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Justice Minister David Lametti doesn’t rule out referring assisted dying bill to Supreme Court

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Justice Minister David Lametti isn’t ruling out the possibility of asking the Supreme Court to advise on the constitutionality of a bill to expand access to assisted dying.

Testifying to the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee Monday, Lametti said a reference to the top court, rather than waiting for a specific case to make its way there through lower courts, is always a possibility.

But he made it clear he’s not convinced of its value.

“It always remains an option but I’ve never been convinced that it’s our best option,” he told the committee.

Lametti acknowledged that Bill C-7 could well be challenged as a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — both by those who think it doesn’t go far enough in easing access to doctor-assisted death and by those who think it goes too far.

Some senators who believe the bill is too restrictive have argued that it should be referred to the Supreme Court directly, rather than force intolerably suffering people to spend time, money and effort challenging the legislation in lower courts.

Other senators, who believe the bill goes too far, have argued that the matter should be referred to the top court before changing the law to comply with a 2019 Quebec Superior Court ruling. It struck down a provision that allows assisted dying only for those who are already near the end of life.

But Lametti said his goal is to reduce individuals’ suffering as quickly as possible and he believes passing C-7 is the fastest way to do that. He noted that references to the top court take time. It took 14 months for the Supreme Court to render its advice on Senate reform in 2014.

Removing ‘reasonably foreseeable’ provision

“I think this is a more expeditious way forward to alleviate the suffering of people more quickly,” Lametti said.

“Yes, there will be potential challenges, but we think … we’ve really narrowed both the scope and the time frame for those constitutional challenges.”

Bill C-7 would scrap the requirement that a person’s natural death must be reasonably foreseeable to qualify for an assisted death. But it sets up two eligibility tracks, relaxing some rules for those who are near death and imposing stricter conditions for those who are not.

It explicitly prohibits assisted dying for anyone suffering solely from mental illness — an exclusion that many legal experts have said violates the charter guarantee of equal treatment under the law, regardless of physical or mental illness.

Lametti said he believes the bill brings the 2016 law on assisted dying closer to the landmark 2015 Supreme Court ruling that struck down the blanket prohibition on the practice.

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