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Sask. government meets with suicide prevention advocate protesting at legislature

Click to play video 'Minister meets with suicide prevention protester' Minister meets with suicide prevention protester
WATCH: Tristen Durocher is one week into his hunger strike as he continues to call for a fix to Saskatchewan’s suicide crisis. The milestone comes a day after Durocher was approached at his teepee camp by two cabinet ministers – Aug 6, 2020

The Saskatchewan government says it met with Tristen Durocher, an advocate protesting on the front lawn of the legislature building, to discuss suicide prevention in the province.

Joined by dozens of supporters, Durocher completed a 28-day, 635-kilometre walk to promote awareness for suicide prevention from La Ronge to Regina on July 31.

Durocher, who trekked under the banner “Walking With Our Angels,” then began a hunger strike in a teepee.

Minister of Rural and Remote Health Warren Kaeding and Minister of First Nations, Métis, and Northern Affairs Lori Carr sat down with Durocher on Wednesday.

Read more: Hunger strike begins at Sask. legislature following 635-km suicide prevention trek

“Our government will continue working to implement Pillars for Life: The Saskatchewan Suicide Prevention Plan,” the province said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.

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“As part of this work, we will continue to engage the FSIN, Métis Nation—Saskatchewan, northern leaders and frontline workers to seek solutions to prevent suicide in communities across Saskatchewan.

“Pillars for Life recognizes that solutions must be community-driven and consider local history, economic and social factors.”

The five pillars align with those set out by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, according to the province.

Staff will continue to work through input of mental health professionals to provide suicide prevention initiatives and activities, the email added.

Durocher said it will take more than that to offer meaningful support.

“That’s not good enough to tackle the province with the highest suicide rates per capita in this country,” Durocher said after his meeting with the ministers.

“That’s a disgusting, indifferent little token amount of change that is intolerable.”

Read more: Advocate calls for legislation to address Saskatchewan’s high Indigenous suicide rate

Saskatchewan invested $435 million in mental health and addictions services in 2020-21.

“The tragic loss of a person by suicide is felt not only by family and friends, but by the entire community and province,” the statement read.

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“Our government is always open to conversations about how we can make improvements to the challenges of mental health and suicide prevention.”

Of that $435 million in funding, $1.2 million will support the first-year actions within the prevention plan.

Read more: Saskatchewan government introduces ‘Pillars for Life’ suicide prevention plan

Durocher said he didn’t walk all the way to Regina from La Ronge just to hear about Pillars of Life. Instead, he wants government officials to meet with frontline healthcare and education workers in the North to better understand what resources they need.

“Everybody should care. This is beyond just Indigenous people. We are here in the interest of the public good,” he said.

While he’s happy the meeting took place in person, Durocher said it didn’t go as he had hoped.

He said Premier Scott Moe was invited, but chose not to attend.

He said he also invited NDP leader Ryan Meili, but Meili wasn’t welcome by the ministers.

“This should be beyond partisanship. I gave them the opportunity to have the leader of the Opposition, the leader of the majority together in one space to show Saskatchewan, to show the hopeless, to show the youth, to show the children … that we care about them,” Durocher said.

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“I call that a pretty dark moment in Saskatchewan history when a sitting premier and a leader of the Opposition weren’t allowed to be in the same room.

“That’s not leadership. That’s some high school immaturity.”

Read more: Saskatchewan government tells ‘Walking With Our Angels’ protest camp to leave Wascana Park

Durocher added the ministers told him that the province may seek a court order to have him removed from the park, as his protest camp violates a bylaw.

“I await my removal, and when this teepee is removed, I will not be removed,” he said.

Global News reached out to Kaeding’s office for comment, but has not heard back.

– With files from Connor O’Donovan and Jonathan Guignard

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.