Saskatchewan NDP Leader Dr. Ryan Meili and MLA Doyle Vermette joined Justin Nyee, the uncle of Samwel Uko, to call on Health Minister Jim Reiter to accept responsibility on behalf of the provincial government for failing Samwel Uko, and to establish a public inquiry to examine the high rates of suicide that have been left unaddressed for too long.
“Minister Reiter needs to ensure that Saskatchewan families understand: what happened to Samwel must never happen again in our province,” said Meili. “Shockingly, this government seems far more concerned with managing the optics of their failure to prevent suicide in Saskatchewan than with actually doing something about it.”
Nyee confirms that the “apology” he received from the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) took the form of a voicemail message left on his phone by an official, with no follow-up, and that he was never contacted by Minister Reiter or Premier Moe.
“It was so hard to watch the footage of my nephew being thrown out of a hospital when he was seeking help,” said Nyee. “The voicemail I received did nothing to reduce that pain. We need to see action. Samwel deserves better, and that includes ensuring no one else ever has to go through the pain our family has experienced.”
In Saskatchewan, 144 people on average die by suicide each year. In northern Saskatchewan, suicide is the leading cause of death for people age 10 to 49. Indigenous girls in this province are 29 times more likely to die by suicide than non-Indigenous girls. And Sask Polytech has suspended its addictions counseling program due to a lack of provincial funding.
Vermette noted that Uko’s family is not alone in pushing the Sask. Party government to act. The MLA for Cumberland has twice introduced private members bills pushing for a suicide prevention strategy, which the Sask. Party has blocked, and Métis fiddler Tristen Durocher has been camped outside the Legislature on hunger strike for the past ten days after walking from La Ronge to Regina. The Premier has so far refused to meet with him.
“We have a suicide crisis in Saskatchewan, particularly in the North, and this government keeps failing to act,” said Vermette. “The Premier failed when his government voted down our bill for a provincial suicide strategy. He failed to apologize to Mr. Nyee for what his family has gone through. And he is failing again by refusing to meet with Tristen Durocher.
“We need to learn the lessons from Samwel’s death, but also from the many deaths that have taken place in the North with no action. A public inquiry will help provide tangible solutions we can act on to ensure that Saskatchewan leads the country and the world in preventing suicide. Let that be the legacy of Samwel and everyone we have lost to suicide in this province.”