Mr. Speaker, miracles never cease. Maybe this is the beginning of a dramatic change in things. Time will tell.
Regardless, the specific comments by the member for Timmins—James Bay that really were kind of “aha” moments for me was when he said that Bill C-7, even as previously written, and certainly with these proposed amendments, would make people living with disabilities in some sense second-class citizens when accessing our health care systems, as we would put them on a different track. He said it would create “a second track of humanhood in this country”, which is something that all of us should be seized with, especially in response to the repeated testimony of many organizations that represent Canadians with disabilities, as well as organizations representing Canadians dealing with mental health challenges.
We are here debating Senate amendments to Bill C-7, and specifically debating an amendment by my colleague that would try to change the government's response to the largest substantive amendment by the Senate that the government is proposing to agree with. I will delve particularly into the issues of that amendment. However, first of all, the government is using all kinds of arguments today, and previously, about how this has been a long time coming, that it has been debated extensively. I want to respond specifically by commenting a little on the journey that brought us here with this legislation, because we have really taken all kinds of twists and turns far from where this conversation on this particular bill started.
Allegedly, the genesis of this conversation was a lower court decision in Quebec that dealt specifically with the issue of reasonable foreseeability, and not the issue we are talking about today. It is a different issue that dealt with the issue of whether somebody should be able to access euthanasia if their death is not reasonably foreseeable. This court said that a person should be able to access euthanasia in that case. The government, contrary to advice from us, decided not to appeal that ruling. Importantly, the government could have proceeded with appealing that ruling and then used the window of time available to consider a different legislative response. However, the government created for itself a sharp timeline through its decision to not repeal that ruling.
Subsequent to that, this justice minister brought forward a piece of legislation that deals with many issues related to euthanasia far beyond the parameters of that court decision. The court decision dealt with reasonable foreseeability. I believe that if the government had proposed a piece of legislation that dealt with, and only with, the question of reasonable foreseeability and left other issues for other pieces of legislation, then that bill would have long passed and we would not be talking about fourth extensions, new court deadlines and so forth.
The reason we are in a situation where the bill has not yet passed is that, effectively, the government created an omnibus bill by tacking onto the issue of dealing with reasonable foreseeability many other, unrelated issues: questions of advance consent, questions of removing existing safeguards, questions around the 10-day reflection period. There were many different issues that had to be discussed as the result of the government's decision to put forward legislation, most of which were completely unrelated to the Truchon decision.
I think that, in a very misleading way, the government tried to create this artificial timeline link to the Truchon decision for all sorts of issues that have absolutely nothing to do with the Truchon decision, and there is very little basis for debating that reality. The government could have focused its response to the Truchon decision on the issues raised by that decision, and likely would have been able to justify a more aggressive timeline with respect to the bill, because there would not have been so many issues that needed to be discussed.
The government put all of those additional issues into Bill C-7 while failing to move forward with a mandated legislative review. The previous bill, Bill C-14, had mandated that there would be a legislative review. The government has not moved forward on that at all, and instead packed all of these other issues into Bill C-7. Then we had debate in the House, we had committee hearings and all the way along the government was trying to create as much urgency as it could, saying that “We have to move this forward because of the Truchon decision”, even though there was extra content riding on that issue, far more than was dealt with in the original Truchon decision.
The justice committee held a very limited number of hearings, I think it was only four, on all of the issues raised by Bill C-7. Despite that limited time, many people came forward to express significant concerns and opposition. There were physicians, mental health experts and people representing those in the disability community, and not a single stakeholder representing the disability community expressed support for this legislation. Not only were so many people coming forward to those committee hearings, but there also were over 100 written briefs submitted to the justice committee by individuals or groups who took the time to express their perspective and, generally, their concern about this legislation.
The justice committee moved so quickly that it is a veritable certainty that members did not have any reasonable opportunity to review those briefs. In fact, many of those briefs were initially rejected by the committee; then subsequently, thanks to the good work of my colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton, those briefs were formally received, but the committee then immediately proceeded into clause-by-clause consideration of the bill without allowing time to review the content of the briefs.
We had this urgency created by the government's decision to pile issues on top of the Truchon decision that were unrelated to the decision. Then we had extremely limited consultations by the justice committee, as the government tried to use this trick as a justification for pushing the legislation through as quickly as possible.
However, throughout those conversations at the justice committee, the government was clear that its bill and its policy was not to allow euthanasia when the primary underlying complaint is mental health challenges. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and others have repeatedly spoken about this aspect of the legislation, namely, that it includes an exception clearly specifying that mental health challenges should not be a basis to receive euthanasia.
On that point, the government was right, and even if members have questions about the substantive value of that position, they should appreciate how the question of whether those dealing with mental health challenges as their primary complaint should receive euthanasia is a completely separate question from the issues raised by the Truchon decision.
The bill then went through committee, came back to the House and Conservatives expressed their perspective. The vast majority of our caucus voted against this legislation. We voted in favour of report stage amendments. There was an extension of hours to accommodate the speeches. The bill then went to the Senate and the Senate has now tried to dramatically further expand the bill.
As we all know, the unelected Senate, made up now overwhelmingly of individuals who have no party affiliation and who were appointed by the current Prime Minister, undertook a study that went far beyond the scope of the existing bill and recommended a radical expansion, certainly beyond what stakeholders and the public were looking for, and beyond what had ever been considered or debated by the House of Commons.
Whatever very legitimate criticisms one might have of the old model of the Senate, made up of non-elected people with strong party affiliations and who are not not directly accountable, at least there was some mechanism of accountability through political parties. However, now we have in the Senate a vast majority of individuals who are not connected to any political party, who are not identifiable in terms political affiliations, and who are appointed by the Prime Minister without any consultation with other parties, without any kind of oversight, and who then exercise a defining power over legislation. That is a huge problem that we have to grapple with.
Part of how we could grapple with it in the House of Commons is by having the courage, when we receive amendments from the Senate that go far beyond the scope of anything considered in the original debate on the bill, never mind what was in Truchon, to say “no” to them. We could say that we appreciate the review work that has taken place, but at the end of the day, Canadians elect members of the House of Commons who are empowered to study issues in detail and to hear from Canadians and to come to conclusions.
The Senate can study and make recommendations, but, at the end of the day, what the government is now proposing by adopting the amendment proposed by the Senate with respect to mental health as its position is that the people's House, the House of Commons, should adopt in a single day something that the government had up until now said was not its policy, something that is clearly very complex and requires further study.
Not only is it unrelated to Bill C-7, but it is also completely unrelated and light years away from anything contemplated in the Truchon decision, which dealt very narrowly with the question of reasonable foreseeability.
We have this particular issue of the Truchon decision, with Bill C-7 piling many other issues on top of it, and now we have the Senate piling so many additional issues on top of that, including its proposed amendment on advance directives for those who are healthy. Somehow we, in the House of Commons, are supposed to change our position on this fundamental issue, with no study and no review at committee and the government seems to want this to happen in a single day.
I will go further than that in terms of the process. I was up last night preparing information, looking for the data. It was certainly well after 9:30 p.m. Eastern time, closer to 10:00 p.m. that the Order Paper was published. It was only then that it was evident what the government's position was. The government expects that if it takes a position on this substantive, really earth-shattering issue for Canadians dealing with mental health challenges and their family members, that members will see it and adopt that position, or in any event vote on it, all within a single day.
What a profound degeneration of our democratic institutions the government is trying to preside over. There are many other examples that we could talk about. We could talk about the lack of respect by the government for motions passed by the House of Commons on various other issues.
What we see before us right now is a government, that did not win the popular vote in the last election, telling us to, in a single day, adopt a series of changes that were proposed by a Senate made up of independents that the Liberals appointed primarily, and is complaining about members wanting to engage in these issues at greater depth.
The direction the government is taking our democracy is very troubling. I hope that members would stand with us, at least members from all opposition parties, in insisting that the government do so much better on this and support the amendment put forward by my colleague that we are debating right now that rejects this very substantive amendment from the Senate and, instead, say that if the government wants to change its policy with respect to euthanasia for those dealing with mental health challenges, it should at least propose that as part of a legislative package not constrained by a court timeline, and that the House could take the time required to study it at committee, to assess those issues and to move forward, instead of this artificial timeline created by the pairing of the Truchon decision with all of these other issues.
Those issues of process are of critical importance, but I now want to comment on the specific issues raised by this amendment, that is, the government's proposal now to allow euthanasia for people whose primary and only health challenge is a mental health challenge.
All of us, including me, have people in our lives who are close to us, either friends or family members, who have suffered from or are suffering from mental health challenges. I am sure many, if not most, if not all members of the House have had a conversation with someone in their life who comes to them and says, “I don't think I can go on. The pain I am experiencing....”
In those situations, I think for all of us, how we love those people and try to support them is by trying to show them that are loved and valued and that their lives are worth living.
We invest so much time and energy into suicide-prevention education. We try to tell younger people, older people and people of all ages that their lives are valuable, that they are loved and that their lives are worth living. We recognize that for those who are really in the depths of experiencing mental health challenges, it may feel like there is no treatment and there is no going on. However, mental health authorities have said in this country that mental health challenges are not incurable, that it gets better, that there are ways forward and that there are ways of managing, responding to and even fully addressing these kinds of challenges. We as individuals try to send the message to others in these moments of real, existential pain that they are loved and valued, and that there are ways of managing and addressing their pain.
This amendment would radically change that reality. It would take us from a world in which the emphasis is on suicide prevention for those who experience these challenges to a world in which a person who feels that they are in the depths of despair can go to a health care practitioner and say, “This is what I am experiencing. I think I cannot go on.” Instead of affirming to the person that life is worth living, they can be supported and that it does get better, the person would be told that the their options are having a practitioner work with them to try to make things better or having the state facilitate their desire for suicide.
What message does it send if we go from a dynamic of suicide prevention to one where some people experience suicide prevention and others experience suicide facilitation? What if somebody who is in the real depths of existential pain and going through deep challenges is called upon to choose between suicide prevention and suicide facilitation?
We had a unanimous consent motion adopted by the House to have a national 988 suicide prevention line. What message would it send to people if Parliament were to pass the amendment proposed by the Senate? What message would it send to people in that situation? I wonder what message it would send to young people who are dealing with these challenges.
Of course, the current legislative framework is that euthanasia is only available to those who are 18 years of age and older. That is also being considered as part of a review, so we cannot bank on that remaining a reality if this passes.
I asked what kind of message it would send to young people facing these challenges if we told them that it was acceptable to society for the state to facilitate suicidal ideation for adults, and that the solution was some kind of state-coordinated suicide facilitation. It really is horrible, in terms of the direction it would take us and the example that it would send.
Former Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette spoke eloquently and shared his perspective, from his indigenous culture and values, about what was so wrong about the government's original Bill C-14. He and I had a town hall in my riding together: a Liberal MP and a Conservative MP. We talked about many issues, most of which we disagreed on but some of which we agreed on. He made the point of asking what message it would send to younger people when older people are told that death is the solution. The values that he brought to the table underline the need for listening to Canadians on this issue. They underline the need for stronger consultation with indigenous communities.
As one previous witness told the committee on Bill C-7, indigenous Canadians are looking for medically assisted life. People with disabilities and mental health challenges would say the same thing: What they are looking for is medical assistance in living, not this rushed track, for those who are dealing with mental health challenges, toward suicide facilitation.
This needs more debate. I believe the amendment from my colleague should be supported to defeat the Senate amendment so that we can do more to protect people in vulnerable situations across the spectrum of challenges, and so that we do not, as the member for Timmins—James Bay spoke about, create a dynamic in this country where those living with disabilities are viewed or treated by our medical system as second-class citizens.
I look forward to the continuing conversation and to questions from my colleagues. Again, we need to do something like that.