The government has had trouble getting their “Medical assistance in dying” bill passed before June 6 following long debates, opposition from both sides of the debate, and Liberal Senators who say they will return the bill to the House of Commons if it does not include amendments broadening the euthanasia license.
C-14, an Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying), was introduced in April by the Liberal government in response to the Supreme Court’s February 2014 Carter decision which threw out the Criminal Code provisions against assisting suicide. The Court suspended its decision and gave the government one year to pass a new permissive law or the country would face a situation like abortion where the procedure would be allowed without explicit legislation accepting it at the federal level. The Court provided the Trudeau government an extension to June 6, after which assisted-suicide and euthanasia would be governed by provincial health regulations and professional bodies such as the various provincial College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The government used the June 6 deadline to stifle debate.
Over the first few weeks, only 84 of the 337 MPs in the House of Commons had had a chance to speak to Bill C-14 before the Liberals forced a vote on second reading to send C-14 to the standing committee on justice and human rights. House Leader Dominic LeBlanc sought to limit debate citing the June 6 deadline. Conservative MP Lisa Raitt told CTV’s Don Martin that the deadline was a phony one; she explained that there would be no law on euthanasia if C-14 was not voted upon by June 6, but that Parliament could still debate and vote on the bill afterward.
On May 18, the Liberal motion to close debate on the bill 165-140, with every Conservative, NDP, and Bloc MP voting against closure of debate; they were joined by Green Party leader Elizabeth May and one Liberal MP, Robert-Falcon Ouellette (Winnipeg South). Ouellette had been a critic of C-14 saying it sent mixed signals to people contemplating suicide for psychological reasons, especially within Canada’s native communities.
All 164 remaining Liberals in the House voted to end debate.
Conservative MP Jason Kenney (Calgary Midnapore) said that in the 19 years he has been an MP he could not “recall a single instance where government imposed the guillotine on debate on a grave matter of moral conscience, on a matter of life-and-death ethics, on a matter such as euthanasia, capital punishment or abortion.” He said, “the ancient convention of this and other of Westminster parliaments has been on such matters to allow every interested member to speak.”
When Liberals delivered their talking points on television panel shows that 84 people already had the chance to talk, Raitt replied that when a bill is as important and personal as assisted-suicide and there is a free vote, all MPs should have their say.
Following a 235-75 vote C-14 was sent to committee for review, when a dozen Conservative MPs joined the NDP, Bloc, and Liberals in supporting the bill. Most Conservatives voted against C-14 in second reading and they were joined by Ouellette and NDP MP Christine Moore (Abitibi–Témiscamingue).
The vote took backstage to what transpired beforehand in the House of Commons. When a group of NDP MPs were congregated on the House floor and blocking opposition whip Gordon Brown, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau strode across the aisle to grab the arm of Brown to hurry him along. In the process he elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau (Berthier–Maskinongé) in the chest. The brouhaha delayed the vote and turned the next day’s proceedings into a circus during which the Prime Minister apologized multiple times.
Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes said that Trudeau should also apologize for limiting debate and ramming through the government’s euthanasia bill. “Justin Trudeau is behaving like a dictator, stifling debate, and behaving undemocratically.” Hughes added: “I guess we shouldn’t be surprised considering he admitted ‘admiring’ the ‘basic dictatorship’ of communist China.” Hughes pointed out the hypocrisy of Trudeau slamming the former Harper government for ending debates prematurely and running roughshod over the opposition in Parliament, then turning around and doing the same thing when he became Prime Minister.
During that same week, House Leader LeBlanc had also given notice of Motion 6, which would have allowed the cabinet, rather than the party house leaders, dictate the schedule of the House of Commons. The move was attacked by the opposition as undemocratic, and following so-called elbowgate, the government relented when the Tories and NDP used parliamentary procedure to stretch out debate on Trudeau getting physical with Brown and Brosseau.
Kenney noted on Twitter that elbowgate overshadowed more substantive issues: “Lost in the mix: MP Trudeau’s outburst was to speed-up closure vote in the euthanasia bill, unprecedented for an end of life conscience issue.”
On May 30, about a dozen amendments were offered with the goal of clarifying C-14, limiting its scope, or broadening it. They were all defeated, including one brought forward by Garnet Genuis (Sherwood Park–Fort Saskatchewan) to provide full information about the procedure and options which was defeated 92-229, and another by Genuis requiring a psychiatric evaluation to determine competence of a person requesting assisted-suicide which went down 96-225. Another Genuis amendment which sought to define death as imminent and not just foreseeable was defeated 86-236. Another amendment introduced by Michael Cooper (St. Albert—Edmonton) that would protect conscience rights of health care professionals was defeated 97-222 with the Conservatives joined by Liberals Ouellette, John McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood) and Judy Sgro (Humber River—Black Creek), NDP MPs Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay) and Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway), and Green Party leader Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands).
At the end of nearly 90 minutes of voting on amendments, the House accepted C-14 for report stage 192-120 to be read in third reading in the days following. Four Liberals voted against the government, although three of them did so because they found C-14 too restrictive, while Green leader May and 19 Tories voted with the government.
The same day, for the first time, the government admitted it might miss the Court’s deadline. Health Minister Jane Philpott said that without C-14 there would be no clear legislative framework. Liberals in the Senate are threatening to return C-14 back to the House of Commons with amendments that would allow “mature minors” and patients with psychiatric conditions to be euthanized, and to permit patients to declare a future intent to be killed through advance directives. The government ignored advice from a parliamentary report suggesting such conditions.
Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said it is better for the bill to be defeated and have the provinces deal with the issue because some provinces might have more limits on the practice than C-14 does.