Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: I rise tonight to support Bill C-14 as amended. First of all, I would like to make some general comments.
Over the last two weeks the debate in the chamber has been extremely intense, most respectful and has involved everybody in the chamber, either those who have gotten up to speak to the bill, asked questions or sat here listening intently to inform their thinking and decision making.
Prior to this, I haven't noticed the intense concentration I have seen on the faces of honourable senators on both sides of the chamber over the last couple of weeks. I would like to mention that when the bells were ringing and we had 15 minutes before we had to come back to do our standing votes, I noticed that a lot of us were getting together, regardless of party or non-party affiliation.
We were discussing, at the very last moments, our questions and our quandaries. In fact, some of those conversations were most helpful, because people were not afraid to put on the record the fears they might have. Sometimes you don't want to put on the record something where you may not look particularly intelligent, but you want to pose the question anyway. We were allowed to do that, and I thought that was very helpful.
Everybody seemed to be more open and thoughtful as we struggled to look at this bill and to come to a solution that we thought was the bill that was best for all Canadians. I've heard many of my colleagues tonight get up and talk about that struggle that we've had.
For the new senators, it certainly must be a very steep and unnerving learning curve to deal with a bill of such incredible importance. I recall when I first came to the Senate 11 years ago and was sitting as an independent, one of the first issues I had to deal with was the Chalk River nuclear reactor.
We sat as a Committee of the Whole to decide whether we should shut it down because it is getting old and no longer safe, but if we shut it down, there would no longer be medical isotopes, and patients' lives would be put at risk. That was also a very intense and unnerving situation. We voted to keep it going. So far, there have been no accidents. That was 10 or 11 years ago.
I commend all the independents. You have risen to the challenge so quickly and have spoken eloquently, deeply, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually as to the importance of this bill.
I would also like to commend Senator Joyal for bringing forward the amendment to which many of us have spoken at this stage in the debate, and to Senator Baker.
I believe in my heart of hearts that that was the amendment that had to go into the bill. Many others have spoken about how it created two classes of people with the same disease. Many people have spoken about how it was cruel to let some people suffer grievous, intolerable and intense pain, and to prolong their suffering when we could be compassionate and allow them the choice that if they did so under their voluntary request and with informed consent with the right condition, they could have the choice as to when they end their life.
I feel very comfortable with that amendment and, of course, voted for it at the time.
The minister has stated publicly that she is opposed to that amendment and believes that she and her advisers had come to the perfect balance. It will be very interesting to see what happens when the bill, as amended, does go back to the other place.
The minister and all of us were seized with finding the proper balance of protecting the vulnerable and also allowing people the choice to, if they believe so, have the freedom to choose when to die under the eligible circumstances.
I was particularly struck with Senator Petitclerc's description of protecting the vulnerable. There is a fine line between protecting the vulnerable but also patronizing the vulnerable, because they also are competent people and should be able to have some freedom in deciding what their future should be.
I believe that although we opened up the bill somewhat by putting in Senator Joyal's amendment, we didn't open it up completely because we chose not to add advance requests. So it's not completely wide open. It has opened the door but not as wide as it could have been.
We have also improved the safeguards in the bill. I believe it was Senator Plett's amendment that said that we will not allow people who are beneficiaries in the patient's will to be allowed to assist that person in their assisted death, so there could be no conflict of interest or financial gain. I think that is an improvement in the bill.
We also put in Senator Eaton's amendment that the patient should be required to be informed about their palliative care options and have a palliative care consultation, letting them know there are options other than ending their life.
We also strengthened the language on regulations and put in a deadline.
Finally, in the ongoing studies that the government will be doing to look at the safeguards and to see how the bill is operating, we also put a deadline in there as well. As we all know, when you have a deadline to work to, the work gets done much more quickly and efficiently than if you don't have a deadline.
Those are some of my general comments on the bill.
I would also like to reinforce the idea that it is not just about the constitutionality. That's a very important part of the bill. I particularly like Senator Ngo's comment this evening that our Constitution is what binds us all together. I thought that was such a beautiful phrase.
We are a nation composed of people from many different areas of the country, but it is the Canadian Constitution, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that binds us together as Canadians. As senators, we have an obligation to hold that to the highest standard and to the highest bar, as Senator Baker said. I feel that we are doing that, holding our decisions to that high bar.
We are showing compassion, as was mentioned earlier tonight by many senators, including Senator Tardif. Senator Jaffer gave us some quite stark examples, as well as Senator Pratte and Senator Maltais, urging us that we are being compassionate by allowing an assisted death to those patients where their natural death is not reasonably foreseeable.
I will conclude with something that is a little more difficult to talk about — and I thank my friend and colleague Senator Sandra Lovelace Nicholas — the issue of suicide. It is very difficult to talk to because there are so many conflicting thoughts in my head and my heart.
I did hear from a number of senators that life is sacred. I also believe that life is sacred. In the Aboriginal culture, the limited teachings I have also say that life is sacred. Senator Sinclair and Senator Sibbeston spoke to this.
Senator Sibbeston gave us some examples where there can be a suicide of an elder, but it was with the agreement of the whole community. There was community involvement.
In my teachings, I have been told that at times when our people were living a traditional lifestyle, when there weren't enough buffalo or enough berries and people were starving, the elders would choose to not eat. They would choose to die. They would essentially choose to commit suicide so that the youth could live. They were making a choice to sacrifice themselves so that the youth could live.
Today, unfortunately, we have an epidemic of suicide amongst the Aboriginal youth of Canada, up in the North particularly, where Senator Patterson is from, but also in northern Saskatchewan, northern Manitoba and other isolated areas of the country. Aboriginal youth are committing suicide.
I personally do not believe that this bill says it's okay for them to commit suicide. The reasons they are committing suicide are very different from the issues we are talking about here.
They are committing suicide because, in many cases, their whole community has suffered because of what happened to them during the residential school era. In their communities, and in many families, there are severe drug and alcohol addictions. So the community is not healthy, not functioning, and the youth do not see much hope or future.
But I think if we continue to see our youth in that fashion, if we continue to see them as vulnerable, that is a big mistake. It is a mistake because you are telling them, "You're vulnerable. You're weak. We're afraid for you." I think that's an awful message to give to youth.
I said what I think we need to say to our youth today at Senator Sinclair's event, where we had youth and they told us their stories of their friends, brothers and family members committing suicide. But I said to them: "I see strength. I see the resilience. I see that you have suffered that, but you're still here and you're still fighting for your place." So let's not see them as weak. I object to that so sincerely. Our youth are strong, so that's how I want to end. Thank you.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!