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Results: 1 - 11 of 11
View Mark Gerretsen Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties, and if you seek it, I believe you will find unanimous consent to adopt the following motion:
That,
(a) pursuant to section 5(1) of An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying), a Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons be appointed to review the provisions of the Criminal Code relating to medical assistance in dying and their application, including but not limited to issues relating to mature minors, advanced requests, mental illness, the state of palliative care in Canada and the protection of Canadians with disabilities;
(b) pursuant to section 5(2) of the Act, five members of the Senate and ten members of the House of Commons be members of the committee, including five members of the House of Commons from the governing party, three members of the House of Commons from the Official Opposition and two members of the House of Commons from opposition who are not members of the Official Opposition, with two Chairs of which the House Co-Chair shall be from the governing party and the Senate Co-Chair shall be determined by the Senate;
(c) in addition to the Co-Chairs, the committee shall elect three vice-chairs from the House, of whom the first vice-chair shall be from the Conservative Party of Canada, the second vice-chair shall be from the Bloc Québécois, and the third vice-chair shall be from the New Democratic Party;
(d) pursuant to section 5(3) of the Act, the quorum of the committee be eight members whenever a vote, resolution or other decision is taken, so long as both Houses and one member of the governing party in the House, one member of the opposition in the House and one member of the Senate are present, and that the Joint Chairs be authorized to hold meetings, to receive evidence and authorize the printing thereof, whenever six members are present, as long as both Houses and one member of the governing party in the House, one member of the opposition in the House and one member of the Senate are represented;
(e) the House of Commons members be named by their respective whip by depositing with the Clerk of the House the list of their members to serve on the committee no later than five sitting days after the adoption of this motion;
(f) changes to the membership of the committee, on the part of the House of Commons, be effective immediately after notification by the relevant whip has been filed with the Clerk of the House;
(g) membership substitutions, on the part of the House of Commons, be permitted, if required, in a manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2) and that they may be filed with the Clerk of the committee by email;
(h) until Wednesday, June 23, 2021, members may participate either in person or by video conference and witnesses shall participate remotely;
(i) until Wednesday, June 23, 2021, members who participate remotely shall be counted for the purpose of quorum;
(j) until Wednesday, June 23, 2021, except for those decided unanimously or on division, all questions shall be decided by a recorded vote;
(k) until Wednesday, June 23, 2021, when more than one motion is proposed for the election of the joint chair or vice-chairs, any motion received after the initial one shall be taken as a notice of motion and such motions shall be put to the committee seriatim until one is adopted;
(l) the committee have the power to sit during sittings and adjournments of the House;
(m) the committee have the power to report from time to time, to send for persons, papers and records, and to print such papers and evidence as may be ordered by the committee;
(n) the committee have the power to retain the services of expert, professional, technical and clerical staff, including legal counsel;
(o) the committee have the power to appoint, from among its members, such sub-committees as may be deemed appropriate and to delegate to such sub-committees, all or any of its powers, except the power to report to the Senate and House of Commons;
(p) the committee have the power to authorize video and audio broadcasting of any or all of its proceedings and that public proceedings be made available to the public via the Parliament of Canada's websites;
(q) until Wednesday, June 23, 2021, in camera proceedings may be conducted in a manner that takes into account the potential risks to confidentiality inherent in meetings with remote participants;
(r) pursuant to section 5(5) of the Act, the committee submit a final report of its review, including a statement of any recommended changes, to Parliament no later than one year after the day in which it commenced their review;
(s) pursuant to section 5(6) of the act, following the tabling of the final report in both Houses, the Committee shall expire; and that a message be sent to the Senate requesting that House to unite with this House for the above purpose and to select, if the Senate deems advisable, Members to act on the proposed Special Joint Committee.
View Alexandra Mendès Profile
Lib. (QC)
All those opposed to the hon. member moving the motion will please say nay.
It is agreed.
The House has heard the terms of the motion. All those opposed will please say nay.
Hearing no dissenting voice, I declare the motion carried.
View Luc Thériault Profile
BQ (QC)
View Luc Thériault Profile
2021-02-23 11:26 [p.4422]
Madam Speaker, I do not want to keep members in suspense for too long. The Bloc Québécois will support the government's motion, and I will explain why.
I would like to tell all my colleagues that we need to work across party lines on these sensitive issues and find a way to move forward.
I remind my colleagues that Quebec's end-of-life legislation has often been cited as an example, not only because it is a good system, but also because of the way all members of the Quebec National Assembly worked together to create that system. Quebec's act came into force in 2015. The Select Committee on Dying with Dignity was created in 2009. The legislation was passed in 2014 and assented to in June 2014. This means that there was a process that ultimately involved debate. The Quebec National Assembly was able to consider all the differences and find common ground, which served as the foundation for the act. At the end of the process there were very few people against the act. There was broad consensus on this piece of legislation, both in the National Assembly and among Quebeckers.
In Ottawa, members have always taken action in response to court rulings. The amendments that need to be made to the Criminal Code in order to incorporate all of these sensitive issues are related to a court ruling. In this case, the legislators finally need to take action because the law has been deemed unconstitutional and found to violate fundamental rights.
According to Baudouin and Carter, Bill C-14 deprives people of the right to life. For example, it was depriving Ms. Carter, Ms. Gladu, Mr. Truchon and Ms. Taylor of their right to life because they were being forced to shorten their lives. That is not a trivial matter. It is serious.
My Conservative colleagues are saying that we need to protect human dignity and life. I completely agree, but it is important that we not create the opposite effect of what we claim to defend through government paternalism. Vulnerable people are capable of defending and exercising their rights.
However, it is rather appalling to see that, since Bill C-14 was introduced and since a decision was rendered in Carter, we have placed on the shoulders of vulnerable people, people with irreversible diseases, people who are enduring unbearable suffering, the burden of defending their case before the court in order to get access to medical assistance in dying.
Why are we agreeing to vote in favour of the motion? We are doing so because we need to make progress in a debate like this.
I have said this before and I will come back to it again later. Even though we said that we agree with the underlying principles of Bill C-7, we would have liked for the bill to go a little further. However, we still need to recognize that Bill C-7 responds to situations like those of Ms. Gladu, Mr. Truchon and Ms. Parker.
Bill C-7 also makes it possible for people in the terminal phase of life—I am not talking about the terminal stage of an illness when death is not foreseeable—to avoid waiting the mandatory 10 days with two witnesses before finally proceeding. Many people with cancer go through a long process. Even in the most aggressive cases, it takes a few months. People wait until the last minute to proceed because nobody wants to die. Everyone wants to wait until the last minute and push the limits of what they can tolerate. Once they reach that limit, these people want help.
Once in the terminal phase of life, a person who had been receiving palliative care at home may be taken to the hospital urgently, where health workers will note their rapidly deteriorating condition. Consider a person who, for the past two years, six months or three months, has always told their therapists that they want medical assistance in dying because they do not want to suffer. This person has been receiving palliative care and medication at home, but their condition is deteriorating. Why should they have to wait 10 days for access to medical assistance in dying in the terminal phase of life when the process of dying has begun and is irreversible? Bill C-7 covers this situation and offers this option. That is a step in the right direction.
There are of course other sensitive issues to be addressed, such as mental illness as the sole underlying medical condition. In my remarks last December, I had the opportunity to say that, as a parliamentarian and legislator, I did not have the expertise to reach a decision on that point. I think it is wise that the motion implies two things and that an independent panel of experts is being set up. The panel will have to look at the recommended protocols, guidelines and safeguards for MAID requests from patients with mental illness as their only condition.
Earlier, my Conservative colleague was talking about the requirement to have safeguards that protect the individual and help prevent abuse. Our Conservative colleagues would have us believe that we are in some sort of house of horrors, as though the health care system itself were inherently evil, and we need to protect persons with disabilities because our prejudices about these individuals might cause health care professionals to give up, as though people are going to be coerced and euthanized without their consent. I find it very difficult to understand that kind of rhetoric.
A similar independent panel of experts was set up in Quebec and a report was prepared. I think we should carry on with this work to get a clearer picture. Not only will the panel of experts deal with this issue, but there will also be something else we have been asking for for a long time and that is the creation of a review committee for the entire body of work. Bill C-7 could have included amendments to C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, which could have led to a new review of the legislation in two, three or four years. In just 30 days a special joint committee will study the issues of mature minors, advance requests, mental illness, palliative care in Canada and the protection of Canadians with disabilities.
Whether or not an election is triggered and there ends up being a change in government this committee is enshrined in law and will begin sitting in 30 days. It will work for a year before tabling its recommendations. We may reach a consensus or hold discussions for at least 12 months, which the court-imposed deadlines did not allow Parliament to do in relation to Bill C-7 and its previous version, Bill C-14. I think it is necessary.
To come back to the social acceptance of Bill C-7, I would point out to my Conservative colleagues that an average of 80% of people across the country approve it, from 88% in Quebec to 77% in Alberta. I think moving forward is a reasonable compromise. If in 24 months MAID is made available to people with mental illness, this deadline will help determine the necessary safeguards to make practitioners comfortable with this as well. In fact, we need to hear their point of view on this.
On the issue of advance requests for medical assistance in dying, I find it timely that the committee will start sitting in 30 days and that its members will work hard across party lines for the benefit of people who are suffering, like Sarah Demontigny. We will not forget these people, and we will establish a process to ensure that the advance requests they are drafting today will apply once our work is done. That is my hope.
Without making assumptions about the results of our efforts, I think we can come up with something better than the amendment proposed by the Senate if we have meaningful discussions and hear from witnesses. This would make it possible for Quebec, which is responsible for implementing this practice of advance requests, to properly regulate it. We could identify how to best amend the Criminal Code to allow for this.
I spoke about the legal aspect, but I will now come back to the fundamental principles. We are in the process of reaching a compromise because reason dictates that we must move forward. Bill C-7 represented a step in the right direction with the official commitment of an expert panel on mental health. I think it would be a good idea that the special committee I mentioned be a joint committee. This would ensure that everyone is doing the same work and hearing the same witnesses at the same time to eventually arrive at a conclusion, rather than having a game of ping pong between the two chambers—one of which is outdated, in our opinion. Let us rally together.
We are doing this for those who are suffering, who have waited too long and who, today, have hope that we will finally complete this work. I believe that the government's motion represents the light at the end of the tunnel for these people, because there is a deadline and we will get there if we all act in good faith and without partisanship.
Bill C-7 already contains fundamental principles, which I will repeat. First, death—my death, just like my life—belongs to me. Why did I say that and why did I say earlier that the Conservatives are practising government paternalism?
I said those things because my own death is a very personal thing, and the state must not tell me what to do or make decisions for me. The state should be creating a framework to protect my decisions. I do not think people should be pressured or forced to go into palliative care until their last breath or to request medical assistance in dying.
During any clinical study, the patient is the standard. When someone who is ill has determined their own limit of what is tolerable, we need to listen to what they are telling us and what comes out of their suffering. This allows us to provide support.
I find it very disturbing that in the debate on medical assistance in dying, MAID and palliative care are always pitted against each other, but in reality, it is a continuum and they complement each other. Later in my speech I will define the notion of human dignity.
Who would not want to receive palliative care before dying from a serious degenerative disease that causes intolerable suffering? We all want relief; no one wants to suffer.
When it comes to end-of-life care, the least you can give someone is palliative care. Unfortunately, for the past 50 years, palliative care has not been the only answer for everyone, unless one is ideologically committed and determined to prove it. At that point, someone comes to the patient's bedside and imposes some religious or other ideology. No, that is not it.
We are in a process where it is imperative that we consider that palliative care can be successful even when a patient's request for MAID emerges. Why? Because the patient is at peace and ready to let go. In fact, I hope all my colleagues are at peace and able to let go when the time comes. This could also be an example of very good palliative care. Palliative care is about support when someone is dying, the easing of suffering and psychological support. It is possible that some will die after suffering until the end, but it is also possible that some are ready to let go. That is when they can be supported.
It is not up to the family or the state to make decisions on behalf of the dying patient or the person suffering from a serious and irreversible condition causing intolerable suffering. The underlying principle of Bill C-7 puts into perspective what is enshrined in law for every human being, namely self-determination.
The law guarantees everyone the right to self-determination. Why take this right away from me at the most intimate moment of my life, meaning my death? Why should the state be allowed to take away my right to self-determination in my decision to suffer until I die in palliative care or to seek MAID? It would be utterly absurd for the state to assume that power.
The state must provide us a framework to be able to do this. I often hear members talk about human dignity. Human dignity implies that we must absolutely—
View Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Profile
BQ (QC)
Madam Speaker, my colleague's remarks and explanations were amazing. I truly appreciate him.
I want everyone who is concerned about abuse, victims or the process to know that I was with my father at the end of his life, with my uncle and with a quadriplegic friend who wanted nothing more than to live and who is now an engineer. They never told us that they did not want to live.
I would like to ask something of the House and of all those who will vote on creating this special committee, which I see as an extraordinary committee for debating and exploring the potential for abuse. I would invite all of my fellow parliamentarians to talk to someone they know, maybe even someone close to them, and ask them to truly share their experience so that when the time comes to vote on the motion, we can have an entirely rational and non-partisan vote.
I would like my colleague to tell me if the special committee will consider the extreme vigilance that must be in place to ensure appropriate care for people with disabilities in particular.
View Luc Thériault Profile
BQ (QC)
View Luc Thériault Profile
2021-02-23 11:54 [p.4426]
Madam Speaker, with respect to the part of the motion that is about including the issue of people with disabilities and related safeguards, I think my colleagues on the committee will be able to discuss measures that should be taken to reassure everyone.
However, first and foremost, we have to acknowledge that health care providers are well-meaning and caring. None of this makes sense if we believe some people do not mean well and will not do right by their patients.
If they are ill-intentioned and uncaring, they need to go. A societal debate does not hinge on exceptions. That is what the courts are for.
View Louise Chabot Profile
BQ (QC)
View Louise Chabot Profile
2021-02-23 11:55 [p.4426]
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague and applaud his eloquent speech.
One part of his speech stood out to me. My colleague said that we will continue to move forward, and I would say that we must move forward. I would even say that society is more advanced than we are in this debate today.
I heard a Conservative member say this bill offers death. I deeply resent that remark, because our job as parliamentarians is specifically to move forward with the right to die with dignity in keeping with society's wishes.
I have the same question for my colleague. How can the committee help us move further ahead with Bill C-7?
View Luc Thériault Profile
BQ (QC)
View Luc Thériault Profile
2021-02-23 11:56 [p.4426]
Madam Speaker, without presuming what the committee will find, I think that advance requests for neurocognitive diseases will be possible, but we will also be able to make some technical amendments to the existing law to make it fairer.
That is what I would say, since Bill C-7 was a closed bill that could not be used to make amendments to Bill C-14. We can now look at this issue and see how the law can be improved. The concept of advance requests can be dealt with, with all of the necessary safeguards to reassure everyone, including practitioners, because this is a new practice—
View Alistair MacGregor Profile
NDP (BC)
Madam Speaker, we certainly are dealing with a very sensitive subject matter with today. This Parliament and the last Parliament both have had quite a long journey in dealing with the substance and subject matter of medical assistance in dying.
I know that I along with many of my colleagues in all parties have been recipients of a huge amount of correspondence on this subject matter, both from organized groups across the country and our very own constituents. It can be hard as a member of Parliament to find one's own way through all of that, because the feedback we receive and the strong passions are evident on both sides of the argument. I was a witness to that with Bill C-14 and, of course, it has been replayed for Bill C-7.
There have been difficult conversations with constituents. I have constituents who feel the government legislation does not go far enough. They felt that way for Bill C-14 and some feel the same way for Bill C-7. Others feel it goes too far and establishes dangerous precedents. It can be tough, but in those conversations I have had with my constituents, I have always tried to guide myself with the difference between sympathy and empathy. With sympathy, we can feel sorry for one's situation in life, but we are still looking at another person's situation with our own biases and world view, whereas true empathy, which is very much required when we are dealing with medical assistance in dying, is to try to put ourselves into that other people's shoes, to try to see the world from their point of view, to see exactly why these issues and matters are so important to them.
I also try to use section 7 of the charter to guide myself, the fact that it is explicitly written that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof, except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. Essentially it means that people have a right to control their own bodily integrity. It is engaged whenever the state tries to interfere with personal autonomy.
This is really the crux of the matter. It is personal autonomy, a person's decision on how he or she is going to meet the end of his or her life. For those of us who are blessed to lead healthy lives, who are not intolerably suffering from a grievous and irremediable medical condition, we really cannot know what other people's lives are like. We do not know what it is like for those people to not have autonomy over their own bodily functions or their bodily integrity, so to speak.
In today's debate, one thing should be very clear. The House of Commons has already spoken to Bill C-7. We have already decided on what we want to do as the people's elected representatives. Of course, the Senate has reviewed the final third reading version of the bill that we sent to it and the Senate sent it back to us with some of its recommendations. This is not the time or the place to go over old arguments that were already dealt with by the House. This is really a time for us to focus exclusively on what the Senate has brought to us.
It is important to note that nothing in Bill C-7 is going to change the very high standards set out in the original Bill C-14. To receive medical assistance in dying, patients need to have a condition that is incurable. They must be in a state of irreversible decline and they must be facing intolerable suffering. The door is not being opened wide, as some have suggested. Those basic parameters are still in place.
When we are dealing with this subject matter, it is important to note that most Canadians know someone who has been affected by intolerable suffering at the end of his or her life. Generally, my caucus has been supportive of this bill because it does respond to the need to reduce that unnecessary suffering at the end of life. As I alluded to, section 7 of the charter helps to preserve the autonomy of decision-making for individuals.
I made reference to the fact that most Canadians know someone who has been affected by a disease and intolerable suffering. I have had that personal experience as well with a close family member, and that happened at a time before we had medical assistance in dying. It was a long-drawn-out battle with cancer. It can be hard on the family members too, because they have to watch a beloved family member suffer, in some cases for several months, before the end mercifully does come.
It is a very weighty subject matter, and I want to approach today's debate with that firmly in mind.
I was first elected in 2015, so I was a member of the 42nd Parliament. I was there for all the Bill C-14 debate, which was forced upon Parliament at the time by the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Carter. We, as New Democrats, ultimately did not support Bill C-14, because we felt the bill at the time was too restrictive. I remember referring to the fact that the courts would force this bill back before Parliament, and that happened with the Quebec superior court.
I do not want to dwell too long on this history, but one thing that is very important to mention, in the context of today's debate, is that Bill C-14 had a provision in clause 10, which mandated that a legislative review had to happen at the beginning of the fifth year. I will read it out for my hon. colleagues. Clause 10 reads as follows:
At the start of the fifth year after the day on which this Act receives royal assent, the provisions enacted by this Act are to be referred to the committee of the Senate, of the House of Commons or of both Houses of Parliament that may be designated or established for the purpose of reviewing the provisions.
That is very clear language, and the beginning of the fifth year was in June 2020. We are almost at the end of February 2021.
The reason I raise this is that this important legislation review would have dealt with a lot of the questions the House is now considering and debating. It almost feels like we are building parts of the plane as we are flying. Many of these debatable items that are going on with Bill C-7 need a very careful study. They need to have the timeline afforded to them so we can hear from Canadians across the country, from expert witnesses and actually craft a law that responds to those very important bits of feedback.
I also want to take this opportunity to recognize my friend and colleague, the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, a neighbouring riding of mine. He has long recognized this legislative requirement of Bill C-14. He has raised it with the Minister of Justice on several occasions.
Due to his frustration at the government's inaction on this front, he introduced Motion No. 51, which would establish a special committee of the House to include a review that would not be limited to but would expand on several issues. It would have looked at requests for medical assistance in dying by mature minors, advanced requests and, most important, requests where mental illness was the sole underlying medical condition. The committee would also be charged with looking at the state of palliative care, the adequacy of safeguards against pressure on the vulnerable and so on. If we had such a committee in place, already looking at these issues, then we may have had some answers to these important questions by this point.
I will move on to what the Senate has sent back to the House. I was reviewing some of the transcripts from the Senate, some from its legal and constitutional affairs committee, but also from its third reading of the bill.
The Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee decided to report back to the main body of the Senate with no amendments to the bill but some observations. The substantive amendments to the bill all came at third reading. For example, there was a proposed change to the wording of subsection 1(2) for mental illness to include a neurocognitive disorder, looking at advanced requests and so on.
Today, we are dealing with the government's response to those amendments. The government has crafted a motion for the House to consider on what amendments it agrees with, those it does not and those it wants to amend. The Senate disagreed with the expanded definition for the exclusion of mental illness. The government's motion disagrees with the advanced request part of it.
However, as a quick summary, the government motion agrees to the sunset clause for the mental health exclusion. Instead of 18 months, the government has proposed it be expanded to two years after royal assent. Essentially this legislation, once it becomes a statute of Canada, if passed in this manner, will have a ticking clock of two years for a committee to come up with the appropriate safeguards in place.
The government's motion in response to the Senate also mandates that the minister is to set up a committee of experts to work on mental health protocols. It requires a voluntary collection of data based on indigenous identity, race and disability. It sets up a joint committee to do the legislative review, starting 30 days after royal assent.
The most substantive part of the government's motion that really stands out to me is the fact the government is agreeing to the sunset clause on the mental health exclusion. The reason it stands out for me is because when Bill C-7 was originally proposed to the House, the government's own charter statement made some very strong references to why mental health, as an underlying condition, was to be excluded. For the government to backtrack on that and agree to a sunset clause stands out to me.
I acknowledge that we will have two years, but with such a substantive change to the law. it would make sense to me as a legislator to have a specific committee set up to look at all the things we need to look at to make this bill appropriate and proper so it fits will all the important safeguards we need to have in place. I am a bit wary of having that timeline put on the House and forcing us to do these things.
My Conservative colleague before me has now proposed an amendment to the government's motion. Basically, the Conservatives are proposing to get rid of the sunset clause. That is the most substantive thing. At first glance, that seems reasonable, but because I have only really had about 10 minutes to adequately review what the Conservatives have proposed, I would like more time to refer back to that in later days.
I mentioned the charter statement the government initially brought out for Bill C-7. I would like to read a highlighted section of that charter statement where it reasons why it wants to exclude the mental health provisions in the bill. It says, “evidence suggests that screening for decision-making capacity is particularly difficult, and subject to a high degree of error.” It further says, “mental illness is generally less predictable than physical illness.” It also highlights some concerns from other countries that permitted medical assistance in dying for mental illness, namely Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
I want to make it clear that I am not necessarily of the opinion that mental health should be excluded, full stop. What I am saying and what I am arguing is that we need to have an appropriate review of all of this incredibly weighty subject matter before we dive into actually changing the legislation.
This is backed up by the work that was done in the House of Commons' very own Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The justice committee heard that the protocols and safeguards for medical assistance in dying for those with mental illness do not exist and that it would take a significant amount of time to develop them from a clinical perspective. The fact is that if the committee's work on mental health is not complete within two years, that clause will be sunset. I have a real problem with us putting that part up front before we do the hard work at committee.
If I were to summarize my speech, the real issue I have is that I do not believe we should have a substantive expansion of what Bill C-7 purported to do when the bill was passed by the House. I do not think we should have any expansion to it before we have had those reviews in place.
I realize that in some cases, the Senate does like to provide feedback to the House, and there have been several instances of amendments being proposed by the Senate. The real issue I have, the elephant in the room, is that the Senate is still an unelected and unaccountable body.
As members of Parliament, we have to face our constituents. We are accountable to the people who elected us. Whenever the next election comes, the people of my riding of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford are going to judge me on how well I did my job. It is the same for every single member of Parliament who sits in the House of Commons. We have to be accountable for the things we say in the House and how we vote. Senators do not have to do that. I know there are a lot of honourable people who serve in that institution, but they are free from that accountability mechanism. The real problem I have is that I firmly believe the House must always be the final arbiter in the decisions that are made, because the people of Canada elected us to make the laws on their behalf.
In response to the many concerns I have heard raised, both in the House and in correspondence from the disability community, I would like to leave my colleagues with some thoughts. If we are rightly concerned about how persons with disabilities are currently living in Canada and what their quality of life is like, rather than focusing so much on Bill C-7 and medical assistance in dying, why do we not take this opportunity to start enacting reforms and enacting policies to make their lives better? If we look at the income supports that are out there for persons with disabilities and the amount of money they get to scrape by every month, we see a shameful record on our country, and it is something that we need to fix.
We have already acknowledged through the pandemic and through COVID-19 response measures that individuals should be receiving $2,000 a month to get by, but we do not afford that to persons with disabilities. Even when the House had an opportunity to get financial aid to that group of people in Canada, it took us over six months to do so. That is a shameful record, and it is something that the House really needs to concentrate on if we are going to adequately and meaningfully address that issue.
I appreciate having had this opportunity to speak to Bill C-7 and I welcome any questions and comments that my colleagues may have.
View Arif Virani Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Arif Virani Profile
2021-02-23 13:00 [p.4435]
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in the consideration of the amendments proposed by the Senate to Bill C-7, which seeks to amend the Criminal Code provisions on medical assistance in dying.
Our colleagues did a lot of work on Bill C-7 and proposed reasoned amendments following careful deliberations. The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs heard from a variety of witnesses as part of two different studies. I followed the debate at second and third reading and thought that the speeches given in the Senate reflected the range of perspectives shared by the many witnesses.
It is therefore with great respect for the work of the Senate that we are examining the amendments it is proposing to Bill C-7. As the minister explained, there are three amendments that we plan to support, with some adjustments.
The first relates to the collection and analysis of data about the race of persons seeking MAID. Let me say here that we have heard extensively in the House of Commons and the Senate about the need for better and more robust data collection with respect to MAID. That data has been collected since MAID first entered into the legislative landscape, but certainly improvements can be made.
It is important now, especially during Black History Month, to note that one of the Senate amendments proposes tracking the analysis of data on the race of persons who are accessing MAID. This is important because we have clearly seen a light shone on the important issue of systemic racism in Canada, North America and around the planet. We need to understand how racialized persons, because of their inherent vulnerability, may be disproportionately impacted by MAID and address that vulnerability with our legislative response.
I would say, however, as articulated by previous speakers, including the minister, that the amendment the government proposes to make to this portion of what the Senate is suggesting would make it more inclusive in light of all of the witness testimony given in both the House and the Senate. By that I mean in addition to race-based data, data about disability and indigenous identity would be collected and analyzed. This, of course, is important, especially and specifically as we broaden the MAID regime to circumstances where death is not reasonably foreseeable, in response to the Truchon decision, which creates the real possibility that people will seek and obtain MAID because of vulnerabilities in their lives as opposed to their health conditions. I am grateful to the Senate for proposing this important legislative change.
The second Senate amendment the government supports, with some adjustments, is the sunset clause that attaches to the mental illness exclusion. We heard extensively about this from the previous speaker and in other interventions that have been made. The Senate amendment proposes a sunset clause of 18 months. The government is suggesting that the sunset clause be extended to 24 months.
Second, and very importantly, we are requiring that the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Health ask a group of experts to make recommendations on safeguards, protocols and guidance for MAID on the basis of mental illness alone. Those experts would be required to report back to the ministers within one year, which would leave an additional year for the government to consider what safeguards should be legislated and for Parliament to consider things when enacting any subsequent legislation.
I want to give some context surrounding the sunset clause because it is obviously a pressing matter for today's debate and a pressing issue for all parliamentarians.
The government's position is that it needs more time to consider and enact safeguards for the population of people whose sole underlying condition is a mental illness. The Minister of Justice was always clear that the questions of whether MAID for mental illness should be allowed and, if so, what safeguards were needed would be studied in the course of an upcoming parliamentary review.
What the sunset clause would do, in combination with a requirement for an expert review, is commit to a definite timeline for eligibility of persons whose only medical condition is mental illness. This would reduce the risk that some Canadians would feel the need to challenge the exclusion before the courts should they believe it is unconstitutional. It would also provide them with the certainty that two years following royal assent of Bill C-7, eligibility on the basis of mental illness would be considered with the requisite safeguards attached.
This point about potential constitutional challenges is not an academic point alone. We know this is a complicated issue that balances competing constitutional rights. Obviously we know from the Truchon decision that there has been litigation with respect to the old Bill C-14, and virtually all observers recognize that there is very likely to be constitutional challenges related to the current bill, Bill C-7, should it be enacted. In fact, we heard testimony about this at a House of Commons standing committee. Some witnesses said the exclusion of mental illness alone could perhaps give rise to a section 15 challenge. We are trying to ensure that Canadians who are concerned about this exclusion would have a remedy that is not via the court process, but rather through the task force of experts and the parliamentary study that would follow therefrom.
We heard a lot from the previous member about evidence and whether the government believes in evidence-based approaches. I would reiterate for the record that absolutely we do, and some of that evidence relates to a very specific document in the submissions that were made by the Association des médecins psychiatres du Québec.
In November 2020, the Quebec association of psychiatrists, or AMPQ, published a very informative discussion paper on access to medical assistance in dying for people with mental illness, which underscores the reasons that the government believes that a 24-month sunset clause is needed.
The work of this association will no doubt be foundational to the expert review of this issue. It points to some possible solutions, but they are fairly complex. That is why we need to carefully consider solutions that could work nationally.
The association is of the view that whether a mental illness is incurable or not can “only be determined at the end of a long process, after attempting several treatments and assessing their effects”. The association further notes that before coming to a conclusion on eligibility a psychiatrist “should explore other aspects that shape the patient’s life experience and consider strategies to improve the social circumstances that add to the suffering”. This dovetails exactly with some of the interventions made in the last portion of the debate by members of the NDP, who talked about supports that surround a person's life circumstances, such as income security, housing security and so on.
Going back to the submission from the association, it notes, “Psychiatrists must be involved as both the first and second assessors”, and also notes, “access to psychiatric care varies significantly from one region to the next.”
In light of all of these considerations, the Association des médecins psychiatres du Québec suggests that we create a new administrative body with regional offices dedicated to MAID on the basis of mental illness that would coordinate such requests, identify MAID assessors and providers, and ensure access to psychiatrists. It also suggest that such an administrative body could monitor the assessment process in real time instead of after the fact.
I highlight this in some detail because I believe the association's discussion paper is focal to why we as a government believe that a 24-month sunset clause is needed. The work of the association will no doubt be foundational to the expert review of this issue. The paper points to possible solutions, some of which are fairly complex in nature, which underscores the need for careful consideration of what could work nationally. Further, I underscore that government and Parliament will need time to make decisions about which safeguards should be codified in federal MAID legislation as a matter of criminal law relating to mandatory access across the country.
I will now turn to the third amendment.
The third amendment being proposed by the Senate, which the government proposes to support with some modifications, relates to the notion of the parliamentary review. The government has repeatedly committed to facilitating the start of the parliamentary review required by Bill C-14 as soon as possible following the adoption of the current Bill C-7. Our proposed adjustments to the amendment proposed by the Senate would ensure that all of the relevant issues are front and centre for the joint parliamentary committee that would undertake this work. I underscore the notion that it is joint, because it would be a combined study by the Senate and the House of Commons, similar to what we saw prior to the advent of the original Bill C-14. Its mandate would look at things that were contemplated by the original intended review of Bill C-14, such as requests by mature minors and issues that relate to advance directives.
In addition, we would include palliative care and safeguards for persons with disabilities within the scope of that mandatory joint parliamentary review by the Senate and the House. We also proposed to adjust the timelines, so they are both realistic in a pandemic environment but still ambitious, given the seriousness of the issues at hand. These are important features we feel would enable us to move forward in a collaborative manner involving the work of both Houses of Parliament, as well as the work of all legislators from various parties.
I would note parenthetically that, obviously, the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke has been very instrumental in leading the charge and a call for a study in Parliament of the previous bill, Bill C-14. Some of what we are proposing incorporates his views on the scope of what that review should look like.
Finally, there are two Senate amendments that, in the government's view, cannot be supported.
The first is the amendment to the mental illness exclusion itself. While I appreciate that some have advocated for greater clarity around what mental illness means in this context, the government is concerned that this particular amendment, as drafted by the Senate, implies that neurocognitive disorders are ordinarily understood as being mental illnesses, which, in fact, may not be the case. The federal government will work with its provincial and territorial counterparts to ensure a consistent application of the mental illness exclusion until it sunsets.
The second Senate amendment we propose to reject is the amendment to expand the waiver of final consent. Providing MAID in the absence of final consent is extraordinary and carries risks, and we acknowledge that. The Senate amendment goes beyond the scope and principle of Bill C-7, which would permit the waiver of final consent only in narrow circumstances that present the fewest risks. Any expansion of advance consent or proposal for advance requests, which are sometimes called advance directives, will involve greater risks and should be the object of careful consideration by the parliamentary review.
It has always been the notion that the issue of advance directives should be contemplated only after consideration by the broader parliamentary review. This was the case with the previous Bill C-14, and it is certainly the case now with what we are proposing as a government with respect to the parliamentary review that should ensue herefrom.
In the time I have remaining here, I would like to canvass a couple of points.
One is the notion that has arisen during the discourse of today's debate that somehow the government and de facto the Senate are somehow pursuing a route that is putting undue focus on facilitating an end of suffering, including facilitating the passing of an individual, as opposed to making the condition of life more viable and also more supported. That assertion is categorically false. The government's record over the last five and a half to six years speaks for itself in terms of the supports we have put in place, whether they are in long-term care, home care or supports for mental illness.
It relates to, as the previous member mentioned, a unanimous consent motion being passed regarding a suicide hotline. The supports we have put in place, such as the Canada health and social transfer, and a few intensive efforts to address home care and palliative care, are significant investments. We are ensuring that people are making such significant decisions based on the full understanding of what options are available to them and what supports are available to them. Can more be done? Of course, more can be done. I think that is what is important about what arises from a debate such as this.
The second thing I want to underscore is something that arose many times when Bill C-7 was in our chamber the first time, meaning its second and third readings prior to being sent to the Senate, which has again arisen today in the context of today's debate, and that is this idea that persons with disabilities are somehow being victimized, targeted or unfairly treated by this particular bill. I will raise a couple of important points, which I think are really important for all members of Parliament to understand. I have raised these points before, but I will reiterate them.
What we are talking about here is autonomy and the autonomy of individuals to make choices about the end of their lives and their passing, and that butts up against the need to protect vulnerable people. It is an important balance, and that is what is at the heart of this. This makes it probably the most difficult issue any of us have dealt with, at least it has been for me in my five and a half years as as parliamentarian. That being said, people need to understand that the case that was brought before the courts that we are responding to now was brought by two individuals: Monsieur Truchon and Madame Gladu.
Both suffered from disabilities, but because they were not near the end of their lives, they were prevented from accessing the MAID regime under Bill C-14. This is because it was, at that point and even now, until the law is potentially changed, an end-of-life only regime.
I want to read for members what the court analyzed with respect to that, because we have heard a lot in this discussion that somehow what we are trying to do in Bill C-7 is discriminatory of persons with disabilities. The notion of discrimination under section 15 was squarely in front of the court in the Truchon case, and what the court said is quite the opposite. I am quoting from paragraph 678 of the Truchon decision. The court said:
The requirement at issue reveals a legislative regime within which suffering takes a back seat to the temporal connection with death. Where natural death is not reasonably foreseeable, the consent in suffering of the disabled are worthy only of the sympathy of Parliament, which has adopted a protectionist policy toward every such person, regardless of his or her personal situation. As soon as death approaches, however, the state is prepared to recognize the right to autonomy. This is a flagrant contradiction of the fundamental principles concerning respect for the autonomy of competent people, and it is this unequal recognition of the right to autonomy and dignity that is discriminatory in this case.
The judge went on, in paragraph 681:
By seeking to counter only one of the stereotypes that the disabled face—vulnerability—the challenge provision perhaps perpetuates another probably more pernicious stereotype: the inability to consent fully to medical assistance in dying. Yet the evidence amply establishes that Mr. Truchon is fully capable of exercising fundamental choices concerning his life and his death. As a consequence, he is deprived of the exercise of these choices essential to his dignity as a human being, due to his personal characteristics that the challenged provision does not consider. He can neither commit suicide by a method of his choosing nor legally request this assistance.
I read this into the record to remind parliamentarians that discriminating against anyone in Canada should not be countenanced. However, what was squarely before the court was whether the old regime was discriminatory against persons with disabilities who want to make autonomous choices about their passing, but were not near the end of their lives. The court found, conclusively, that the old regime was discriminatory. That is what prompted this and other changes to the legislation.
I think it is very important to understand that. When I, and others, talk about the heterogeneity among people with disabilities, that is what we are driving at. It is not for Parliament, in my respectful view, to impede, limit or curtail the competence and autonomy of persons, including persons with disabilities, who want to make significant choices about how and in what manner to end their suffering.
I think a compassionate response by this Parliament, a response that entrenches dignity, requires us to do the opposite. I know it is difficult. I know it is moral. I know it is an issue fraught with a lot of personal conviction, and that it is a difficult task for many of us, but that is the task before us as parliamentarians. As somebody who is familiar with discrimination law, I wanted to correct the record, in terms of what I have heard in today's debate and previous debates, about how discrimination plays into the analysis.
View Sébastien Lemire Profile
BQ (QC)
Madam Speaker, among the amendments introduced by the Senate is the idea of a joint committee made up of 11 people from the House of Commons and five people from the Senate.
The Conservative member raised a number of points for consideration regarding the importance of working collaboratively. What does he think of such a committee? Would that not be an opportunity to hear different points of view and improve care for the benefit of people who are suffering and at the end of life?
View Damien Kurek Profile
CPC (AB)
View Damien Kurek Profile
2021-02-23 15:54 [p.4462]
Madam Speaker, I have outlined the problematic precursor to some of the areas of debate and the situation in which we find ourselves today. There is a need for this to be debated, studied and wholesomely discussed. Consultation that does not direct a specific outcome is key. All these things are vitally important.
It is unfortunate and a bit ironic that there would be a suggestion for a new committee to address what is a very problematic aspect of this bill with respect to mental illness and a desire to see that addressed in the future when the place we are at today has quite problematic origins. Debate needs to take place and we need to continue to do that in this place.
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