British Columbia

B.C. assisted suicide challenge rejected

The B.C. Supreme Court has rejected one of two attempts to challenge Criminal Code provisions that ban assisted suicide in Canada.

Similar challenge to be heard in November

The B.C. Supreme Court has rejected one of two attempts to challenge Criminal Code provisions that ban assisted suicide in Canada.

The Farewell Foundation was seeking to set up non-hospital centres where teams of counsellors and advisers could help people end their lives.

However, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith ruled Wednesday that anonymous members do not have standing to challenge Canada's federal laws.

The foundation is acting on behalf of more than 100 members, who pay a $50-a-year membership, but wouldn't be charged for any services the foundation is proposing to provide around assisted suicide.

The Farewell Foundation's challenge also included four people seeking to end their own lives, but they were never named in order to protect their privacy.

Farewell Foundation co-founder Russel Ogden said he understands Smith's decision.

"We learned today from the judge that that is a process, that there's no foundation in law for us to be able to advance."

But Ogden said he's encouraged the judge recommended the group join a second, similar case set to go to trial in November.

"This is nothing less than a victory," he said. "It's not an overwhelming victory but it's an opportunity for us to move our interests and that's what we've always wanted to do."

Ogden said the foundation will apply to intervene in the second case and try to present the same evidence it had planned to at trial.

The second lawsuit is being launched by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and four other plaintiffs seeking to permit doctors to assist patients in ending their lives.

Earlier this month, a judge agreed to fast-track the lawsuit — which includes Gloria Taylor, a Kelowna woman suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS — so it would be heard before Taylor's health further deteriorates.

Joe Arvay, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association's lead counsel, has said the organization plans to challenge Canada's assisted suicide laws alone, saying there are "some difficulties" with the Farewell Foundation's case.

Under Canadian law, it's illegal to counsel, aid or abet a person to commit suicide, and anyone convicted of the offence could be imprisoned for up to 14 years.

In 1993, B.C.'s Sue Rodriguez made headlines when she challenged the law.

The Supreme Court of Canada ultimately ruled against Rodriguez, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

With files from the CBC's Chad Pawson