Tory MPs keep talking on assisted dying bill as clock ticks down to Dec. 18 deadline

OTTAWA — Conservative MPs are refusing to be rushed into a vote on assisted dying legislation, despite a looming court-imposed deadline.

The Liberal minority government has until Dec. 18 to pass Bill C-7, legislation intended to comply with a Quebec Superior Court ruling that struck down a provision allowing only individuals who are already near death to receive medical help to end their suffering.

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The government had hoped to wrap up debate on the bill in the House of Commons on Monday, paving the way for a final vote Tuesday and leaving just over two weeks for the Senate to deal with it before time runs out.

But Conservative MPs talked out the clock, with a number of them calling the deadline "artificial" and the urgency "manufactured."

The government is expected to rejig its agenda to resume debate on the bill on Wednesday and could yet try to impose time allocation to cut the debate off, a move that would require the support of at least one opposition party.

A spokeswoman for Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole was unable to say how many more Tory MPs still want to speak on the bill but, given that it literally involves a matter of life and death, she said anyone "who wants to speak to the bill is free to do so."

The bill would drop the proviso that only those whose natural death is reasonably foreseeable are entitled to seek medical assistance in dying (MAID). But it would retain the foreseeable death concept to set up two different eligibility tracks, one that makes it easier for those near death to receive MAID while those who are not near death would face more restrictive criteria.

Conservatives were the only MPs to give speeches during debate on the bill Monday and all but one of them — Toronto MP Peter Kent — were opposed to it. All of them, including Kent, slammed the government for rushing the bill through the Commons without adequate consultation.

They argued that the government should have appealed the Quebec court ruling to the Supreme Court and should not be making changes to Canada's MAID law until Parliament conducts the legally-mandated five-year review of the law.

That review was to have started in June but has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Conservative MPs noted that the government further delayed matters by proroguing Parliament in August for six weeks.

"Why rush to pass this flawed legislation when it truly is a matter of life and death?" asked Ontario Conservative MP Michael Barrett.

"We do many things in this place quickly but we can certainly agree that this step too far is not one that needs to be done in such a hasty way."

At one point, Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux, parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, asked if it was the Conservatives' intention "to see us continuing to debate this indefinitely."

"It is very clear this legislation was rushed through to try to comply with an arbitrary date that was set by that lower court judge," retorted British Columbia Conservative MP Ed Fast.

"This deserves a full airing and review at the highest court of the land and, sadly, the current Liberal government refused to do that for Canadians."

Alberta Conservative MP Damien Kurek said he finds it "troubling that they seem to have manufactured a level of urgency."

Justice Minister David Lametti has said the court ruling striking down the foreseeable death requirement applies technically only in Quebec. Thus, if the government does not meet the deadline, which has already been extended twice, he has warned that intolerably suffering Quebecers who are not near death will have access to MAID while those in the rest of the country will not.

Among other things, Conservative MPs complained that Bill C-7 goes well beyond the court ruling, relaxing some of the rules for those near death to receive MAID. And, in expanding MAID to those who are not near death, they argued that the government is telling Canadians with disabilities that their lives are not worth living.

The Conservatives proposed a number of amendments when the bill was scrutinized by the Commons justice committee but they were all rejected.

They are reviving two of them for consideration by the House of Commons.

One would restore the required 10-day reflection period, which the bill proposes dropping for people who are near death. The other would increase the proposed 90-day period for assessing requests for MAID from individuals not near death to 120 days.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2020.

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