Madam Speaker, today I am speaking again to the government's bill, Bill C-7. I join my Conservative colleagues in being the voice for those who do not have one, those who have been thoroughly ignored and cast aside. Throughout this bill's debate, many people from the disability community have cried out in fear that they will be victims of this deeply flawed bill. That is why we are here today. We are here to stand up for them and be the voice that the government cannot ignore.
The Liberals are in such a fevered rush to pass this bill that they completely rejected amendments Conservatives offered at committee that would have seen safeguards in place for the vulnerable among us. They are in such a rush because they want to meet some arbitrary deadline to avoid political embarrassment. When there are lives on the line and the stakes could not get any higher than life or death, the Liberals are worried about embarrassment. They are not worried about the people who stand to be victimized by this bill and the unnecessary deaths it would lead to, but about political embarrassment.
We might remind the Liberals that it was their government that prorogued Parliament and locked the doors to this place, all in the name of covering up for the Prime Minister's corruption and blocking the investigations happening across multiple committees. Where was the need for great haste then?
One might have thought that when the Liberals missed their first arbitrary deadline it might have given the proponents of this dangerous bill time for pause and reflection about what this means for the most vulnerable Canadians, but it seems to have had the opposite effect. We are now looking at yet another arbitrary deadline and a vastly expanded bill that would see exponentially more Canadians victimized when they are at their lowest.
The government had a second chance to reform this bill and do what needed to be done to protect the vulnerable. Instead, it tossed protections to the wayside. This legislation, by its very nature, requires caution and constant monitoring to ensure that vulnerable Canadians are not being coerced, neglected or abused because of Bill C-7.
We need to offer Canadians our best when it comes to important legislation. That means listening to their concerns, considering them, offering them multiple options and avenues, and continuing to refine the legislation. This is especially the case with Bill C-7 because we can never bring back those people who have received MAID. This is something that is final.
The previous MAID legislation required a parliamentary review of the law five years after it was passed. This review was to provide the opportunity to hear from Canadians about how MAID is working and to see if any changes should be made. It was expected that this review would start in 2020.
I would point out that 2020 has come and gone. We now find ourselves in 2021. We have not seen any such review, and we are here debating a wide expansion of eligibility for MAID with the removal of safeguards for the vulnerable. The government has acted hastily and ignored the legislative review process in which safeguards for the vulnerable could have been strengthened. It chose to not undertake a proper review and went ahead with removing important safeguards.
We have heard from several witnesses who have attested to the fact that under the current MAID legislation they have been taken advantage of and made to feel increasingly vulnerable. We heard from Roger Foley. He is a man living with serious disabilities, a caretaker for his father when he battled cancer, who became subjected to coercion into assisted death by abuse, neglect, lack of care and threats.
We also heard from the national executive director for the DisAbled Women's Network Canada, who told Ruth's story. It was a story of a woman living with a disability who is not dying, but her inability to access proper care has left her considering MAID.
Moreover, the executive vice-president at Inclusion Canada told us that Bill C-7 is the disabled community's worst nightmare. Their biggest fear has always been that having a disability would become an acceptable reason for state-provided suicide. The disabled community has made it clear time and time again that they feel directly targeted by this new MAID legislation, that their lives are worth so little that they are better off to be dead than to live with a disability.
Despite the review of the MAID legislation never happening, here we are debating its expansion through Bill C-7, with the rationale being this bill is stated to reflect a societal consensus informed by views and concerns raised by Canadians, experts, practitioners, stakeholders, indigenous groups as well as provinces and territories during public consultations undertaken in January and February 2020. As Bill C-7 was originally proposed in February 2020, how could we have accessed a societal consensus on this in such a short period of time?
This brings us to the actual survey the Minister of Justice so often references in defending this bill. Many Canadians were deeply concerned about the ambiguity of the survey and online consultation that took place. Many of the questions were very ambiguous, and some people had an incredibly difficult time answering the questions, as they had to consent to different premises from what they believed.
Dr. Heidi Janz of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities gave her thoughts on the consultation process, stating:
I believe the consultation was moderately extensive; however, I believe that the consultation was geared towards a predetermined outcome. That is evident by the types of questions that were asked in the online survey and which seemed to be assuming that MAID would be expanded.
The government has missed the review of its prior legislation, having removed safeguards, and according to Dr. Janz, had consultations that seemed to have a predetermined outcome. We really have to wonder if proper consultations took place and the feedback given was acted on, or if the outcomes may have been predetermined.
The government must know that this is a deeply flawed piece of legislation by now. We know that the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion realizes the serious issues with this bill in reference to Roger Foley's story and of other vulnerable Canadians when she said before the Senate committee:
I absolutely acknowledge and am quite preoccupied by the power imbalance between practitioners and patients, particularly patients who have been in systems that have discriminated against them and ignored their voices their entire lives. I have grave concerns with the particular circumstances of the individual that you spoke of. Quite frankly, I can tell you, he is not alone. I regularly hear from families who are appalled by the fact that they take their child, potentially their older child [in] and are offered unprovoked MAID. I think that has to stop. That’s a matter of practice, I would suggest, and we need to get at that through our regulations, through working with our medical associations.
What does it say when the minister tasked with inclusion of the disability community in Canada makes a statement like that, yet the government carries on full steam ahead with this bill while rejecting good amendments? What does that say to Canadians who are living with a disability? Does it reaffirm their inherent human dignity or does it say that we do not particularly care about them or their opinions?
It seems like the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River, who sits on the government side of the House, gets it. He is concerned for the well-being of the vulnerable and the potential victims of this bill. He said, “I don't like voting against my party, but as someone with a medical background and somebody who has dealt with this issue over the years a lot, I think morally it's incumbent upon me to stand up when it comes to issues of health and life and death.”
He went to say:
My biggest concern, as somebody who has spent my whole life trying to avoid accidentally killing people, is that we don't end up using MAID for people who don't really want to die.... I think, with a bit of time, people may come around to the fact that there are reasons they want to live.
Members can see that Kristine Cowley, who injured her spine 33 years ago, now has a doctorate and is a professor at a university, was a wheelchair track Paralympian, is married and has three children and has travelled extensively, all of which was done after her accident. She shared that it took her five years after her spinal cord injury to feel great again. She said:
To all outward appearances, I am a ‘successful’ person living and contributing to our community. But I’d be lying if I told you...that I was good to go within 3 months of my injury when I was discharged from the hospital. In fact, it was a few years before I was able to open my eyes in the morning and feel good.
Then there is the story of David Shannon. David suffered a spinal cord injury in a rugby scrum when he was 18 years old. After his accident, he said that he lay in bed close to death more times than he wished to contemplate. David has gone on to have a career in non-governmental organization leadership and a law practice focused on human rights and health law. David wrote:
...I have accomplished a lot in my life. I've crossed our great country by the power of my wheelchair—coast to coast. I've jumped out of an airplane at over 25,000 feet. I've made it to the North Pole and planted an accessible parking sign. I’ve written a book, performed in plays and on TV. I’ve received my law degree and been a Human Rights Commissioner. And I am an Order of Ontario and Order of Canada recipient. I’ve loved and been loved. My proudest accomplishment is that I lived.
How many stories like those of Kris or David will not happen because of this dangerous bill? How many stories of resilience and great Canadian comebacks will not happen because people will be offered death before proper care when they are at their lowest?
The Minister of Justice called my colleagues and me who are standing up and speaking for the voiceless and the vulnerable a “rump element” of the Conservative caucus. Now, that rump represents nearly one-third of this Parliament and represents Canadians from the Maritimes to the west coast and all points in-between who will always stand up for the vulnerable. I would remind the minister that he and his colleagues have silenced the voices that we are speaking for. He can try to silence the disabled community who cry in fear for their future, but he cannot silence our voices. He will not silence my voice.
Does the minister believe that the people we are fighting for are also a rump of Canadian society? Does he believe that Canadians living with a disability are a rump element? That is what it looks like to me. The disrespect and the eye-rolling coming from the Liberals when the disability community has tried to voice their concerns really is something to behold.
Death will be offered to Canadians before they are given proper access to meaningful care, the care they need to feel good again. We need to re-evaluate our priorities and shift our focus to reaffirming the inherent human dignity of all people, and especially those who are vulnerable. It is our duty to keep their preferential option in mind as we make decisions in this place. It is quite clear that Bill C-7 does not have the preferential option for the vulnerable in mind and does absolutely nothing to affirm the human dignity of the vulnerable.
We will offer death to people when they are at their lowest, after an injury resulting in a disability when hope seems lost and they are in the depths of despair. Instead of offering help and treatment and care, we will offer death. Despair can be transient. It can come and it can go. During the low points, people need support. Really, it is as simple as that.
We must ensure that people have access to the care they need first, to ensure that they can make an informed decision when it comes to life and death. Anything short of that is not just, and may be a form of coercion in and of itself. That says nothing of the damage that will be done by the sunset clause added to this bill, that demands that provisions be made to administer MAID to those who have mental illness.
This came as a shocking revelation given the difficulty people have in accessing mental health treatment across this country. Without adequate care, illnesses that are treatable can appear not to be. We, again, are seeing people being offered death before they are being offered care. Right now, 6,000 people with the most severe forms of mental illness are waiting up to five years to get the specialized treatment they need to reduce symptoms, learn to cope and to feel better.
Instead of working to better those systems, to give people the help they need when they need it most, the government is striving to offer them death. When appearing before the Senate, Dr. John Maher, a psychiatrist who works only with people who have the most severe and persistent mental illness, said:
Clinical relationships are already being profoundly undermined. My patients are asking: “Why try to recover when MAID is coming and I will be able to choose death?” Some of my patients keep asking for MAID while they are getting better but can’t recognize that yet.
That speaks to the need for better and more accessible mental health treatments in this country. People with mental illness should not feel the need to end their lives for lack of treatment and the hope this can bring.
Dr. Maher went on to say:
Determining whether a particular psychiatric disease is irremediable is impossible; people recover after 2 years and after 15 years. I have repeatedly [have] psychiatrists refer patients to me where I am told they will never get better; yet they have all improved symptom control and reduced suffering when they finally get intensive care.
We need to help people get better and to give them hope, not do everything we can to make death the easiest path for them.
I urge my colleagues on all sides of the House to reaffirm the dignity that is inherent and inalienable in all people, in every person, and to keep the preferential option for the vulnerable in mind. That option is care and support, not death.
I will continue to fight and speak up for the voiceless and those who will be victimized by this bill. We must ensure that someone's worst day is not their last.
At this time, I move:
That the motion be amended by:
(a) replacing the words “agrees with amendment 1(a)(ii) made by the Senate” with “respectfully disagrees with amendment 1(a)(ii) made by the Senate because, in the Justice Department's own words, it 'could be seen as undermining suicide prevention initiatives and normalizing death as a solution to many forms of suffering'”;
(b) deleting all the words beginning with the words “as a consequence” and concluding with the words “receive the report”; and
(c) replacing the words “section 6 be amended by replacing the words '18 months after' with the words 'on the second anniversary of'” with “section 6 be deleted”.