Mr. Speaker, right before Parliament resumed following the Christmas break, countless Canadians participated in Bell Let's Talk Day. They took the opportunity to talk about mental health, raise awareness, share stories and remind each other that it is good to offer or ask for help whenever it is needed. There are many members of Parliament from all parties who have joined this effort, and it is only fair to assume that they have done so because they sincerely wish to help people.
Every year, after the day comes and goes, it helps us realize that promoting mental health is actually a huge task and it is easier said than done. Over time, there has been some progress with how we approach mental health, but it can sometimes be discouraging to see that we still have to deal with some of the lingering problems or to know how much work there is left for us to do. It puts everything into perspective and shows that the results and decisions we make about an issue are more important than just talking about it.
In that light, Bill C-39, along with the larger issue surrounding it, is a real test for us. It forces us to consider what exactly we mean when we say that we want to promote mental health. Unfortunately, we are looking at a government bill that signals that we are going to take a wrong turn and fail vulnerable people who are suffering with their mental health. In a way, it is good to see Bill C-39 come forward, but it should also be clear that it is not good enough. At the very least, there will be a year before this new change takes effect, but that is nothing but a brief delay of the inevitable instead of reversing a terrible decision.
What is going to happen a year from now? Is the government going to bring another bill like this one forward to delay it another year? Will all the major problems raised by the provinces, professionals, advocacy groups and concerned citizens miraculously get resolved before the year is over? How is that even realistic? Does the government really expect Canadians to believe that?
The timeline is obviously ridiculous. It does not make sense practically and, more importantly, it will not take care of the issue at stake in the first place. There might be different views on assisted suicide for mental illness as the sole condition, but no one on either side of the debate can seriously say that it has been carefully considered in this country, if such a thing were possible. Instead, the whole process has been rushed and incomplete.
If the Liberals truly cared about making the right decision, the new legislation would be quite different. Even on their own terms, they will not be any more ready for the coming change next year than they would be if it was next month. It was only public pressure that made them slow down, but it is not going to stop them entirely. Clearly, they are planning to go ahead with the plan and hoping to get away with it again next spring.
It is highly irresponsible if we take a step back to consider the larger issue. First, I will look at this bill as it has been presented to us. We normally do not have to think too much about the official title of a bill as it comes through Parliament, but in the case of Bill C-39 it does matter, and it might even be fair to say that its name is somewhat misleading. It says that we are amending the Criminal Code related to the medical assistance in dying system, but that is only a technicality. In reality, this bill is not touching the substance of Bill C-7 as it was passed in the last Parliament. All it would do is delay the implementation of Bill C-7 or the aspect of the expansion for one year. That is definitely not a helpful or encouraging response to what Canadians and experts have been telling us since Bill C-7 became law, both inside and outside Parliament.
When Bill C-7 passed in 2021, 91% of Ontario psychiatrists opposed the expansion of euthanasia, but they were ignored. The government has not bothered to listen to critical advice and feedback. Make no mistake, there are ordinary citizens across the country who are horrified when they learn of what is happening here with expanding accessing to MAID for mental illness. I have heard from a lot of people in my own riding who are concerned. They came up to me at hockey rinks. They came up to me at my various town halls that I hosted over the winter break and told me how unimaginable it was for this is to happen in Canada.
There has been the same reaction around the world when people in other countries found out what has happened here in Canada. We stand out compared to other places that offer assisted suicide, and not in a good way. International media coverage shows how Canada's reputation has suffered as a result. It is long past time for the government to get outside of its bubble and hear what Canadians are thinking and feeling. Despite the Minister of Justice trying to claim that our system has strict safeguards, we need to look around and realize that something is not going right.
Canada reported 7,300 deaths in 2020 and 10,000 deaths in 2021. It is interesting that if we compare with another jurisdiction, it gets even more troubling. The state of California started to allow assisted suicide the same year that we did in 2016. The size of its total population is similar to that of Canada, yet it only reported 495 deaths in 2020 and 486 deaths in 2021. The difference in proportion is striking.
People see these numbers and they cannot believe that this government is considering expanding access even further to people with mental illness as a sole condition. They cannot help but wonder if these people are already slipping through the cracks and are caught up in the numbers we have here in Canada.
If we want to understand the background of how we found ourselves in the situation today with Bill C-39, we need to recall what happened with the previous bill. Back then, this Liberal government brought forward a piece of legislation that was a significant expansion from the way MAID was originally set up a few years before. It allowed assisted suicide for conditions where natural death was not reasonably foreseeable.
At the time, we heard overwhelmingly from many advocates, organizations and members from the disability community who were deeply concerned about the government's new direction. They pointed out the flaws and the risks involved for people with disabilities who could find themselves in a vulnerable position, and experience abuse rather than receiving the support and the resources they needed. They also worried about the stigma and the message it could send to the disabled as well as to wider society. It was clear that it would not be unacceptable for anyone, whether they live with a disability or not, to get the impression that these human lives are inferior or not worth living.
Here we are seemingly caught in a similar position once again. It was shocking when the Liberals accepted the last-minute amendment to include mental health as a condition for assisted suicide. Since then, they have had time and opportunity to reconsider, but they refuse to listen and protect the lives of vulnerable Canadians. If government members do not put a stop to the expansion of MAID for mental health, it will be impossible to take them seriously when they try to talk about a mental health crisis.
I want to take a moment to talk about Michael Landsberg, who spoke very passionately about mental health a number of years ago, and I consider this man to be a pioneer and a trailblazer.
Michael Landsberg was the host of Off the Record on TSN. Mr. Landsberg has a foundation called “#SickNotWeak”. A big part of what he talked about 20 years ago, and what he talks about today once again, is the stigma that people with mental illness quite often face and that people with depression face. When we look at the disability community and what we talked about earlier with the stigma around them, we are seeing that happen again for people with mental illness. I think it is important that we look at the stories of people like Michael Landsberg who has spoken so clearly and passionately around making sure that we do not provide harmful stigma for mental illness. When we look at the statistics that I quoted earlier, there is a real and present danger here if we do not address this properly while we have the opportunity.
Across the country there is a lack of mental health support, especially in rural ridings like mine. It is absolutely shameful to offer death as a solution. While Bill C-39 brings a pause in this expansion, it is inappropriate to use it as a selling tactic with the hope that public opinion will shift to their direction in the meantime.
However, a delay is not enough. We need to exclude mental health as an eligible condition for assisted suicide. This government must stop and review what it has done with the system. If not, it only shows that it is untrustworthy. There has been no sign of meaningful reflection about its previous legislation. Because of this, it has failed to reassure Canadians about further changes. We talked about the safeguards earlier; people are wondering if they even exist.
How can we ignore the veterans who are offered MAID instead of mental health support? How can we proceed when we have seen people in poverty and distress offered it against their will? These types of reports are coming far too often, and we cannot say that we had no warning. The predictions of experts and from many of us here on the official opposition have been proven to be correct so far. If this expansion happens in March 2024, how can anyone possibly pretend that these problems cannot get much worse?
Because the Liberals will not do what is necessary, one of my Conservative colleagues has taken the initiative to introduce a bill that will remove eligibility for mental illness. It would give us another chance to prevent this catastrophe, and I hope my colleagues support it.