First of all, let’s learn about Human Rights — what they are and where they came from. Watch this excellent 10-minute video:
Here is a plain-language list of the 30 human rights, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
What is the State of Living with Dignity in Canadian Law? Does the law recognize a right to have one’s dignity protected?
Canada is a signatory to the UN Declaration on Human Rights of 1948. That declaration has been ratified by the federal government and every provincial and territorial government in Canada. It has two parts: the ICCPR, and the ICESCR. The first has to do with Civil and Political Rights; and the second has to do with social, economic and cultural rights. “Protection of economic, social and cultural rights has been deemed necessary as the right to live a dignified life can never be attained unless all basic necessities of life – work, food, housing, health care, education and culture – are adequately and equitably available to everyone.” The Chief Commissioner of Canada’s Federal Human Rights Commission, Marie-Claude Landry, says: “MAiD cannot be an answer to systemic inequality“.
Canada became a State party to the ICESCR in 1976. (ICESCR = International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights). The enforcement mechanisms are voluntary, but the obligations are real. To learn more, check out this document from the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Canada is also a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). In June 2022, for the first time, a Canadian was elected to sit on the committee that oversees the work related to the CRPD. Our representative, Laverne Jacobs, is a black law professor whose interests include opposing MAID for people with disabilities who are not dying. She presented her views to a Senate committee back in 2020.
To learn more about the history of assisted suicide law in Canada, please visit The Library. Meanwhile here is a short list of cases and Bills to know about:
- Latimer, 2001
- Rodrigues, 1993
- Carter, 2015
- MAiD Law for people who are dying, Bill C-14, 2015
- Truchon and Gladu, 2019
- MAID Law expansion to non-dying people, Bill C-7, 2021
- Delay of implementation of MAID for non-dying people with mental illness as sole underlying cause.
What are the current cases or issues before the Courts in Canada right now? How can a new case or issue come before the Courts? Is there money to help with the cost of legal challenges?
We are not lawyers, and we don’t have a lawyer on staff. However, the plan is to have these questions and more answered over time, in language that everyone can understand.
Not all of the legal fights are at the Federal level. Jurisdictional separations hamper effective policy, practice, monitoring and reporting. The Criminal Code is under Federal jurisdiction, whereas, health law, income supports, disability supports, home care, etc., are all managed provincially; some housing and other issues are managed municipally. The United Nations has international powers as well. (See below for a list of documents relating to the UN and questions it has raised about Canada’s medical assistance in dying law and practice.) How can you find your way through?
One important resource to know about is CELA – the Canadian Environmental Law Association – which deals with cases involving disablement and exacerbation of disability due to the effects of pollution and climate change.
For Canada’s Indigenous peoples with disabilities, the legal picture is even more complex and problematic. Jurisdictional disputes and levels of colonial irresponsibility are incredibly damaging to indigenous folks, disabled or not, but adding in the complications of disability compounds the problems exponentially. Colonialism itself is a source of much intergenerational disability, including but not limited to complex post-traumatic stress, the effects of which are felt throughout both indigenous and colonial societies.
Some indigenous peoples have applied a mutual aid model in meeting their own needs in the face of absent government support. Can we support and learn from indigenous efforts?
United Nations documents related to MAiD
- April 12, 2017: “Concluding observations on the initial report of Canada” by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Link
- April 12, 2019: End of Mission Statement by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Ms. Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, on her visit to Canada. Link
- August 7, 2019: Joint Urgent Appeal by the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities and the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health concerning Mr. Roger Philip Foley. Link
- March 11, 2020: Canada’s response to the Joint Urgent Appeal concerning Mr. Roger Philip Foley. Link
- February 1, 2021: Remarks by Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities to the Senate of Canada during the discussion of Bill C-7. Link
- February 24 – March 20, 2020: Human Rights Council Forty-third session, Agenda item 3 – Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development. Visit to Canada – Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar. Link
- January 25, 2021: UN Experts alarmed by the trend in enabling medical assistance in dying for people with disabilities. Link
- February 3, 2021: Joint communication from Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council expressing concerns about Canada’s new policy on medical assistance in dying, enshrined in Bill C-7. Link
- May 17, 2021: Canada’s response to the Joint Communication from Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council about Bill C-7. Link