intense mental anguish. It is the pain of pain. The person may feel any number of emotions such as feeling alone, rejected, deprived, bullied, distressed, and especially hopeless and helpless (Leenaars, 1996). Aaron T. Beck (1963, 1976) has shown that a critical link between mental illness and suicidal intent is hopelessness (Beck, Kovacs, & Weissman, 1975). The hopelessness is something like " Canadians will always be this way, stigmatizing". The helplessness is something like, "No one can do anything about it. The Ministers of Parliament can do nothing about it". The suicidal person perceives suicide as the only possible and best solution to his/her desperate and hopeless, unsolvable problem (trauma) (Beck, 1963). The suicidal person views him/herself as deprived, forlorn, abandoned, estranged, and so on. There is/was/will be a narcissistic injury! (Leenaars, 1996). The suicide is functional because it stops, among many other things, the stigma (the mark), and the pain.

All this occurs in a common cognitive state of mental constriction; i.e., rigidity in thinking, tunnel vision, stinking thinking, etc. The imbalanced, suicidal person is figuratively "drugged" or "numbed" by the constriction; the intoxication can be seen in emotions, logic, and beliefs (Shneidman, 1985). The suicidal person's thoughts, which are often automatic and involuntary (unconscious), are characterized by a number of possible errors, some so gross as to constitute distortion; e.g., jumping to conclusions, magnification (making a big deal), all or nothing thinking, putting things in a nutshell (Beck, 1963, 1976; Beck, Kovacs, & Weissman, 1975). This mental constriction is the most lethal (dangerous) aspect of the suicidal mind (Leenaars, 1996; Shneidman, 1985). The bullied, suicidal, mentally ill person, being alone, hopeless, and not wanting to tolerate the pain (angst, depression, anxiety, feeling alone, and so on), desires, if not needs, to escape. Suicide is escape (egression) (Leenaars, 1996).

It is, however, more than aloneness, feeling estranged, and hopelessly in pain. Maltsberger (1986) offers a deeper interpretation. He writes:
There is a second intolerable affect, suicidal worthlessness, closely related to the first, aloneness, as a subjective experience and as a pathological development. The subjective experience of utter worthlessness is related to the experience of aloneness and cannot be entirely separated from it because both threaten, or even announce, irrevocable abandonment. In the grips of aloneness the patient is convinced he will be forever cut off from the possibility of human connectedness; in suicidal worthlessness, the patient is convinced he can never merit the caring notice of anyone, including himself again. The subjective result is very much the same; to be beyond love is to be hopelessly alone." (Maltsberger, 1965, p. 9).

The beliefs of the suicidal person are, however, faulty. The best known faulty syllogism may well be:
All men are immortal
Socrates is a man

Therefore Socrates is immortal.
The above syllogism is valid, but it is also faulty because it begins with a first premise that is false. All men are not immortal. It is a false universal inductive generalization. It is basic to realize that a valid syllogism can have a false conclusion. This can happen if one or more of the premises are false. In the suicidal person, the first premise (sometimes called core beliefs) is not only false, but also lethal.

Edwin Shneidman (1985) has been keenly interested in making explicit the latent logical (cognitive) components of everyday thought. He realized how useful it is to examine the cognitive styles exhibited in each suicidal person. For example, in a terse but insightful paper, "On 'Therefore I must kill myself'" (Shneidman, 1999), he shows how vitally important it is for a clinician to understand the mentally ill patient's idiosyncratic logical style – and then not agree with that patient's major premise when the premise is the keystone to the patient's lethal (suicidal) syllogistic conclusion. For example, "People who have a mental illness are worthless and ought to be dead; I am a person who has a mental illness; therefore, I am worthless and ought to be dead". For another example, "Soldiers who are disgraced by the commander ought to be dead; I am a soldier who has been incarcerated (disgraced); therefore, I ought to be dead." For another example of a deadly belief, "People who are "sick, sick, sick" ought to be dead". This is stinking thinking; the first premises are false. These are distortions (Beck, 1963, 1976). The suicidal person is, however, convinced! The indoctrination (denial and introjection) has been successful; he/she believes that she/he is inferior, weak, and "loveless". The mentally ill person believes the stigma. He/she is worthless!

Stigma gives the gun to a mentally ill person!

A Call To Action
The challenge - "We have to know how we are helping." Stigmatization is not helping. These are great challenges. Yet, the Canadian government knows how, but only if the MPs have the will do to so. People with mental illness do not need to feel estranged. They do not need to die. I hope that I have brought the audience, whether a MP, stakeholder, health provider, and many more, a little closer to a plan. Regardless of what the policies and procedures will be, they have to be grounded in evidence-based study. (I hold to a broad definition of the term, evidence-based, and not only randomized control trials as some espouse.) We need to get past the stigma of PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, suicide attempter, depression, ADHD, emotional disturbance, and so on, an endless list. Yet, we, each of us, have to own the problem, otherwise nothing will get done. We cannot wait for a Prime Minister to do something. We, people with a psychiatric disorder, and those of us who are not so suffering, but working with them on multi-disciplinary teams; providing mental health services to patients and their families; administrating to such Canadians; surviving a suicide; providing survivor/bereavement services, after the death by suicide; and many more, need to own the problem, nothing will get done otherwise. We are the anti-stigma!

The stigma, as discussed earlier, is one of the greatest barriers to wellness in our Canadians with mental illness, or any disability, for that matter. To tear down the walls, it begins at the top – and that means with the Prime Minister. The stigma associated with receiving help for mental illness and suicide risk continues to be substantial. For many reasons, it is vital for the Committee to convince the federal (and provincial/territorial, and First Nation/Inuit) government to set a supportive tone for those who are suffering. They are good Canadians, not cowards or manipulative. They are suffering, and you and I can suffer so too, experiencing 'the howling tempest' of the brain. There are Canadian barriers or walls. The question raised is, "What can be done to remove these barriers? Canadians need action!

A Case Illustration: A Traumatized Police Officer

To illustrate, on March 3, 2005, in Mayer Thorpe, James Roszko killed four RCMP officers, Constables Anthony Gordon, Leo Johnston, Brock Myrol, and Peter Shiemann. Not only were those murders traumatic, there were aftershocks. This traumatic event would "horrify, repulse, disgust, and infuriate any sane person" (Rudofossi, 2006). Rudofossi, a psychologist-police officer, being well aware of this, asked the now obvious question, "Why shouldn't that be true for police officers?" Regrettably, after traumatic experiences, a common response in the police (collective) culture is, "Snap out of it," or "Don't talk about it," or "Just get over it" or "Go on with your duties." Many officers hold to these "honourable" beliefs; however, this avoidance only exacerbates the problem. Many do so; denial, secrecy, "appearances", forgetting, avoidance, phobias, and inhibition are the norm, but they are deadly. There is such stigma in Canadian police culture (Leenaars, 2010).

Officer Jeff Whipple, along with Officer Jim Martin narrowly escaped being killed by Roszko. Only because of a call from an investigator into the Roszko case, were they delayed. They were first to arrive at the murder scene. Officer Jeff Whipple has stated that the scene was traumatizing; he reported that he suffered "significant nervous shock and emotional suffering." Whipple continued to be traumatized, he reports (Loye, 2009), as he provided services to relatives of the slain officers. Interviews and discussions with investigators resulted in Officer Whipple re-experiencing the trauma over and over. He reported that he suffered shock, but that nothing was done. Officer Whipple did not receive professional help nor, he claimed, was offered such. His mental health, as one would predict from a PTSD diagnosis, deteriorated. Officer Jeff Whipple recurrently re-experienced the event that involved horrific actual deaths, and a threat to his physical integrity. He responded with intense fear, helplessness, and horror. This is normal, not crazy. By September 2008, he was permanently disabled and was no longer employed as an RCMP officer. Nothing had been done. Officer Whipple was not alone; Officer Allen Starman has also claimed that the aftermath traumatized him and, despite suffering overwhelming shock, he was forced to continue being involved in the investigation (The Canadian Press, 2009). He asked for help and a transfer, but he was denied. Understandably, he suffered mental health problems, likely PTSD, and was medically discharged in 2007. Whipple and Starman were not alone! They suffered a normal health response to common police trauma, but the blue Canadian walls in all probability caused pain and an emotional disorder, PTSD, or some other adjustment disorder. Regrettably, this occurs all too often among police, including after suicide among police. Is there hope for Officer Jeff Whipple? This is your question.

A Traumatic Conclusion

Mental illness has a shadowy presence. Allow me to close with one more case example: On July 14, 2011, the headline in my city's newspaper, The Windsor Star, read: Family Blames Military After Ex-Soldier's Death (Wilhelm, 2011). Canadian Army Trooper Stefan Jankowski died by suicide on Sunday, July 10, 2011. Stefan Jankowski, a 25-year-old veteran, had served bravely in Afghanistan. Corporal Hunter Kersey, who had served with Stefan, described him as a hero. He stated that, Trooper Jankowski "often volunteered for the most dangerous position." They served in southern Kandahar with the Royal Canadian Dragoon, doing reconnaissance and looking for improvised explosive devices.

Stefan Jankowski was a warrior. Yet, according to his mother, Gina Duguay, he was traumatized; for example, "At one point he told me about a boy, half a face missing." He had said, "God, mom you cannot believe the stuff you'd see over here." He witnessed, confronted, and experienced horror, deaths, and events unimaginable to most of us – but, not to a soldier. His friend died. He was injured. He was haunted by having to shoot at children. It was horror, fear, and helplessness. Again, this is normal, not crazy! Understandably, Trooper Jankowski developed PTSD. He was treated for his wounds, and like many, became addicted to pain medication (Oxycontin). According to the family, the aftershocks escalated. He went AWOL. He was arrested. He was incarcerated. (More walls!) The military knew that he was troubled, had PTSD, and was at risk. He needed help! He knew it. He felt the stigma. The Canadian Armed Forces' solution: They discharged him. The family stated:
The military was good to him, as a trooper. But when it came to giving him professional help because of the things he saw and the things that happened, the military made mistakes. Their program is improper. The people that need help are not getting it fast enough.

This sounds like the very findings in Out of the Shadows (2006), and highly consistent with my beliefs. There are Canadian system problems. The military (collective) culture and secrecy were a problem.

Stefan came home to Windsor; there too he sought help. His family and friends knew that he was in serious trouble, and begged for help. He obtained help from a lawyer. Little, if anything, was done. The walls increased. The drug abuse increased. According to the family, "The military ignored him. They just said you're discharged." He felt useless. His father reported, "They don't need him anymore." Yet, sadly, professionals in our city did the same; Stefan was taken to psychiatrists, professionals and hospitals, but little help was provided.
Wilhelm (2011) reported:
Jankowski went to local hospitals in the days leading up to his death. Esco (his lawyer) took him to triage at … Hospital Thursday night. "He told them he was suicidal," said Esco. "…Apparently, they would not take him."

He died on Sunday.
Officials at the hospital would not comment. The military did not comment. And, one more Canadian died needlessly. How many Canadians will suffer, and even die from stigma? What can the government do?

A Recommendation

A recommendation: The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (2002), called for federal government action on stigma. That Committee concluded in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, Wednesday, April 10, 2002, that without efforts of parliament, the stigma of mental illness will continue. It is now time for the government to do more!

I wish to acknowledge the sterling help to my testimony to Parliament, from: my patients, as well as George Dienesch, Lindsey Leenaars, Terry Maltsberger, and Susanne Wenckstern.


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Leenaars, L., & Lester, D. (2011). Indirect aggression and victimization are positively associated in emerging adulthood: The psychological functioning of indirect aggressors and victims. Journal of College Student Development, 52, 253-263.
Leenaars, L., & Rinaldi, C. (2010). Male and female university students' experience of indirect aggression. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 25, 131-148.
Loye, F. (March 13, 2009). Ex-officer sues over Mayer Thorpe. The Windsor Star, A11.
Maltsberger, J. (1986). Suicide risk. New York: New York University Press.
Nielson, E. (2011). Changing minds, opening minds. CrossCurrents, 13, 8-9.
Rabkin, J. (1972). Opinions about mental illness: A review of the literature. Psychological Bulletin, 77, 153-171.
Rudofossi, D. (2006). Working with traumatized police officer-patients: A clinicians guide to Complex PTSD syndromes in public safety populations. Amityville, NY: Baywood Press.
Sacheli, S. (January, 14, 2011). Hotel-Dieu says investigation not needed in most recent suicide. The Windsor Star, A1&A2.
Shneidman, E. (1980). Voices of death. New York: Harper & Row.
Shneidman, E. (1985). Definition of suicide. New York: Wiley.
Shneidman, E. (1999). On "Therefore I must kill myself." In A. Leenaars (Ed.), Lives and deaths: Selections from the works of Edwin S. Shneidman (pp. 72-76). Philadelphia: Brunner-Mazel.
Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (April, 1, 2002). Evidence, 37th Parliament, 1st Session. Ottawa: Government of Canada.
Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science & Technology. (2006). Out of the shadows at last. Ottawa: Government of Canada.
Stoff, D., & Mann, J. (Eds.) (1997). The neurobiology of suicide: From the bench to the clinic. New York: The New York Academy of Sciences.
Styron, W. (1990). Darkness visible. New York: Random House.
The Canadian Free Press. (March 18, 2009). Second Mayerthorpe officer sues RCMP. The Globe and Mail, A8.
United Nations (1991). Human rights and scientific and technological developments. Report of the working group on the principles for the protection of persons with mental illness and for the improvement of mental health care. Resolution 98B. New York: Author.
Wilhelm, T. (July 14, 2011). Family blames military after ex-soldier's death. The Windsor Star, A1 & A4.
World Health Organization (2002). World report on violence and health. Geneva: Author.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

New announcement: Disabled soldier sues over dismissal

Disabled soldier sues over dismissal

Case could have impact on hundreds of personnel

By: Mary Agnes Welch

Posted: 10/27/2014 1:00 AM

A Winnipeg soldier turfed from the military because she is disabled is suing the Canadian government, alleging her ouster violated her charter rights.

The lawsuit, filed Friday, asks the court to strike down the "universality of service" rule that mandates all uniformed personnel must be ready for combat deployment at all times. The case could have broad repercussions for the hundreds of disabled soldiers, including those with mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, mustered out of the Armed Forces every year against their wishes.

"It feels like you've been thrown out, almost punitive," said Louise Groulx, a former master corporal at 17 Wing. "Those who make the rules have no idea the impact this has on a soldier's soul or heart. We're not disposable."

Groulx, a single mother who served in Haiti during the 1995 peacekeeping mission, badly injured her back in the summer of 1999 during a baseball game on the base, part of her mandatory physical-training requirements. Five surgeries were needed that year to correct a herniated disc. During one, her spinal column was nicked and she was left on a gurney for more than two days with cerebrospinal fluid leaking out from a wet wound that went untreated with antibiotics. From that, she contracted bacterial meningitis, which caused further damage. That debacle left Groulx with post-traumatic stress.

She returned to work at 17 Wing a year after the injury and said she could perform 90 per cent of her duties as an aero-medical technician, a highly specialized trade that involves training all military air crew on the physiological effects of flight.

The only duty she couldn't perform was entering the hypo- and hyperbaric chambers used for training and for emergency treatment, but that amounted to just 10 per cent of her job.

"I loved what I was doing," said the former medic. "I have never had a more supportive group of people."

Not long after returning to work, Groulx was formally assigned "medical employment limitations" which typically trigger a review to determine whether a soldier's injuries put them in breach of the universality policy.

That was a long, complex process for Groulx, as it is for many soldiers. The Canadian Forces gives severely wounded troops up to three years to recover. If they are then unable to meet the standards for combat deployment, the process of medical discharge kicks in.

In 2005, officials in Ottawa decided Groulx was in breach of the rule, but because her trade was critical to operational capability, she was given a temporary reprieve and allowed to remain in the Forces.

Despite hard lobbying by her superior officers, Groulx's reprieve ran out in 2009 and she was finally discharged after a decade of doing her job despite her back injury.

Groulx said she loved being in the military, had no backup plan and cried at her retirement party.

"Talking about my release is still so raw and it shouldn't be after five years," said Groulx. "I think it's an injustice, not just to me but there's many out there who have been let go under universality of service."

Groulx is asking the Court of Queen's Bench to declare the rule, in place since 1985, a violation of the equality clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that prohibits discrimination, including on the basis of physical disability. She is also seeking damages.

"There are all these soldiers like Louise, serving just fine, getting recognition, and then all of a sudden they're not good enough," said Groulx's lawyer, Corey Shefman.

Groulx's statement of claim contains allegations not proven in court, and it will be several weeks before the government files a statement of defence.

A spokesman for the Department of National Defence said he could not comment on the case as it's now before the courts.

But the issue of universality of service has made headlines over the last year, a year in which a rash of soldiers committed suicide. Last fall, several injured ex-soldiers told The Canadian Press they were shown the door on a medical release though they begged to retrain for other jobs within the military.

Many said they were released just shy of hitting the 10-year mark, when they would qualify for a fully indexed pension.

Earlier this year, Canada's outgoing military ombudsman, Pierre Daigle, told a parliamentary committee injured soldiers, especially those with PTSD, fear coming forward because they could lose their jobs and pensions. He called the universality rule arbitrary and unfair.

Groulx agreed, saying she knows many soldiers unwilling to come clean about an illness or injury, especially mental ones, for fear disclosure will trigger their dismissal.

Earlier this month, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson revealed a working group is studying the universality rule, following recommendations by the defence committee.

"This working group is examining how the policy can be best applied to retain individuals who are willing and able to serve, while also ensuring the necessary availability of all Canadian Armed Forces personnel to perform their lawful military service," Nicholson wrote to the committee.

Shefman said the universality rule has been challenged in court before, but no case ever progressed to the stage where a judge ruled on the policy's constitutionality.

Groulx was able to find work soon after her discharge but is now recovering from a sixth back surgery. She says she isn't angry at the Canadian Forces and would return to work as an aero-med tech "in a heartbeat."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2014 A4

Medical discharge

ABOUT 1,000 soldiers are medically released each year due to illness, employment issues and severe injuries sustained during operations. It's not clear how many are released voluntarily and how many are forced out.

2009 -- 1,074

2010 -- 856

2011 -- 998

2012 -- 1,066

2013 -- 1,190

-- source: Dept. of National Defence

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

New announcement: Coping with military-related post-traumatic stress disorder (STUDY)

Coping with military-related post-traumatic stress disorder

Project title:

Exploring Drug Usage Among Canadian Veterans with Chronic Pain and Military Related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Lead researcher:

Roxanne Sterniczuk, PhD
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
1355 Oxford St. Rm. 3263
3rd Fl. Life Sciences Centre
Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4R2

Other researchers:

John Whelan, PhD, R. Psych
Whelan Psychological Services Incorporated
Rockingham Ridge Plaza
30 Farnham Gate Road, Suite C
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3M 3E3

Sean Barrett, PhD, R. Psych
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
1355 Oxford St. Rm. 3263
3rd Fl. Life Sciences Centre
Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4R2


We invite you to take part in a research study being conducted by Dr. Roxanne Sterniczuk who is a Clinical Psychology PhD student in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Dalhousie University. She will be conducting her study under the supervision of Dr. John Whelan who is the lead psychologist at Whelan and Associates psychological services, and Dr. Sean Barrett who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Dalhousie University.

Taking part in the research is up to you; it is entirely your choice. Even if you do take part, you may leave the study at any time for any reason. The information below tells you about what is involved in the research, what you will be asked to do, and about any benefit, risk, inconvenience or discomfort that you might experience.

Please ask as many questions as you like. If you have any questions later, please contact the lead researcher.

Purpose and outline of the research study:

This research looks at the relationships between substance use, both prescription and non-prescription, in Canadian Forces (CF) veterans with military-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), who may or may not have chronic pain. The laws surrounding marijuana use in Canada are rapidly changing and there is also an increasing number of former CF members being diagnosed with military-related PTSD; it is important to understand the prevalence and reasons for marijuana use in this population and how it relates to the use of other substances, because this information can help guide better treatment for our injured veterans.

Who can take part in the research study?

You may participate this in this study if (1) you have previously served in the CF, regardless of where and which branch you served in, your position, your age, your sex, and the time since your discharge; and (2) you are currently undergoing treatment for military-related PTSD.

How many people are taking part in this study?

We aim to recruitment at least 100 participants.

What you will be asked to do:

To help us understand the relationship between marijuana use, chronic pain, and military-related PTSD, we will ask you to complete a brief, 5-20 minute questionnaire. Along with reading this consent form, the study should take no more than 25 minutes.

Possible benefits, risk, and discomforts:

Participating in this research might not immediately or directly benefit you, but the information that you provide will increase our understanding of the reasons behind marijuana use in those with military-related PTSD. This will further our society?s knowledge of this important issue.

There are some possible risks associated with this study. Due to the sensitive nature of the area of research, you may find that certain questions that are asked of you cause some distress or discomfort. You may not like all of the questions that you will be asked. You do not have to answer those questions that you find too distressing or that you do not wish to answer.

How your information will be protected:

No identifying information will be collected within the survey, meaning that you will not be identified in any way within our data set or our reports. The information that you provide will contain no links to your former military-related status. A participant number will be assigned to each survey in our written and computerized records. By completing the online survey you are consenting to having your information used in our research study. If you should choose to withdraw from the study, you may simply close the survey without submitting the data that you have entered; it will be not be saved within our survey system. Information that you do submit to us upon completing the survey will be kept private. Only the research team will have access to this information. In some cases, other authorized officials at the University such as the Research Ethics Board or the Scholarly Integrity Officer may have access as well. We will describe and share our findings in an academic manuscript that will be submitted for publication. The people who work with your de-identified information have an obligation to keep all research information private. All electronic records will be kept secure in a password-protected, encrypted file on the researcher's personal computer.

If you decide to stop participating:

You are free to leave the study at any time. If you decide to stop participating at any point during the study, you can also decide whether you want any of the information that you have contributed up to that point to be removed or if you will allow us to use that information. Given that no identifying information will be collected, it will be impossible to remove the data once it has been submitted.

How to obtain results:

Given that this study will not be collecting any personal information, we will not be able to provide results directly to you. Any data that is published from this study may be found using the article search engine PubMed. The following terms may be used within articles that have published findings from this study: Sterniczuk, Whelan, and/or Barrett; along with: military, veteran, PTSD, cannabis, marijuana, drug use, and/or chronic pain.


We are happy to talk with you about any questions or concerns you may have about your participation in this research study. Please contact Dr. Roxanne Sterniczuk ( or Dr. John Whelan (902 461-0476; at any time with questions, comments, or concerns about the research study (if you are calling long distance, please call collect).

If you have any ethical concerns about your participation in this research, you may also contact the Director, Research Ethics, Dalhousie University at (902) 494-1462, or email:

Conflict of Interest Statement:

As per Articles 3.1 and 7.4 in the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans, there is a dual role conflict of interest, and possible undue influence, on the part of Dr. Whelan, who will be participating in the recruitment of participants as a therapist, as well as in supervising the research study. There is minimal risk to you because no private information pertaining to the study questionnaire will be directly gathered by Dr. Whelan. He will only be able to provide further clarification regarding the purpose of the study if you have any questions. However, it will be at your discretion whether or not to partake in the study, and you will remain completely anonymous. Dr. Whelan, along with the rest of the research team, will not be aware of your participation.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

New announcement: Don’t Give Up the Fight by Dr. Antoon A. Leenaars a suicidologist

Don't Give Up the Fight

A Blog on Military Trauma and Suicide

Dr. Antoon A. Leenaars

This blog has been long urged on me. Mike Blais, President/Founder of the Canadian Veterans Advocacy, and Bruce Moncur, President, Afghanistan Veteran's Association are two. There are others, military and civilian. I am the First Past President of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP). I am not a veteran, nor military personnel; people, such as veterans and police, call me a suicide expert, a suicidologist. They call me, "Doc". We have joined forces to make suicide among the Canadian Forces and Veterans visible. Once it is visible enough ("We are here"), it is visible. Often we read in the media about one more of our heroes dying by suicide. There have been clusters, causing a contagion. From our experiences, we are deeply concerned.

War is violence. War stress is unforgiving. Suicide is an all too frequent cost of service. This is true today. It is the lead cause of death in the Canadian military. What are the facts? Why? What can we do? Like in the U.S., we knew too little was being done in Canada. One simply has to listen to the soldiers and veterans in both countries.

As one response, I was asked to do a blog; my first question was, "What is a blog?" I am new to computers; I only began using them in 1971. Fortunately, my daughter, Kristen, has a graduate degree in Marketing PR; she has a weekly blog. I write books; most recently (Dec., 2013), I authored Suicide among the Armed Forces: Understanding the cost of service. A blog is a message. (Marshall McLuhan, author of The Media is the Massage, would agree.) Books are too, but they are also different. A blog, Kristen told me, is short, clear and concise. I thank her for her guidance, but will probably disobey all the rules of blogging. Thus, here is my first attempt, beginning with the end of my blog.

To our soldiers and veterans, I state: You need your courage and hope. You are an intelligent, adept soldier. You have to accept the unacceptable—what you cannot change—and you have to have the courage to change what you can. Some of you know this as The Serenity Prayer or the teachings of the Buddha, Saint Francis, Friedrich Nietzsche, the Dalai Lama, X. You need to get beyond the traumatization, unbearable pain, suicide risk, vulnerability, and so on. You are a hero, and I believe in your ability to stop, pause, and reflect. You can be resilient. Healing is possible. The true warrior seeks help! Here I follow the wisdom of Jacob Bronowski (1973) in the famed book, The Ascent of Man (This dates me.) What makes a person a person—and a soldier a soldier—is the ability to wait, to think, to talk, to pause, to reflect, and so on, before the act. In the battlefield, the soldier does no different.

You, in the military, have worked hard as a soldier or pilot or Marine or sailor; now you can trust that strength to work hard on choosing life. You can have confidence that there is help available and that there are people—a Minister of Defence, a Major, a sergeant, a psychologist, a fellow armed services member/buddy and so on—in the military that care! You have green (military) courage. Courage is to change what you can. The anodynic experience, to somewhat quote Aldous Huxley, is not what happened to you; it is what you do with what happened to you. I offer some scripts: Don't buy into the stigma. (Any sane person would feel traumatized.) There is effective help. Choose life. Don't give up the fight!

The soldier needs to trust her or his courage; despite all that has happened to you in harm's way and since, you have adjusted to stress, beyond what you imagined the first day of boot camp. I strongly believe that your life, and mine, is like that of the mythical Greek Sisyphus. Sisyphus lived in the heavens with the gods and on Earth with mortals. He saw the painful and depressing life of humans and knew what would help. The gods had an anodyne. (An anodyne is a substance or agent or person or system that fights pain.) Despite Zeus's orders, Sisyphus stole the gods' secrets and helped humankind. Zeus raged and banished him from the heavens. Sisyphus was doomed to the human condition; each day he had to push a boulder up a mountain, only to watch it tumble back down, causing the task to be repeated the next day. Your and my life is no different. Each day we must ceaselessly roll our distinctive rock to the top of our mountain, and the next day we must persevere and do the same. (There is a children's story with the same meaning; the little train that has to get up the hill ["I think I can"].) This is not to be condemned; this is life. We have to accept the unacceptable. Military life makes it even more so; the mountain is even higher. It is Mount Everest! The military system/culture and war make it so. Yet, if you believe the Greek wisdom keeper, Homer, Sisyphus was the wisest and most prudent of humans. As with our ancient Greek hero, I do not want to inoculate you against trauma, the common military approach; I will attempt in this blog, from a suicidologist's perspective, to do something different. (I do not pretend to be in the military; I offer a suicide expert's perspective.) I will attempt to make suicide among the armed forces more visible. What I have learned what is most helpful is to persevere. ("I think You can".) I hope that this mantra will help you get in touch with your Sisyphean strength (what are called protective factors) that build natural surviving of the aftershock; what the Prussian War theorist, General Carl Gottfried Von Clausewitz, in the 1800's, called "friction", of everyday military service, deep within the mind, heart, body, and soul. This blog, I hope, will help you to heal your pain, to end your suicide risk. You can survive!

Don't give up the fight!

Reference: Leenaars, A. (2013). Suicide Among the Armed Forces: Understanding the Cost of Service. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing Co., Inc.

About Author:
Dr. Antoon A. Leenaars is a clinical and forensic psychologist. He is the first Past President of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention; a Past President of the American Association of Suicidology, the only non-American to date; and an elected Fellow of the Canadian Psychological Association. He has published extensively on suicide, military suicide, police suicide and homicide-suicide, homicide, terrorism, etc., including 13 books, most recently Suicide among the Armed Forces: Understanding the cost of service. He was the first Editor-in-Chief of the international journal, Archives of Suicide Research and has consulted to the WHO, military groups, police services, and governments around the world.

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