His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, hosted a conference at Rideau Hall in Ottawa last month to discuss concussions, which have been of increasing concern as a public health issue in recent years.
The conference, "We Can Do Better: Governor General's Conference on Concussion in Sport," brought together experts from across the country in the fields of health, sport, government, recreation and education to provide perspective from each field on the state of concussion prevention and management in Canada and what should come next to keep kids and youth safe in sport.
Dr. Charles Tator, neurosurgeon and research director of the Canadian Concussion Centre, participated in the conference as part of the medical panel discussion on "Improving Concussion Management."
UHN News sat down with Dr. Tator, a pioneer in the field of concussion prevention and research who was recently promoted within the Order of Canada to an Officer, to hear his thoughts on the conference and where this collective of advocates should go from here.
Q: In your opinion, what was the significance of this conference?
A: The conference was a very useful event not only because someone of the Governor-General's status is bringing attention to the efforts currently underway to better understand and prevent concussions, but it also gives this issue a stamp of approval that it is important for the country to address it.
Q: What do you think the conference achieved?
A: In addition to the awareness it brought to the issue of concussion, the conference took account of the many efforts underway to deal with this issue.
There are many advocates from different fields, including myself, who have been toiling away to make sense of concussions – either through education or research. Now that we know of the different efforts going on nationally, we can pool resources, eliminate duplication and take advantage of this momentum to move the issue forward.
There hasn't been any movement towards national solutions on this issue for a number of years, and now it seems several initiatives have caught fire simultaneously and we really should start bringing them together.
Q:What do you hope to see come of this meeting of stakeholders under the Governor-General's guidance?
A: What we really need is a national concussion strategy that will result in laws to ensure parents, teachers, coaches and kids are educated on what concussions are, how to recognize them and how to avoid them while still enjoying sports. We're at least a decade on from concussion being recognized as a condition that needs attention but we're still debating on how to prevent and manage those that still occur. The national efforts I mentioned that are already taking place, need to be consolidated so that we're all singing from the same song book so to speak.
Q: How do we map getting from the conclusion of this conference to a national strategy?
A: We're headed in the right direction but there is still a lot of work to be done before we reach a national strategy.
However, I'm encouraged by the Governor-General's leadership as well as the federal government's investment in improved concussion protocols. In 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent letters to the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities and the Minister of Health asking them to focus on concussions in children and look at how to harmonize existing protocols to improve concussion management which resulted in money being invested in those efforts.
There has also been progress on concussion legislation. In Ontario, the
Rowan's Law Advisory Committee Act (Rowan's Law) was passed in 2016 to establish a committee to review the 49 recommendations that resulted from the inquest into the death of Rowan Stringer – a high school rugby player who died as a result of concussion. My hope is that the committee will decide that laws on concussion management and education should be implemented which could be a driving force needed for a national law to protect kids and youth.
Q: Do you think the strategy will be achieved?
A: I'm optimistic. This conference has definitely moved things forward. However, it has taken us over a decade to reach this point and I hope it won't take another 10 years before a strategy is implemented. We've had a lot of discussion about concussion and the consensus is that something needs to be done,