Statements & Speeches

Final Remarks on Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying)

March 16, 2021

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to the message from the other place on Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying), and to provide reason as to why I cannot support it.

Our primary duty as parliamentarians is to examine, debate and, if necessary, amend legislation. While we do so, we must take into consideration two important components of a bill: its principle and its scope.

The “principle” is the “object or purpose which the bill seeks to achieve.” According to both the House of Commons guide to amending bills and Senate Procedure in Practice:

The principle of the bill is fixed when the bill is adopted at second reading. Any amendment contrary to the principle of the bill is inadmissible.

The “scope” of the bill would then be related to:

. . . the parameters the bill sets in reaching any goals or objectives that it contains, or the general mechanisms it envisions to fulfil its intentions.

As Speaker Kinsella reminded the Senate on December 9, 2009, in a Speaker’s ruling, which has guided the Senate many times since:

An amendment must respect the principle of the bill it seeks to amend, must be within its scope, and must be relevant to it.

This principle is enshrined on page 141 of Senate Procedure in Practice, and it states:

It is a fundamental principle that “[a] committee is bound by the decision of the House, given on second reading, in favour of the principle of the bill, and should not, therefore, amend the bill in a manner destructive of this principle.”

In my own second reading speech on Bill C-7, I outlined the historical context that led to the introduction of this piece of legislation and urged the Senate to remain focused on the sole purpose of Bill C-7, as a response to the Quebec Superior Court decision. The task before us was clear: How to comply with the Truchon ruling in a way that respects the autonomy, liberty and dignity of competent individuals who suffer from grievous and irremediable disease and at the same time protects the most vulnerable.

Yet, over the course of the last few weeks, we have moved significantly beyond this task and introduced amendments that can be said to exceed both the principle and the scope of the bill we were confronted with in Bill C-7.

Honourable senators, changes that will significantly alter Canada’s 2016 prescribed MAID regime require serious examination and study. It is for this reason that we had amended Bill C-14 to include two important provisions:

The first is an independent review led by the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Health on issues relating to requests by mature minors for medical assistance in dying, to advance requests, and to requests where mental illness is the sole underlying medical condition.

The second provision is the establishment of a committee, either in the Senate, the other place, or both houses of Parliament, five years after the day on which this act received Royal Assent, designated to review the provisions of Bill C-14 and the state of palliative care in Canada.

Honourable senators, it is important to note that the first provision has already been completed.

On December 12, 2018, the Council of Canadian Academies released the three final reports of the expert panel, one on each type of request: The State of Knowledge on Medical Assistance in Dying for Mature Minors; The State of Knowledge on Advance Requests for Medical Assistance in Dying; and The State of Knowledge of Medical Assistance in Dying Where a Mental Disorder is the Sole Underlying Medical Condition.

The expert panel’s final reports reflect a broad range of knowledge, experience and perspective from health care professionals, diverse academic disciplines and advocacy groups. These reports were meant to form the basis of the statutory five-year review that was to begin in the summer of 2020.

Honourable senators, we cannot ignore, nor abrogate, our responsibilities as parliamentarians, as legislators. We must review the three final reports of the expert panel released by the Council of Canadian Academies and feel assured, first of all, that we have met our obligations according to the provisions of Bill C-14.

Amending a new piece of legislation to enforce an authority given by an existing piece of legislation — in this case, the statutory five-year review of Bill C-14 — in my mind undermines the authority of Parliament and sets a dangerous precedent.

Colleagues, it is for this reason that I did not support Bill C-7 as amended by the Senate at third reading, and why I cannot support it as it is written today in the message from the House. Thank you.