Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam.
I am very happy to be taking part in this debate, which is a departure from our usual political and often partisan work as elected officials.
This is the third time in my parliamentary career that I have been asked to debate and vote on the issue of medical assistance in dying. I was a member of Quebec's National Assembly for seven years, and I have served here in the House of Commons since 2015 with the support of my constituents.
I was elected to the national assembly in 2008. As a member of that assembly, I participated in the first debate we had in Quebec on this issue, the first time in a Canadian legislature, in 2010.
I also was a participant in the debate we had four years ago in the House of Commons, when, for first time, we addressed the issue. Therefore, in my parliamentary life, this is the third time I will participate and vote on this very touchy, personal and non-partisan issue.
That is why I would like to remind the House of certain cardinal rules that should guide our actions as parliamentarians in this debate, which we believe should be totally non-partisan. Things may get tense at times, but debate must remain respectful.
Respecting the free vote should be one of the cardinal rules of this debate. In my view, there is no right or wrong position in this debate. There are only positions that we are comfortable with as human beings. Whether we are for or against, there is no partisan politics behind it. There is only the personal opinion that we hold, share and analyze.
Consequently, it is important to keep a completely open mind and respect the fact that certain colleagues from our own party may not share our point of view, while colleagues from other parties may. That is fine. There is nothing wrong with that, really. Some positions we adopt, and some positions we cannot be comfortable with. That is all.
We must respect the debate. We must respect personal opinions. We must respect the fact that there is no place for partisanship in this debate and that positions are neither right nor wrong. There are positions that we can agree with and others that we cannot. We must respect that.
There are also certain elements that we must bear in mind before we dive into this. In our opinion, the bill has some shortcomings.
First, we must respect the freedom of conscience of physicians who are called on to provide MAID. If a physician feels that they cannot in good conscience provide MAID, they should be able to say so and not have to proceed. I have spoken to many people in the context of this debate, in which I have been participating for a very long time. Everyone I have spoken to has told me that physicians can show a certain openness in some circumstances, but change their minds in others. Physicians should never be forced to act against their conscience.
Furthermore, we should always bear in mind that MAID, by its very nature, is the last level of health care that can be offered. We must never forget that the role of palliative care is to ensure that those who are ill can live with dignity even in tragic circumstances. Therefore, we must respect physicians' conscience and focus on palliative care.
Taking our time is another cardinal rule that must be respected in this type of debate.
Let me remind members that the first time this issue was addressed in Quebec, it took six full years, three different governments and three different premiers. There was a huge debate about it, a strong and wise debate. Each and every position had been clearly established by those people who participated in the debate. There is no rush. We must take our time.
For some people, we are talking about assisted suicide. It is a very touchy issue. The worst-case scenario is to rush it. Quebec spent six full years, and we should follow this example. It obviously will not take six years this time, but the first step took six full years.
Let's agree that this debate cannot be rushed.
Why are we debating Bill C-7 today?
When the House of Commons adopted Bill C-14 in 2016, I was a member of the committee that studied it. We knew then that Canadians would challenge parts of it and that there would be court rulings. That is exactly what happened on September 11, 2019, when the Quebec Superior Court struck down the notion of “reasonably foreseeable natural death” in the bill that became An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts regarding medical assistance in dying.
I did not know this before I looked it up, but it is interesting to note that the current Minister of Justice, a man for whom I have tremendous respect and esteem owing to his experience as a lawyer and a McGill University professor, voted against Bill C-14. Now, as Minister of Justice, he is sponsoring this bill as the federal government's response to the Quebec Superior Court's ruling. The bill addresses some of the issues but sets others aside.
The first fundamental element of Bill C-7 is that it eliminates the 10-day waiting period that the current law requires as a buffer between the person's decision and the operation itself, to ensure that the second opinion provided for under the act is in fact obtained. The court deemed this provision invalid, and the minister decided to accept that opinion.
Let's also not forget that the current law, which was passed four years ago, requires the provisions to be reviewed in just a few months, starting in June 2020.
The government decided to take note of the Superior Court of Quebec ruling and act accordingly. That is its right. However, regardless of our views on the issue, we feel that this subject involves some truly fundamental questions and raises highly complex legal concerns. We think this ruling should have been appealed to the highest court in the land, so that the nine justices of the Supreme Court could study every possible ramification.
This bill sidesteps the issue of mental illness entirely. That is a very good thing, because in our view, it is extremely difficult to pinpoint the instant when a mental illness becomes irreversible, which can raise doubts about whether consent was given fully and freely.
As I said earlier, the worst thing we could do in this matter is move too fast. There is no rush. This concern may eventually be debated, but for now, let's take it one step at a time.
Since my time is almost up, I would just like to say that in this debate on such a delicate, sensitive issue, the worst thing we could do is plough full steam ahead and attack people's convictions instead of respecting their choices. Let's take the time to do things right on this extremely delicate and extremely important issue.