Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons, in Ottawa, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. For the third time, the federal government is asking a Quebec court for more time to revamp Canada's assisted-dying law. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Feds asking court for third extension to deal with revamped assisted-dying regime

Feds asking court for third extension to deal with revamped assisted-dying regime

OTTAWA — For the third time, the federal government is asking a Quebec court for more time to revamp Canada’s assisted-dying law.

The request for an extension — to Feb. 26 — came Friday after the Conservatives held up passage of Bill C-7 for two weeks in the House of Commons.

The bill finally passed Thursday but that leaves the Senate just one week to deal with it before the current court-ordered deadline of Dec. 18.

In a series of tweets Friday, Justice Minister David Lametti said he’s still hopeful the Senate can pass the bill by Dec. 18.

But just in case it can’t, he said it’s “prudent” to seek another extension.

The bill is intended to bring the law into compliance with a September 2019 court ruling that struck down a provision in the law that allows medically assisted dying only for those whose natural deaths are reasonably foreseeable.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin initially gave the government six months to comply but subsequently agreed to two extensions, given the disruptions to Parliament caused by last fall’s election and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Liberals introduced a bill to revise the rules in February but it stalled amid the pandemic and then vaporized when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament in August. They started legislative work on the new version in October.

In urging the Conservatives to stop their filibuster of the bill, Lametti warned earlier this week that there is no guarantee the court would agree to a third extension.

“We should have never had to do this,” he tweeted Friday after announcing he’d filed a motion seeking a third extension.

“But the Conservatives’ tactics have put Canadians in a potentially precarious situation. If nothing has changed by the 18th, there will be no adequate safeguards and supports in Quebec for those whose death is not reasonably foreseeable.

“We know that Canadians, especially those who are suffering intolerably, are anxious to see these amendments come into effect. We will continue to do everything in our power to see them passed.”

The bill would scrap the near-death requirement for receiving an assisted death but would set up two tracks for eligibility: one with more relaxed rules for people who are near death and another with more stringent conditions for those who are not.

On Friday after the Commons approved the bill, Lametti said he was “very worried” that it could face the same delaying tactics by some Conservatives in the Senate.

Sen. Marc Gold, the government’s representative in the Senate, said Friday he remains focused on working with the various Senate groups to get the bill through the upper house in a “compressed timeframe” while the court considers the request for another extension.

“Given the delays caused by excessive partisanship in the House of Commons, seeking an extension at this stage is the responsible course of action for the Government,” Gold said in a statement.

“Similarly, moving forward swiftly and without delay to meet the current deadline is the responsible course of action for the Senate.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 11, 2020.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

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