OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed optimism till the final hours, but there is now no way the government can enact doctor-assisted dying legislation before the Supreme Court of Canada's deadline on Monday.
Senators gave the controversial legislation, known as Bill C-14, second reading and approval in principle on Friday and sent it to the Senate committee on legal and constitutional affairs.
However, after the vote, the upper chamber adjourned until Tuesday — the day after the deadline.
Sen. Peter Harder, the government's representative in the Senate, said he had always described the Monday deadline as ambitious and dismissed any notion senators had not worked as quickly as they could — sitting late into the night and starting earlier than usual the next morning — given how late they received it.
"I think any objective observer would say the Senate is being both deliberate and expeditious," Harder said Friday.
Still, only a short while earlier, Trudeau had said he still hoped the bill would make it through in time.
"We've been very clear that it is our hope that by June 6 the government legislation on a framework for assisted dying will be in place," Trudeau said Friday in Winnipeg.
The Supreme Court delivered a landmark ruling in February 2015 that lifted the ban on physician-assisted death and gave Parliament a one-year window to enact legislation.
With the deadline approaching after the Liberals came to power, the court granted the new government a four-month extension.
Medical regulators in every province have already issued guidelines for physicians on providing assistance in dying.
Those rules impose safeguards similar to — and in some cases, even stronger than — those proposed in C-14.
Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould and Health Minister Jane Philpott issued a joint statement Friday urging the Senate to act quickly, saying there will be a "legal vacuum" once the deadline passes.
"While provincial regulatory bodies will provide guidance to physicians, there will be significant variability across provinces and territories," they said in the emailed statement.
"There will also be inadequate support and protection for health-care providers, including nurses and pharmacists. We trust that the Senate will swiftly, yet carefully, consider Bill C-14, while keeping in mind that Canadians, particularly those that are most vulnerable, need a legal framework in place as soon as possible."
Dr. Jeff Blackmer of the Canadian Medical Association also said the guidelines do not provide enough clarity.
"We are being asked to put our patients to death," said Blackmer, the vice-president of medical professionalism for the association.
"It's that simple and to be asked to do so without clear legal protections, for most physicians, is simply a bridge too far and I think most people would understand that," he said.
But Shanaaz Gokool, CEO of the advocacy group Dying with Dignity Canada, said there was always bound to be some trepidation in the early days.
"Some doctors will feel more comfortable and others will take some time to come on board, but for the doctors who are able to go ahead, they do have guidelines from their colleges, including pharmacology guidelines," said Gokool.
Conservative MP Michael Cooper said the government should have asked the Supreme Court for another short extension.
"It was preventable," he said.
NDP MP Murray Rankin said he always believed the government was exaggerating the urgency of meeting the deadline in order to push C-14 through the House of Commons.
"It's more important to get it right than get it done right now and I believe that the Senate is taking that to heart," he said.
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