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BCCLA 'disappointed' with Supreme Court ruling on assisted-dying case

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Summary

'With great respect to the Supreme Court, we're disappointed,' BC Civil Liberties Association says of SCC ruling

Supreme Court dismisses B.C. Civil Liberties Association's bid to fast-track suit challenging assisted dying legislation

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Canadians with serious but not terminal illnesses will have to wait even longer now to find out if they will win the right to assisted dying.

The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the B.C. Civil Liberties Association’s bid to fast-track a lawsuit challenging the federal assisted dying law.

Josh Paterson with the group says the ruling will add weeks or years to the lawsuit.

“A lot of the fundamental facts and findings that we won in the case haven’t changed, and we shouldn’t have to reprove the things that we just proved a few years ago. Having to go through all that would really take a lot of extra time, and during that time people will be suffering.”

The lawsuit argues Canada’s assisted dying law is too restrictive because it is only for individuals whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”

“With great respect to the Supreme Court, we’re disappointed,” Paterson added.

He claims the reason the group took its case to Canada’s highest court was because the federal government is “attempting to have a re-do of the evidence in the factual findings that they lost in the original assisted dying case.”

“We’ve got a new challenge to the law that they brought forward in 2016, and in that challenge, Canada — the federal government — really wants to have a second kick at the can to try again at what they lost,” Paterson said. “We didn’t think that they should be able to do that.”

“We shouldn’t have to re-prove the things that we just proved a few years ago.”

Despite the group’s efforts at speeding things up, the trial is still scheduled for next November.

While they weren’t able to move that date up, Paterson says the BC Civil Liberties Association is already preparing and will focus on “fighting that battle.”

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The BC Civil Liberties Association is spearheaded the lawsuit that challenges the federal law on assisted dying alongside Julia Lamb, who is wheelchair-bound and suffers from spinal muscular atrophy. Lamb worries her degenerative disease will eventually consign her to years of unbearable suffering, unable to use her hands, breathe without a ventilator or eat without a feeding tube.

Paterson says Canadians who are living with debilitating but not imminently life-threatening illnesses were “left out” of the new law, introduced three years ago.

“Those people, right now, are trapped. Despite having won the constitutional right to an assisted death, they’re unable to access it under the law. They are continuing in their suffering against their will.”

He adds the longer this legal fight goes on, the longer these people will be trapped “in that really torturous and intolerable suffering,” he says.

Next steps

Now, the Association’s focus is on recollecting the evidence needed to argue its case.

“We’re already well in the process of that,” Paterson explains. “While we’ve been waiting to hear from the Supreme Court, we’ve had to prepare for trial… We’re just going to have to go forward.”

The B.C. Supreme Court and Court of Appeal have both already ruled that the government should be given a second chance to argue the findings of fact.

The Association may still have the chance to argue that the federal government shouldn’t be given the benefit of a “second kick at the can,” Paterson adds, when the court date comes along.

“Our hope is also for other litigants. There will be other times where we, or other groups, or individuals succeed in striking down a piece of government legislation as unconstitutional. If the government then goes and brings some piece of legislation that doesn’t follow the court’s direction, we don’t want those folks in the future… to be faced with the same really difficult choice… to do it all over.”