Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-14, the government's response to the Carter decision that we have recently dealt with by tabling this particular piece of legislation.
I wish to state at the outset that I will be supporting the bill, but with some reservations. I will explain why I believe the bill deserves support, but by the same token, I believe that somehow in a future Parliament the bill could go further.
I intend to engage in this discussion by going through three thematic components in the brief 10 minutes I have to make my contribution to this important debate. I know this has been at times an emotional issue for parliamentarians, but in the three thematic components, I wish to give my rationale for my support at this time.
The first of the three themes looks at the moral considerations that many members and much of the broader public have expressed. Second, I want to discuss perhaps more fulsomely our duty as parliamentarians to respond to issues of constitutionality, particularly when they are challenged in the courts. Third, in the short remaining time I will have, I wish to express some personal thoughts on this as it impacts me directly.
First, I want to thank many constituents in my riding of Scarborough—Agincourt for their interventions on this subject. This has been an emotional matter, and I would have to state on the record that the overwhelming majority of constituents who reached out to me are opposed to the government introducing Bill C-14. That has been primarily on moral grounds. They feel that allowing physician-assisted death is essentially tantamount to murder.
In the opportunities I have had to discuss this matter with my constituents, I made it clear that Parliament is under a positive obligation to respond to the decision in the Carter case. If Parliament does not present some form of legislation, the consequence of its failure to do so would mean that the provisions of section 14 and subsection 241(b) of the Criminal Code would no longer be operative as of June 6. We would essentially be left in the situation of a legislative vacuum. It is important to put a regulatory framework around physician-assisted death.
As I pivot from the issue of morality to the issue of our responsibility as parliamentarians, I want to raise the point that while morality is important, and this has been a theme discussed in the House, ultimately we as parliamentarians must first make sure that we put in laws that pass the constitutional test. Where the Supreme Court of Canada has rendered a decision indicating that something is not constitutional, that it is a breach of some form of the constitution, whether on jurisdictional grounds or on grounds under the charter, Parliament needs to respond. In my view, that is what the government is doing in Bill C-14, under a very difficult timeline. That is perhaps why there has been a decision to introduce Bill C-14 in a relatively controlled and restrictive manner. It is reflective of the fact that we are under a very tight time obligation.
Therefore, I understand why the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Health and others, who have done yeoman's work in this regard, have taken initial steps to make sure it meets the constitutional test set out by the Supreme Court of Canada. However, in my view, it does not necessarily go far enough.
I want to pay tribute to the ministers and to all the other many parties and Canadians who have contributed to the debate. I note that there was incredible work done by the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying, led by Senator Ogilvie and the member for Don Valley West. I want to pay tribute to all the members who participated in that committee.
I want to note the contributions of the federal external panel, the provincial-territorial expert panel, and the many stakeholders and Canadians who have contributed to this very difficult debate.
I would note, though, that not only have many of my constituents expressed concerns with respect to this particular bill, but in some specific instances they have asked us to consider invoking the section 33 notwithstanding clause found in the charter, which of course is the legislative override provision. I would view that as a more sophisticated way of saying they oppose it and that ultimately parliamentarians should please consider overriding the charter rights of certain individuals by invoking or using the notwithstanding clause.
I would say to those individuals who have expressed that particular feeling that this is something we have to do and tread upon very carefully, particularly where we are potentially treading on rights that have been protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I would submit respectfully that it is important we do so in a manner that follows the tests that are similarly found in section 1 that were ultimately articulated in the Oakes decision that deals with the judicial override clause that is found in the charter.
Under Oakes, there are essentially three tests that need to be met, and if any one of those tests fails, namely in dealing with the judicial override, then one would not be able to invoke section 1, and I would argue that one would have to use the same principles under section 33 in exercising the legislative override. Those three tests basically deal with rational connection, that the impairment is done in as minimal a way as possible, and that we look at the deleterious effects and salutary benefits of any limitation that is imposed under section 1.
Typically, in application of section 1 of the charter in most instances, the failure falls under the second test, that the impairment is not as minimal as possible. Certainly, that was the basis in which the section 1 test was applied in Carter and which the court found that the proposed absolute ban on physician-assisted death did not meet the minimal impairment test. The court had carefully gone through the trial judge's analysis and concurred with the trial judge's position with respect to the application of section 1.
In terms of whether we would consider invoking section 33, as I mentioned already, this Parliament, this House of Commons, has never exercised section 33 as a legislative override, and I would argue that we too should be extremely careful. That is the test that we need to apply as parliamentarians in terms of determining whether we feel it is appropriate to use the legislative override.
As I mentioned before, the bill seeks to meet in a very expedited fashion a court-imposed time challenge and to deal with the suspension of the declaration of invalidity under sections 14 and 241 of the Criminal Code of Canada. We must do so by June 6.
As I have indicated before, I will be providing my support for the bill, but I would argue that there are a couple of additional things that we as a Parliament need to consider in the future. These were articulated quite clearly in the report from the special joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons.
My first issue is that the bill currently does not deal with the issue of advance directives. I am sympathetic to those Canadians, particularly those who are suffering from diseases like ALS and others, who may still be in quite good shape at the present time, but at some future point, when they are getting close to their end-of-life situation, will not be able to express their particular consent. In my view, the issue of a clearly articulated regulatory framework that allows for advance consent should be considered.
I am also—