British Columbia

BCCLA argues for speedier trial in assisted dying law challenge

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association petitioned the B.C. Court of Appeal to fast track a constitutional challenge to Canada's assisted dying legislation.

Julia Lamb of Chilliwack argues her right to assisted dying unfairly limited by current law

Julia Lamb of Chilliwack, B.C., has launched a lawsuit challenging the federal government's assisted dying legislation. (CBC)

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) argued at the B.C. Court of Appeal Tuesday to fast track a constitutional challenge to Canada's assisted dying legislation.

The BCCLA launched the challenge in 2016, 10 days after Bill C-14 — the government's assisted dying legislation — was passed. 

The association said the legislation introduced extra requirements to qualify for medically assisted death. In particular, the requirement of a "reasonably foreseeable death" is in violation of Canadians' charter rights.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Julia Lamb of Chilliwack, a young woman with spinal muscular atrophy. Though she is currently living well, Lamb says she is worried the deterioration of her body could cause years of unbearable physical and mental suffering without the option of seeking a doctor's help in dying if her death is not "reasonably foreseeable."

The BCCLA argued Tuesday against re-litigating certain factual findings already established in the earlier assisted dying case, Carter v. Canada.

Jay Aubrey from the BCCLA said it is important to hasten the proceedings as people are continuing to suffer.

"They're waiting for a constitutional right that was already given to them by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2015 in the Carter decision," Aubrey said.

She also pointed out that a re-trying of the same findings that were already determined by the highest court is not in Canadians' interests.

"That kind of trial takes a lot of money. It takes a lot of time," she said.

Evidence should be tested

Not everyone agrees.

Hugh Scher, a Toronto-based human rights lawyer who acted for intervenor Euthanasia Prevention Coalition in the Carter decision, said the issues in the Lamb case are different.

"The issues in this case are different from the issues that were before the court in Carter and so the evidence that should be read and tested should be called relative to the issues in respect to the case and the issues to be addressed in Lamb," Scher said.

Scher said the limitations within the current assisted dying framework are important.

"The point of the legislation is to provide some limitations with respect to protecting the public and particularly protecting people with chronic disabilities and mental health conditions," he said.

The B.C. Supreme Court rejected the BCCLA's similar bid for a speedier trial in October.

Since its legalization in 2016, thousands of Canadians have died with medical assistance.