'Rushed' assisted-dying legislation to face strong opposition in the Senate

The Liberal government's doctor-assisted dying legislation will face strong resistance in the Red Chamber, not only from the Tories, but from the very senators expected to help usher the bill through the Senate.

Liberal, Independent senators signal they cannot support Bill C-14 in its current form

Senator James Cowan, Leader of the Liberals in the Senate, says he cannot support the government's assisted-dying legislation in its current form. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Liberal government's doctor-assisted dying legislation will face strong resistance in the Red Chamber, not only from the Tories, but from the very senators expected to help usher the bill through the Senate.

Liberal Senators Jim Cowan, Mobina Jaffer and Independent Senator Andre Pratte all signaled Friday that they will not support bill C-14 in its current form, saying it's too much of a departure from the Supreme Court's decision in the Carter case.

We discuss the future of the government's assisted dying legislation with Senators Mobina Jaffer, Jim Cowan and André Pratte. 14:29

"I believe that if this bill just followed the Carter case, I would support it," Jaffer said in an interview with Chris Hall on CBC Radio's The House.

"The bill as it's written now tries to restrict the Supreme Court ruling and ... tries to limit doctor-assisted death to people who suffer from terminal illness, and that's not what the court said," Pratte added.

"The wording in Carteris very clear ... there is nothing in there about it being a terminal illness, nothing about age," Cowan said. "Any attempt by Parliament to take away rights that have been granted and confirmed by the Supreme Court is out of order and I think the bill falls short."

Indeed, the lawyer that argued the Carter case before the Supreme Court recently told a Senate committee that the Liberal government's proposed assisted dying legislation was awful and he would rather see it "die" than become law.

"There's no question in my mind that this bill, in so far as it has a reasonably foreseeable clause, is contrary to the Carter decision and is unconstitutional," Joseph Arvay told the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee earlier this month.

Jaffer agreed with that assessment, saying the government's bill has too many restrictions, namely that a person's illness has to be in an advanced state and that death has to be "reasonably foreseeable" — stipulations that were not explicitly enumerated by the high court.

'Impossible' to meet Supreme Court deadline

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has pushed to get the legislation through Parliament in advance of the Supreme Court deadline of June 6. The government is concerned that the court's ruling will stand as the law of the land with few restrictions governing the practice.

If no law is in place, doctor-assisted dying will be in much the same situation as abortion — subject to provincial regulation rather than the Criminal Code.

"Many of us at the Senate believe that the bill should be amended and we will suggest amendments," Pratte said. "The bill will be sent back to the House of Commons for further consideration."

"The government has decided that there is a deadline that has to be met and I'm not personally convinced that we have to meet the June 6 deadline. Everyone feels sort of rushed and that is not good, we should not rush to legislating such an important piece of legislation," the newly appointed Quebec senator said.

Cowan, the leader of the Senate Liberal caucus, said most of the provincial and territorial colleges of physicians and surgeons have already hammered out their own set of safeguards if the government cannot legislate parameters to meet the court's deadline.

Independent Senator Andre Pratte says the Liberal government's assisted-dying legislation doesn't align with stipulations set out in the Supreme Court of Canada's Carter ruling. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"There are adequate protections there from second opinions, waiting times and forms of consent and approvals and all that sort of thing. It's not some sort of wild west that we'll be faced with if no legislation is in place by June 6."

"To pass a bill to just meet some artificial deadline, I don't accept," the senior senator added.

Jaffer said it's all but certain the bill will not be passed by that deadline. "It's impossible," she said, noting the earliest the Senate can get its hands on the bill is next Tuesday, May 31.