2nd Session, 43rd Parliament
Volume 152, Issue 30
Monday, March 15, 2021
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker
Bill to Amend—Message from Commons—Motion for Non-Insistence Upon Senate Amendments and Concurrence in Commons Amendments—Debate Adjourned
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-7 and the message received from the House of Commons.
Senators, during COVID times we are all working under very difficult circumstances, especially our staff and the Senate staff who are working under even tougher conditions.
The Legal Committee was formed on November 18, 2020, and on November 19 I received a call from the leader of the Senate, Senator Gold, that the leaders had agreed that the Legal Committee could start a pre-study of Bill C-7 on November 23, a few days later. This was a very short timeline.
Today I want to acknowledge the support that Blair Armitage, Clerk Assistant, Committees, and Shaila Anwar, Principal Clerk, Committees, gave to our committee. They put together all the staff and the resources that they could for us to carry out our work, and I thank them for that.
The clerk of the committee, Mark Palmer, did a yeoman’s job of organizing 81 witnesses with a few days’ notice to be heard in five days.
Later, on February 1, 2 and 3, we heard from 66 witnesses.
I would like to acknowledge the hard work of our clerk, Mark Palmer, whose dedication and commitment were crucial as he successfully managed our work. I would also like to thank our clerks and administrative staff, this team of hardworking devoted members who worked silently behind the scenes to facilitate our work. We could not have done our work without the continual assistance of Joëlle Nadeau, Evelyne Cote, Maritza Jean-Pierre, Lori Meldrum, Debbie Larocque, Brigitte Martineau and Elda Donnelly.
I also want to thank Heather Lank, Parliamentary Librarian, and her staff for giving us tremendous support.
We had two amazing analysts, Julian Walker and Michaela Keenan-Pelletier, who produced not one but two reports besides supporting us on the study of Bill C-7. Our analysts prepared two reports capturing everything we heard during the sessions and assisted us with the background analysis and ideas to help us navigate this critical and sensitive legislation.
Many others have helped, and I sincerely apologize if I have missed anyone, and I express my absolute gratitude.
Senators, I want to thank the interpreters in particular. This was a very difficult study for us. Imagine how much harder it was for the interpreters. And not only that, but we, as you know, senators, made available many witnesses who had challenges. When some witnesses showed up to testify, there were challenges. It is amazing how the interpreters would not let them leave. They worked hard with them so we senators could hear from all witnesses who wanted to testify. I have really learned a very important lesson: Our interpreters are exceptional, and COVID is making it very difficult, but they continue to work with us. I thank them for that.
I also want to thank the members of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs steering committee — Senator Batters, Senator Campbell and Senator Dalphond — for tirelessly working on this bill, dealing with a very heavy schedule during the limiting circumstances of a pandemic lockdown and trying to meet a tough deadline. Thank you, honourable senators.
A big thank you goes to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee members and all senators for diligently studying this bill.
I also want to thank the sponsor of the bill, Senator Petitclerc, and the critic, Senator Carignan.
Senators, thank you for all the support you gave to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. I believe that these are tough issues in front of us, and we have all worked in the best way we can to serve Canadians because we know what this bill is about. It is about suffering and about death.
In her letter to us, which we all received, Janet Hopkins asked: “What is considered an acceptable amount of suffering?”
Immediately, the words of Jason LeBlanc came to mind. Mr. LeBlanc is a caretaker of his common-law partner who is a MAID applicant. At the hearings, he said that:
This . . . decision . . . is not made by your doctor, your caregiver, your family or your government. The concept of assisted death is about Canadians being able to grant themselves an end to suffering that they deem to be intolerable.
We all know, senators, that MAID is a complicated topic with very real consequences on the lives of the most vulnerable Canadians. It intersects with health care, palliative care, mental illness, systemic racism, access to social services and, most of all, the right of a person to take ownership of how they live and how they die.
As Ms. Hopkins told us: “It’s not that we want to die, it is that the pain has taken away the will to live.”
Bearing such pain in mind directed our committee study on Bill C-7. We heard from witnesses who were affected Canadians, leading university professors, medical practitioners, psychiatrists, legal experts and non-governmental agencies. In February, as I’ve already said, we heard from another 66 witnesses and received tens of thousands of submissions. With the help of our analysts, the committee produced two reports over the course of our studies.
In our studies, senators, we realized that one aspect that was overlooked in the bill might affect racialized Canadians. Sarah Jama, in her strong testimony at the committee, told us: “These priorities do not line up with the realities of classism, racism and ableism in our country.”
Ms. Jama was justified in assuming this as we came to learn when we received the government’s Gender-based Analysis Plus. The GBA+ should include a race-based analysis but, unfortunately, this GBA did not. The reason was, as Justice Minister Lametti explained, that there was not sufficient disaggregated data.
I have to admit that I was left wondering how legislators and parliamentarians are supposed to take informed decisions and ensure that correct, meaningful policies are put in place without any data. How are we to solve our problems and prevent them from festering without any information? So I moved an amendment to include the collection of race-based data.
Honourable senators, I want to thank the minister for supporting my amendment and echoing our call for systemic collection and analysis of data on the race of all people who request and receive MAID.
Many of you know that I was very hesitant to expand the amendment. We had many discussions about this because I was worried that if I added any other group this amendment would fail. So I did not want to expand the amendment beyond the collection of race-based data as I was not sure that the government would accept it. That said, I was extremely overjoyed that the government, and especially Minister Lametti, took the important next step and made this amendment richer by adding the data collection respecting Indigenous identity and disability of all people who request and receive MAID.
I commend the statement by Minister Lametti’s Parliamentary Secretary in his speech announcing the government’s expansion of my amendment. In it, he explains the inclusion of Indigenous identity and disability as well as race:
This, of course, is important, especially and specifically as we broaden the MAID regime to circumstances where death is not reasonably foreseeable, in response to the Truchon decision, which creates the real possibility that people will seek and obtain MAID because of vulnerabilities in their lives as opposed to their health conditions. I am grateful to the Senate for proposing this important legislative change.
This amendment to Bill C-7 ensures the race, Indigenous identity and disability data collection of all people who request and receive MAID. In doing so, it also ensures that all parliamentarians know exactly who is being impacted by the expansion of the MAID regime.
Honourable senators, I have to share something with you. When I moved this amendment, I did not think that this amendment would pass, but the tremendous support that I have received from all of you — and I mean all of you — has truly humbled me. I feel that we are one body that truly looks after the most vulnerable. I salute you and I thank you. I very much appreciate the support you gave. Thank you very much.