Speech on Bill C-268: Legislation to protect freedom of conscience (MAiD)

    Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise in strong support for Bill C-268. This is a straightforward piece of legislation, the objective of which is extremely important, namely to ensure that the charter rights of health professionals who conscientiously object to participating in medical assistance in dying, or MAID, are protected, charter rights that include freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, those rights being not any rights but fundamental freedoms guaranteed under the charter. For that, I want to commend my colleague, the hon. member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, for her steadfast leadership in bringing forward this timely and targeted bill to address an issue of charter infringements on health care professionals. I would also acknowledge my former colleagues Mark Warawa and David Anderson for their leadership in bringing forward similar pieces of legislation in previous Parliaments. Contrary to the assertion of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, the infringement of charter rights of health professionals is not a hypothetical. It is real. It is happening in Canada and has been happening since the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the blanket Criminal Code prohibition against physician-assisted death in the Carter decision. Many health professionals have been pressured or coerced into participating in MAID, notwithstanding their conscientious objection to doing so. At the justice committee, on Bill C-7, we heard many witnesses who came forward and spoke about serious concerns about coercion and pressure, the need for clarity in the law and a set national standard. That is precisely what this legislation seeks to do by amending the Criminal Code to see that no one will lawfully be able to coerce or pressure health care professionals for the purpose of compelling them to participate in MAID, or refuse to hire or terminate one’s employment on the basis of a health care professional objecting to MAID. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice made reference to Bill C-14 in his speech. It is a piece of legislation that I am very familiar with, because I sat on the special joint committee leading up to Bill C-14, and I sat on the justice committee when Bill C-14 was studied. At that time, there was much discussion around protecting conscience rights. The parliamentary secretary is correct that the preamble of the bill was amended to include an expressed recognition of conscience rights. He is further correct to note that at subsection 241.2(9) of the Criminal Code, there is a “for greater certainty” clause that simply provides that no one shall be compelled to participate in MAID. In that broad sense, there was an expressed intention of Parliament to protect health care professionals. However, what is missing is teeth. There is no enforceability mechanism provided for in the legislation. That was something that I saw as a problem at the time, and it has borne out to be so. That is precisely what this bill seeks to do, to fill that very real void. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice as well as my colleague, the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, spoke at varying lengths about the Ontario Court of Appeal decision in Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada v. the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario and the issue of access, that somehow this bill would interfere or undermine access to medical assistance in dying. I say two things to those who would raise the issue of access. Manitoba passed Bill 34, which provides for conscience protections, not dissimilar to what this bill proposes. There has not been one instance that has been brought forward where access has prevented a willing patient from accessing MAID in that province, a law that has been on the books for more than four years. With respect to the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision, although the court, in its analysis, looked at hypothetical issues around access, the court actually incorporated the divisional court’s finding into its ruling. The divisional court said on the question of physicians who object on the basis of conscience, “…there was no direct evidence that access to health care is a problem caused by physicians’ religious objections to providing care”. There we have it right from the Ontario Court of Appeal that on the issue of access, when it came to providing direct evidence, it simply was not there. At the justice committee, when we studied Bill C-7, it was not there either. When we talk about the Carter decision, it is important to emphasize that it is predicated upon two things: number one, that there be a willing patient; and, number two, and equally important, that there be a willing physician. […] Get full text at https://parl.gc.ca

    • Date May 28, 2021
    • Tags House of Commons