Mr. Speaker, as always, I want to thank the constituents of Niagara West for electing me to represent them in Parliament and be their voice in this place on the key issues of our country. What is more important than the bill we are discussing today, Bill C-39, respecting medical assistance in dying? We all know how sensitive and complex a topic this is. We as parliamentarians, with this bill, are dealing with the issue of literal life and death, which is a deeply personal decision, and that is as complex as it gets.
On both sides of the House, the focus and priority of all of us is to ensure that safeguards are always in place for the most vulnerable people in our society, particularly for those with mental health challenges. I believe that we are all trying to get this legislation right. Lives are at stake, and again, we need to get this right. We also have to keep in mind that we have to be respectful and accepting of the different perspectives on this issue.
Many folks from my community in Niagara West are people of faith, and they are struggling with this concept of doctor-assisted suicide. This issue is of particular importance to the thousands of my constituents who took the time to write letters, send emails and make phone calls to my office to express their views. This is an issue that is exceptionally difficult to accept for many Canadians across the country, including those in my riding of Niagara West.
The planned legal death of someone who is terminally ill is a very delicate matter to begin with, but to open up the door for more people to qualify on mental health grounds, to me and to many of my constituents, is even more troubling. These folks want to ensure that we, as the representatives in this place, safeguard human life in the aftermath of the Carter v. Canada Supreme Court decision.
There is also strong concern that people with mental health issues may be persuaded into ending their lives while they are in a state of personal suffering. That is wrong, and I am sure that we all want to prevent that kind of thing from ever happening to anyone. I am also concerned that there may be horrible stereotypes reinforced, such as that that a life with a mental health challenge is not a life worth living, or that living with it is a fate worse than death. This cannot happen.
I know it has already been discussed, but I would like to provide some information and context for my constituents who are not yet aware of how we got to this point and why we are currently discussing medical assistance in dying in Parliament.
On February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that grievously suffering patients had the right to ask for help in ending their lives. This was the Carter v. Canada decision. In other words, the Supreme Court made medical assistance in dying a legal right for Canadians under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court declared that paragraph 241(1)(b) and section 14 of the Criminal Code, which prohibited assistance in terminating life, infringed upon the charter rights of life, liberty and security of the person for individuals who wanted to access an assisted death. The Supreme Court decision was suspended for a year to give the government time to enact legislation that reconciled the Charter of Rights of individuals and patients. As a result, the government introduced Bill C-14 on April 14, 2016, and it received royal assent on June 17, 2016. Medical assistance in dying has been legal ever since.
An important fact to remember, once again, is that the legalization of assisted death began with the Supreme Court decision in Carter v. Canada. The last time I spoke to this issue, I reiterated my concern, and the concern expressed by thousands of my constituents, that there simply are not sufficient safeguards for those who are most vulnerable in relation to accessing medical assistance in dying. I feel the same today.
I believe my esteemed colleague from Calgary Nose Hill is absolutely correct. This week, she spoke to the same bill and said that she finds it reprehensible and an abdication of responsibility of every parliamentarian of every political stripe to allow medically assisted dying to be extended to Canadians with mental health challenges, given the abject, miserable state of mental health supports in Canada. She spoke about the difficulties in accessing mental health supports across the country, and I believe she is correct. Mental health services are not readily available. They are also very expensive. The availability of quality mental health services must be there across the country before we even start to consider this debate on legislation that allows folks experiencing mental health issues to seek medical assistance in dying.
Let us not forget something very important here: One of the symptoms of a mental health issue is the unfortunate thought of wishing to die. How can we not get our mental health care system in order first before we contemplate allowing folks to commit medically assisted suicide because of a potentially treatable mental health challenge? I cannot fathom a life being lost because of a treatable mental health issue that went untreated because of a lack of quality and available supports.
I am sure my hon. colleagues have also heard the story of an Ontario man who requested MAID, not because he wanted to die, but because he thought it was a preferable alternative to being homeless. Housing is another major issue the government has not adequately addressed. We should not be a country where folks who are homeless should live in such despair that they feel they have no option than to request medical assistance in dying.
In another story, a disabled Ontario woman applied for MAID after seven years of applying for affordable housing in Toronto with no luck. I think we are all in agreement that these types of cases should never happen.
I am also very concerned about the mental health of all Canadians, given the difficult times we are in. Inflation is at a generational high. The cost of groceries is up 11%. Half of Canadians are cutting back on groceries, and 20% of Canadians are skipping meals. The carbon tax is being tripled, adding unnecessary costs to families’ gas, grocery and home heating bills.
The average rent in Canada’s 10 largest cities is more than $2,200 a month, up more than $1,000 a month over the last eight years. Average monthly mortgage costs have more than doubled, now costing Canadians over $3,000 a month. We are seeing a record number of Canadians visiting food banks.
All of this takes a tremendous toll on the mental health of families, seniors and especially those suffering with mental illness and other vulnerable groups. Life was not exactly easy for many people before the pandemic, and it has certainly gotten worse with the inflationary crisis we are in. The important thing to remember here is that investments into mental health services must be made a top priority, because as we all agree, mental health is health.
Let us turn back to Bill C-39. I believe there should be strong safeguards to ensure those most vulnerable never fall through the cracks and end up on a list of people to be medically put to death before they have exhausted all avenues to live a meaningful life.
Let us be clear about something, medical assistance in dying is a tremendously difficult issue to debate. It is a highly emotional topic, and there are many factors and personal convictions that come into play. We agree on many things, but we also disagree strongly on others.
On this issue, specifically, we must respect and listen to one another’s views as we chart the course of our future and the future realities of those who are most vulnerable. We can either signal to them that we care by expanding mental health supports and investing in quality services, or we can unfortunately go down a dark path of allowing those who are struggling with treatable mental health challenges the opportunity to end their lives.
I support investing in our people by providing quality and easily accessible mental health treatments. However, this is not what the government’s Bill C-39 does. It seeks to delay, for one year, the implementation of provisions that would expand the availability of assisted dying to those whose sole underlying condition is mental illness. That is wrong.
Unfortunately, the Liberal government has brought forward this delay to their MAID expansion because they failed to heed the concerns of our Conservative members, mental health advocates and Canadians when they passed legislation in 2021. I personally do not believe that we should ever give up on those experiencing mental illness. According to the most recent polls, a majority of Canadians would agree with me.
A majority of Canadians oppose the government’s plan to offer assisted dying to patients with incurable mental illness. The Angus Reid poll shows 51% of respondents said they oppose the expansion of medical assistance in dying to Canadians whose sole condition is mental illness. In other words, 51% of Canadians believe that we should be focused on offering help and treatment rather that assisted death.
Having said all this, at this point we will be supporting this delay to prevent the immediate expansion of assisted death to those suffering with mental illness. In the near future, we will bring forward alternative proposals. My hope is that the we all uphold the original objective of the initial legislation, which was “to affirm the inherent and equal value of every person’s life and to avoid encouraging negative perceptions of the quality of life of persons who are elderly, ill or disabled.” That we must protect “vulnerable persons...from being induced, in moments of weakness, to end their lives.”
This issue is very important to me and to many of my constituents, and I look forward to working with all my colleagues, from all parties, to get this right.