The Supreme Court of Canada building stands amidst the snow in early February.


The Supreme Court of Canada building stands amidst the snow in early February.

February 23, 2015

OTTAWA – Speculation is mounting on the approach the federal government will take in response to the Supreme Court decision striking down the law against assisted suicide.

Some, including members of the Tory caucus, are calling for the government to invoke the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in order to suspend the court's decision for five years.

Canada's highest court gave the government a year to respond to the new legislation, and until then, physician-assisted suicide, or doctor-assisted death as it is called in the judgment, remains illegal.

Responding to journalists, Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the government intends to take its time.

"There is a wide and obviously very emotional range of perspectives on this issue, but it has very far reaching implications, so we intend to take the time to look at this decision carefully, thoughtfully," MacKay said.


He indicated the one-year time period was long enough, despite the fall election, and refused to answer a question on the notwithstanding clause.

"Nobody wants to touch this, and we could be looking at a year of just fiddling around," said Peter Stockland, a journalist with extensive experience covering Parliament Hill.

Nic Steenhout, executive director of the grassroots Quebec group Living with Dignity, said "Most people who end up asking for assisted suicide or euthanasia suffer from some form of depression.

"There are no safeguards that can be written that would protect everyone in every situation," he said. "We are wary about recommending safeguards."

At the same time, his coalition is "facing reality" that assisted suicide needs restrictions.


"Safeguards are an illusion," Steenhout said. "But we don't want to get to a point where it's a free for all."

Surveys show widespread support for assisted suicide, he said, but Living with Dignity commissioned an Ipsos Reid poll that showed only one third of respondents knew "medical aid in dying" meant a doctor killing a patient with a lethal injection.

Stockland said the court decision did not just strike down a law against physician-assisted suicide, but the whole section that prohibited assisting suicide, he said.

"What it potentially means, on Feb. 7, 2016, we don't have a law," he said. "You can let your imagination go on what that will mean."

While the court assumed the government would put in place a regime to govern the carrying out of assisted suicides, it doesn't mean that will happen, he said.