POLITICS

Peter MacKay: Overriding Top Court's Assisted-Death Ruling Like 'Nuclear Bomb'

02/11/2015 03:35 EST | Updated 04/13/2015 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - Personal circumstances colour individual views on whether people should have a legal right to a doctor-assisted death, and that deeply emotional dilemma could swing voter loyalty during the next election, says the federal justice minister.

In the few days since a landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling, Minister Peter MacKay has read the decision several times that quashes a long-standing criminal ban against doctor-assisted suicide.

The minister didn't state his own feelings on Wednesday, but after noting he sees "new elements" with every reading, he strengthened his opposition to one of three possibilities for responding to the decision.

"Or, you can use the legal equivalent of a nuclear bomb, which is to come in and overrule the Supreme Court of Canada," he told reporters at an unrelated funding announcement in Vancouver.

He was referring to the notwithstanding clause, which is a section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that gives Parliament the power to override the high court's verdict.

"The federal government has never done that and I would suggest to you that it's very unlikely in this case."

Left on the table are the options of letting the law lapse entirely, or crafting a replacement. The court endorsed the Parliamentary route. The government has already undertaken to consult a range of affected groups, MacKay said.

He noted the court provided a calendar year to deliver its answer, but said the government will be taking "the time we need" after describing it as an important and far-reaching issue for Canadians.

He acknowledged the decision's timing ahead of a federal election expected in October and said input from a broad array of people will help inform and instruct the government's path forward.

"How it will impact or how it might impact on an election I suppose depends on what happens between now and October, if anything, and how people view this as moving their vote."

Consultations have already begun, he said, listing medical and mental health professionals, disabled communities and religious groups as interested parties.

The government is currently "looking at" a private members' bill introduced by Winnipeg-area Conservative MP Steven Fletcher, who is quadriplegic as a result of a car accident in his youth, as well as other approaches, MacKay said.

"He has very different views on this issue than other members of the caucus — because of his personal experience — which I respect and I've spoken to him about."

While it's difficult for him to gauge how the question will be reflected at the ballot box, said MacKay, the issue has been divisive for many across the political spectrum.

"I don't think there's any one political party that really owns this issue in any way, shape or form."

The Supreme Court's ruling specifically strikes the ban against doctors helping mentally sound patients who are experiencing enduring and intolerable suffering to end their lives.

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