Canadian Groups Granted Right to Fight Assisted Suicide in Court

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 13, 2012   |   12:00PM   |   Ottawa, Canada

Canadian groups have won the right to get involved in a court case in British Columbia as they attempt to prevent the case from promulgating assisted suicide in Canada.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) has been granted leave to appear before the British Columbia Court of Appeal as an intervener in the Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) case. The case is a challenge to Canada’s laws that prohibit assisting someone to commit suicide.

“The decision of Justice Lynn Smith of the British Columbia Supreme Court was stunning,” explains EFC  Vice-President and General Legal Counsel Don Hutchinson. “A lower court judge reversed the long-standing 1993 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Rodriguez v. British Columbia. Decisions that ignore the precedent established by Canada’s top court are highly debatable, both legally and in principle. They create confusion on settled points of law.”

“Additionally, the fact that over the last 20 years there have been nine private members’ bills voted down in the House Commons which sought to decriminalize euthanasia and assisted suicide did not seem to matter to Justice Smith,” continues Hutchinson. “The last attempt, in private member’s Bill C-384, was defeated on April 21, 2010 by a wide margin in a vote of 228-59. Are not elected representatives, who are accountable to the public, in a better place to determine these controversial issues? Particularly when the law in question has previously been found to be constitutionally acceptable by Canada’s highest court?”

On June 15, 2012, Justice Smith ruled that exceptions should be carved out of the existing Criminal Code provision that prevent euthanasia and assisted suicide, particularly section 241’s prohibition on counseling or assisting someone to commit suicide. The judge ruled, contrary to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Rodriguez and despite the demonstrated expressed will of Parliament, that the Code’s provisions violated equality rights and the rights to life, liberty and the security of the person.

The judge determined the existing provisions discriminated, in particular, against persons with physical disabilities who might be unable to commit suicide without assistance.  Accordingly, she concluded the state should be required to provide a means to assist those who want to commit suicide but are unable to do so.

“The EFC, whose arguments on the sanctity of human life were accepted by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Rodriguez case, will be providing the B.C.C.A. with updated arguments in support of that decision,” explains EFC Legal Counsel Faye Sonier. “Among other things, we will argue that consent can never justify intentional killing and that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms value of human dignity is informed by the sanctity of human life, which Justice Sopinka characterized in Rodriguez as ‘respect for the intrinsic value of human life’ which is a ‘generally held and deeply rooted belief in our society.’”

Meanwhile, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) and the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) were granted joint intervener standing by the BC Court of Appeal, in the Carter case.



“The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) and EPC-BC were also granted intervener standing, by the BC Court of Appeal in the Carter case, that will be heard by the BC Court of Appeal from March 4 – 8, 2013,” says Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

It is expected that the Carter case will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court of Canada.