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Mental health and addictions activist is taking a break after a three-year odyssey

Noah Irvine’s campaign urges government leaders to 'Stand up and do better,' but he sees a fractured system

Noah Irvine was an unlikely activist when he began his campaign three years ago. Back then he shunned the spotlight and spoke with modest dignity, but he has arguably done more to raise awareness about Canada’s mental health and addictions crisis than anyone in the country.

“I’m not that modest anymore,” he said with a grin. “This is probably the least modest thing I will ever say to a reporter, but one thing I know as I close this door, just a little bit, is that I did make this country just a little bit better.

"I don’t really like commending myself but at the end of the day it was for mom and dad and the millions in similar positions.”

Irvine lost his mother to suicide when he was five years old and ten years later when he was only 15 his father died from a prescription pain medication overdose. Both of his parents struggled with mental illness.

“After my dad died I was committed to saying something,” said Irvine. “One of the things with this is I wanted politicians and appointed representatives to understand that my mom and dad are not statistics. They are human beings that were failed by a system that we entrust to protect us all.”

He started his campaign in 2017 with a letter and he is ending it, at least for now, with a letter.

“I have written 1,200 letters to every territorial assembly, the senate, the House of Commons, the Lieutenant Governors, the Attorney General, the Queen, the Royal Family, and 10 or 15 mayors,” he said. “The last letter I wrote was to 44 individuals who I felt deserved it. They are people who responded in a way that actually addressed this issue.”

He has a large Tupperware container with a collection of hermetically sealed responses from a variety of people including the mayor of Saskatoon, the lieutenant general of Saskatchewan, the environment minister from the Northwest Territories and a spokesperson for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll.

“When I look at this box, I’m reminded that not many people have a box like that,” he said.

Irvine also embarked on a cross-country tour where he accumulated more first-hand experience and established more contacts with federal and provincial ministers and members of parliament than many lawyers and legislators will amass in an entire career.

His grandparents joined him on every leg of the journey.

“They never dreamed that their grandson’s name would be spoken on the House of Commons floor not once but twice,” said Irvine. “I don’t think they ever dreamed that the floor of the legislative assembly would hear my name nor did they ever expect me to meet the Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan in Regina in Government House. They are very proud and supportive of what I have done and am doing.”

Irvine advocated for a constitutional amendment and a complete restructuring of the provincially run health system that would establish a Ministry of Health and a Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions overseen by a federal secretariat.

His message resonated with many leaders and even made its way to the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who called Irvine to discuss the matter.

“It’s disappointing because we talked for more than 30 minutes and he agreed with everything I said then didn’t do a single thing,” said Irvine. “It’s not cynical to say he lied because he did. Trudeau most certainly doesn’t deserve the letter.”

The prime minister isn’t the only party leader cut from Irvine’s mailing list.

“Mike Schreiner being provincial leader and our MPP, he received it,” said Irvine. “Elizabeth May went above and beyond but Andrew Scheer doesn’t deserve the letter nor does Jagmeet Singh.”

Irvine said the issues with mental health and addictions are the same across the country and require a national effort to fix things.

“Charlie Clark, the mayor of Saskatoon wrote me and said, ‘the problems of our modern world will not be solved by our governments working in isolation’,” Irvine said. “It’s very true.”

He said partisan politics are paralyzing any chance of progress.

“In my last letter I stated quite clearly – enough of the partisanship,” he said. “Partisanship kills Canadians. I stand by that statement. The Legislative Assembly of Ontario’s motto is ‘Hear the other side’. I don’t know when the last time they heard each other was. Quite honestly, if they actually heard each other my parents might still be alive.”

Irvine is disappointed that his campaign didn’t have more impact but he remains optimistic as he prepares to earn a degree in political science.

“I have been accepted at three universities but I haven’t made my decision yet,” he said. “I am pretty political already. I don’t know if you can tell. I have already kicked some doors in.”

At the tender age of 19 he has a lot of life ahead of him and has no regrets for the decisions he’s made so far.

“I am stopping because a new part of my life is opening but this will forever be a part of my life,” he said. “Losing my mom and dad will never leave me. Having a commitment to bettering this country and our health care system is something I will continue to believe in. I won’t give up on that. My future is big. It’s been a wild ride. It’s been pretty cool.”