Supreme Court upholds Canada’s right to reargue facts in assisted-dying case

Julia Lamb and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association are spearheading a challenge of the law

The Supreme Court of Canada has rejected a bid by a severely ill woman and a civil liberties group to speed up their lawsuit that argues the right to assisted dying is unfairly limited by federal government law.

Julia Lamb and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association are spearheading a challenge of the law that allows assisted dying only for individuals whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”

The plaintiffs asked a lower court to prevent Canada from relitigating facts already decided in the Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 case that overturned a ban on assisted dying.

They argued that granting their request would mean a quicker trial on their lawsuit and potentially bring relief sooner to suffering Canadians.

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled the government should be given a second chance to argue the findings of fact. The B.C. Court of Appeal declined to overturn the decision.

The country’s top court on Thursday declined to hear an appeal.

“We will vigorously fight this case at trial, but the result of today’s decision is that the federal government will have the opportunity to have a second kick at the can and relitigate lots of factual questions that they already lost in the (2015) case,” Josh Paterson, executive director of the civil liberties group, said in a statement.

“We are disappointed that the court has decided not to hear our appeal, which might have stopped the government from having a virtual do-over on the evidence from the earlier assisted dying case.”

The trial is expected to take place next November.

READ MORE: Death is a medical choice, but not for everyone

READ MORE: Number of medically assisted deaths in B.C. rise in first half of 2017

The federal government has asserted that new arguments are required because the latest case involves different plaintiffs, a different legal regime and a different set of issues compared with 2015.

The 2015 Supreme Court ruling directed that medical assistance in dying should be available to consenting, competent adults with “grievous and irremediable” medical conditions that are causing enduring suffering that they find intolerable.

The civil liberties association, which also led the original court challenge, filed its latest lawsuit within days of the federal law being enacted in June 2016.

The group contends that the law violates the charter by excluding individuals who could live for years with medical conditions that cause intolerable suffering

Lamb, 26, has spinal muscular atrophy, a degenerative disease she worries will lead to years of unbearable suffering by robbing her of the use of her hands and forcing her to use a ventilator to breathe and a feeding tube to eat.

She was not available for comment on Thursday.

Shanaaz Gokool, CEO of Dying With Dignity Canada, said her organization was disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision. She said the court’s 2015 ruling gave hope to people who are suffering.

“Unfortunately, for people who are currently outside of the legislation — which is far narrower, much more restrictive, and we believe unconstitutional — they don’t have that hope. They don’t have that comfort,” she said.

People are still going to Switzerland to seek assisted death or are considering options to kill themselves, Gokool said.

For some, simply knowing they qualify for assisted dying gives them the hope they need to live for one more summer or to make it to a child’s wedding, Gokool added.

“Some people don’t have the option. They could be giving up good, quality life, but they just don’t see any other way forward. It’s devastating for people in these situations.”

A second woman who was also included as a plaintiff along with Lamb has since died.

Robyn Moro, 68, suffered from Parkinson’s disease but was initially denied medical help in dying because her natural death was not considered reasonably foreseeable. She ended her life with the help of a doctor in 2017 following an Ontario Superior Court ruling that clarified how imminent a natural death had to be to qualify for assisted dying.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Planning a birthday party in the middle of a worldwide pandemic must be done with great care and love. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)
Sarah Simpson Column: Birthdays in the time of COVID-19

It was a couple of weekends ago, now, that I had the… Continue reading

Daylight Saving Time officially ends at 2 a.m. Sunday when it’s time to turn the clocks back one hour.
Time for a change

Put your clocks back one hour before going to bed Saturday night

Cowichan’s Nicole Pugh collects the ball deep in the Gorge end during her team’s season opener at the Sherman Road turf last Friday. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Cowichan United runs with the big guns

Women’s soccer team holds its own against defending Div. 1 champs

Tim Gosley will be passing on some of his puppetry wisdom with a talk and workshop in Duncan in November. (Submitted)
CVAC ready to play next month in Duncan

Puppetry, Lego, basketry and more

Police service dog Herc helped RCMP locate and arrest suspects in the Ladysmith area on Oct. 23, 2020, related to a stolen vehicle. (Submitted)
RCMP nab prolific property offender in Ladysmith with assist from police dog Herc

Police attempted to stop the vehicle but it fled from the area towards Chemainus.

Over the years, Janice Blackie-Goodine’s home in Summerland has featured elaborate Halloween displays and decorations each October. (File photo)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about Halloween?

Oct. 31 is a night of frights. How much do you know about Halloween customs and traditions?

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 1987 file photo, actor Sean Connery holds a rose in his hand as he talks about his new movie “The Name of the Rose” at a news conference in London. Scottish actor Sean Connery, considered by many to have been the best James Bond, has died aged 90, according to an announcement from his family. (AP Photo/Gerald Penny, File)
Actor Sean Connery, the ‘original’ James Bond, dies at 90

Oscar-winner was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Most Read