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

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

Golden Rotary Club president Isabelle Simard presents a check in Invermere to the winner of Golden’s bingo. (Michele LaPointe photo)
Golden Bingo continues to grow; expands to other BC communities

The money is going back into the community through various Rotary projects

Calls for potential overdoses in B.C. spiked in 2020, especially in the Okanagan - Shuswap. Pictured above is a BCEHS re-enactment of paramedics attending an overdose. (BCHES)
Overdose calls spike in 2020 across the Okanagan – Shuswap

Stats show every major community in Okanagan - Shuswap increased in calls for potential overdoses

Amanda Parsons, a registered nurse on staff at the Northwood Care facility, administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine to Ann Hicks, 77, in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-Pool
61 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

Twenty-nine people are in hospital, seven of whom are in intensive care

Vacciniation is underway in Golden as of Friday, Jan. 15. (Federico Gambarini/dpa via AP)
Vaccination underway in Golden

Long-term care residents and staff have been prioritized, April is the goal for public vaccination

The BC SPCA is adapting its fundraising after cancelling events due to COVID-19 restrictions. (Twila Amato - Black Press Media)
BC SPCA gets creative with fundraising as pandemic continues

The non-profit’s in-person fundraising events all had to be cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions

Interior Health has declared the Cariboo Chilcotin a community cluster. (Angie Mindus photo)
Interior Health declares Cariboo Chilcotin region a COVID-19 cluster, 215 cases since Jan. 1

Most cases are related to transmission at social events and gatherings in Williams Lake

Vernon Fire Rescue Services responded to a single-vehicle rollover Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, after a vehicle came into contact with a pedestrian light pole at Kalamalka Lake Road and 14th Avenue. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Minor injuries in rollover after vehicle hits Vernon crosswalk pole

The vehicle flipped onto its side, closing Kalamalka Lake Road

Penticton city council heard from Dhorea Ramanula, of Paid Employment for People with Lived Experiences Tuesday, Jan. 19. Ramanula’s organization has operated public washrooms in Kelowna staffed by community support workers since April, she says Penticton could benefit from a similar facility. (Michael Rodriguez - Kelowna Capital News)
Penticton interested in new public washroom concept to combat vandalism

Public washrooms with on-site support staff have been operating in Kelowna since April

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Canada Post had remove a lot of letter boxes around Penticton after they were vandalized. This letter box at the United Church on Main St. remains unscathed. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Street mailbox vandals strike Penticton drop boxes

Canada Post had to remove a bunch of the vandalized units

Esa Carriere, 23, was the victim of a 2018 Canada Day homicide. (File)
Youth sentenced in Kelowna Canada Day killing

Young woman pleaded guilty to lesser assault charge, sentenced to 15-month intensive support and supervision program

A rendering of UBC’s planned downtown Kelowna campus. (Contributed)
Kelowna’s new downtown campus to help alleviate UBCO’s space crunch

The sizable development is anticipated to be completed by the fall 2024 semester

Most Read