Presentation to Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying)

Speaking Notes

Marie-Claude Landry, Ad. E.
Chief Commissioner
Canadian Human Rights Commission

Presentation to Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on 
Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying)

Monday, February 1, 2021 

Ottawa Ontario 

2:00 p.m.  

7 min

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Good afternoon Senators, hello everyone. 

Thank you for inviting the Canadian Human Rights Commission to participate in this discussion today on Bill C-7. I am joined by my colleagues, Sheila Osborne-Brown, Acting General Counsel and Director of Legal Services, and Marcella Daye, Senior Policy Advisor.   

And before I continue, I would like to acknowledge that I am joining you from the traditional and unceded territory of the Abenaki people and the Wabenaki confederacy. Since we are all joining this discussion from various locations, I would like to honour all the traditional territories being represented here.

As Canada’s national human rights institution and as a body designated with responsibility for monitoring the Government of Canada’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, we are here today to lend our human rights expertise to your consideration of this Bill.  

Specifically, we have three main points to share, all with the ultimate goal of improving the Bill and promoting substantive equality in Canada.   

So to my first point… 

Our concern is that – especially in the absence of an end-of-life requirement – people with disabilities – who too often do not have access to adequate medical and community supports – might choose Medical Assistance in Dying more often, simply because it is easier to access.   

This is not a meaningful choice. And it may not be a truly voluntary one. 

And it may happen more often than we can know in Canada. 

This may serve to further entrench the stigma, ableism, and systemic inequality that already affect people with disabilities. 

Canada must therefore ensure that the choice to request and receive Medical Assistance in Dying is meaningful and truly voluntary.

Accessing Medical Assistance in Dying should not result from the existence of systemic inequality, which affects far too many people with disabilities in Canada, nor should it be a default for a state’s failure to fulfill its human rights obligations under the UN CRPD, the Charter, or human rights codes.

These concerns have been voiced by UN experts, by rights holders themselves, and by organizations that advocate on their behalf.

These warnings should be heard and addressed in Bill C-7.  

Which leads me to my next point.   

This Bill needs to ensure that a comprehensive system will be in place to better reveal who is asking for and receiving Medical Assistance in Dying, and why.   

This monitoring and reporting system must be built using a human rights  based approach.  

This means:

  • It must be shaped by the meaningful input of diverse people with disabilities.  
  • It must gather both quantitative data and qualitative input, and explicitly value lived-experiences.   
  • It must reveal the complex socioeconomic and cultural factors – the social  determinants of health, for example – that bring individuals to request Medical Assistance in Dying and that bring practitioners to provide it.  
  • It must gather disaggregated data in order to reveal unique impacts on particular populations who experience intersecting inequalities. 
  • And it must use this data to assess how the implementation of Medical Assistance in Dying is affecting rights under the UN CRPD, the Charter, and human rights codes in Canada, and how it is measured against social-determinants of health.

That brings me to my final message today: we urge this Committee to take the time to put people with disabilities, especially those who experience multiple and intersecting discrimination, at the centre of your consideration of this Bill. 

This should include women, Indigenous peoples, prisoners, LGBTQ2SI and racialized people with disabilities – and importantly, those with disabilities living in poverty.

Ensuring meaningful participation is fundamental to Canada’s obligations to promote, protect and fulfill human rights, including those in the UN CRPD.

Thank you. And just before we take your questions, I’d like to mention our 2019 joint  report with the Correctional Investigator of Canada, entitled: Aging and Dying in Prison. It provides recommendations regarding older prisoners dying with dignity. We invite you to take it into consideration during your study. 

Thank you again.