For about nine years here on Canada’s West Coast, a constitutional battle has been fought over the future of public health care. The opening shots were fired in 2008 by some individual patients against a private surgery clinic, Cambie Surgeries Corporation (“Cambie”), claiming that Cambie was illegally extra-billing and that the Medical Services Commission (the “MSC”) was not properly enforcing the law. Cambie then responded by launching its own action in early 2009, challenging the constitutionality of provisions of the provincial Medicare Protection Act claiming that they caused undue delay in access to health care resulting in a violation of the patients’ rights to life, liberty and security of the person as guaranteed by s. 7 of the Charter (amongst other challenges). Since 2009, there have been over thirty reported decisions of the Supreme Court of British Columbia dealing with procedural issues. Over twenty of those reported decisions have been issued since the commencement of trial (I am sure that there are many more unreported decisions).
As 2016 fades into the distance, I thought that it might be useful to look back and see what were some of the biggest constitutional developments in the Old Year. There were many but I think that a few stand out for me. A number do not involve constitutional judicial determinations but they are major Canadian constitutional developments nonetheless.
This is just a quick post to note that Bill C-14 in the more restricted format passed by the House of Commons – for the second time – was just approved by the Senate by a 44 to 28 vote. Earlier, the Senate had returned the Bill to the House of Commons with a substantial majority of Senators agreeing that the House of Commons’ version was too restricted, especially considering the requirement that a person seeking medical assistance in dying (“MAID”) be at the point where his or her natural death was “reasonably foreseeable”. Constitutional experts had testified before the Senate to the effect that this version of the Bill was unconstitutional because it stripped away rights from a group of persons that the Supreme Court of Canada had expressly determined were theirs. So what next?
The extended deadline set by the Supreme Court of Canada in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2016 SCC 4 expired last night, June 6, 2016, at midnight. The constitutional exemption created by the Court in granting the extension to its original deadline of February 6, 2016, would have logically expired as well. So what is the state of the law today in Canada insofar as it relates to medical assistance in death?
In two separate decisions, the courts have made it clear that nothing in Carter v. Attorney General (Canada), 2015 SCC 5 requires that the person seeking medical assistance in dying be suffering from a terminal illness or condition. And yet the government persists in pursuing Bill C-14 with its requirement of “reasonable foreseeability” of death.
More than 14 months after the Supreme Court first held that the Criminal Code provisions forbidding physician-assisted death were unconstitutional in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5, and almost three months to the day from the date that the Supreme Court gave a four month extension to its suspension of the declaration of unconstitutionality (see Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2016 SCC 4), the Liberal government has introduced its legislative response with a bill, Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying).
On Wednesday, October 21, 2015, Chief Justice Hinkson of the British Columbia Supreme Court gave effect to the arguments of an association called Drug War Survivors (“DWS”) that the City of Abbotsford’s bylaws that forbade sleeping in the City’s parks or the temporary erection of shelters without permits to be contrary to s. 7’s protection of security of the person under the Charter and were therefore of no force or effect. In an 81 page reasons for judgment in Abbotsford (City) v. Shantz, 2015 BCSC 1909 that reviewed the evolving jurisprudence under s. 7 of the Charter and specifically previous British Columbian decisions respecting a similar challenge of the City of Victoria’s bylaws, Chief Justice Hinkson made it clear that, while there was not a positive obligation on the part of the municipality to provide shelter to its homeless population, so long as there was insufficient shelter available, the municipality could not prohibit the homeless from doing what they needed to do in order to ensure their own life, liberty and security of their persons.