OTTAWA — The Senate has sent the federal government’s controversial bill on assisted dying back to the House of Commons with a major amendment that guts the central premise of the proposed law: that only those who are near death should qualify for medical help to end their lives.
The bill, as amended over the past week of lengthy debate in the upper house, passed Wednesday by a vote of 64-12 with one abstention.
Senators agreed to seven amendments, the most significant being deletion of the near-death proviso.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould participates in a committee of the whole in the Senate, Wednesday June 1, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
That amendment replaces the bill’s restrictive eligibility criteria with the more permissive parameters spelled out last year in the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling, which struck down the ban on medical assistance in dying.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has signalled that the government will not accept the change.
And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is telling Liberal MPs he expects the appointed Senate to eventually back down on the issue and bow to the will of the elected Commons.
A message will now be sent to the Commons informing MPs of the changes senators have made. The government will then introduce a motion accepting or rejecting some or all of the changes, which must be debated and put to a vote in the Commons.
Trudeau reassures Grit MPs
The Commons will then send a message back to the Senate, informing senators of the amendments that have been accepted or rejected.
Senators will then have to decide whether to "insist" upon the rejected changes or accept the will of the elected chamber — a question that has already divided senators.
Liberal backbenchers privately say Trudeau made it clear during their weekly caucus meeting Wednesday that the government won't accept the amendment to delete the near-death proviso. Moreover, he told MPs it would be "appropriate" for the Senate to defer to the judgment of the elected house of Parliament on the matter.
'Constructive parliamentary process'
Backbenchers were also told the government hopes the back-and-forth procedure between chambers can be wrapped up and the bill formally adopted as early as Tuesday.
Government House leader Dominic LeBlanc said it's hard to predict the timing of the next steps with any certainty. But he praised the Senate, which Trudeau is trying to reform into a more independent, less partisan chamber of sober second thought, for its handling of the assisted dying bill.
"Whatever ultimately the House of Commons decides to do in terms of a response ... the government believes that the Senate has significantly enriched the public debate on these issues, public consciousness on these issues," LeBlanc said after a cabinet meeting.
"We see this as a very constructive parliamentary process."
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