Learn more about the origins of CASP and the passionate individuals who started it all

The Origins of CASP

The roots of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP) can be traced to 1979 when a group of Canadian suicidologists (Jim Browne, Diane Syer, Pat Harnisch Bernd Osborg, Sol Hirsh, and Gordon Winch) recognized the lack of an unified voice for suicide prevention within and across our country. In 1985, through the efforts of these researchers and clinicians, CASP was officially launched. Under the leadership of Antoon Leenaars in 1988, CASP fully emerged with a mandate “to promote within Canada activities designed to reduce the incidence and/or effects of suicide”. 

While CASP would shift its initiatives and projects as varied and diverse needs were identified, the core of its strategy would remain consistent: 

  • to provide a forum for the varied interests in Suicide in Canada; 
  • to lobby for recognition that Canada continues to face a national crisis in death by suicide; 
  • to bring together the voices of Canada’s diverse communities; 
  • to facilitate the grass –roots community and communication between researchers, clinicians, and lay-persons; and 
  • to support initiatives for the betterment of support for those impacted by suicide.

Among CASP’s most notable historical efforts was the drafting of the 1st and 2nd White Papers on Suicide Prevention in Canada. These documents would ultimately provide the foundation for the development of Canada’s national framework and adoption of legislation for suicide prevention. Additionally, Canada’s National Collaborative for Suicide Prevention was envisioned and developed in partnership between CASP, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the Mental Health Commission of Canada. The Collaborative’s purpose is to promote knowledge exchange, mobilize suicide prevention across Canada, and provide an impetus to policy development. Since CASP’s inaugural Conference in 1989 we have been at the forefront of providing opportunity for the advancement of suicide awareness. The annual National Conference provides a unique educational and networking opportunity for researchers, policy makers, clinicians, people with lived experience, and all those invested in suicide prevention efforts in Canada to come together in community.

Historical Areas of Focus

National Conference

One of the earliest contributions of CASP was to initiate an annual conference first held at St. Michael’s Hospital as a regional event in 1989. In 1990 the conference took on the form that still exists today – a National Conference providing opportunities for sharing research and clinical best practices, and an opportunity for networking of professionals invested in advancing suicide intervention, prevention, and postvention. The conference has been held annually across the nation drawing hundreds of delegates each year.

Indigenous Voice

In CASP’s efforts towards inclusivity it was important that there was a place for the voice of Indigenous peoples within the organization. Our Indigenous communities continue to be impacted by suicide rates that are absolutely unacceptable for a developed country. The National Conference, a designated Indigenous chair at the Board level, and the creation of the First Nations Advisory Council have helped to solidify the relationship with CASP. In recent years, the First Nations community has adopted a focus on Life Promotion as inclusive of efforts of suicide prevention but moving much beyond the narrower focus of the latter.   CASP is looking to follow suit.


CASP has repeatedly acted as a conduit to lobbying Canada’s Federal government for “national primary prevention efforts”. On many occasions, the organization has been called upon to provide input and education to our political leadership to bring home the issue of the state of mental health care across Canada. In 2004, CASP formulated its first Blueprint for a Canadian national suicide prevention strategy. In 2009, that document emerged in its second iteration. After enormous informal and formal lobbying efforts by CASP board members and Executive Directors, success was achieved as Charlie Angus put forth a private member’s bill for a 13-point Action Plan that was unanimously adopted by Parliament.  There remains a great deal of work to be done, and CASP will continue in its efforts to ensure this comes to fruition.

Language, Connecting and People with Lived Experience

Bringing the language and stigma of suicide out of the darkness was and continues to be a fundamental part of CASP initiatives. With efforts spear headed by CASP board members, much work has been done to ensure that the community of those impacted by suicide were heard and supported. It has become a traditional role for CASP to be a leader in developing connections for people impacted by suicide as well as bringing together those provide crucial support for those impacted by suicide. CASP has created a standing committee for People with Lived Experience that provides the organization with ongoing advice and guidance.

Networking and Collaboration

In an effort to bring together the various agencies that work within the field of suicide, CASP was responsible for bringing to fruition a National Collaborative for Suicide Prevention. The Collaborative in its current form consists of CASP, Public Health Agency of Canada, Mental Health Commission of Canada, Canadian Mental Health Association, Association québécoise de prévention du suicide, Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, Canadian Coalition for Seniors Mental Health, Canadian Psychiatric Association, Canadian Psychological Association, Centre for Suicide Prevention, Crisis Services Canada, First Nations, and Inuit Health Branch, Friends of Ruby, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Kids Help Phone, National Initiative for Eating Disorders, Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council, the Arthur Sommer Rotenberg Chair in Suicide and Depression Studies, Veterans Affairs Canada, and growing annually.


CASP has long supported the Suicidology Research Community. From its onset, CASP has built bridges between researchers, clinicians, and the community. Through CASP’s annual National Conference multiple platforms are provided for delegates to learn and integrate the findings of experts within the various areas of specialization that feed into greater foundational knowledge of suicide: risk, prevention, and postvention.

Promotion and Mental Health

A critical component of suicide prevention is mental health awareness and support. Through live and print media, generation of media guidelines, public speaking, and attendance at political events, CASP actively works to keep the complexity of suicide on the public agenda. Through direct promotion and support of education, Canadian initiatives around World Suicide Prevention Day, International Day for People Impacted by Suicide, CASP promotes awareness of the crisis of suicide and the importance of mental health. Advocacy for front –line support of those impacted by suicide, calls to action for resources, and integrated approaches to mental health and wellness are some of the avenues pursued by CASP to communicate and educate.