The Liberal government’s mixed messages on assisted dying

Last August, near the start of what would become a marathon federal election, the Liberal Party of Canada made a promise about assisted dying that gave right-to-die advocates hope.

They said a Liberal government in power would “appoint a special committee to consider the ruling of the Supreme Court, consult with experts and Canadians, and make recommendations for a legislative framework that respects the Constitution, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the priorities of Canadians.”

In fairness, the Liberal government did appoint a special committee. The Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying produced an insightful and thoughtful report earlier this year with several progressive and inspiring recommendations. Had these recommendations been adopted in the Liberal government’s assisted dying bill, the proposed legislation would have respected Canadians’ wishes and constitutional rights.

But, as we all know, the Liberal government completely ignored their committee’s recommendations and proposed a shockingly restrictive bill that neither respects the Charter nor the priorities of Canadians—85 per cent of which supported the Supreme Court’s decision. What’s worse, Bill C-14 does not comply with the standards put forward by the Supreme Court in its unanimous Carter v. Canada ruling, making it clear that the Liberals did not follow through with the promise they made last year.

And their broken promise could ultimately bar many suffering Canadians from accessing their Charter right to dying.

With just a few weeks to go before the June 6 deadline, it has become clear that the Liberal government is trying to rush Bill C-14 through Parliament by minimizing debate. Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc confirmed earlier this week that he will not send the bill to committee before second reading—a procedural move that means the committee will be limited in the changes it can make in the next round. Just days before this was announced, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould promised that they would welcome a “robust discussion and debate within Parliament and certainly at committees.” It doesn't appear that that will be the case.

In other words, committee members will not be able to review the bill and make substantive amendments to a proposed legislation that desperately needs changing.

That means, moving forward, our only hope lies with the Senate. Several senators—many of whom sat on the joint parliamentary committee and have considerable expertise on the matter—have publicly expressed their concerns over the narrow bill. Recent media reports suggest that the bill could be obstructed by senators, potentially forcing amendments to be made. But this outcome is far from guaranteed.

Just one year ago, our movement felt inspired by the landmark Carter decision and buoyed by the commitment to compassionate choice put forward by a Liberal party vying for power. Now that they’re in power, the Liberals risk leaving thousands of suffering Canadians behind with a proposed bill that violates the Charter. Instead of compassion and choice, many Canadians—those in excruciating pain, but whose “natural death is not reasonably foreseeable,” for example—will have to cling instead to a promise broken.

(Header photo credit: A Yee/Flickr)

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