Government back in court seeking extension on assisted dying reform bill

The federal government will be back in court Thursday morning to seek a fourth extension to the court-imposed deadline for expanding access to medical assistance in dying.

Conservatives refuse to facilitate debate on motion to amend Bill C-7 in House of Commons

Government lawyers are seeking another extension to a court-imposed deadline requiring it to expand access to medical assistance in dying. (Radio-Canada)

The federal government will be back in court Thursday morning to seek a fourth extension to the court-imposed deadline for expanding access to medical assistance in dying.

The government is asking for one more month, until March 26, to pass Bill C-7, which is stalled in the House of Commons with no prospect of being passed by Friday — the current deadline.

The bill is intended to bring the law into compliance with a 2019 Quebec Superior Court ruling that struck down a provision allowing assisted dying only for people whose natural deaths are "reasonably foreseeable."

Should the court refuse to grant one more extension, Justice Minister David Lametti has warned that as of Saturday assisted dying would become legally available in Quebec to intolerably suffering individuals who are not approaching the natural end of their lives, without any of the safeguards proposed in the bill.

The same people elsewhere in the country, meanwhile, would continue to be denied access to the procedure.

Conservatives refuse unanimous consent

Despite Friday's looming deadline, the Conservatives have refused to facilitate debate in the Commons over a motion that lays out the government's response to five amendments to C-7 approved last week by the Senate.

They talked out the clock on the motion Tuesday and then refused the unanimous consent needed to extend the debate until midnight, despite calling last week for extended hours to allow thorough debate on the issue.

They refused unanimous consent again Wednesday to allow the Commons to sit into the night to wrap up debate on the motion.

The Bloc Québécois offered Wednesday to give up its opposition day Thursday to allow debate on the motion to continue but the minority Liberal government decided that would be pointless, given the Conservatives' stalling tactics.

"Conservatives have twice blocked our proposal that the House sit late to debate this important issue, despite claiming that they want extended hours," said Mark Kennedy, a spokesman for government House leader Pablo Rodriguez.

"Based on this, we now know that Conservatives will continue to obstruct, and cancelling the Bloc opposition day tomorrow will not change anything."

The Conservatives were largely opposed to the original bill and object even more strenuously to the amended version the government is now proposing.

Date of vote up in the air

The bill originally would have imposed a blanket ban on assisted dying for people suffering solely from mental illnesses. The government is now proposing a two-year time limit on that exclusion, six months longer than the time limit approved by senators.

The government has rejected another Senate amendment that would have allowed advance requests for assisted dying, as well as an amendment intended to clarify what constitutes a mental illness. It has accepted a modified version of two others.

The Bloc has said it will support the government's response to the Senate amendments, assuring the motion's eventual passage. But until Conservatives agree to wrap up debate, it can't be put to a vote.

Once the motion is passed, the bill will still have to go back to the Senate for senators to decide whether to accept the verdict of the elected parliamentary chamber or dig in their heels on their amendments.