Nova Scotia

Peter MacKay says government needs more time to draft assisted-suicide law

Justice Minister and Nova Scotia MP Peter MacKay says the government will likely need more time to come up with new legislation on doctor-assisted suicide.

In February, the Supreme Court gave Parliament one year to draft new legislation

Justice Minister Peter MacKay said yesterday, while the consultation process continues, it will be up to the next Attorney General to determine whether an extension is necessary. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Justice Minister and Nova Scotia MP Peter MacKay says the government will likely need more time to come up with new legislation on doctor-assisted suicide.

In February, the Supreme Court gave Parliament one year to draft new legislation.

Without the law, Canada has no clear rules on doctor-assisted suicide on the books, much like there is no law prohibiting abortion.

MacKay said yesterday that while the consultation process continues, it will be up to the next attorney general to determine whether an extension is necessary.

However, the federal government backed down from the possibility of asking for an extension to draft legislation later in February. 

Bob Dechert, the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, told MPs the government would consider asking for longer than a year to craft new legislation after the court struck down a ban on physician-assisted suicide in certain cases.

But he later backtracked, saying the government intends to meet the deadline. Dechert said he'd been speaking as a lawyer, not on behalf of the government, when he earlier predicted that the court would "most likely" grant an extension.​

The court's February ruling struck down the criminal ban on doctors assisting in the deaths of mentally-competent but suffering and "irremediable" patients.

The government also has the right to use the notwithstanding clause, a section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms allowing Parliament or a legislature to override certain judicial rulings.

However, no federal government has ever invoked the clause.

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