Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this. Having been in this place for all the debates we have had, I have been trying to figure out the best way to explain to Canadians, if there is an argument here, why it is not between Liberals and Conservatives, or between Greens and NDP and Conservatives and the Bloc. It has actually been, from the very beginning, a struggle for Parliament to actually deal with an issue we have been kicking down the road for too long.
I mentioned earlier in debate, as the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, the quiet and extraordinary courage of a single woman, Sue Rodriguez, who took her irremediable medical condition of suffering all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and was denied the opportunity for what is generally called death with dignity. She had the procedure illegally. Those who were with her at the time would have been subject to criminal penalty as well, including my friend Svend Robinson, who at the time was member of Parliament in a different party from a different place.
It was a very fraught time, and the issue of medical assistance in dying kept coming back to me from constituents who were heartbroken that their parents or loved ones had to go through suffering. Quite often people would say to me they would not let a family pet go through this kind of suffering so why do we allow our moms and our dads to go through this when there is no prospect they are going to recover.
This finally went back to the Supreme Court of Canada for a different decision that came out of the Carter case. The Carter case, back in 2015, said that refusing to allow someone the legal option to seek medical assistance from their doctor in a situation where their illness is terminal is really a violation of section 7 charter rights. I only mention this because that was also with a deadline. We have to take action on this; we cannot just leave the matter. The Supreme Court of Canada has said that this provision of the Criminal Code is actually a charter violation. That means one cannot let it just sit there anymore.
It would take too much time, and my colleagues will be relieved to know I will not go through this chapter and verse, but it is a tough, tough issue for parliamentarians. At the time, as we started debating the first iteration of allowing for death with dignity, in Bill C-14, our first Minister of Justice to deal with this was the very honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould. She had to struggle with this. Our Minister of Health at the time, also very honourable, Jane Philpott, was struggling with this.
It occurred to me as the debate went on that what we had in Canada on this issue was essentially a professional dispute. The lawyers in Canada wanted to make sure that the charter was respected. The doctors in Canada said they did not want to be asked to figure out what “irremediable” meant and were not exactly ready for that. Therefore, subsequent revisions kept happening because, after all, in our first attempt to get medical assistance in dying right, we did not allow for advance directives. Therefore, we had subsequent court cases where people who had terminal cancer could not access MAID because they decided they better ask for it now, which was maybe months before death would occur naturally and months before a doctor could say, “Okay, you're ready now. Nod.” One had to be able to physically sign; the day of, one had to confirm one's procedure.
Again, I better not go back through all of this, but essentially the professional views of doctors pleading with parliamentarians outweighed the lawyers dealing with parliamentarians to say that we were probably still going to have charter violations, but it is better that we listen to the doctors and that they are ready. All of this ended up taking us back to fixing medical assistance in dying again to try to make it more humane, to try to respond to the concerns of Canadians from coast to coast that they wanted to be able to access an advance directive in a situation that fit the MAID template. This brought us to Bill C-7.
To some of the comments that were made in this place earlier today, the government and Parliament were under a deadline that was court imposed, not politically imposed, to oblige ourselves, as parliamentarians, to meet what the Supreme Court of Canada said the charter required us to do. We had a very tight timeline, and then the Senate did something I do not think anyone in the House expected.
Again, we had a professional dispute going on here. Doctors were saying they were not ready to extend this to people whose sole irremediable condition is mental illness. Public health professionals in addiction and mental health were saying they were not ready. However, with strong pressure and strong professional advice from the psychiatric community, the Senate decided we should extend MAID to those with an underlying condition that is only, and I do not say “only” as if it is a marginal or trivial matter, a crushingly painful and life-ending threat from mental illness.
We are walking this fine line. The line is even finer when we start realizing who is more likely to not be able to access mental health supports; they are the marginalized and the poor. Who is more likely to not be able to imagine continuing on in life with a crushing mental illness? It is again the marginalized communities. The disability community spoke with a loud voice saying not to extend MAID as they were worried enough that it was a slippery slope when Bill C-14 first came in, and now Bill C-7.
Here we are again with a court-imposed deadline. Let us be clear to Canadians watching today. Certainly, the provinces and many doctors and mental health professionals have spoken with one voice. If we do not act quickly to pass this legislation and if the Senate does not act quickly to get it to royal assent come March 17, then as a matter of reality, we are up against March 17, and medical assistance in dying would become available to people where mental illness is the sole underlying condition.
Is it irremediable? We are told by the experts that no one really knows how to answer that question. Yes, some of the psychiatric community says the safeguards are there and if three psychiatrists say that it is irremediable, then that is enough. However, we are all asking where the mental health supports are, particularly for those who are marginalized. Where is the access?
This is one that particularly perturbs me. I have had many people come to me from a community that has experience with using psilocybin, conventionally known as magic mushrooms, as a way to alleviate a mental health condition, which might otherwise be irremediable, with remarkable results. We know that Health Canada is currently accelerating trials on psilocybin. It strikes me as beyond a catch-22 that the authorities would say to those people and to their doctors, who think psilocybin could help them, when the alternative is that they are more likely to commit suicide, or if we do not act by March 17, they will have access to legal medical assistance in dying, and it would be too dangerous to let them try psilocybin, but the alternative is death. It seems to me that any medical risks from psilocybin pale in comparison to the irreversible reality of death. How can we let this happen? We cannot.
I think we need to discuss another thing in this place, which is societal assistance in living. We know what medical assistance in dying looks like, but what does societal assistance in living look like? It means ending poverty and bringing in a guaranteed livable income for all. It means access to mental health services in this country. It means a compassionate and caring approach that says to every Canadian, whether in the disability community, the indigenous communities or the youth who are struggling with addictions, that we hear them and will not fail them. That means, no matter how members feel about it, we have to pass this legislation expeditiously.