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Teen mental health advocate elbows way into Justin Trudeau’s schedule

Noah Irvine is pictured on Parliament Hill on Aug. 23, 2017.
Noah Irvine is pictured on Parliament Hill on Aug. 23, 2017. Global News

UPDATE: The Prime Minister’s Office has twice cancelled and rescheduled its meeting with Noah Irvine since this story was originally published. As of the morning of Oct. 3, Irvine’s meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled for Wednesday.

When 17-year-old Noah Irvine hit a wall in his quest to boost care for mental illnesses, he kept pushing – and this week, he’ll have the ear of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“I think I have about 15 minutes with [Trudeau],” Irvine said in an interview before heading off to class Wednesday morning.

“I’ve just been writing everything out and not getting overly nervous.”

READ MORE: Teen who lost parents to mental illness takes campaign for national strategy to Ottawa

The Ontario student, who lost both of his parents to their mental illnesses, said he sees this meeting as a big step, but knows he has a lot of work still before he can rest.

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Irvine elbowed his way into the prime minister’s busy schedule – just one week after having a face-to-face meeting with the federal health minister – after going public with the disappointment he experienced when a vast majority of MPs ignored his initial call to action.

About seven months ago, Irvine posted letters to every sitting MP.

WATCH: Guelph teen meets with federal Health Minister, calls for action on mental illness

Campaigning for a national strategy on mental health
Campaigning for a national strategy on mental health

His letters opened with his personal story: His mother killed herself when she was 24 years old and he was five; his father died of a drug overdose two years ago at the age of 40.

Then Irvine dove into the national picture, describing suicide as an “epidemic” in which the country loses “too many people every year, from First Nations and Canadian youth to men and women in uniform, and my mother.”

Eventually, Irvine’s letter asked MPs to open up a dialogue with their constituents on mental health and to push for a national suicide prevention strategy – a plan that goes a few steps beyond the “framework” currently in play.

Initially, only 40 MPs responded, Irvine said; none of the current federal leaders, including Trudeau was among those.

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A young Noah Irvine and his late father, Kent Martin.
A young Noah Irvine and his late father, Kent Martin.
A young Noah Irvine and his late father, Kent Martin.
A young Noah Irvine and his late father, Kent Martin.
A young Noah Irvine and his late father, Kent Martin.
A young Noah Irvine and his late father, Kent Martin.
A young Noah Irvine and his late father, Kent Martin.
A young Noah Irvine and his late father, Kent Martin.

Since going public with the “disappointing” response rate, Irvine received a letter from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, letters from about 20 more MPs, a phone call and meeting with the health minister, a meeting with one of the prime minister’s advisers and, finally, is scheduled to speak with Trudeau.

Though pleased with the response so far, Irvine expressed significant concern with the fact he has yet to hear from NDP leadership candidates Niki Ashton and Charlie Angus, both of whom represent regions where the need for mental health care is particularly acute.

“I’m really upset about that,” Irvine said. “Charlie Angus stands in the House of Commons and raises concerns about Attawapiskat but won’t acknowledge or answer this letter.”

READ MORE: Guelph teen meets with federal health minister to call for action on mental health issues

Attawapiskat, in northern Ontario, declared a state of emergency last year amid a spike in suicides and suicide attempts. One year after the declaration, members of the small indigenous community say there is still a desperate lack of mental health resources.

Around the same time as Attawapiskat declared its state of emergency, Ashton was publicly calling on the federal government to take action in her northern Manitoba community where residents were also in the midst of a suicide crisis.

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Global News asked the Angus and Ashton campaigns for comment. Angus’ campaign did not provide a response, while Ashton released a statement expressing her “sincere sympathies to Noah.”

In her statement, Ashton said she agrees with Irvine’s approach to a national mental health strategy and applauded his work for the conversation it has sparked on a national level and in the House of Commons.

WATCH: Guelph teen’s letters to all MPs about mental health leads to a meeting with Prime Minister’s office

Guelph teen’s letters to all MPs about mental health leads to a meeting with Prime Minister’s office
Guelph teen’s letters to all MPs about mental health leads to a meeting with Prime Minister’s office

“I will continue to fight alongside people like Noah in making sure Canada gets a national mental health strategy,” Ashton wrote after highlighting some of her campaign planks that include improving the transition of mental health services from youth to adult and paid sick leave for all workers.

Outgoing NDP leader Tom Mulcair didn’t send a letter back to Irvine either, Irvine said.

“I understand [Mulcair] is on his way out, but I still think he can write a letter,” he said before pivoting back to the current candidates.

“If Charlie Angus and Niki Ashton don’t respond, I know they don’t really care about this issue.”

READ MORE: 1 year after suicide crisis, Attawapiskat still lacking mental health resources

In anticipation of his phone meeting with Trudeau, scheduled for Friday at 1 p.m., Irvine’s been writing out his pitch and jotting notes on the topics he feels are most important to raise with the prime minister.

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At the top of the list is establishing a mental health secretariat within the Prime Minister’s Office, similar to the Liberal government’s 2017 budget pledge to create a LGBTQ2 secretariat.

“I understand a secretariat is a symbol, but it’s an important symbol,” Irvine said. “The secretariat addresses gaps left by governments past and present who haven’t done their jobs properly and is very important for Canadians who need more care.”

READ MORE: Northern Manitoba community declares state of emergency over suicide epidemic

Secondly, he said he wants Trudeau to get an accurate pulse of his cabinet on the issue in light of one response he received from a minister. The response, Irvine said, thanked him for sending the letter about “what you describe as an epidemic,” which Irvine said he found dismissive.

“That’s a very different message than what the prime minister and health minister are saying,” he said.

Finally, Irvine said he’s going to ask Trudeau to take the issue to his upcoming meeting with the provincial premiers, who hold control over health policies in their jurisdictions.