VANCOUVER - The federal and provincial governments have been ordered to pay about $1 million in legal costs to the B.C. lawyers who won a constitutional challenge of Canada's ban on doctor-assisted suicide.
The right-to-die case in B.C. Supreme Court included West Kelowna resident Gloria Taylor, who suffered from ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, and had planned to seek an assisted suicide before she died of an infection last month.
The lawyers for Taylor provided their time for free, but then asked the court to award special costs for their legal bills because of the significance of the case.
David Eby of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which championed the case, told the court it was the most expensive piece of litigation the association had ever undertaken, and the costs were much higher than expected.
In a judgment released Friday, Justice Lynn Smith — who made the ruling in the assisted-suicide case in June — agreed that the lawyers who brought the challenge should be awarded special costs because of the significance of the legal action.
"The issues in this litigation are both complex and momentous," Smith said. "They affect life and death, and the quality of life of people who are ill and dying. The resolution of these issues — indeed, whatever the outcome on final appeal — will affect many people and will also have an impact on the development of fundamental principles of Canadian law."
"Many Canadians are affected by the legislation. The fact that Ms. Taylor was personally affected ... means that she had a personal interest; it does not mean that the issues were personal to her alone," Smith said.
She ruled the federal government should pay 90 per cent of the legal bills and the provincial government 10 per cent.
The federal government is appealing the B.C. Supreme Court's decision, which ruled it is unconstitutional to prevent the sick and dying from asking a doctor to help them end their lives.
Smith's decision gave the government a year to revise legislation in order to allow people to seek a doctor-assisted suicide.
In court documents released last week outlining the appeal, the federal government said legalizing doctor-assisted suicide would demean the value of life and could lead vulnerable people to take drastic steps in moments of weakness.
The appeal is scheduled to be heard next March.