5 Things to Know About Carter v Canada
Here at Juris Diction, we want to help you contribute intelligently to class, but we know that you probably don’t have time to read long Supreme Court decisions. So, we’ve taken the liberty of summarizing it for you in a convenient, BuzzFeed-esque way that will surely help you impress your professors and classmates with your knowledge of both current events and the intricacies of constitutional law.
In a unanimous landmark decision released this morning, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that sections 14 and 241(b) of the Criminal Code prohibiting assisted suicide are unconstitutional. In doing so, it overturned the ruling of the British Columbia Court of Appeal, which was based on the Supreme Court’s 1993 decision in Rodriguez.
Here are five things you need to know about this ruling:
1. What happens now?
Similar to its decision in Bedford, the Supreme Court placed a 12-month suspension on its declaration of invalidity. This means that current laws remain in place for one year while the Parliament of Canada decides whether to develop and enact constitutionally valid laws on assisted suicide.
2. Why did the Court strike down the law?
The Court held that the Criminal Code’s prohibition on physician-assisted suicide violates the rights to life, liberty, and security of the person (section 7). The Court accepted the argument that as a debilitating disease progresses, some individuals may fear they will be unable to commit suicide. This may lead them to kill themselves prematurely, which would violate the right to life.
The prohibition also engaged rights to liberty and security of the person, since prohibiting doctors from assisting people with grievous and irremediable conditions is a violation of patients’ autonomy and dignity.
The Court held that the provisions were aimed at protecting vulnerable people from being induced to commit suicide. The legislation was deemed to be overbroad as it captured people who were not vulnerable, and was therefore not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
The Court then held that the provisions could not be saved by section 1 of the Charter.
3. What did the Court not decide?
The Court declined to consider whether section 15 equality rights were infringed and whether the law was grossly disproportionate.
The Court also didn’t consider whether the new principle of fundamental justice argued for by the appellants—the principle of parity—should be recognized. This principle would require courts to give sentences of similar severity to crimes that carry comparable moral blameworthiness.
4. Which arguments did the Court reject?
The Court rejected the argument that the federal parliament is precluded from regulating assisted suicide by provincial jurisdiction over health and the doctrine of interjurisdictional immunity. The Court recognized health as an area of shared jurisdiction. They did not accept a broader conception of the right to life that would incorporate quality of life considerations. Also, the court ruled the prohibition is not arbitrary.
5. What happened to the parties?
Gloria Taylor, who suffered from ALS, died of an infection in 2012. Hollis Johnson and Lee Carter helped bring Lee Carter’s mother, Kathleen Carter, who suffered from spinal stenosis, to Switzerland in 2010 to an assisted suicide clinic. The other appellants were the BC Civil Liberties Association and Dr. William Shoichett, a physician who would be willing to perform assisted suicides. The court ordered the Government of Canada to pay special full indemnity costs, and ordered the Government of BC to pay ten percent of the trial costs.
Michael Scott (second-year MPA/JD) is a News Editor for Juris Diction.