Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to address the government's motion on a response to the Senate regarding the amendments it has made to Bill C-14. My personal involvement in this process began in January when I had the honour to serve on a special all-party and Senate committee. My colleague, the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, was a very important member of that committee as well. Our mandate was to advise the government on a response that would respect the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Carter, respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and respect the priorities of Canadians.
I have told the House before how very proud I was of the work that we accomplished together, and the spirit as well with which we worked in that place. We knew that the government would not accept all of our recommendations, but each was based on the evidence and faithfully respected the testimony that we heard, testimony of experts who came to us from across this country and reached out to others in the process.
Since Bill C-14 was introduced in the House, I, like many others, have focused great attention on its most surprising feature. That feature was the decision of the government to narrow the declaration of the Supreme Court of Canada to a much smaller circle of eligibility, and it could have proved to be a fatal flaw.
That was the testimony, after all, of the Canadian Bar Association, the Quebec Bar Association, Jean-Pierre Ménard, Joseph Arvay, and later the testimony of Canada's foremost constitutional scholar, Professor Peter Hogg. That was the conclusion, as well, of the courts in Ontario and Alberta. That flaw was important, not only because it fatally weakened the bill against the charter challenge, but also because it would force suffering Canadians to launch a court battle. That flaw was so important and so glaring that it overshadowed much of what was good about Bill C-14. Colleagues who have grown tired of hearing me warn about charter challenges and infringed rights will be pleased to hear little of that from me today, because that fatal flaw has been erased from the bill that is now before the House.
The bill as amended now combines a clear and faithful implementation of the Supreme Court ruling with a system of stringent medical safeguards to individually screen every request for assistance in dying. Those safeguards are based on the evidence received by the all-party committee. They reflect the best practices of other jurisdictions as well as made-in-Canada provisions, which members of all parties have helped shape over the course of this debate.
Without the amendment that came to us from the other place, as Peter Hogg has testified, the bill would not be consistent with the decision in Carter. That was his clear testimony. It also would remove a victory that would be taken from those individuals in Canada who could not comply with the very narrow, and frankly inexplicable restriction, of reasonably foreseeable death. Those individuals have that right as of today until Bill C-14 is enacted. Those rights will be taken away should the motion by the government be passed.
However, I am happy to say that the bill before us today, which contains the language of the Supreme Court decision, would of course be compliant with that decision and with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As Professor Hogg has said in the clearest possible terms, if it is not fixed as per the amendment that comes to us today, it will be struck down in the Supreme Court of Canada.
When I speak of Mr. Hogg and I hear the government saying we have different experts in different places, I suppose it is important to remind the House of the accomplishments of that individual. His decisions and his book have been cited over 200 times in the Supreme Court of Canada. By my reckoning, it has been cited 1,627 times in the courts of Canada. To suggest that this professor is just another person with an opinion is really quite disturbing, because the government itself, the Department of Justice, has retained that individual on countless occasions.
For him to say, as he did in the other place, that the bill, without the amendment before us today that would fix the problem, is somehow unconstitutional, that it is just another expert, that lawyers differ, economists differ, whatever, is simply misleading.
Canada's leading constitutional scholar has said in the clearest possible terms that without the amendment that happily is now in the bill before us for debate, it has to be fixed. I termed that testimony a game-changer, because I wondered how on earth a government that has retained this gentleman dozens of times could now turn around and say, as the minister did this morning in her speech, that constitutional scholars just differ and that is how it works.
Happily we have in front of us a bill as amended in the other place that we can support, and that is the good news for Canadians. Some amendments come before us to deal with things like palliative care, an amendment that would require all patients considering medical assistance in dying to get a full briefing on palliative care options.
Another amendment would deal with restricting people who help a person in assisted dying, tightening the rules around what role a person who could materially benefit from the death could do.
Another amendment that comes from the other place would compel the Minister of Health to draft regulations around death certificates and provide greater clarity on what information is collected by medical practitioners.
Another amendment calls for a report to be issued to Parliament within two years on issues that have arisen from the provision of physician-assisted dying. Finally, there are some minor language amendments.
The safeguards in the bill reflect many things. They provide the high degree of care, caution, and scrutiny that is necessary to match a court ruling that was broad in its compassion for the right of suffering Canadians to choose. They reflect the confidence that Canadians have in the skill and judgment of our health care professionals, and they reflect the realities of our vast and diverse country, and the principles of equity that undergird our public health care system, of which Canadians should be so proud.
Much has been said in this chamber about the need to balance respect for the autonomy and protection for the individual. We have heard that so often. The Supreme Court of Canada was unanimous in its analysis of our charter, and it ruled definitively on the question of whose autonomy must be respected on this deeply personal matter of choice.
It was for us, as legislators, then to choose what combination of safeguards might be necessary to screen out from that group those who, by virtue of diminished capacity or external pressure, must be denied this option for their own safety. We consider this question carefully, knowing that excessive caution would have its costs. Excessive barriers would not protect the vulnerable. Rather, they would condemn competent, autonomous, adult Canadians to intolerable suffering by wrongly denying their right to choose.
Neither could the solution be to presumptively deny the autonomy of a whole class of persons granted their right to choose by the Supreme Court of Canada. No matter the rhetoric, to presumptively deny people's autonomy, to assess them not as unique individuals, but to dismiss them blindly as a group, to me, is as deeply patronizing and offensive as it is unnecessary.
The Supreme Court expressed faith in us as legislators that we could devise what they called “a carefully designed and monitored system of safeguards” to address the risks associated with offering the compassionate choice of medical assistance in dying. I, for one, believe the court's faith was not misplaced.
We remember what the Supreme Court of Canada said in Carter:
We have concluded that the laws prohibiting a physician's assistance in terminating life...infringe Ms. Taylor's s. 7 rights to life, liberty and security of the person that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice, and that the infringement is not justified under s. 1 of the Charter. To the extent that the impugned laws deny the s. 7 rights of people like Ms. Taylor they are void by operation of s. 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
Here is what the court went on to add:
it is for Parliament and the provincial legislatures...should they so choose, by enacting legislation consistent with the constitutional parameters set out in these reasons.
There are two key points that came out of the Supreme Court's pronouncement. The first is that we did not have to do this at all. The court decision could have stood on its own, as in fact it is doing now, along with the safeguards that the provincial and territorial regulators have put in place. We did not need to do what we have done, but we did, in the words of the court, choose to do so.
The second point, though, is equally important: that we could only do so if what we enacted as legislation was “consistent with the constitutional parameters set out in [our] reasons”.
Here is what Professor Hogg testified in the other place. He said, “In my opinion, [the bill] is not consistent with the constitutional parameters set out in [the Carter reasons].”
The amended bill before us would fix it and be possible for all of us to work in the spirit of collaboration, as we did so effectively in the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying and the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. We wrapped our hands around something that would make Canadians proud, wrapped our arms something that would show the compassion that the Supreme Court of Canada showed in the Carter decision, rather than dividing us on party lines or other lines.
All that the amendment the government announced today it wishes not to follow would do is to ensure that it is consistent with the Supreme Court of Canada and the charter. Much has been said about the fact that we need not follow and put into legislation the precise words of a court judgment. Of course, that is right. The simple path was to put the actual language of the decision into the legislation because that was clear and obvious, and certainly no one could say it would be unconstitutional to do so. Rather, the government wishes to use the words “reasonably foreseeable” natural death, which people on all sides of this place have demonstrated is ludicrous language.
Dr. Douglas Grant, head of the regulatory body for all medical regulatory authorities across the country, has pointed out that the language is vague and unworkable from a medical point of view. The government proposed to take the words of the Supreme Court of Canada, though it did not need to, but at least no one can say they are bad, and substitute words that are incomprehensible to the people, physicians and health care providers, who are being required to implement them.
I cannot understand that. I particularly cannot understand it when to do so would be to take away the rights of Canadians that were hard fought for and won in the Supreme Court of Canada. Why? What do I tell those people who call me and say they have to decide whether to take their own life now, because after this bill comes into force that may not be an option available to them? They won that right in the Supreme Court of Canada. In no way do they feel they are near end of life. They may have 30 more years of excruciating pain and suffering, and how dare we say that they do not have that autonomy as a Canadian individual? However, now the government purports to take away that right.
Please understand that as of June 6, the Supreme Court decision stands alone, carefully governed by rules that apply to health care practitioners from coast to coast to coast. It is not the wild west, as colleagues have already pointed out. We have rules in place that are being enacted and carefully followed. If this motion passes, the moment the current government takes away those rights by saying that people have to have a reasonably foreseeable natural death, they will lose that right.
How can the Liberals possibly argue that this somehow would not deprive Canadians of rights that they won in the court? These are real people. This is real suffering. The government says no, that it has this delicate balance right, and it calls it a public policy choice. Some Canadians think that the government goes too far and some Canadians say it does not go far enough, so it will come right down the middle. That frame is wrong. We are here because we chose to implement a unanimous Supreme Court of Canada decision.
We are not here to say we will pick and choose what we like about this issue.
Can we add additional safeguards? Absolutely, and I am proud of what we did. Can we deal with palliative care? Yes. Can we deal with conscience rights? Of course, and we did, and I am proud of what we achieved.
The elephant in the room is that an entire class of successful litigants have had those rights deprived in this place.
The good news is that we can fix that. We have a path to do that, which comes from the other place. It is language we tried to get through the House before. I do not care where it comes from. I am on the side of suffering Canadians who want the rights that they had before.
It is worth reminding ourselves of a very simple fact. We are not called upon to legalize medical assistance in dying. That was already done by the Supreme Court of Canada and is now the law of the land. Instead, we were invited, if the government chose to do so, to offer the broader framework necessary to give clarity and comfort to all Canadians.
I believe that balance has been achieved in the bill that we have before us, as amended. The words of the Supreme Court are there to speak to whose autonomy must be respected, and the work of all parliamentarians is reflected in the system of safeguards before us. The onus must now be on the government to explain why it proposes to cut the words of the Supreme Court judgment out of the bill we have received from the other chamber.
I know that many of us share a common belief that no one can ever make this difficult choice of medical assistance in dying for another. but by rejecting the ruling of the Supreme Court and removing its words from the bill, that is exactly what the government suggests that we do. I cannot accept that, and on a free vote, it is up to all members to decide whether they can accept that.
I would ask all members in this place to consider the alternative; that is, to accept that what we now have is a balanced bill that bears the marks of the Supreme Court, of Parliament, and of thousands of Canadians who participated in consultations and town halls along the way.
I feel we have in our hands, now, what the special all-party committee set out, in January, to produce; that is, a bill that respects the Supreme Court ruling, respects the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and respects the priority of Canadians.
We do not need to reopen the debate and cut out the words of the Supreme Court. We do not need to reject the charter fix, which was proposed in this chamber, adopted by the other chamber, and confirmed as constitutional by a most respected scholar on the charter.
That the motion be amended by:
a) Deleting the paragraph commencing with the words “respectfully disagrees with amendments 2b, 2c(ii) and 2c(iii)”; and
b) Replacing the words “agrees with amendments numbered 1, 2d, 2e, 4 and 5” with “agrees with amendments 1, 2b, 2c(ii), 2c(iii), 2d, 2e, 4 and 5”;