Madam Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise in the House today as one of 338 federal lawmakers in Canada whose duty it is to make good laws that will have a positive impact on the lives of Canadians now and for generations to come.
The weight of my duties as an MP have become more evident as I have been serving my constituents through the pandemic. Canadians have been struggling intensely for nine months as a microscopic organism called the coronavirus has caused us to shut down our lives and institutions on so many levels.
Today, as I speak on Bill C-7, an act to amend the Criminal Code on medical assistance in dying, the weight of my parliamentary role is compounded because what I say today may be the most important thing I have spoken about in the 12 months I have been an MP. Today, I am compelled to speak from the depths of my heart, conscience and love for my fellow humans, and nothing less, because the very flow of life and death in our nation is in my hands and the hands of each member of this House through Bill C-7.
Bill C-7 came about after the Superior Court of Quebec struck down the reasonably foreseeable natural death clause of this legislation as unconstitutional. This ruling resulted from a case of two individuals with degenerative diseases, Truchon and Gladu, who had sought to repeal this provision in the law and access MAID. The judge asserted what the plaintiffs were really looking was for the law to recognize equally the suffering, dignity and, ultimately, autonomy of people who, like them, are affected by serious and irremediable health problems without any hierarchy, whether death is near or not.
Bill C-7 would eliminate the clause that requires a 10-day waiting period between when MAID is requested and when it can be administered when death is reasonably foreseeable. Bill C-14, the original MAID bill that was given royal assent on June 17, 2016, already allowed for this period to be waived under specific circumstances, which are if two medical practitioners are both of the opinion that the person's death or the loss of their capacity to provide informed consent is imminent, or any shorter period is considered more appropriate by the first medical practitioner or nurse practitioner in the circumstances.
Many lawyers, doctors, families and advocates for individuals with disabilities feel Bill C-7 has gone beyond what the ruling in the Truchon-Gladu case called for. They feel Bill C-7 is discriminatory to the disabled and risks the abuse of MAID.
Amy Hasbrouck, a representative from the group Not Dead Yet, said this about the court ruling in a press interview: “Basically this decision is saying that as far as society's concerned, it's better to be dead than disabled”. Hasbrouck feels governments should improve services for people with severe disabilities to help improve their quality of life and allow them to continue living in their own homes.
This bill has also raised the concern of deepened challenges on the conscience rights of doctors. There are limited protections for the conscience rights of medical professionals already, and loosening restrictions will cause greater strife to those already uncomfortable with MAID. Throughout the debate, Bill C-7 has raised a lot of concern that as it expands MAID accessibility, it risks palliative care suffering. As a result, patients will view MAID as a better option. Unless there is more focus on improving and expanding palliative care so that palliative care is more accessible, MAID may appear to be the more practical solution for Canadians.
I now speak on Bill C-7 as a potential trigger to another pandemic within a pandemic. Canadians are currently experiencing multiple pandemics within the pandemic. They are struggling with depression and anxiety about their future because of economic uncertainties and collapse. They are facing social isolation. Although uncertain about the full ramifications of the coronavirus, in order to prioritize and protect the health and safety of Canadians, multiple tiers of government across our nation opted to take drastic measures throughout the pandemic with lockdowns and travel restrictions, which have infringed on some civil rights.
Social isolation is putting seniors in a mental health crisis. Recently, Nancy Russell, a 90-year-old woman living in a seniors home, chose MAID because she did not want to go through another lockdown or isolation this winter. According to some MAID practitioners, there is a trend of more reports of seniors interested in MAID and accelerating their timelines because of COVID.
I would like to ask each member in the House this: Is the passing Bill C-7, with its safeguards removed, during a pandemic, when Canadians are vulnerable to depression and suicide, a responsible and timely action? The government had the option to appeal this, but it chose not to.
I fully appreciate that the debate on Bill C-7 brings issues of compassion, dignified death, suffering and personal rights into a complex but profound discourse. Medically assisted death is complex, and debates on human rights are important, but in this time of severe and drastic measures to protect lives and keep Canadians safe from a virus that has the potential to take many lives, the government has entered into emergency mode. It has put health and safety above many important things.
We have allowed the economy to fall apart to flatten the curve and save lives. Canadians put a precedent on saving lives over some basic rights.
Rights do not exist in a vacuum. They exist to support the overarching vision and mandate, which I hope unifies all of us in the House, which is to protect the lives, sustenance and flourishing of humans; to ensure all people, regardless of who they are, their behaviour, ideology or capacity, to be functional in life; to protect their existence and sustenance needs; and to provide individuals with fair opportunities to dream and make the most of their lives. I understand the principles of debate and rights, but in the context of this pandemic we are facing, my humanity and my heart burn like a mother bear for the lives of Canadians.
In a recent report from the Canadian Mental Health Association, 3,800 Canadians died in 2018-19 after being admitted into hospitals for self-harm. With the stress, hopelessness and trauma created by the pandemic, that number is on the rise, especially for the most vulnerable.
In a survey held by CMHA in May during lockdowns, 38% of the people surveyed said that their mental health had declined due to COVID-19, 6% had suicidal thoughts and 2% had tried to harm themselves in response to COVID-19. Based on this survey, if there are 30 million adult Canadians, then it would mean that 1.8 million adult Canadians have had suicidal thoughts and 600,000 have tried to harm themselves as a result of the challenges caused by the pandemic.
The count for the number of Canadians who have died from COVID-19 is 12,211 from yesterday's numbers. If only 6% of the 3,000 Canadians who participated in the survey had suicidal thoughts, that would still be 180 people. What does that translate to in Canada's entire population?
More survey results show that not everyone is affected equally. While 6% of the general population have had suicidal thoughts since the outbreak of COVID-19, suicidal contemplation has been happening with 18% of people already struggling with their mental health, 15% of people with a disability, 14% of people with low incomes and 16% of people who are indigenous. This is not fair.
This is the question I would like to ask all members: Do we, as members, take mental health seriously? Do we recognize that extraordinary suicide prevention must be part of our COVID response? Do we see the danger of passing a bill such as Bill C-7 in the context of a pandemic where we see rising numbers of mental health challenges and suicidal contemplation?
The mental health side of the pandemic does not end with a vaccine, because healing from trauma and financial restoration takes time. What is the message we want to send to the Canadian public right now as parliamentarians? In the name of saving lives, we have allowed families to be separated, and we have allowed businesses and institutions to be pulverized, but what support are we providing to counter the depression and hopelessness that comes from these drastic measures? We should be more focused on creating more access to counselling and mental health support.
For those who say that mental health is a provincial issue, I would say to them that mental health is a serious issue and one that all tiers of government must come to the table to discuss and implement solutions for. We have a responsibility as lawmakers to look at the big picture and understand the time we are in right now.
We do not see suicides reported, but all of us know someone, whether directly or by one or two degrees of separation, who has attempted or committed suicide. Let us be sober. The bill before us could open doors to a suicide pandemic during this pandemic. Our duty is to pass legislation that protects the life, sustenance and flourishing of our fellow humans and not make them more vulnerable and susceptible to death.
Canadians need hope. Will my colleagues, with a clear conscience, be able to say that they did everything they could to prevent suicide? Will they be able to say with conviction that they had helped someone find hope and not have to resort to death?
I want to be wrong. I hope there is no suicide pandemic, which the unpredictable waves and lockdowns of COVID-19 would exacerbate, but the government has chosen to put the priority of saving lives at a high cost. Were the drastic measures reasonable or too severe? I think most Canadians would say that saving lives was worth it. Will it be worth saving lives by stopping the spread of a culture of suicide through a bill like Bill C-7 during this pandemic?
The very life breath of Canadians are in our hands right now. I cannot support the bill in the name of mental health and saving lives in this pandemic. I do not want blood on my hands for the death of any Canadians who were inspired by the passing of Bill C-7 to cope with mental health challenges and hopelessness during the pandemic, especially when we do not have enough to give them more hope.
Being a parliamentarian comes with responsibility. Ideology comes with responsibility. Legislation comes with responsibility. Legislation is not separate from the current plight Canadians face. I encourage every member to examine this bill, recognizing there is not enough hope to safeguard against the dangers of Bill C-7.