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Canada’s Bill C-7: A dire threat to  people with disabilities 

 

“disability should never be a ground justification to end someone’s life indirectly or directly.” 

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

On March 17th, 2021, shortly after the 11th Anniversary of Canada’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Bill C-7 (an Act to amend the Criminal Code – medical assistance in dying) received Royal Assent in Canada’s Parliament. Bill C-7 introduced assisted suicide as an option for people who are not dying or nearing death only if they have a disability or disabling medical condition.

All throughout the legislative process, Bill C-7 was met with overwhelming opposition from people with disabilities, disability rights organizations, and United Nations experts.  All warned that Bill C-7 portrayed life with a disability as a life worse than death. The bill also did very little to tackle the systemic barriers that cause suffering for people with disabilities (such as poverty, violence, and inhumane conditions in long-term care). The bill makes it easier for many to end their lives instead of securing the supports they need to maintain a reasonable quality of life. Advocates came forward stressing that Bill C-7 was an issue of race and class, putting the most marginalized people with disabilities at particular risk.

The federal government was warned that the bill entrenched discrimination against people with disabilities despite disability being a protected ground under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Senate amendments have made a bad situation worse by including a “sunset clause” which will eventually extend access to MAiD to include those with a mental illness.

In essence, these changes make assisted suicide a viable treatment option for people with disabilities and mental illness.

Inclusion Canada and a coalition of disability organizations had worked tirelessly against these legislative changes. Millions of people in Canada with a disability face barriers in accessing education, employment, housing, and other basic necessities. Recently, these barriers have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and have disproportionately affected people with disabilities. Instead of addressing these areas of need and supporting people with disabilities in living, the Government of Canada has made it easier to access support in dying.

United Nations experts are also opposed to the legislative changes. On two separate occasions, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities denounced Bill C-7, stating that “disability should never be a ground justification to end someone’s life indirectly or directly.” Several other UN human rights experts have joined him in decrying the expansion of MAiD.

Our country takes pride in being a leader in the advancement of human rights around the world. Instead of honouring this commitment to human rights at home, lawmakers have instead chosen to pass legislation that devalues the lives of people with disabilities and threatens their equality rights. Parliament has ignored Canada’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that people with a disability are made more vulnerable in the healthcare system that currently exists. Expanding the scope of how MAiD can be administered in the healthcare system poses a dire threat to all people with disabilities in Canada whereby now vulnerable individuals will be offered MAiD because other options are out of reach. Government’s obligation must be to ensure that persons with disabilities have the supports they need to live, not die.

Inclusion Canada is a national federation of 13 provincial-territorial associations and over 300 local associations working to advance the full inclusion and human rights of people with an intellectual disability and their families. We lead the way in building an inclusive Canada by strengthening families, defending rights, and transforming communities into places where everyone belongs.