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Third reading of Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying)

 

Hon. Art Eggleton: Honourable senators, I rise for the first time to speak of this in a general context. My views have been well represented by the comments from Senators Cowan, Joyal and others in this chamber. I do want to thank them, and I also want to thank the special joint committee co-chaired by Senator Ogilvie and Rob Oliphant, MP, and those who sat from both sides of this chamber on that committee and helped guide us in terms of what the public was saying to them and what their findings were, with their very lengthy study. I think it's well-informed in terms of what decision has to be made.

I want to join with all others who have congratulated us in terms of how well this institution and the individuals within it have acquitted themselves in this debate. It has been a well- organized, high-quality debate. People have spoken with great conviction and passion in a non-partisan way.

We've heard today, as we've heard at other points in the debate, people's very deep, personal feelings based on their culture, upbringing, religious beliefs and personal experiences, all of which has to be reconciled with the need to act as legislators in what we believe is in the best interests of the people of this country and where the population feels that this country needs to go on this issue. That may be difficult for a lot of people, I understand that, but that is our responsibility as legislators.

All in all this has been a proud moment in terms of debate for the Senate of Canada.

I want to make two points: One is the need for a bill. We don't have a bill at the moment. It could be left to the provinces and regulatory organizations in the medical profession to lead the way within the framework of the Supreme Court decision, but I think that would not be in the best interests of Canadians. What is in the best interests is that we have a national bill so we can ensure there is a basic standard in terms of access to medical assistance in dying, and that there is an equality across the country.

They never did come back with an abortion bill; we've gone 27 years without one. But there is not that kind of equality that this issue should be getting, and so I believe it is necessary to have a bill.

The second point that I want to make is this discussion that has been going on here and in the media about the role of the elected chamber versus the unelected chamber, and our responsibilities as the Senate of Canada as an unelected chamber, I do subscribe to the belief that we should be a complementary chamber to the House of Commons; that we should provide sober second thought, but we should bear in mind the program on which the government was elected, their platform. We should bear in mind their responsibilities in financial matters, and we should be very careful about how we go about amending or rejecting bills that come to this chamber.

However, I believe very strongly that it is our duty to uphold the Constitution of this country and minority rights.

In the memo the Minister of Justice sent us the other day, she said that there is a lot of discussion about Carter, but it's not Carter that's important; it's the Charter. I agree, but in this case they are one and the same, because the Carter decision of the Supreme Court was based upon its view of whether that met the test of the Constitution.

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I'm convinced by the testimony of such people as Peter Hogg. I'm convinced by the decisions that were made in both the Alberta and the Ontario courts subsequent to the decision of the Supreme Court. I'm convinced by the comments. I think Senator Joyal, on two occasions, has quoted a member of the Supreme Court of Canada who said they were not dealing with terminal illness in this bill; they were looking at a broader context.

I know there are different opinions on this and I respect that, but I fully believe that the original bill does not meet the test of the Constitution. Therefore, I strongly support the amendment that was made. I believe it does bring it in accordance with that.

But I want to again make the point that when it comes to matters of the Constitution, it is our duty in this chamber to uphold the Constitution and minority rights. We're not here just to provide an opinion or observations, although in many cases that would be the most appropriate thing to do. We are here as legislators. We are part of the constitutional framework of legislation in this country, and we have to take our duty very seriously in this regard. That's why I intend to support Bill C-14 as amended.