« ‘Canada Made Me Do This — The Death of Nellie Traverse,' » is a fictitious crisis that ensues after the videotaped suicide of a young Aboriginal woman is posted online, touching a global chord and sparking a national social and security crisis in Canada. The case was presented to teams from 10 public policy schools at the second National Public Administration Case Competition, held at Queen’s University, Kingston, on February 8, 2013. The challenge was to devise a policy response after the viral video radicalizes both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth across the country, spawning a violent backlash from unknown militants and drawing global condemnation of Canada for poor social and economic conditions on reserves. The competition was won by the Simon Fraser University School of Public Policy Case Competition Team: Anthony Carricato, Tabrina Clelland, Connor Curson, Felim Donnelly.

Our presentation was based on the theme that Canadians feel very strongly that our Canada includes First Nations, and the policy alternatives targeted the underlying issues of aboriginal youth suicide. Our recommendations recognize that while the Government of Canada has a leading role to play, it is not the only actor with responsibilities on this issue. It is essential to rebuild hope and trust between all parties, and to prove that engagement is for the long haul.

We believed that by showing it was ready to address the root causes of youth suicide, the government would be able to defuse the immediate threat of violence. It could then use the crisis as an opportunity to restore its credibility on Aboriginal affairs, turning its commitment to addressing youth suicide into a stepping stone to achieving real progress on larger, historical questions.

As the case presented a number of immediate “crisis” situations on top of the major underlying issues, we laid out a phased approach. We recommended forming a task force consisting of the participating ministries, with the addition of Treasury Board, to tackle immediate public safety issues in the short term. The task force would be re-evaluated after 30 days, but would continue in the long term to build inter-departmental cooperation around long-term issues and to demonstrate a sustained commitment.

Our group set realistic objectives to derive achievable alternatives. Ultimately we recommended a moderate approach to create regional centres that would allow for the two-way flow of information between First Nations and government health care workers.

The policy response had to address several different strands of the crisis.

We first made recommendations aimed at immediate action to address the public safety and diplomatic issues arising from Nellie’s suicide.

Respond to School Protests

Cooperation is required between the Assembly of First Nations leadership, First Nations leadership, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Health Canada and the provinces and territories. A joint statement should

  • Announce a partnership to address the issue of youth suicide;
  • Urge protests to take another form.

Respond to Radical Agitation

Allow CSIS to monitor social media activity and contain the spread.

The Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety must

  • Express zero tolerance for terrorist activities;
  • Continue to avoid using inflammatory language in public;
  • Recognize the source of grievances.

Respond to International Attention

The government must reassure the UN that Canada is aware of its concerns and reach out to allies such as the USA, Australia and New Zealand to share common solutions.

The Government of Canada must also reaffirm support for the goals of the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People.

We then suggest creating the following new program:

Create Centralized Resource Centres

The centres would allow communities access to resources that would enable building their own suicide prevention programs.

These programs should take a preventative approach by opening suicide hot lines, improving mental health services, creating suicide prevention education programs, designing health-worker training manuals, online resources and culturally adaptable media resources.

The key benefit of centralized resource centres is that they can provide a two-way information flow on data and intervention. Best practices and lessons learned could be communicated back to the resource centre, and this information could then be forwarded to other communities. This two-way flow would also help identify the most at-risk communities and could be readily accessed by urban youth who are not explicitly targeted by community centred approaches.

The programs would be supported by federal funds but led by First Nations communities, resulting in resources that could be better tailored to specific needs.

Our alternatives and recommendations were derived from Canadian and international literature, particularly research on the reality of shattered cultural continuity among First Nations and the resulting high rates of youth suicide. We reviewed relevant committees, hearings and reports to gain historical perspective. These documents outlined actions taken in the past, thereby enabling us to examine successes and failures. We used statistics and graphs to assist visualization of the problem and presentation of our analysis. To the extent possible, our presentation incorporated horizontal approaches built on cooperation with First Nations.

With restored credibility and fresh partnerships, the government could begin paving the way for addressing medium- and long-term objectives, including Aboriginal self-governance, settling land claims, improving infrastructure in First Nation’s communities, ensuring cultural continuity and increased economic opportunities.

Photo: CP Photo

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