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C-14 Medical Assistance in Dying (Amendment)

Thank you, honourable senators. It was not my intention to rise with respect to this amendment, as I had ample opportunity last Friday to make my position clear with respect to this bill, but I felt I ought to respond to some of the comments made, just for the record and before senators have the opportunity to vote on this amendment.

I particularly want to respond to the suggestion made in the course of the debate that the minister was misled by officials in the Department of Justice.

I know the minister. The minister has been here taking questions, and I don't believe that the minister is parroting any particular brief for any particular official in the department but, rather, informed by her own legal background and, as Attorney General of Canada, the resources that she has relied on in developing and making a recommendation to cabinet. The sources available to her, as they have been available to the committee and to senators, show us that there is a wide range of legal views. She has formed a view, and she has expressed freely and confidently in this chamber that this bill is Charter- compliant.

Now, it's not unreasonable, when ministers form an area of public policy, that they want to be assured — as would the Prime Minister, cabinet and indeed both chambers of Parliament — that it is right. Senator Joyal spoke in his comments about the importance of our chamber reflecting the protection of Charter rights and Charter compliance. So it is absolutely primordial that ministers be confident that the legislation they bring forward is Charter-compliant. I want to re-emphasize to all senators that the ministry's and the minister's views, and indeed the views of parliamentarians in the other chamber, was that the bill before us is Charter-compliant.

That brings us to a broader question of public policy. Public policy can be framed in various ways. The minister spoke of the public policy choices that she made in conversations and discussions with, first of all, her colleague the Minister of Health, and other ministers, and then indeed before the whole chamber, and here in our discussions as well.

The objective of public policy discussion is to ensure that the legislative framework being brought forward is not just Charter- compliant but is the result of a good deal of public consultations, a good deal of policy, guideline and detailed operational considerations, so that an act, on being adopted, is implementable. It's not unreasonable that there have been broad engagements with the medical community and practitioners, broad engagement with the vulnerable, disabled community, those who have concerns for the disadvantaged and concerns about the operating of a particular new approach and first-time effort in the area of medical assistance in dying.

I think it's important for us — particularly as we deal with the most fundamental amendment before us, in my view, which is the amendment with respect to eligibility — that we not confuse the confidence with which the ministry brings forward what they believe is a Charter-compliant proposal. We can have our disputes as to whether it's the right public policy, but I would ask that you respect the Attorney General of Canada as not being misled by nameless officials in her department.

I also want to remind us that while we are dealing with one clause, we ought to consider that there are other aspects of this bill that interact with this clause, and that by no means is this clause alone defining the public policy of the bill. The public policy of the bill speaks to, later on, safeguards — and I was pleased to hear Senator Carignan's speech on safeguards — but it also interacts with clause 9, which predicts that there will be other discussions, inquiries and opportunities to study further some of the issues that are before us in this evolution of consideration for how we deal with medical assistance in dying.

So in closing, I want simply to reaffirm with confidence that the ministry believes, through its considerations, its advice and its deliberations, that this bill is Charter-compliant. Let there be no mistake about that as we vote on this amendment.