REALity Volume XXXVI Issue No. 1 January 2017
The Liberals’ Bill C-14 permitting assisted suicide by physicians, nurses as well as “third parties” under medical supervision, is very peculiar in a number of ways. Certainly, there are many complaints from both sides of the issue about the bill itself, which is the most devastating bill to impact on the dignity of human life in the 21st Century.
Besides this, there is something else very peculiar about this bill.
It is peculiar because it was created and revised by unelected elites without consideration of the public’s views on this critical issue.
On February 6, 2015, the nine unelected Supreme Court of Canada judges decided on the narrow facts and arguments placed before them, in Carter v. Attorney General, that assisted suicide should be legalized in Canada. This decision by the court ignored legal precedent, which prohibited assisted suicide in the Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General),
Because of this deadline, the Liberal government fell all over itself in its haste to pass the bill. In the race against the clock to bring in a radically new precept for medicine and law, the government refused to accept any amendments to the bill by MP’s. It also cut off debate on the bill despite the fact that there were many MPs anxious to speak to the issue.
It is significant that the Supreme Court in the Carter case also set out precisely the actual contents of new legislation that would be acceptable. In effect, the court wrote the assisted suicide law. However, it did state the following:
It is for Parliament and the provincial legislatures to respond, should they so choose, by enacting legislation consistent with the constitutional parameters set out in these reasons. (emphasis ours)
The reality then is that if the Liberals’ bill didn’t match the criteria set by the Court, i.e. that it was not “consistent with the constitutional parameters set out”, then the court could and would strike it down. By May 2016, two courts, the Alberta Court of Appeal, and the Ontario Superior Court, proclaimed that Bill C-14 was a “no-no” because it didn’t comply with the court’s criteria i.e. constitutional parameters. Both these courts declared that the bill was “unconstitutional” even though it had not yet been passed into law! However, despite these two court decisions, Bill C-14 was pushed through the House of Commons by the majority Liberals. The Senators, however, decided to ignore the deadline, and proposed amendments that broadened the bill to change the eligibility criteria for physician assisted suicide to match the exact language of the Supreme Court of Canada decision. Specifically, the Senate voted an amendment to Bill C-14, which would have eliminated the requirement that the patient be terminally ill before seeking physician assisted suicide. This amendment knocked out the central pillar of Bill C-14 in that the person’s death was to be “reasonably foreseeable” i.e. terminal.
In effect, the unelected Senate, consisting at that time of 86 Senators, ignored the court’s timeline and chose, instead, to take their own time to review the bill and make their own amendments. The Senate did exactly what it chose to do, regardless of the public or the elected House of Commons. The Senators represent no one but themselves and were indifferent to the Canadian public in overriding the elected representatives of millions of citizens.
However, when the Senate returned the amended bill to the House of Commons, the latter stood firm and rejected the Senate’s terminal illness amendment. The bill was then returned to the Senate and, as a consequence, it was faced with a dilemma. The Senators were obviously intoxicated with new power brought about by Trudeau, who in 2014 ordered them to become independent and cease to be “Liberal” Senators accountable to the party. With this new independence, the Senators could kill the bill by stonewalling the bill until the House of Commons tailored the legislation to its will, or it could bow to the will of the elected House of Commons and pass the bill. In the end, reluctantly, the Senate passed the bill 48-22 and it was then passed by the House of Commons, breaking the legislative log jam.
Will the Senate, even though it chose to give the House of Commons the benefit of the doubt this time, do so in the future? Was this whole episode a warning signal? Perhaps.
Does the appointed Senate have the right to be a chamber of, not second thought, but rather of final thought? In short, is it the Senate’s role to develop and create social policy by overriding the will of the elected House of Commons?
We will have to wait and see whether we will eventually live under an unappointed Senate living in its paradise of unaccountability, and generous remuneration, standing up on its hind legs and telling us what to do.
It seems, however, that Trudeau has solved this problem for now with his recent appointments to the Senate (see REALity article: The Great Senate Hoax.
While the tangled Bill C-14 process was taking place, it was being closely watched by the judges of the Supreme Court. The latter will not hesitate to pounce on the bill, and reject the finished product i.e. the law on life and death of vulnerable human beings, if it doesn’t suit their own individual perceptions of what they think the law should say. A few weeks after the bill was passed the BC Civil Liberties Association launched a court case to strike down the provision in the law of “reasonably foreseeable” death to give the court the opportunity to strike the bill down.
It is all too easy for judges sitting on the Supreme Court in isolation and solitude, removed from the public, to decide what the law should be. Judges do not have to deal with the irksome, messy process of democracy. They, like the senators, are accountable only to themselves and can and do act according to their own individual biases and whims. Not for them, the untidy business of public debate. The latter would only confuse them!
What a mess we have created in Canada. The views of the public are excluded from proceedings, ignored by unelected, well-paid elites, sitting in splendid isolation from the public. This is a terrible violation of democracy.