Justice Minister and Attorney General Rob Nicholson niagaracollege.ca

Federal government appeals B.C. decision striking down euthanasia laws

  • July 14, 2012

OTTAWA- The federal government has announced it will appeal the June 15 British Columbia Supreme Court Carter decision that struck down Canada's laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide.

"After careful consideration of the legal merits," the Government of Canada will appeal the Carter decision to the British Columbia Court of Appeal and seek "a stay of all aspects of the lower court decision," said Justice Minister and Attorney General Rob Nicholson in a July 13 statement, released on a Friday afternoon shortly before the July 16 deadline for filing an appeal.

"The Government is of the view that the Criminal Code provisions that prohibit medical professionals, or anyone else, from counselling or providing assistance in a suicide, are constitutionally valid," said Nicholson. "The Government also objects to the lower court's decision to grant a 'constitutional exemption' resembling a regulatory framework for assisted suicide."

In the Carter decision, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith said the laws against assisted suicide and euthanasia violated the equality rights of those who could not commit suicide without help, since suicide is legal. She also argued the Criminal Code provisions violated disabled peoples' Section 7 rights of life, liberty and security of the person.

Justice Smith gave Parliament one year before her decision would come into effect, but granted one of the plaintiffs, Gloria Taylor, who has ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease, the option of having an assisted suicide within that time-frame. The family of Kay Carter, who died in a Swiss suicide clinic, filed the original lawsuit.

"The laws surrounding euthanasia and assisted suicide exist to protect all Canadians, including those who are most vulnerable, such as people who are sick or elderly or people with disabilities," the Attorney General said. "The Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged the state interest in protecting human life and upheld the constitutionality of the existing legislation in Rodriguez (1993)."

Sue Rodrigues, who also suffered from ALS, may have lost her Supreme Court battle in the 1993 decision, but she found a willing physician who ended her life in 1994.

Nicholson noted in April 2010, when Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde's private member's bill advocating the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide came before the House of Commons, "a large majority of Parliamentarians voted not to change these laws, which is an expression of democratic will on this topic."

He acknowledged the issues is "emotional and divisive" for many Canadians.

Nicholson said the government would not be commenting further, but would present the full arguments to the B.C. Court of Appeal.

However, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney sent out an email July 13 seeking feedback from supporters, noting the B.C. Supreme Court decision paved "the way for the legal killing of the elderly and infirm."

"My position on euthanasia has always been clear," Kenney wrote. "I believe that the inviolable dignity of human life requires that we do everything possible to help those at the end of life to die with dignity, but that killing a person is never dignified."

"I worry particularly about the consequences of judges assigning to themselves the sole right to determine public policy, removing important and controversial issues from democratic debate," he said.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC), which intervened in the Carter case, welcomed news of the appeal.

"EPC is pleased that Justice Minister Nicholson appealed the disturbing decision by Justice Smith," said EPC executive director Alex Schadenberg on his blog. "Minister Nicholson has also appealed the 'constitutional exemption' that was given to Gloria Taylor, that he referred to as a 'regulatory framework for assisted suicide.'"

"The decision by Justice Smith needs to be overturned because legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide is simply not safe," he said.

EPC will seek to intervene in the appeal, Schadenberg said.

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