Jody Wilson-Raybould

Jody Wilson-Raybould

December 21, 2015

A jurisdictional battle between Quebec and the federal government over euthanasia and assisted suicide is heading for the Supreme Court of Canada (SCOC).

On Dec. 3, the federal government asked the SCOC for a six-month extension on the Carter decision that had struck down sections of the Criminal Code against assisted suicide.

The Carter decision comes into effect Feb. 6, 2016, but the extension, if granted, would extend the suspension until Aug. 6, 2016. The present prohibitions against assisted suicide and euthanasia would remain in place until then.

Quebec argues "medical aid in dying" is health care and falls under provincial jurisdiction. It wanted to implement its euthanasia law as planned Dec. 10. It seeks an exemption from the extension.

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC), said his organization would prefer the use of the notwithstanding clause and no law permitting euthanasia and assisted suicide.

However, EPC has filed a factum with the court, opposing an exemption for Quebec. Schadenberg said the worst scenario is a patchwork of differing laws on euthanasia across the country.


"The Quebec law is euthanasia," Schadenberg said. "It's not another form of assisted suicide with a few little interesting caveats. The Quebec law says doctors will do lethal injections."

If the extension is granted, the federal government will establish an all-party special parliamentary committee to study the issue and make recommendations to the federal government on a legislative approach. The Criminal Code provisions would remain in place.

The extension would also ensure provinces and territories could "responsibly prepare for the full implementation of the Carter decision," a justice department release said.

"Canadians have made it clear they are looking for a real conversation about personal choice, health care and end-of-life care, and strong protection of the vulnerable," said the release.

The attorney general's factum to the court notes the importance of protecting "vulnerable people who might be at risk of a premature death, contrary to their true wishes. The significance of such a risk cannot be overstated."

However, the Quebec National Assembly passed a unanimous motion Dec. 2 demanding Ottawa recognize the validity of its "medical aid in dying" law.


Quebec politicians also expressed outrage the federal government had intervened on the side of Montreal physician Dr. Paul Saba and a disabled woman, Lisa D'Amico, who successfully sought an injunction against the law.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel Pinsonnault granted the injunction Dec. 1. He ruled the federal government has jurisdiction over the Criminal Code and "medical aid in dying" is a euphemism for euthanasia.

The jurisdictional battle has Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould on the hot seat with journalists for intervening in the Quebec case.

In a Dec. 4 scrum, Wilson-Raybould tried to convey a conciliatory message.

"We're working to find a solution that will ensure that we respect the substantive work that Quebec has done with respect to their legislation, recognizing other provinces and the Government of Canada as we move forward on this very sensitive and important issue," she said.

Meanwhile, pro-life and pro-family groups welcome the news of a possible extension.


"If the Trudeau government really believes in the equality of all Canadians, as our prime minister says, it will answer the Supreme Court's directive by drafting a law that as much as possible protects the vulnerable," said Michele Boulva, executive director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF).

COLF, the Catholic bishops and other Church groups oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide on principle, and are urging Ottawa to promote a nationwide system of palliative care.

"Christ is counting on them and on us all," Boulva said. "As Christ's disciples, we have a duty to counter what Pope Francis calls this 'throwaway culture.' We are talking here about a life and death issue!"