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

‘Community is amazing’: Williams Lake woman organizes drive-by birthdays

With self-isolation the norm due to COVID-19 children are missing out

Much of the Cariboo under open fire ban due to COVID-19

‘No new fires may be initiated and no additional material may be added to existing fires’

‘Big appreciation sound-off’ planned to honour Williams Lake health care providers

The parade will begin at 7 p.m. going through the Cariboo Memorial Hospital parking lot

COVID-19: Triage tent going up outside of Cariboo Memorial Hospital

Patients will be met outside of the hospital

Interior Health officials outline pandemic response in virtual town hall

Kelowna-Lake County MLA Norm Letnick moderates digital discussion, Q&A with Interior Health leadership

B.C. is seeing the highest rate of COVID-19 recovery in Canada, and there’s a few reasons why

British Columbia was one of the first to see rise in COVID-19 cases, and has also switched up testing

Sewers stitch masks to free up supplies for front-line health-care workers

“We have little old ladies sewing up a storm,” said Joan Davis

Experts weigh in on best handling of groceries during COVID-19 pandemic

Study suggests the virus can live for up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic

COVID-19 world update: Enforceable quarantine in NYC?; France orders 1 billion masks

Spain warns EU’s future at stake; New York governor calls Trump’s idea ‘federal declaration of war

Earth Hour 2020 kicks off online Saturday night

Action moves online due to COVID-19

B.C. COVID-19 cases rise 92 to 884, one more death, 81 in care

Outbreak action underway in 12 long-term care homes

B.C. veterinarians want to smooth the fur of COVID-19-worried pet owners

Vets expect to continue giving your fur buddies the help they need while social distancing

B.C. VIEWS: Small businesses need our help

Just as integral in neighbourhoods in Vancouver and Surrey as they are in Prince George or Kelowna

‘Tremendous’ response from blood donors has supply keeping pace with demand

About 400,000 of Canada’s 37 million residents give blood on a regular basis

Most Read