Criminal Code

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by thanking my colleague, the member of Parliament for Thornhill, for a very thoughtful presentation in this House.

A debate on Bill C-14 is an example of this House of Commons at its best. Canadians do not send us here to have unanimous agreement on issues of the day. We are here to represent our ridings, the constituents who have sent us to Ottawa. We belong to political parties. We have different leaders’ roles. However, we are Canadians who bring an experience and a point of view to this chamber.

Infrequently, we share that view in the personal stories that people bring to the House of Commons. Today, on the difficult subject of Bill C-14, I learned of my colleague’s perspective and personal experience with a member of his family, his personal experience covering the Rodriguez case in the 1990s as a journalist, and how that has combined to formulate his position on assisted dying or euthanasia. Members should welcome that.

It is unfortunate that we do not have a full House for important debates like this. We get so busy, but it is important for us to learn the perspective that each of us brings as a member of this chamber. We are not sent here to be surrogates for other interests or to run polls. We are sent with the judgment to try to look at legislation from the lens of our own experience, education, and background. Many members have brought that to this floor today, and I applaud them for it.

I have looked at Bill C-14, and I have struggled with it. Certainly this is a place where there are two sides on this issue, maybe broken down even more than that. However, there is compassion at the heart of both sides, and that is what is often forgotten in this debate. Why I say this should be the House of Commons at its best is that the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the role of Parliament to clarify the law with respect to euthanasia in a way that is thoughtful and complies with its direction in Carter. This is indeed one of the important debates that we should not fear in our House of Commons. We should ensure that we take part vigorously and share perspectives, as my friend from Thornhill has.

I have looked at Bill C-14, not just as a member of this chamber but also as a lawyer. I have reviewed the case law going back on this some 20 years. I have also reviewed it as a father of two children, a husband—I know my wife is watching today—and the son of a strong woman who died from cancer when I was nine. My most formative memories of my mother Mollie are in her palliative stage of that disease. Of course, all of these things combine to formulate my position on Bill C-14 and what I feel is the government’s position with respect to Carter.

However, I am using my speech today to talk about some of the concerns I have with the bill. I will start with a Supreme Court of Canada quote from Justice Sopinka:

Regardless of one’s personal views as to whether the distinctions drawn between withdrawal of treatment and palliative care, on the one hand, and assisted suicide on the other are practically compelling, the fact remains that these distinctions are maintained and can be persuasively defended.

Within the Rodriguez decision in 1993, the Supreme Court struggled with the role of the state at end of life in euthanasia or assisted dying. It struggled with whether that role should be passive with respect to palliative care, treating and helping and comforting and limiting pain at end of life, or whether the role of the state should be an active role at end of life.

Justice Sopinka, in the majority court in 1993, said that the bright line of the active versus passive could be persuasively defended. That was the language of the court. Canadians remember, as my friend from Thornhill did, the tragic circumstance of Ms. Rodriguez and her compassionate arguments with respect to that. Bill C-14 is about the role of the state. It is not suicide alone, and that is why we have to have legislation that both accepts the Carter decision but brings us to a position that Canadians can be comfortable with, that persuasively defends it.

The second quote I will use is from Carter, paragraph 117, as to why the court found the position of the trial judge to be compelling. It states:

We agree with the trial judge that the risks associated with physician-assisted death can be limited through a carefully designed and monitored system of safeguards.

At paragraph 120, it went on to state:

We should not lightly assume that the regulatory regime will function defectively….

What the Supreme Court did was to allow this Parliament to come up with a regulatory regime to function effectively. The importance of that function is to ensure that what both courts said, the court of the Sopinka decision and the unanimous court of today in Carter, is that the decisionally vulnerable should be safeguarded. That was clearly part of the direction of both courts. This key element, and the aspect of what I consider to be the challenge for an ironclad regulatory regime, the slippery slope argument, is where I find Bill C-14 to be failing. That is why I am not supportive of it.

In the Carter decision, the court said that it was not in a straitjacket because it rejected euthanasia in the Rodriguez decision, and it looked at it in light of recent charter decisions. However, it is looking to Parliament for a system that does not allow the decisionally vulnerable, those impacted by a terrible diagnosis, under the strain and stress of an illness, to at a moment want to take their life and have the state play a role in that. Both courts recognized that these are vulnerable Canadians who need to be safeguarded. My concern is that this would not take place within this legislation before this chamber.

If we look at the great work that members of the all-party committee did, from the aspects of the all-party committee recommendations to what is before us in Bill C-14, the bill actually reflects more of the work done by the Conservative opposition on that committee. However, it certainly shows an indication of where the regulatory regime regarding assisted death would go. At some point in the future, it will likely include mature minors, and it will likely include people afflicted with mental illness, because that was the recommendation of the all-party committee.

As a veterans advocate for years before I joined Parliament, and having the privilege of being the veterans minister, I have met dozens of veterans who would have been decisionally vulnerable when they were suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or another operational stress injury, but who are now leading productive lives as mothers and fathers. Some have returned to their role in the military. Many are actually advocating and helping other veterans.

Therefore, I am concerned with a regime that indicates that is where it will go. I know that Bill C-14 does not contain those provisions. However, the slippery slope element, which both the Sopinka courts and the McLachlin courts considered, show that is what we should anticipate in a few years. Although this House of Commons is well intentioned, with an impossible regulatory regime, unable to look at every situation, I think the persuasively defended bright line has not been accomplished in Bill C-14.

Another example I will provide is that the Carter family themselves have expressed concern with Bill C-14. However, the Minister of Justice, in her thoughtful remarks in this chamber, which I appreciated, suggested that both appellants would have been provided for with respect to their assisted death under Bill C-14. That is not according to the family. The minister had to use language relating to a condition that can become “reasonably foreseeable” of death. Therefore, even the distinction between the named plaintiff in this case, the position of the family and the people who advocated for them, is at odds with Bill C-14 and the position of the justice minister.

If anything shows the fact that there is already a slippery slope and a very difficult framework to set, I am concerned that this has been rushed and it will not defend and safeguard against the decisionally vulnerable.

Could Bill C-14 be improved or, if Parliament could take more time, could it address this issue that confronts this place with Carter? In my weighing of all of the issues, as I said, as a parliamentarian who tries to draw upon my own experiences, as everyone does in this place, I do not think Bill C-14 can do that. I still feel that the persuasively defended bright line accomplished in the Sopinka decision has not been met by Bill C-14. In addition, many of the concerns providing the slippery slope that the Supreme Court in Carter raised have not been addressed by Bill C-14 either.

However, I have appreciated people sharing their points of view on this important issue. Parliament should not fear important debates. Members should come here in a respectful and thoughtful tone.

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