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?
In a recent decision of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Ewert v. Canada (Attorney General), 2016 BCSC 962, Mr. Justice Blok certified as a class action certain aspects of a lawsuit brought by an inmate for, amongst other things, damages for violations of Charter rights. The inmate in question, Jeffery Ewert, claimed that, during a lockdown at the Kent Correctional Institution that occurred between January 7 and 18, 2010, his rights and the rights of other inmates under ss. 7, 8 and 12 of the Charter were violated and that they were accordingly entitled to damages.
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.
On Friday, Justice McDougall of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruled that Nova Scotia’s Cyber-Safety Act is unconstitutional, violating both s. 2(b) and s. 7 of the Charter. The Cyber-safety Act was passed in 2013 in response to the public outcry over the suicide death of a young woman, Rehtaeh Parsons, linked to her having been bullied on-line. In his 66 page judgment in Crouch v. Snell, 2015 NSSC 340, Justice McDougall held that the Nova Scotian legislature had gone too far in its attempt to address the dangers of cyberbullying.
In a decision made in late 2014, the Quebec Court of Appeal affirmed the legal profession’s unique role in undertaking constitutional challenges. In a unanimous decision (Vezina, Savard, and Vauclair JJA), the Court upheld Justice Roy’s decision to reject the Government of Canada’s application to strike the claim of the Barreau du Quebec for want of standing. The relatively short decision, Canada (Procureur general) v. Barreau du Quebec, 2014 QCCA 2234, was released on December 4, 2014 and was a judgment “par la Cour”.
Today, in its fifth decision of the year, the Supreme Court overturned yet another decades old precedent and found the Criminal Code provisions prohibiting physician-assisted death in end-of-life situations unconstitutional and contrary to s. 7 of the Charter. This is the third time this year that the Court has overturned one of its previous decisions on constitutional matters. In Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5, the Court spoke with one voice and in its own name (the headnote states that the precedent was “distinguished” but make no mistake, it no longer applies to these same statutory provisions against assisted death). No one justice was accredited with the authorship of the reasons.