Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivering a speech in the House of Commons in March 2016. Photo/Courtesy of Justin Trudeau - Prime Minister of Canada via Youtube

Bill C-14 a total mess

  • May 26, 2016

Just when you thought the slide into assisted suicide couldn’t get worse, the Prime Minister elbowed into the fray to underscore, once again, the madness of Parliament’s dizzy sprint to pass a new law as if MPs were working on a 30-minute deadline to deliver a pizza.

The May 18 conduct of Justin Trudeau in trying to physically line up the opposition for a vote on assisted suicide was, of course, unbecoming of the Prime Minister. But his frogmarching of one MP and jostling of another underscores a general frustration evident since the Supreme Court gave assisted suicide the nod and put Parliament on the clock to find a way to make it happen.

From the day Canada’s blanket ban against assisted suicide was overturned in 2015 it’s been obvious that meeting the court-imposed deadline for a new law was unlikely. Initially, the court gave Parliament the improbable target of 12 months in an election year. The incoming Liberal government was then granted a four-month extension. Again, unrealistic.

 As we’ve previously stated, any law to inflict the horror of state-sponsored killing on Canada required thorough study, wide public consultation, thorough debate by both houses of Parliament and, for many, an examination of conscience. It was folly to believe all that could happen in mere months.

Yet Parliament was obliged to try to ram something through, resulting in a flawed piece of legislation that is unpopular among advocates on both sides of the argument. The slam-bam process saw committees hurrying or ignoring witnesses, giving short-shrift to reports and drafting amendments on the fly. Then we saw parliamentary procedure disrespected and a flustered Prime Minister acting like a pizza guy dashing up a walkway to ring the doorbell on time.

Even if Bill-C 14 somehow becomes law by June 6 (which now seems near impossible), the debate would hardly be over. Court challenges are inevitable and strategies are already being laid to extend assisted suicide to minors and to allow advance directives for people in the early stages of illnesses such as dementia. On May 17 the Alberta Court of Appeal rendered a decision that suggests, even before it becomes law, Bill C-14 is on shaky legal ground. What a mess. 

None of this was necessary. Parliament should have invoked the notwithstanding clause of the Charter and set aside the court ruling for up to five years. This clause was specifically created to ensure that elected politicians, not unelected judges, have the final say on matters of public policy, including timetables.

The free-for-all of recent months was a sad spectacle that could have been avoided. Now someone has to call a time out. The notwithstanding clause was created for a good reason. It’s time to use it.

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