Senator Plett stands with disability advocates, Indigenous representatives and medical professionals against Bill C-7
December 16, 2020 (Ottawa, ON) - The Honourable Don Plett, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, issued the following statement:
Honourable senators, I rise today to add my voice to Bill C-7, a bill that seeks to expand the assisted suicide regime in Canada.
Colleagues, it is a rare opportunity to stand in either house of Parliament to debate legislation that determines the circumstances in which people live or die. I sincerely hope that each of us feels the weight of the decisions we make with respect to this bill, and I hope that no one will feel compelled to bow to the pressure that the government is putting on the Senate as a result of their self-imposed time crunch.
As many of you will remember, I actively participated in the debates on Bill C-14 and proposed amendments to enhance safeguards. I expressed then that I was opposed to any form of assisted suicide. However, our vote on Bill C-14 was not a vote to legalize assisted suicide. That decision was imposed upon Parliament by the Supreme Court of Canada. The vote on Bill C-14 was a vote on parameters and safeguards.
While there were many disagreements as we strove to strike the right balance, I have said many times that those debates were the most compassionate and respectful that I have been a part of in this chamber. There seemed to be an understanding that each of us was coming from a place of compassion, even when we disagreed fervently. Sadly, the debate on this bill took a negative turn in the House of Commons when Minister Lametti dismissed the expression of dissenting opinions as partisan filibustering and an out-of-control “religious right.” I am grateful that this chamber has demonstrated empathy and respect for one another’s opinions as we deliberate these difficult issues.
Today, colleagues, we are not here because of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling. We are here because of a Quebec Superior Court ruling, made in one province by one judge — not the Supreme Court, not even an appellate court. The Trudeau government made a highly unusual and, in fact, unprecedented decision not to defend its own legislation, not to appeal this decision, and to instead use this as an opportunity to broaden Canada’s assisted suicide regime far beyond the requirements as set out by Truchon.
However, I will defer to the esteemed legal scholars in this chamber on matters of constitutionality. We are fortunate to have the insights of Senators Carignan, Batters and Gold — Senator Gold gave a very passionate speech yesterday — as well as Senators Cotter and Dalphond, and Senator Pate yesterday, speaking as a lawyer. This is just to name a few, colleagues. There are many more.
Our respectful debate went a little off the rails on Monday night, when my good friend Senator Harder suggested — after not being able to defend his claims that Conservative MPs were filibustering — that my question was trying to distract from the constitutional issues with this bill. I am not sure why Senator Harder believes that I would be trying to distract this chamber from flaws in a Liberal government bill, however, I can assure you all that I am not. I have many serious concerns with this legislation, which I will outline, and I think people like Senator Harder and I should leave the constitutional analysis to the experts.
Prior to my participation in the committee hearings on Bill C-7, I knew of the shocking decision of the government to not defend its own legislation. I also knew that existing safeguards had been removed, seemingly without rationale, and certainly before Parliament has had a chance to conduct the five-year review on our existing regime.
I am happy that Senator Gold has suggested that we start such a review in the Senate, since the House clearly cannot get their act together. Personally, I was opposed to assisted suicide expansion of any sort, and still am, however, I had no idea how frighteningly flawed this legislation was until I listened to the 81 witnesses who testified over the course of the week. Throughout my entire time in the Senate, I do not believe we have ever had a bill with such widespread disapproval — both from experts and those most profoundly impacted.
Each day, colleagues, seemed to paint a grimmer picture of where we are and where we would end up if this bill is passed in its present form.
We heard from international experts that this legislation will, in fact, make Canada the most permissive assisted dying regime in the world. Dr. Trudo Lemmens, an international health law expert, told the committee that under this bill, unlike all other jurisdictions, assisted suicide will not be treated as a last-resort option. This concern was raised numerous times throughout the committee’s study.
Every other jurisdiction in the world requires that all treatment options be made available and explored first, for people who may have years or decades of life left. As Dr. Lemmens told the committee:
This alters health care providers’ professional and legal obligations related to the standard of care. Patients cannot insist that physicians actively provide something that violates the professional standard of care and that is not medically indicated. Making access to some interventions conditional on trying other conditions first is not unusual and is a most minimal requirement when the active intervention required from physicians results in death. By only requiring that people have to consider all options, the bill fails to provide the protection that takes into consideration the uniqueness of the health care provider-patient relationship, the key supportive role of providers and the radical nature of MAID.
Under this proposed legislation, doctors have warned us that we are placing assisted suicide as simply part of a range of good medical care options. Doctors may be required to introduce assisted suicide to patients alongside all other therapeutic options. However, this is not just another option. This is the final option. This, colleagues, is irreversible.
We were warned by some of the experts most familiar with international assisted suicide regimes to proceed with great caution, especially in the context of one of the most troubling clauses of Bill C-7.
In cases in which natural death has been deemed to be reasonably foreseeable, practitioners would now be allowed to provide assisted suicide through advance consent, with no requirement for final consent if the practitioner has deemed that the individual has lost such capacity. As an apparent attempt at a safeguard, the bill stipulates that in cases where the person demonstrates, “by words, sounds or gestures, refusal or resistance to the administration of the substance to cause their death,” the advance consent arrangement would be invalidated.
However, the bill also states:
For greater certainty, involuntary words, sounds or gestures made in response to contact do not constitute a demonstration of refusal or resistance for the purposes of paragraph (3.2)(c).
There is no way this clause can be interpreted as anything but highly subjective — and, in my view, dangerously so.
The committee heard about a case of a woman with dementia in the Netherlands. While not unconscious, she was deemed incapable of decision making. She was provided medication to make her sleepy. Then an injection was provided and she physically resisted. The family helped the doctor to hold the patient down. She was ultimately injected with the lethal substance and died. I find this deeply disturbing.
Witnesses expressed that if this advance consent practice is to be permitted in Canada, any physical resistance to the ending of a person’s life should put an immediate halt to the process.
Other jurisdictions have also sought to address the power imbalance that exists between physicians and patients by ensuring that all discussions about MAID are exclusively patient led. Dr. Ramona Coelho provided insight about the profound power and influence a physician has over a patient, especially a vulnerable patient with a lack of support, education or resources. It was described as a sacred trust for some populations. The mere mention of assisted suicide as an option to a vulnerable patient may be the only nudge they need.
We heard, colleagues, about Roger Foley, a man from London, Ontario, who has been diagnosed with a neurological disorder that limits his ability to move his arms and legs. While in the hospital for years, he repeatedly asked for help in finding adequate assisted home care. Instead, he was offered assisted suicide on at least four occasions by medical practitioners, when he demonstrated absolutely no interest in dying. He recorded one such incident which received widespread media attention. This incident even caught the attention of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, who ultimately wrote a sternly worded letter expressing great concern and strong recommendations.
Other jurisdictions have acknowledged this power imbalance and the risk of coercion that exists when physicians are offering assisted suicide to a vulnerable patient who has made no such request. Victoria, Australia, for example, enshrined the requirement into the legislation that discussion around assisted suicide must be patient led.
When I raised this with the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, she seemed as uncomfortable with this lack of protection as I am. She said she has grave concerns about the way Roger Foley was treated and offered that he is not alone. She said this conversation is not off the table.
When I asked if she would support an amendment to that effect, she said she would certainly be open to that. While I was pleased to hear that, I found it surprising that this amendment was in fact proposed in the other place at committee, and Liberal MPs had clearly received instructions to vote it down.
Colleagues, the idea that we would be opening this regime further and expanding assisted suicide to those with disabilities and chronic illness who are not approaching end of life before we have taken action to prevent coercion, such as in the case of Roger Foley, is preposterous.
Honourable senators, as you know, Bill C-7 expands access to assisted suicide to Canadians with disabilities who are not approaching end of life. The response from the disability community has been powerful and staggering and yet ignored by the government. Every single national disability organization in the country is opposed to this bill.
In fact, 72 organizations that serve Canadians with disabilities signed a public letter urging the government to appeal the Truchon decision. They gave several reasons why a failure to appeal would be disastrous for the disability community, including that the decision:
. . . may entrench stereotypes and exacerbate stigma for Canadians with disabilities, contributing to the adversity and oppression experienced by this vulnerable group.
As the executive vice-president of Inclusion Canada, Krista Carr said, “Our biggest fear has always been that having a disability would become an acceptable reason for state-provided suicide.” She continued, “Bill C-7 is our worst nightmare.”
The disability community is perplexed as to why the government would move forward with carving out one Charter-protected group, namely, those living with a disability, and offer them assisted suicide when they are not approaching end of life. They argue there are other disenfranchised groups that are discriminated against and also experience intolerable suffering. We know that suicide is more prevalent amongst those who experience systemic discrimination or societal devaluation, and thus prevention must be our primary focus.
Ms. Carr summed up the grave concerns of Canada’s disability community when she said:
Including disability as a condition warranting assisted suicide equates to declaring some lives not worth living — a historically horrific premise with consequences that should terrify us all and clearly terrifies the disability community, including their families.
We know that feelings of suicide are powerful. Yet, as suicide prevention experts said, these feelings are often not sustained.
Dr. Leonie Herx from the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians told the committee:
Desire for death and requests for MAID are often expressions of grief, anger, loss and despair as a response to a devastating diagnosis or a change in condition.
This often results in a MAID consult, even before palliative care has been involved.
Dr. Harvey Chochinov’s published work in psychiatry and palliative care demonstrates that desire to die in the terminally ill fluctuates and often dissipates within two weeks. Colleagues, it would be irresponsible not to acknowledge that reality.
For example, David Shannon, an Ontario lawyer living with a disability, wrote about this bill in a column recently. He said when he was 18 years old, in his first year of university, he sustained a spinal cord injury in a rugby scrum that resulted in quadriplegia. It took him years to recover. He noted that while he was never suicidal, he knew many people in similar situations who were. He said if this proposed legislation was in place back then, he is sure that some doctor would have offered him the opportunity to die and his life would have been erased. He said:
Some good doctor would have gone to bed that night filled with smug righteousness, and sure she/he had done the right thing. I’m here to tell you this would have been a lie.
Colleagues, when the group most directly impacted by this legislation says, “this is our worst nightmare,” we have a problem and we need to listen.
I want to thank the disability community for their advocacy, and I want them to know that they have been heard.
As you know, colleagues, this legislation creates a two-track system with two sets of safeguards, depending on whether death is reasonably foreseeable or whether it is not reasonably foreseeable. There are more stringent safeguards in place when a patient is not approaching the end of life. However, this legislation pre-emptively removes safeguards that were in place under the existing regime. Of course, this is before we have had a five-year parliamentary review as stipulated in Bill C-14 and before there is sufficient data available to justify the elimination of any existing safeguard.
For example, the government has removed the 10-day reflection period in the current regime. This is absolutely unjustifiable. The rationale for reflection periods internationally, whether 10 days or 14 days, came from the renowned, published work of Dr. Harvey Chochinov, referenced earlier, who found that desire to die in the terminally ill fluctuates and often dissipates within two weeks.
When Minister Hajdu was asked about removing this safeguard she stated that often when the formal request is made, this is long after difficult conversations with families and physicians, and that when this decision is finally reached, waiting for an additional 10 days is unnecessarily cruel.
However, the minister is missing the point entirely. We all know that safeguards are not put in place for what is often the case or for the clear, clean-cut cases described by the minister. Safeguards are put in place for the exact opposite purpose — to prevent unnecessary and wrongful deaths in situations where there is a grey area or where an assessing physician may not be aware of the depressive suicidal ideations of the particular patient and whether those are fleeting. To completely remove any sort of reflection period is entirely irresponsible.
Dr. Harvey Schipper, professor of law and medicine and an expert on MAID, testified about the dangerous road we are on by moving too quickly and without evidence or understood experience down a pathway of immense societal consequence. I asked him about the removal of safeguards, and he said:
Well, I don’t think we have the evidence to remove any safeguards.
He noted that, at this point, we have the most trivial data. He continued:
Certainly taking out the waiting period is really, really foolish. It’s un-biological.
He also discussed the need to preserve the second independent witness, reminding the committee that we are talking about actively ending someone’s life.
Even former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould expressed great concern with the government seemingly ignoring the instruction of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Carter decision, both with respect to stringent safeguards and the need for clear consent. The government has clearly abandoned these directives from the Supreme Court by pre-emptively eliminating the most important safeguard and by allowing final consent to be waived.
Colleagues, it should be noted that the removal of these safeguards had absolutely nothing to do with the Truchon decision. More alarmingly, the government proposes to remove these safeguards without any sufficient data to justify it.
With the elimination of safeguards and the radical broadening of Canada’s assisted suicide regime proposed in this bill, many physicians and practitioners are terrified by the lack of protection for them to legally opt out. Bill C-14 included an unenforceable clause that suggested no practitioner should have to participate in MAID against his or her will. However, we have seen, based on the provincial colleges’ interpretation, that this has offered little to no protection for physicians.
This was a common theme throughout the hearings. While some have tried to dismiss this issue as a solely religious concern, it is abundantly clear that this is not the case. Many physicians have ethical concerns with actively participating in an individual’s death, especially if they are of the professional opinion that there are other treatment options available. Now, with this being extended to Canadians with a disability who are not approaching end of life, many more physicians are concerned about being ethically and morally compromised.
The biggest misunderstanding in the conscience rights discussion is the idea that physicians should be forced to provide an effective referral. This is based on a misconception about what an effective referral actually is. As the Canadian Medical Association put it so aptly during our discussion on Bill C-14:
. . . a referral is effectively an endorsement of a procedure, and that is morally problematic for many practitioners.
Dr. Ramona Coelho noted the misunderstanding of the concept of referrals among some members of the committee. She explained that a referral is a doctor saying that something is good for their patient and that they are simply passing it on to a specialist to complete the care.
As mentioned earlier, with this legislation putting assisted suicide on an equal footing with other therapeutic treatment options, now more than ever physicians are asking for protection. For those worried about lack of access, please note that Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba have already put in place robust self-referral mechanisms so that physicians can direct patients who require information about MAID to the appropriate resource. Therefore, there should be no duty whatsoever to refer.
Every doctor we have spoken to is more than willing to provide a phone number or a website so a patient can access the information they require. That is all these practitioners are asking for, colleagues.
We have heard from many who are planning to leave the country or stop practising medicine if this legislation passes as is. One way we can reduce the number of physicians leaving is if we protect them from having to participate in the process. When there is so much disagreement in the medical profession about the ethics of assisted suicide, this seems like a very reasonable ask in a pluralistic society and in the spirit of compromise.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has already jumped the gun by sending out a survey to physicians last week in anticipation of the new legislation. The survey asks for their input with incredibly biased, leading questions, such as: “Should patients be made aware of all of their options for end-of-life care?” or “Should a doctor impede access?”
Many physicians in Ontario are left wondering if this will later be used to reflect the widespread approval of doctors offering assisted suicide to patients, regardless of whether they asked for it or not. There is concern by doctors that this survey indicates that they are doubling down on the duty to provide effective referrals. Colleagues, this makes their simple ask for explicit conscience protections even more pressing.
Again, while some have tried to frame this as a religious freedom issue, that would be missing the point and only accounting for a portion of concerned practitioners. While we did hear this request from organizations representing a variety of faiths, we also heard from bioethicists, family care physicians, psychiatrists and palliative care physicians that a duty to refer against their professional judgment would pose overwhelming distress.
We heard from the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association about the need for explicit conscience protections for Indigenous nurses and nurse practitioners. They want assurance that they will not have to participate if it is against their judgment or value system to do so. How can we possibly justify expanding this regime so radically without offering basic protection to our physicians and nurses?
Many Indigenous witnesses raised the concept of cultural safety. For example, Marilee Nowgesic, executive director of the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association, told the committee that under the First Nations and Inuit health branch there are 672 nurses across Canada. The majority of these nurses are working in their home communities, small communities. In her words:
We know that this causes additional problems because then that nurse becomes marked, and that’s why I said there needs to be meaningful protection of the conscious rights of health care workers. Are they going to be punished because they didn’t execute their duty as a nurse? Or will they be punished by the community people for taking a life?
That is why we are trying to say put a pause on this situation until comprehensive consultation can be done.
On that note, colleagues, I hope the Indigenous voices in this chamber will participate in this discussion and offer their insight as to how we can strike a workable balance. This is a concern for many Indigenous practitioners and now, more than ever, we need to ensure the concept of cultural safety is a consideration.
Shamefully, the government did not engage in meaningful consultation with Indigenous peoples. Perhaps if they had, they would have had a better understanding of the serious concerns of the Indigenous communities prior to drafting this legislation. In fact, colleagues, the government did not consult whatsoever with Inuit or Métis, choosing to abandon their duty to consult on the most critical issue we or they will likely ever take part in or vote upon.
When I asked the four Indigenous groups who testified at committee whether, in their view, we must hit pause on this legislation, one of the witnesses said a soft “maybe” and the three of the four, without hesitation, an emphatic “yes, we need to hit pause.”
Perhaps the most common, overarching concern raised by witnesses over the course of our pre-study was that we are not offering most Canadians who qualify for assisted suicide a fair and honest choice between life and death, both in the context of supports for those living with disability or chronic illness and palliative care. In fact, by moving to broaden access to assisted suicide before we improve these systems, we are making it easier to die than to live.
We heard from the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians that “the lack of access to palliative care in Canada is a national tragedy.” They cited a study from November 2020 that examined palliative care involvement in patients requesting assisted suicide and found it to be wholly inadequate. In this study, two thirds of patients had no community palliative care physician, and 40% had no palliative care involvement prior to requesting death. Without access to high-quality palliative care in a timely manner, patients who are suffering may believe that assisted suicide is their only option.
Colleagues, how can we justify rapidly and profoundly expanding access to assisted suicide before we have offered patients another option? It has been argued in this chamber that these things can happen in tandem. Sure they can, but we know they are not. This was argued by the same people asking for this bill to be passed by Friday. There will be no improvement in access to care for patients by the time this bill receives Royal Assent. It is outrageous and frankly indefensible to offer patients death before we are offering them an opportunity for a reasonable life.
If palliative care was deemed an essential service and adequately funded across the country, Canadians would be presented with a real choice between life and death. Instead, we are moving to make Canada the most radical regime in the world while we are supposed to take comfort in the fact that improving access to care remains a “top priority” for this government. Colleagues, I cannot stress enough how unethical and immoral it is to increase access to assisted suicide before we have guaranteed access to palliative care for any Canadian who requires it.
The committee heard about Canadians who have requested assisted suicide due to loneliness, depression, social deprivation and lack of supports needed for living. We know that COVID-19 has amplified these problems.
Dr. Catherine Frazee, in what I would say was the most heart-wrenching and distressing testimony of the entire study, similarly warned the committee against this proposed expansion, especially given our abysmal existing support systems. She referenced two cases of concern, among many, that have been identified under the current law and, as she put it, under this radically expanded new law.
Many senators did not have the opportunity to hear Dr. Frazee speak. Many of you did, so I’m sorry to repeat this for those of you who did. For those who didn’t, I will tell you this story for the first time. It’s a story of two men that Catherine Frazee talked about.
Archie Rolland was a man with ALS. He had care in a facility that worked well for him. His ALS was very advanced and he required specialized care. Against his will and without his agreement, he was transferred, for cost-saving reasons, to another facility where staff were not trained. For him, the impact was profound. With people untrained in how to care for him in his unique circumstances, he would be left without any means of communication, without any means of controlling the computer, which he used to correspond and communicate with people and to get help when he couldn’t breathe. His life became “a living hell.”
When his mother was there to assist him, he documented all of his suffering with this inadequate care. He pleaded for trained personnel like he had before. If he had not attracted the attention of a reporter from the Montreal Gazette who brought his story to light, we would have known nothing about his life or his death.
In the end, Archie Rolland said, “It’s not the ALS that’s killing me; it’s my fight for better care, for decent care.” So he chose MAID. As Dr. Frazee said:
In the current monitoring system we have, he simply shows up as someone who chose MAID, and who was indeed near the end of his life. But that isn’t what he wanted. That isn’t what he chose.
The second case Dr. Frazee brought to our attention was that of Sean Tagert, who also had ALS. He had a wonderfully elaborate setup in his home with his family, where he shared custody of his 12-year-old son, to whom he was devoted. Mr. Tagert required two additional hours of home care per day — two hours, colleagues — and he fought for it with all his might until he continued to be denied the care that he required. He was told he would have to go to an institution and that he could not bring with him the extensive technology that was developed to give his life meaning and value, and he would have to move four hours away from where his son lives. So he wouldn’t be able to see him or spend time with him until the end of his days.
As Dr. Frazee concluded:
So he too chose MAID, and only because he brought it to public attention do we know about it. Otherwise, we would have no idea. He would just be another person who met all the requirements and received an assisted death. But he called the decisions of his local health authority — denying him the care that he needed — he called those decisions “a death sentence.” He didn’t die of ALS. He died of our neglect.
When I asked Dr. Frazee what we can learn from this in the context of Bill C-7, she said:
. . . the lesson we learned from all this is that even under the current law, which people say is too restrictive and has very extensive safeguards, people are suffering for reasons that are not because of their disabilities or their illnesses. They are suffering from social neglect. We’re not even paying attention to that. If we expand this system — I think this committee surely must now understand, with all the evidence that you’ve heard — that the problem is only going to worsen.
Colleagues, I sincerely hope she’s right. Surely, we must now understand.
However, Minister Lametti has decided to cavalierly dismiss those concerns and rather chalk up the widespread opposition to this bill again to the religious right, who cannot be controlled. Putting aside the offensive characterization of people of faith as a fringe group that needs to be controlled, the minister knows full well that this bill has been condemned by most experts who testified at committee: physicians, international experts, the disability community, Indigenous organizations, constitutional experts, the former Attorney General who implemented Carter and, in fact, members of his own caucus. Instead, he would rather hide this horribly flawed legislation behind blatant mischaracterizations and perpetuate his party’s belief that people of faith are to be discounted and dismissed.
The disdain and lack of respect for religious Canadians are, by now, well-established patterns for this government.
My views on this legislation and on everything I vote on in this chamber are truly shaped by my faith, by my upbringing and by my life experiences. Colleagues, I believe that is the case for all of us. Every one of us has deeply held principles and values that have been shaped by our life experiences. Sometimes, that includes our own personal faith.
The significant difference is that I believe Minister Lametti has every right to his opinion, his perspective and his belief. I believe that he should be heard. He, on the other hand, does not reciprocate that belief. I believe wholeheartedly that there can be a variety of valid opinions on this matter and on others, whereas this government has demonstrated that they believe there is a right opinion and a wrong opinion.
Yes, my beliefs have played a significant role in my values and especially my perspective on assisted suicide, and I make no apologies for that.
However, again, we are not debating the legalization of assisted suicide. Minister Lametti is well aware that none of the major issues with this bill are based on religious grounds, and yet he finds an opportunity to insult people of faith. All that faith groups have been advocating for is adequate conscience protections for physicians and medical practitioners. The government has ignored the concerns of Canadians throughout this entire process, and they are now moving forward to implement the minister’s personal agenda.
We should remember that Minister Lametti voted against his own government in their response to Carter in Bill C-14, as he did not think the bill was permissive enough. The Senate, by contrast, has done an exceptional job of bringing key perspectives forward and examining this bill carefully. Minister Lametti, after blaming the religious right for this time crunch, is now telling the Senate to essentially ignore what we have heard and “really put [our] shoulders to the wheel” and get this bill passed by Friday.
Let’s take a look at the timeline, colleagues. I went over this twice with you the other night in my questions, but I will, again, for the record, do it in my speech.
In September 2019, the Quebec Superior Court struck down the clause that death must be reasonably foreseeable. Of course, Minister Lametti did not appeal this decision because, clearly, this was going to be his opportunity to put in place the permissive regime he had always wanted.
The court gave the Trudeau government until March 2020 to revise the law. That is six whole months. Ministers Lametti and Hajdu tabled Bill C-7 in the last week of February, and they were already running out of time. They asked the court for a four-month extension to July 2020. This letter said that the extension would “give Parliament time to consider and enact proposed amendments.”
This extension was granted.
Then, as we got closer to July, the government asked for another extension, this time a six-month extension, citing the pandemic. This extension, again, was granted, bringing the new deadline to December 18, 2020. The government then prorogued Parliament to cover up their own scandal and, as a result, killed their own bill. Then, after Parliament returned, it took them a week and a half to table identical legislation. This happened October 5, 2020, more than two months ago now, colleagues.
They sent this bill to the Senate late last week and publicly called upon us to rush through this life-and-death legislation in a few days. It is truly appalling for a minister to put public pressure on the Senate to rubber-stamp legislation that is fundamentally flawed and, in my view, unpassable. This comes after his previous extension request in which he asked the court to give Parliament time to consider and enact proposed amendments.
The Senate already did a pre-study of this bill in order to accommodate the government’s inept time management, and this is now how they respond.
Last Friday, Minister Lametti asked for an extension, yet this time, the request is remarkably shorter, demonstrating, again, his lack of respect for this chamber. He requested an extension only until the end of February, which, in reality, would give the Senate three sitting weeks to debate the bill, study the bill at committee, consider amendments, vote on amendments and send the bill back to the House. I suppose he figures it will not take very long to dismiss all the work of this chamber and reject our amendments, as they have consistently done.
Even with this extension request, the minister says he is still hopeful the Senate will rush this bill through in a few days. In the minister’s letter requesting a deadline extension, he states:
While there is a Government Representative in the Senate, there is no Senate caucus affiliated to the party forming government, which makes it difficult to predict the timeline of the bill passing through the Senate.
Essentially, he is saying that the independent senators in this chamber, exercising their independence on this critical legislation, are posing a problem for him for his government’s unreasonable timeline. No, minister, the blame for not meeting the deadline does not rest with the independent senators who are simply doing their jobs by scrutinizing this legislation. It also does not rest with the Conservative MPs who dared to raise on debate at third reading. The blame for another missed deadline lies squarely with this government.
Then the Trudeau government, through Senator Gold, our leader here in the Senate, presents a plan of action. I know he must have had a difficult time doing this, and I appreciate the cooperation we’ve had even today. However, I will read this, because I think it came from Minister Lametti:
This was the deadline we were given. Monday, we would do second reading. Tuesday, we would finish second reading. We would have a second reading vote and refer it to committee on Tuesday. Wednesday, we would have committee study. Thursday, the committee would report back. Report stage on third reading debate. Friday, third reading debate and vote, and Royal Assent or report to the House with amendments.
I’m not sure where in that time frame there would have been time for any amendments or, indeed, sober second thought.
More importantly, this timeline was a slap in the face to Canadians who have testified, who have been writing to us and calling our offices, advocating for vulnerable Canadians. This chamber has never — and I sincerely hope will never — spent one week debating the circumstances under which Canadians live and die, certainly not after the heart-wrenching testimony we heard from those most affected.
I am very pleased that we have been able, together with the cooperation of the leader in the Senate, to come forward with reasonable timelines.
And we will now not pass this bill at third reading on Friday. In light of this undue pressure from the government, it should be noted that we did get the opinion of constitutional experts on the last day of pre-study. Not one of them believed that it was necessary to proceed with this bill because of the arbitrary deadline imposed by the Quebec Superior Court. They explained exactly what would happen if the law was struck down in Quebec and remained in place in the rest of Canada. Operationally, it would work well, and it would likely lead to an eventual Supreme Court of Canada review, which would be very appropriate given the many ways this bill contravenes the Carter decision.
So with all due respect, Minister Lametti, regardless of the response to your extension request, this Senate has no intention of rushing this legislation through this house.
I want to thank Senators Jaffer, Batters, Campbell and Dalphond, and indeed the entire committee, for their work in bringing forward a wide range of witnesses — I have never seen as extensive a committee study and certainly not a pre-study — and for ensuring that this legislation received the thorough pre-study review it deserves.
I also want to thank all of the brave witnesses for their compelling testimonies. You have all enriched our perspective, and we now have a much deeper understanding of what we are being asked to vote on.
Colleagues, typically at second reading I recommend that we pass a bill so that it can undergo further study at committee. However, I have already reviewed it extensively. I struggled to vote in favour of this bill proceeding at any stage. While there are many Canadians who still feel they have been left out of this conversation and who deserve to be heard, this bill is so dangerous that I am eager to put a stop to it at the soonest opportunity.
Colleagues, I look forward to listening to the rest of the debate. My caucus colleagues and I, of course, will still consider how we will vote at second reading. Thank you very much for your time.
Senator Plett's speech on this issue can also be found here.