Madam Speaker, I am splitting my time with the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan.
I am a little confused as are some people here with the back and forth. Conservatives take Bill C-14 very seriously and we want to debate it. I was surprised a little earlier when it seemed the Liberals wanted us to go all night, through the night. I assume that means they would like to speak during the day and then leave the opposition to speak at night when supposedly no one is listening. I think a reasonable compromise was suggested a couple of minutes ago, which is that we extend the hours to midnight, during which time we would have serious debate on this issue.
That is why we are here today. It is interesting that the notion of freedom of conscience seems to be coming up more and more in our society. In the last couple of weeks, I have crossed paths with it in discussions separate from discussions around Bill C-14.
Yesterday, at the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, someone spoke about working with persecuted minorities and the question came up about what role freedom of conscience plays.
Last week, there was a forum in town about making the world safer for diversity. Dr. Os Guinness talked about how freedom of conscience has always been properly understood as the very first right. We can talk about life, liberty, and happiness, but without freedom of conscience, none of those other things actually exist in reality.
Everybody has beliefs that are important to them. I guess it is a common misconception we have that others have beliefs and I am the one who is unbiased. Each of us brings valid perceptions to these discussions and in our culture, until recently, it seemed that we were generally of the opinion that no one has the right to force anyone to work against their own beliefs.
It seems as we focus more and more on rights and less and less on responsibilities, we find ourselves pressured and I think we have to admit that we often find ourselves pressuring others on their values of conscience and the core values that people hold. It is beginning to affect every area of our culture. With the Carter decision, this has come to the forefront, because it is no longer just perceived discrimination that it is impacting, but it comes right down to the court's decision that having the right to kill oneself is a charter right.
I will take a bit of time to look at the Carter decision. It was a reversal of a previous decision, the Rodriguez decision. The court ruled that we now have, as Canadian citizens, a charter right to kill ourselves and we have the right to have others help us. There are very few guidelines that the court put on that decision. It talked about how the condition had to be irremediable and a grievous condition, basically beyond the person's decision to suffer through it. I could go into the criteria for that, which perhaps I will do a little later.
While the court decided one decision, it created a whole host of other complications. One of them, of course, is the call to reconcile physicians' and patients' rights. The question we are dealing with today is what role others have to play or do they play in that decision to prematurely end life.
Bill C-14 does not solve that. I was glad to hear the minister acknowledge that earlier. Conscience issues are becoming the biggest issues around Bill C-14. In this case, I would argue that the government has failed Canadians.
There is a legitimate question to be asked and I am surprised that it has not even been discussed—it is not discussed in other countries either—as to why medical personnel are expected to be involved at all. However, they are, and even though they are, most of them do not want to participate. The medical personnel whom I have talked to are not accepting of or enthusiastic about this. I have spoken with a number of doctors who say that if they are forced to participate in this, they are willing to leave the country, that they are not going to participate. For those of us who live in rural areas and have a very small supply of medical care, it is a frightening thing to hear one's doctor say he or she is prepared to leave if this is forced on him or her.
I want to talk about the protection of conscience in Bill C-14. The preamble states:
Whereas everyone has freedom of conscience and religion under section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;
Whereas nothing in this Act affects the guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion;...
That is the preamble, which has no legal impact. There is no content within Bill C-14 that provides this balance.
The Senate committee heard some great testimony. The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms said:
...the Court discussed and reiterated the conscience and religious rights of medical practitioners, stating that, “nothing in the declaration of invalidity which we propose to issue would compel physicians to provide assistance in dying.”
However, then it went on to say, “the Charter rights of patients and physicians will need to be reconciled. Thus, it is apparent that the Court intended Parliament’s legislative response to address the issue of medical practitioners’ conscience rights. Bill C-14 fails to do so.”
It is interesting to me that Bill C-14 actually provides protection for participants, but it does not provide protection for those who do not want to participate. There is an exemption for medical assistance in dying where it says that no medical practitioner commits homicide if they provide a person with medical assistance. It says that no person is a party to homicide if they do anything for the purpose of aiding in that. Then it says that for greater certainty, if the person has any reasonable, even mistaken, belief about any fact that is an element of the exemption, they have no legal responsibility for that.
I just point out that protection for participants has been included for those people who choose to participate, even if they are mistaken in what they have done. I can find no similar parallel protection for those who conscientiously object.
Some have said to pass it on to the provinces. We just heard that a minute ago from my colleague from the NDP. I would argue this is not a provincial issue. If it is, there will be a dozen different scenarios in this country and then the courts will get even more involved than they have been. It is a Criminal Code issue. Why would we give legislative protection in a bill to those who want to participate and then argue that Parliament has no right to legislate protection for those who do not want to take part?
The executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society said at the Senate committee:
...what our members cannot do is perform or participate in what is referred to as medical assistance in dying. To be clear, by participation, I also mean playing a role in causing death by arranging for the procedure to be carried out by someone else through referral.
He went on to say that the current preamble respects the personal conviction of health care providers, but it does not have any legal weight, and that no foreign jurisdiction in the world has legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia and then forced their health care workers in hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices to act against their conscience, their mission, or their values. He said that to force providers to act in this way in Canada would actually be to violate section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It is necessary that the federal government legislate protection of conscience rights for health care professionals in order to respect the charter and to protect our existing health care system. Federal legislation would send a clear signal to provinces, organizations, and the courts that the right of conscience must be protected.
I argue that because medical personnel and supervisory groups cannot and will not agree, Parliament should set those guidelines, and they should be set in the Criminal Code.
A minister said a little earlier today that the protection is in the charter, not in the Criminal Code, but I think that is exactly the concern that Canadians have. The charter interpretation has gone 180° on the issue of assisted suicide, and there is nothing keeping that from happening as well on section 2 of the charter.
We need conscience rights. What are they? They are the right not to participate, the right not to be forced to refer. They are a fundamental freedom guaranteed by section 2 of the charter.
We need to protect the health care system. As I mentioned earlier, I have been told by physicians that they are prepared to leave if they are going to be forced into this, and they are not prepared to go against their own conscience. The Ontario college is making a big mistake in thinking that it can force doctors to do this against their conscience. I am not sure why it thinks it needs to control others who are just trying to do the right thing.
There were other suggestions that we heard a little earlier. For example, what is wrong with allowing patients to transfer their medical care to a doctor of choice? How about a directory of doctors so people can identify doctors who provide such services? We live in an electronic age, that should not be difficult. It would give Canadians confidence they could find medical personnel who would not be acting contrary to their care.
We need to protect the charter right of health care professionals. We need to make it a criminal offence to intimidate or coerce the health care professional to take part directly or indirectly in assisted suicide or euthanasia and to make it a criminal offence to dismiss anyone from employment for taking that position.
As I wrap up, I just want to come back to the point that no person should be put in a position where his or her private rights, which are guaranteed by the charter, are removed by force. Nothing is more fundamental than being able to live out that which we believe, especially if that belief is aimed at supporting and preserving life.