Lametti seeks 2-month extension to pass medically assisted death bill

With a court-imposed deadline just one week away, the Liberal government is asking for another two-month extension to pass new medical assistance in dying (MAID) legislation.

Justice Minister David Lametti said he remains hopeful the government can meet the Dec. 18 deadline, but requesting an extension is “the responsible course of action.” He is seeking an extension from the Superior Court of Quebec to Feb. 26, 2021.

Bill C-7, which expands access to MAID, was passed in the House of Commons Thursday and is set for review in the Senate next week.

“We know Canadians, especially those who are suffering intolerably and would become eligible for MAID under the proposed changes, are anxious to see the proposed amendments come into effect,” Lametti said in a news release.

“We want to reassure them, and all Canadians, that we remain committed to responding to this important court ruling, and our sincere hope is that parliamentarians will work to meet the current court deadline.”

The government introduced Bill C-7 in February in response to a September 2019 Superior Court of Quebec ruling which found that the law’s precondition for obtaining a physician-assisted death — that the individual seeking it must face a “reasonably foreseeable” natural death — was unconstitutional.

C-7 clears House, moves to Senate

The bill proposes to remove that requirement. It also disqualifies those whose sole underlying condition is a mental illness from obtaining an assisted death.

Conservatives and advocacy groups for Canadians with disabilities oppose C-7, arguing it fails to protect vulnerable people such as the elderly and those with physical or intellectual disabilities.

In a tweet, Lametti said the move to seek an extension was “prudent” and accused the Conservatives of delaying passage of the bill through parliamentary manoeuvres.

“We should have never had to do this, but the Conservatives’ tactics have put Canadians in a potentially precarious situation. If nothing has changed by the 18th, there will be no adequate safeguards and supports in Quebec for those whose death is not reasonably foreseeable,” he said on Twitter.

The Conservatives have said it is the Liberals who delayed the bill by proroguing the House for six weeks — losing time needed to scrutinize and debate an important piece of legislation.

Conservatives say MAID wasn’t a Liberal priority

Conservative justice critic Rob Moore said the request suggests a government scrambling before Christmas to address a problem it created.

“By proroguing Parliament, they lost weeks that could have been spent debating Bill C-7. Following the speech from the throne, the Liberals suggested that MAID wasn’t a priority when they introduced several pieces of non-COVID-19 legislation before MAID,” he said in a statement.

“Canada’s Conservatives proposed reasonable amendments that would address concerns raised by persons with disabilities. We will continue to advocate for changes to protect the vulnerable in Canada. Persons with disabilities and indeed all Canadians deserve as much.”

After C-7 cleared the Commons in a 212-107 vote, Lametti urged senators to swiftly pass the bill.

“I’m asking senators to really put their shoulders to the wheel in good faith and let’s get this across the finish line,” he said Thursday.

Conservative Sen. Denise Batters, vice-chair of the legal affairs committee, said she was pleased to see the extension and added the Senate must take the time it needs to carefully study the legislation.

“Minister Lametti is kidding himself if he thinks that the Senate will rubber-stamp this bill. And if he is under the illusion that it’s only Conservative senators who have serious concerns about this legislation, he clearly wasn’t paying attention when he testified before our Senate legal committee two weeks ago,” she said.

Senate pre-study of bill

Because of the compressed timeline, the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee conducted a pre-study of C-7 that heard from 81 witnesses, including Lametti and other ministers, regulatory authorities, advocacy groups, legal and medical practitioners and other stakeholders. It also received 86 written submissions.

Batters said most senators on the committee, and many of the 81 witnesses they heard from, believe there are “significant problems” with the current Bill C-7.

The advocacy group Dying With Dignity Canada said it is “extremely disappointed” with today’s development and urged parliamentarians to move expeditiously though the legislative process. 

“This delay will result in further intolerable suffering for Canadians who are seeking to access their right to medical assistance in dying,” the group said in a statement.

The House of Commons rose today until Jan. 25, while the Senate is set to rise next week.

The government has received two extensions from the court already.

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