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View Kelly Block Profile
moved that Bill C-268, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (intimidation of health care professionals), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
She said: Madam Speaker, I am proud to rise today to begin the debate on my private member's bill, Bill C-268, the protection of freedom of conscience act. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge this bill is built on the hard work and determination of former members of Parliament. The first iteration that sought to address this issue was introduced by the late Mark Warawa in 2016, but it did not progress when the government introduced Bill C-14.
I do consider it a tremendous honour that my bill is the same number, C-268, as his was. After Bill C-14 was passed into law, my former colleague David Anderson introduced his private member's bill, Bill C-418, which died on the Order Paper when the election was called in 2019.
I would like to thank all those who have been championing this issue for many years and for their willingness to work with me.
Experts throughout Canada provided information and advice, while thousands of Canadians have voiced their support for protecting our fundamental freedoms. While there are numerous dictionaries that define conscience, they are consistent in defining it as an individual's inner sense of knowing the difference between what is right and wrong and that guides their behaviour.
An article by Cardus called “The Imperative of Conscience Rights” references the following:
“Conscience” traces to the Latin conscientia, and is related to the Greek synderesis. While conscientia refers to the application of our moral knowledge to particular situations, synderesis refers to the moral awareness built into each person and that urges us to do good and avoid evil.
Bill C-268 is straightforward as it seeks to enshrine in law a minimum national standard of conscience protections for medical professionals while respecting the jurisdiction of my provincial colleagues to expand on it. It is a response to calls from disability rights groups, first nations, the Ontario Medical Association and many hundreds of medical and mental health professionals to protect conscience rights.
It would ensure the medical professionals who choose to not take part in, or refer a patient for, assisted suicide or medical assistance in dying would never be forced by violence, threats, coercion or loss of employment to violate the freedoms protected in section 2(a) of the charter. This bill also serves to protect the rights of patients to receive a second opinion, and by doing so, would protect our health care system.
In my consultations, I spoke with disability rights advocate Heidi Janz. She told me about being born in the Soviet Union. Doctors told her parents that Heidi would never walk, talk or think and that she would be dependent on others for the rest of her short life. They told her parents to put her into an institution and forget they ever had her. Heidi Janz has severe cerebral palsy.
Her parents did not listen to the dominant narrative of their day. They loved their daughter and believed her life had value. Eventually, they found the support they needed. Today, Dr. Heidi Janz holds a Ph.D. and is an adjunct professor of ethics at the University of Alberta. In her spare time she is a playwright and author, and somehow, despite how busy her life is, she also serves as the chair of the ending of life ethics committee for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.
Dr. Janz is a remarkable woman. While some might pity her, she will have none of it. She says that everyone talks about how bad it must be to have a disability, but that she chooses daily to live in opposition to that narrative. She also says that disabled people can be so much more than their diagnosis, and that she is proof of that fact.
If it had been up to the dominant view of her day, she would never have had the chance to disprove that narrative. If her parents did not have the option to find the help they wanted to get that crucial second opinion, none of my colleagues in this place would be hearing about this marvellous woman. This is not just a theoretical story.
In a similar vein, earlier this year the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, who is a doctor herself, wrote to her constituents about her experience of ageism in our health care system as it related to her 93-year-old father.
While I will not repeat the whole story, I will just quote her last two sentences:
My Dad got better without needing the ICU, but I remember thinking that as an MD I had been able to firmly take a stand. I worried that other families wouldn’t have been able to question the clear ageism in the choices being put in front of them.
The minister's father and all Canadians have the right to find a doctor who will offer them hope, offer them another choice, offer them a second opinion. All Canadians deserve that same right.
Now, this is anything but a guarantee in Canada. We have passed laws that have the unintended consequence of forcing doctors and medical professionals to provide patients death, regardless of whether they believe it is in their patient's best interest. Bill C-14 and Bill C-7 create a federal standard for medical assistance in dying and assisted suicide, but not for conscience protections. Despite the claims of some, it is patently absurd to argue that a conscience rights bill would somehow interfere with the role of the provinces while the legalization of medical assistance in dying does not.
We are speaking of the very first fundamental freedom laid out in the charter. Ensuring that conscience rights are protected is the responsibility of Parliament and of the Government of Canada, which is why I introduced this bill and why it should be passed. Above all, it is the right thing to do for patients and medical professionals.
Some have tried to frame conscience rights as the rights of the patient versus the rights of the doctor. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, conscience rights are critical to how our health care system works. Patients have the right to a second opinion, but there can be no second opinion if every medical professional is forced to provide the exact same list of options.
Health care is fundamentally about the doctor-patient relationship. Take the case of a psychiatrist who supports MAID in certain circumstances, but who has spent 15 years counselling a patient who suffers from bouts of depression and suicidality. For 15 years, they have built up an understanding and trust. What would happen if that patient, suffering from a bout of suicidality, should demand assisted suicide? Under the current law, that psychiatrist would be forced to refer the patient to someone else so that the patient could die. The psychiatrist must do this, despite knowing that the suicidal thoughts are temporary, that otherwise the patient is joyful and loves life, and that ending that life is wrong. The psychiatrist's hands are tied. Is that what passes for medical care?
Some might claim that there are safeguards in place to prevent such tragedies, but I ask, are members completely sure? With the passage of Bill C-7, many of the safeguards have been removed. We are talking about ending a human life. There is no room for “maybe” when a life hangs in the balance. Should the first line of safeguards not be the expertise of the medical professionals who know best? If they do not believe death is the answer, should we not at least consider if they are right? This is, after all, a matter of life and death.
Medical assistance in dying and assisted suicide are readily available throughout all of Canada. There are information phone lines, hospitals staffed with willing medical professionals, even email addresses to help set up appointments. In a word, MAID is becoming the status quo. To claim that protecting the conscience rights of medical professionals will somehow block access for those who truly want it is both misleading and nothing but baseless fearmongering.
The Canadian Medical Association stated clearly that conscience protections would not affect access, because there were more than enough physicians willing to offer MAID. This is further reinforced by a McGill study that showed that 71% of recent medical school graduates would be willing to offer MAID.
Every court case on the subject, as well as common sense, has stated clearly that the charter rights of medical professionals are breached when they are forced to either offer or refer assisted suicide or medical assistance in dying. Surely, we are clever enough to ensure access to MAID while still protecting the fundamental charter right to freedom of conscience.
I believe it is no accident that former prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, placed conscience rights as the first of the enumerated rights in our charter. It is an acknowledgement that the state cannot and should not attempt to force any one of us to do what we believe is immoral.
Dozens of first nations leaders wrote to every MP and senator. They said that, “Given our history with the negative consequences of colonialism and the involuntary imposition of cultural values and ideas, we believe that people should not be compelled to provide or facilitate in the provision of MAiD.”
We claim to be a pluralistic, free society. If that is true, it demands of us a tolerance of the moral views of others. Some have argued that protections already exist in Bill C-14. While I applaud the former minister of justice, the hon. member for Vancouver Granville, for ensuring that conscience rights were acknowledged in that legislation, acknowledgement is no longer enough. There are examples of medical professionals being forced or bullied into participation in assisted suicide against their conscience.
Dr. Ellen Warner, an oncologist who has served her patients for 30 years, told me about her experiences. She said:
I think it will shock Canadians to hear of healthcare providers being coerced into participating in MAID, yet such coercion has been happening frequently. A brilliant colleague of mine was bullied into becoming the physician legally responsible for MAID on his hospital ward. It was a great loss to us when he left for a different position. Two other co-workers told me that, despite strong, moral objections, they would carry out MAID if asked to do so for fear of losing their jobs. At one of our staff meetings, a psychiatrist stood up and announced that any physician who does not actively support MAID should not be working at our hospital.
Finally, some have suggested that medical professionals should leave their morality at the door. However, no one truly believes or wants that. As an example, no one would want a doctor to forget their morality if they were offered a bribe to move someone up on a waiting list. If we hold our medical professionals to a higher standard, we cannot then tell them to ignore their personal moral standards. As Dr. Ellen Warner stated, “In the absence of conscience protection, the group with the most to lose are the patients—the people we are all trying to help,”
This bill would protect the doctor-patient relationship by ensuring that doctors and other medical professionals are always able to recommend and provide the care they believe is best for their patient. Canadians need this bill to pass. Canada's medical professionals need this bill to pass. Additionally, they will need individual provincial governments to protect their rights through provincial regulations and legislation.
I encourage all members in this place to do our part and pass the protection of freedom of conscience act.
View Kelly Block Profile
Madam Speaker, I introduced this bill as it addresses the very real challenges that doctors and other medical professionals are facing regarding their conscience rights as defined in the charter and as a result of the legalization of medical assistance in dying in 2015 and the recent expansion of it through Bill C-7.
Doctors have come forward to tell us that they are being forced to offer death as a treatment option regardless of a patient's medical history. In my discussions with stakeholders, I heard that, without conscience rights, some medical professionals may choose to leave their field or the profession altogether. Furthermore, we have heard that there are doctors who are not necessarily opposed to MAID in theory but who are deeply concerned as to where the law has gone.
View Kelly Block Profile
Madam Speaker, I would completely disagree with the member when it comes to the bill trying to do indirectly what it cannot do directly. That is exactly what compelling a doctor to refer someone to do would actually be doing. It is important to understand that a referral is a medical procedure and is essentially an endorsement by the referring doctor of the treatment in question. It is the same as a doctor saying a treatment is right for someone.
In every court case regarding rights and MAID, the courts have clearly stated that forcing doctors to refer patients is a violation of their charter rights. If we do not protect conscience in referrals, we end up with the same ethical issues we started with, which is what we are hearing from physicians.
View Kelly Block Profile
Madam Speaker, what I am saying is that freedom of conscience is entrenched in our charter. It must be protected. Support for legislated conscience rights protection varies between associations and colleges as well as from province to province, and that should come as no surprise.
What is becoming more clear every day is that medical professionals are calling for conscience protections as a result of the legislation that has been introduced over the last six years.
View Kelly Block Profile
Mr. Speaker, conscience rights are a fundamental freedom protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Sadly, this right is being severely undermined for medical processionals in relation to medical aid in dying. When euthanasia and MAID were first legalized in 2015, the government promised that people would not be coerced to take part in euthanasia against their will. Without the force of law behind it, this promise has proven to be completely empty.
Physicians as well as other medical professionals are now constrained by law to offer MAID as a primary treatment option even in cases where they do not believe it is in the best interest of their patient. Without conscience rights, patients will no longer have access to a second opinion for their end-of-life care. As a result, patient rights and well-being are being undermined. My private member's bill, the protection of freedom of conscience act, seeks to address this deterioration of rights.
View Jeremy Patzer Profile
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Yorkton—Melville.
It is an honour to stand in the House today and give this speech on behalf of the constituents of Cypress Hills—Grasslands. This has been a very heavy issue for a lot of my constituents, and there has been a lot of engagement on it.
The Liberal government, already with many other scandals and failures, has hit an all-time low with the bill. The Liberals were already seeking to legally expand assisted suicide in ways that are unnecessary and uncalled for. However, now for Canadians everywhere, especially those with disabilities or mental health challenges and our medical professionals, the situation has suddenly gotten much worse.
The other place sent Bill C-7 back to us with some radical and outrageous amendments. They are unthinkable and should have been rejected immediately. Instead, the Liberals have accepted the unacceptable, and at the last stage of the process, they somehow thought to allow the bill to be made even more dangerous than it already was. They have been trying to rush it along ever since, and now they are shutting down debate after everyone has barely started to process what exactly is going on.
The Liberals have shown complete disregard and disrespect for the public, who are supposed to be represented in our democratic process. However, what is even more disturbing and offensive is the statement they are making to the people who are most at risk of suffering the consequences of their legislation. The message is already clear, not only in Canada but in the rest of the world.
We are supposed to be a place that cares about human life and dignity. We are supposed to a country that leads the way and takes a principled stand for people's rights. This is Canada.
Before the government agreed to make Bill C-7 even worse, The Washington Post published an article about it entitled “Canada is plunging toward a human rights disaster for disabled people”. In a way, it is more shocking to hear it from outside observers. This is a warning sign of where our country is headed. However, the point is not new. The article focuses on Roger Foley, who keeps fighting to survive and demands better from government and the health care system. He wants assisted life before he is ever offered assisted suicide.
Major disability organizations in Canada, which are now joined by mental health advocates, have been calling out the same discrimination and dangers involved. At the same time, the United Nations has specifically called out Canada for these same issues with MAID under the current law, never mind what the Liberals are bringing forward and what the Senate has put forward here now. Before the Truchon decision happened, the special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities publicly stated:
I am extremely concerned about the implementation of the legislation on medical assistance in dying from a disability perspective. I have been informed that there is no protocol in place to demonstrate that persons with disabilities have been provided with viable alternatives when eligible for assistive dying. I have further received worrisome claims about persons with disabilities in institutions being pressured to seek medical assistance in dying....
Since then, a new person has filled the role of special rapporteur, who, while testifying on Bill C-7, said, “even if safeguards would be strengthened to ensure genuine consent, the damage is still done by portraying—not directly but effectively nonetheless—that the lives of persons with disabilities are somehow worth less than others.”
However, we are not even talking about stronger safeguards either here. The government is choosing to remove multiple safeguards for disabilities, and now for mental health because of the amendments that the Senate sent us. The problem is clear to different Canadians, regardless of whether they support the law currently in place for MAID. I have heard this from several members, even within my own party, for example. The problem is that we are not discussing MAID anymore, and these amendments have made that absolutely clear, if it was not before.
I recently finished reading the book 1984 by George Orwell. Some members will say this sounds cliché and exaggerated, but they need to pay more attention to the point he makes about doublespeak and the meaning of words. If we twist the meaning of words, we subliminally change the values of society. If we do not say what we mean and mean what we say, we can easily lose sight of reality. What is worse, we can cover up harm and injustice.
We heard a Liberal minister defend Bill C-7 in a very telling way when he said, “Mental illness is a very serious illness. It is an illness. It needs to be treated as an illness. It was always going to be looked at in the second stage of the bill.” This was in response to a question about the concern of mistreating Canadians with mental illness.
The Bell Let's Talk Day was not long ago, and there are several other initiatives for mental health throughout the year. Are we going to contradict the message we all unanimously used in the House back then as we were supporting people who were dealing with mental health or are we now going to think of suicide as treatment? Are we supposed to believe it is an option for improving someone's mental condition? I should hope actual treatments and care are provided and that suicide is actively prevented rather than offered, even as a last resort, for those who want to kill themselves but are not dying. This is no way to treat people who are suffering.
When people consider suicide, we offer them a help line. We reaffirm their value that their lives are worth living. Suicide prevention is already hard enough. How are we going to convince them? If this law passes and if it keeps us from reaching them in time, what message is that telling those people who are signalling that they have already lost hope and that this bill essentially offers them no further chance at hope? This new law and the tangled web it weaves will not make any sense whatsoever.
When the government first opened a Pandora's box for assisted suicide back in 2016, it said there would be a required review process in five years. Five years went by and it never happened. It would have been a perfect opportunity to address the growing concerns with the current law for MAID. The Liberals did not wait and they did not prioritize doing it before trying to expand the law in response to a provincial court ruling.
In case anyone forgot, Bill C-7 goes far beyond the actual decision of the court, which the Liberals claim is a time restraint even though they did not bother to appeal it in the first place. They are forcing us into last minute amendments with one afternoon, really, of debate; and that is it.
I do not believe these rules reflect the true Canadian spirit. They would silence too many voices and perspectives that deserve to be heard after ignoring them for the past year and more. The average Canadian does not find it hard to be horrified at these changes, especially when they have barely seen the light of public scrutiny. Whether we live with or love people with disabilities and mental health challenges or if we have the basic idea of respecting the dignity and value of our fellow human beings, the problems are obvious. Someone who for any reason is distressed by what this decision represents is apparently not worth the government's time or consideration.
The Liberals say they have run out of time, but they have failed to make time or give time to those who need it most. They are the ones who control the legislative calendar. It was up to them. It is a lot like getting stuck with a pushy sales rep who avoids questions while trying to make a quick sale. By now, Canadians are used to Liberal excuses for their incompetence, but it is becoming clearer than ever how some of their radical views on social issues try to get passed through unnoticed.
This is all the more reason why we needed to have a thorough review of the current law, which was promised but not kept. The government now says that it will accept one amendment, requiring a review after the bill comes into effect. We will have to see how that goes.
Despite all the frustration and discouragement coming forward from strong advocates and citizens, which I share right now, I still have hope in the human spirit for the future. If the government wants to take us backward and if its allies in Parliament turn a blind eye, it will not be able to stop the truth and justice from winning out. It makes me think of a line sung by Johnny Cash, “What's done in the dark will be brought to the light.”
It is a shame that there will not be much longer to speak today, because there are so many more things that do need to be said about this important issue about these amendments from the Senate. Human life is worth far more than just a few minutes of debate and discussion.
View Jeremy Patzer Profile
Madam Speaker, ultimately, all the sunset clause does is delay the inevitable. It is still signalling to these people, the people who are struggling with mental health and mental illness, that their life is not valuable. However, that is not true. Every single life matters and should be dignified. These amendments do not do that. They do not afford that and that is wrong.
View Jeremy Patzer Profile
Madam Speaker, the whole point is rather than rushing to include a sunset clause in legislation, let us have that conversation now. Why wait a year or two years? We need to have that now. That is the whole point of this debate. That is what we have been saying over and over. These amendments need to go to committee so that conversation can happen now.
My other point is that suicidal thoughts are reversible. He is absolutely right. The problem is that suicide and medical assistance in dying are not reversible, and that is the whole point. That is why so many people are concerned about this. We need to have these conversations now. It needs to go to committee now. Not in a year or two from now; it needs to take place now.
View Jeremy Patzer Profile
Madam Speaker, when we watch a movie and a person is standing on a bridge, people are coming to help that person, to reaffirm the value of his or her life. Those people are not taking the person by the hand and leading him or her up to the bridge. No, they are trying to take the person off of the bridge, to walk the individual back from the edge.
I find it absolutely appalling that the government is doing what it is doing. I mentioned in my speech that we have had the Bell Let's Talk Day. We also voted on a motion in the House for the 988 suicide prevention hotline. Immediately after that, the House also voted in favour of Bill C-7. What are we trying to do? Do we support people or do we not?
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
2021-03-11 17:42 [p.4936]
Madam Speaker, as I begin my speech today, I am grieved to the core of my heart by the amendments from the other place that reveal an even greater lack of compassion for the most vulnerable in our society through expansion of Bill C-7 to those with mental illness. These amendments go well beyond what the House voted on last year and go well beyond the Truchon decision itself.
The Senate-Liberal Bill C-7 justifies a fulsome debate and more amendments in addition to the one introduced by my colleague from Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes. I must respond to Canadians' alarm with the worrisome evolution of assisted suicide propagated by the other place and the Liberal government.
Opening the door to mental illness as a stand-alone reason to request assisted death is a frightening revelation of the lack of compassion and care for those who need and deserve it most. What is the underlying intent of such an outward attack on the value of the lives of vulnerable people? The message to those who face mental illness as well as those who have dedicated themselves to the care and treatment of anxiety, personality disorder, panic attacks, gender dysphoria, mood disorders, dissociative disorders, sleep disorders, on and on, is no longer a message of hope and “Let’s talk”.
Where is the merit in collecting race-based data when they ignore the pleas of indigenous leaders, palliative care and mental health professionals, physically and mentally disabled Canadians raising strong concern over the lengths gone to by both places to normalize and prioritize assisted suicide? It is this legislation in itself that will cause greater harm to the marginalized and the disadvantaged. A culture of suicide prevention is what we in this place should all strive for as caretakers of the people’s business.
In a letter recently penned to federal and provincial parliamentarians as well as health care regulators, indigenous leaders, including Siksika Health Services' CEO Tyler White, former lieutenant governor of New Brunswick Graydon Nicholas, retired senator Nick Sibbeston, indigenous health and suicide prevention advisers and elders, the desire for a culture of assisted life is made clear, “Bill C-7 goes against many of our cultural values, belief systems, and sacred teachings. The view that MAiD is a dignified end for the terminally ill or those living with disabilities should not be forced on our peoples.”
They are concerned that the government will not respect their indigenous beliefs and values by shutting down a palliative care facility. No doubt they should be concerned as this would not be the first example of a left-leaning government in Canada shutting down a palliative care facility, which also sought to stay true to its calling to provide a service perpetuated by a unique belief and values connection to their communities, a place where assisted suicide is not offered, a place to die a natural death with dignity.
They have called on the Liberals to respect their right to determine how health services are delivered in first nations communities. Indigenous leaders have been working tirelessly on strategies to combat the crisis of suicide in their communities. At the same time, the government is creating an environment that enables assisted suicide. The Liberal government is turning its back on indigenous people.
Renowned Dr. John Maher, an ACT psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of severe mental illness, was frank in his assessment of the proposed amendments. He has made clear that the long, drawn-out process of mental health treatment makes it irrational to offer or provide assisted death to patients. In his experience, not only is initial treatment expected to last up to three years in which symptoms are brought under control, but several more years need to be accounted for in order for patients to thrive under their condition. Dr. Maher is clear that not only is it possible for those who live with mental illness to survive, but they can live satisfying lives.
The Canadian Mental Health Association stated, “As a recovery-oriented organization, CMHA does not believe that mental illnesses are irremediable.” Psychiatrists, doctors, nurses and professors from the University of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Health Authority have expressed grave concern over the inclusion of mental illness as grounds to request assistance in dying. They appeal to the dedicated and wise leaders of our country to “please help protect the young people of Canada, our greatest resource for the future.” Today, we will see who the dedicated and wise leaders are.
Rather than champion hope for those suffering with mental illness and those who care for and provide treatment for their healing, the Liberal government hides behind an all-encompassing MAID regime. It cannot continue to offer suffering Canadians a skeleton of suicide prevention measures with one hand and an ever-expanding assisted death regime with the other.
As Dr. Maher has confirmed, better results can be realized through a culture of life and attentive treatment.
I had the personal privilege, and that is exactly what it was, an incredible privilege, to serve as a nurse’s aide in a long-term mental hospital, taking care of patients with very deep scars. I have given daily care to precious elderly residents in seniors homes and level 4 nursing homes. I have assisted students with special needs in elementary and high school education. Every experience has made me laugh and made me cry. Without any reservation, all these human beings have made such a significant difference in the quality and purpose of my life.
This bill is also deeply disturbing to veterans and their families. I have no desire to share their names here today or their personal experiences. Many are my personal friends. Those veterans who suffer with mental illness as a result of their service see this as another blow to their value to their country.
There has been an ongoing long-term lack of access to mental health care for themselves and their families, exacerbated by VAC's downgrading of OSISS to an online service and its failure to replace coordinators who were on the ground with them, backlogs that mean the care they need is so far away that hope turns to despair, while mental health counselling for their spouses and children who are deeply impacted by their loved one’s injuries must prove that their treatment is required for the health of the veteran.
There are a growing number of suicides in our armed forces and veterans communities already. At a time when a culture of life and of accessible and timely treatments is what is needed, the government is sending them the opposite message.
As I close, I want to encourage every member of the House, every member of the other place and every Canadian to watch a YouTube video called “Tell Me to Stay”. It is a plea from the young woman whose words will end my intervention today.
These are Garifalia’s words:
“Unless you have attempted suicide before, you will not understand how patronizing it is to hear health care practitioners and politicians talking placidly about suicidality as if it were different from MAID. Suicidality is supposedly about wanting to die, the argument goes, whereas a request for MAID is a rational and well-thought-out desire to end one’s suffering, not merely a desire to die for the sake of dying. And yet, if you had told me when I was 16 years old that I could live and not suffer, I would have chosen that option over the death that I sought.
For me, both then and now, any delineation between MAID and suicide as methods of ending suffering is a distinction without a difference. The outcome is the same—one is just medicalized.
People talk about safeguards as if they would prevent someone like me from accidentally or intentionally slipping through the cracks. As a highly intelligent individual with over 10 years of experience in pretending to be okay, let me be clear: The proposed safeguards will not catch me. Had I been able to access MAID in the depths of my struggle, the full life that I have since lived would never have happened...
As someone who endures ongoing and at times debilitating psychological suffering, I firmly believe in and support physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual responses to suffering. What I do not support is the creation of a two-tiered system that would offer suicide prevention to one person and suicide assistance to another.”
She continues to say, “I ask you to prioritize the mandatory review so that the Government of Canada can do its due diligence and consult with Canadian society appropriately first, rather than recklessly expanding the legislative framework based on one judge’s reasoning, thereby undermining the democratic process on which our country is built. I ask you to heed the feedback of disability rights groups, indigenous communities, and international legal scholars, all of whom have spoken out against Bill C-7. Finally, I ask you to prioritize the needs of the vulnerable and the marginalized—the indigenous, the disabled, and the mentally ill.”
March 11, 2021, will be remembered as the one-year anniversary of the COVID pandemic. If this bill is passed, March 11, 2021, will be the day the Canadian government chose to tell Canada's disabled, mentally ill, marginalized and vulnerable people that they are not needed, not valued and not worthy of care.
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
2021-03-11 17:52 [p.4938]
Madam Speaker, my question is this: Why does that side of the floor not even show up to debate, if this is so important? Where is their proof? This issue has been debated in the past for what it was, and now it is something entirely different.
We passed four different pieces of legislation in this House in just this week alone, so I will not take this from the member when the Minister of Justice, in response to the member for Kelowna—Lake Country, implied that because of our delaying, which was actually our responding to the needs of Canadians as they were coming at us in waves, somehow we deserved to not have this debate go forward any longer. Who is playing games here?
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
2021-03-11 17:55 [p.4938]
Madam Speaker, the government agreed to a motion to bring in a framework for palliative care across this country and has done nothing. We cannot compare palliative care to assisted suicide when it does not exist to the extent it should in this country.
If he wants to talk about money, I assure him that the government has been printing it faster than it can spend it and in these circumstances has not done anything to help those who are facing a bill that says they have no value.
I repeat what the young woman said in regard to this legislation, which is basically that there is no way any safeguards the government tries to put in place will work, because those who are mentally ill need the opportunity to live, not to be faced with a circumstance in which their government says, “You do not really have any value. Here is an option for you, and by the way, we will will not focus on mental health and palliative care the way we should.”
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
2021-03-11 17:57 [p.4938]
Madam Speaker, I really appreciate that question, because the truth of the matter is that there is not a focus in the Liberal government on valuing life. There is not a focus on valuing children, on valuing families, on valuing our elderly or on valuing our veterans.
There is no question that the amendment we brought forward today is the only way to fix this legislation. Mental illness should not be a means of getting assisted suicide. I am very disturbed, as are the thousands and thousands of Canadians that the government refuses to listen to.
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
2021-03-11 17:59 [p.4939]
Madam Speaker, no, I am not interested in responding to the Truchon case, because we are long past that. We are at the place where the government has decided it is more than happy to go along with what the Senate has put forward and to give people with mental illness, on its own, the ability to choose assisted suicide.
That is not in the best interests of Canadians. It is not in the best interests of anyone who, in the case of mental illness, cannot be in a solid state of mind when they are considering assisted suicide.
View Rosemarie Falk Profile
Madam Speaker, I want to note that I will be splitting my time this evening with the member for Oshawa.
It is interesting that we are speaking to Bill C-7 today under these circumstances. As legislators, we have a very weighty responsibility to do our due diligence in considering legislation. We have a duty to Canadians and the constituents who elected us to thoroughly analyze and review the legislation that is passed in the House. When we are considering issues of life and death, that responsibility is only heightened, and it is absolutely reprehensible that the Liberal government is limiting debate on this legislation and hastily accepting amendments from the other chamber without due diligence.
When the House last debated Bill C-7, mental illness as the sole underlying condition was explicitly excluded from the eligibility criteria for accessing medically assisted death. The explanation to allow for it is therefore obviously significant. It requires additional scrutiny. It was not part of the justice committee's study of the legislation, and members of the committee did not have the opportunity to hear from mental health advocates on this expansion. There has not been an adequate parliamentary review of this change.
In addition to that, and of greater concern, there is no consensus in the medical community that mental illness should be considered irremediable. There is no consensus that MAID should be expanded to include persons with mental illness.
The Liberal government is amending this legislation at the end of the parliamentary process to, as I can imagine, avoid scrutiny by ramming it through the House. To proceed with this significant expansion of MAID would be absolutely reckless. This legislation endangers vulnerable Canadians and, frankly, we owe them better. We owe the one in five Canadians who struggle with mental health and mental illness better.
There are a range of effective treatments available for mental illness. However, we know that access to these treatments is limited. That is where the focus of the government should be. It should be focused on providing additional mental health supports, not recklessly expanding MAID.
The need to improve access to mental health supports has been even more pressing during the pandemic. We know that the pandemic is negatively impacting the mental health of many Canadians. We have heard about the impact that pandemic restrictions have had on the well-being of seniors in particular. Depression and loneliness are spiking, and I am reminded of the heartbreaking stories of seniors who chose MAID. They did this to avoid continued isolation during the pandemic.
To only offer a person MAID when they are at their most vulnerable point is indefensible. For those who have a mental illness, the only attainable tool in their tool box cannot be medically assisted death.
There is a serious and reasonable concern that expanding MAID to include persons with mental illness will undermine suicide prevention initiatives and recovery-based care efforts. In fact, the justice minister's own department has expressed that concern. This reckless amendment paves the way for Canadians suffering from mental illness to prematurely end their life.
We also cannot ignore the fact that this legislation continues to pre-empt the required parliamentary review of the existing MAID framework. The Liberal government's entire agenda of broadening access to medical assistance in dying in advance of that review is, on its own, deeply concerning. We have heard from persons with disabilities and medical professionals who have clearly stated that the expansion of MAID in Bill C-7 is dangerous and requires greater scrutiny.
As the Liberal government continues down this path of broadening access to MAID without ensuring proper access to appropriate care, it is actually eroding the value we place on human life. It is robbing a person of the opportunity to live with dignity.
Medical assistance in dying should not be a solution to all forms of suffering, but as the government broadens access to MAID to persons whose natural death is not reasonably foreseeable, we as a society are moving away from medical assistance in dying and ultimately toward medical-assisted suicide. The underlying message of moving in that direction is that death is a treatment for suffering.
It is my core belief that as a country, government, society and community, we have a responsibility and moral obligation to care for one another: to care for the elderly, the poor, the sick, those with disabilities and the vulnerable. We cannot sidestep our duty to care by offering death as a treatment for suffering. If the desired goal is to increase personal autonomy, we cannot accomplish that without meaningful choice. We certainly cannot do that at the expense of ensuring appropriate safeguards to protect vulnerable persons.
The united voice of disability advocates across the country who have come out in strong opposition to the bill should give all of us great pause. Shamefully, the Liberal government is not putting on the breaks. Rather, it is moving forward, full steam ahead, ignoring the serious concerns that this legislation is fast-tracking the deaths of persons with disabilities.
By removing the reasonably foreseeable death clause in the current MAID framework, this legislation opens MAID up to persons with disabilities who are not themselves when close to death. Simply put, this legislation is discriminatory and promotes ableist assumptions. Intended or not, it suggests that the lives of people with disabilities are not worth living. Instead of ensuring that a person with a disability has the accommodations and supports they need to thrive, it offers them medically assisted death as a solution.
This is particularly salient when we consider that concerns regarding a lack of appropriate safeguards for persons with disabilities in the existing MAID framework pre-existed this legislation. The former UN special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities expressed concerns to the Liberal government on this very issue. She raised the issue that there were no protocols in place to ensure that a person with disabilities was offered viable alternatives to assisted death.
She recommended to the Liberal government that it investigate allegations that persons with disabilities were being pressured into seeking medical assistance in dying. She also recommended that safeguards be in place to ensure that persons with disabilities are not requesting MAID simply because there are no other appropriate alternatives available to them. These same concerns have been raised by disability advocates across the country. However, the justice minister and the Liberal government have not addressed them. Instead, they are removing and weakening the safeguards that were in place.
If we as a country offer MAID to the vulnerable while depriving them of adequate care and the resources to have a dignified, secure and healthy life, then we have failed them. We cannot pursue increasing personal autonomy at all costs. We cannot, in the name of autonomy, sacrifice safeguards for the vulnerable, undermine suicide prevention efforts, erode respect for human life and perpetuate negative stereotypes about age, abilities or illness. There has to be a balance.
Certainly, we cannot make decisions lightly without proper scrutiny and review, and that has not happened. The Liberal government has not allowed a parliamentary committee to hear from a single witness about expanding MAID to include those with mental illness. It is ignoring the pleas and serious concerns raised about this legislation. It has limited debate on it and continues to delay a mandated parliamentary review of the existing MAID framework.
I urge all members of the House to oppose the Liberal government's attempt to recklessly adopt significant amendments to this legislation in the final hours, and to oppose its efforts to steamroll these legislative changes through this place without proper scrutiny and care. Let us do our proper due diligence on this legislation. We owe that to all Canadians and the lives that hang in the balance.
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