Liberal MP David Lametti arrives for the cabinet swearing-in ceremony in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Federal justice minister looks to larger reforms on doctor-assisted death

The Quebec Superior Court gave Ottawa just six months — until March 2020 — to amend the law

Justice Minister David Lametti is being asked to move quickly to respond to a recent court ruling on doctor-assisted death, but he says the Liberal government is open to reforming the existing law in an even bigger way than the judge ordered.

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave the justice minister his new mandate letter, which includes marching orders on everything from a promised ban on “conversion therapy” for LGBT people to ensuring judges have mandatory training in sexual assault law.

Trudeau also wants Lametti to work with the federal health minister to deal with a September court decision that ruled part of Canada’s existing law doctor-assisted death is unconstitutional because it only allows people who are near death to qualify for medical help to end their suffering.

The Quebec Superior Court gave Ottawa just six months — until March 2020 — to amend the law, but Ottawa could seek an extension.

In a recent interview with The Canadian Press, Lametti said the Liberal government is still working to meet that deadline, although he acknowledged the timing of the court ruling, which came on the first day of the federal election campaign, presents some challenges.

At the same time, Lametti said he is looking ahead to June 2020, which is when the Liberal government begins a mandatory review of the current regime for doctor-assisted death, which came into force in June 2016.

“That particular piece of reform was supposed to look at some of the very big issues that were left on the table the last time around: advanced directives, mature minors, mental illness,” Lametti said Wednesday.

“These are all profoundly difficult issues. Remember, we’re always talking about people when we’re talking about medical assistance in dying. We’re talking about people — we’re talking about families — at a very difficult time in their lives and we’re often talking about people in pain,” he said.

READ MORE: Chilliwack woman wins right to medically assisted death after three-year court battle

“And so we have to move expeditiously and compassionately.”

Lametti suggested the Liberal government might consider some of these larger reforms as part of its response to the Quebec Superior Court ruling.

“We need to frame a process that allows us to correct that,” Lametti said of the ruling. “In the meantime, we’ll begin looking to see if there are any other issues where there is a societal consensus that might be quickly incorporated into the current reform based on (the court ruling).”

If not, Lametti said, then the Liberal government would look to those other subjects in the reform process that gets underway next June.

The mandate letter says Trudeau wants Lametti and Patty Hajdu, the health minister, to “lead an immediate and inclusive process,” which includes working with the provinces and territories on the issue.

Lametti was one of just four Liberal MPs who voted against the Trudeau government’s 2016 legislation that legalized medical assistance in dying, arguing at the time the law was too restrictive and did not meet eligibility criteria set out by the Supreme Court.

“You all know how I voted, and I voted on very principled reasons,” Lametti said when asked whether he would have brought in a less restrictive version of the law had it been him, and not Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was justice minister at the time.

“I think what’s important is that I now have an opportunity to help the evolution of this particular process,” he said.

“And really, what has motivated me all along was allowing people to make choices to minimize their suffering. “We are here to serve people.”

Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 20 to 26

Rabbit Day, Hobbit Day and One-Hit Wonder Day are all coming up this week

COVID-19: Northern Health assuring public it has declared no public exposure events or outbreaks

As of Sept. 17, there are 241 cases in the Northern Health Authority region

Single-engine aircraft crashes near Telkwa

Two occupants of the plane sustained minor injuries and were transported to hospital

Cullen announces bid for provincial NDP nomination for Stikine riding

Current MLA Donaldson not seeking re-election

Anne Marie Sam seeks NDP nomination for Nechako Lakes riding

She also ran in 2017 but was defeated by BC Liberal John Rustad

B.C. or Ontario? Residential school survivors fight move of court battle

It’s now up to Ontario’s Court of Appeal to sort out the venue question

B.C. transportation minister will not seek re-election

Claire Trevena has held the position since 2017

Young B.C. cancer survivor rides 105-km with Terry Fox’s brother

Jacob Bredenhof and Darrell Fox’s cycling trek raises almost $90,000 for cancer research

B.C. migrant, undocumented workers rally for permanent residency program

Rally is part of the Amnesty for Undocumented Workers Campaign led by the Migrant Workers Centre

Preparations underway for pandemic election in Saskatchewan and maybe B.C.

Administrators in B.C. and around the country are also looking to expand voting by mail during the pandemic

Nearly 20 per cent of COVID-19 infections among health-care workers by late July

WHO acknowledged the possibility that COVID-19 might be spread in the air under certain conditions

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

Most Read