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Bill C-7 - Medical Assistance in Dying - Indigenous Consultation

Honourable senators, I rise today on debate on Bill C-7.

Once again, I speak to you from the perspective of a First Nations woman and a health professional who practised on reserves in Manitoba since 1973. During that time, I’ve had many conversations with grassroots people to leaders in Manitoba and throughout Canada regarding the plight of the descendants of Canada’s original peoples. As I have previously stated, assisted dying was never one of those conversations.

However, assistance to a good quality of life was always part of the conversations.

In my years of working on reserves, I have seen the complex components of the health system fail the First Nations. In fact, their overall health has deteriorated even more. This is despite the fact that I have worked with many other health professionals who treated First Nations and Métis people appropriately and were dedicated to their work, to the people and to their ethics.

Colleagues, the issues I raise are those articulated to me by First Nations, Métis, Inuit as well as the voices from the disability communities across this land. It’s my obligation to ensure that those voices reach the Senate floor, however hard it is. We need to illuminate and understand the far-reaching effects when a segment of the population is ignored and not consulted along racial, ethnic, cultural and socio-economic lines.

They are afraid. They don’t know why they continue to be bypassed, why they are placed in a position of severe, continual disadvantage and why the laws that protect others don’t protect them but rather leave them under more threat.

At this point in our history, it should not be this difficult to adequately consult Canadians, especially those who will be greatly impacted by a bill. However, First Nations were simply not consulted on Bill C-7 prior to its development — yet now some senators say it’s outside the scope of the bill to debate issues like consultation, lack of resources, et cetera.

If First Nations issues were not articulated before the bill was developed and cannot be articulated during the bill, when do we get to speak? There remains an inability to negotiate adequate solutions to safeguard First Nations. Don’t we matter? Perhaps these issues would have been better understood and addressed under an appropriate Gender-based Analysis Plus on this bill. From what I have seen, the government’s GBA+ is wholly inadequate, leans on international data as opposed to generating enough Canadian-specific content and blatantly does not address the impacts of the bill on different racialized groups whatsoever.

This is another example of corner-cutting adversely impacting minority groups at a much greater rate than others.

Honourable senators, in his January 18 letter to the Senate Legal Committee, Minister Lametti states that under his Charter statement, he included the considerations that would be relevant to the specific rights that may be engaged — sections 15 and 7 — by this bill. I am told that every Canadian has the right to life, liberty and security, the right not to be deprived thereof and for the government to respect the basic principles of justice whenever they intrude on those rights.

Yet it seems every time a bill is drafted, there is very little to no consultations about its effects on First Nations. It seems that the First Nations’ issues continually fall under unintended consequences and become subject to jurisdictional hand-wringing.

To some extent, we have the opportunity to fix this bill as we debate and recommend amendments; yet, with the position they’ve been placed in, the concerns by First Nations, the doctors and the disability community are too huge to be able to be remedied by simply amending this bill.

First Nations have an equal right to life, liberty and security. As First Nations, we have been fighting for the right to a good quality of life; yet with this bill, there is a lack of security. We have heard from individuals, from advocates, from doctors, from the disability community — all of whom are worried about the impacts of this bill.

We don’t have tangible clarity on how this bill will affect these groups. How does this bill recognize and enforce the equality rights to minorities and the disadvantaged, as guaranteed in section 15 of the Charter?

Colleagues, I was shocked that some here have stated that medical professionals have the ability to do the capacity assessment work that will be required. With all the recent stories of different forms of institutional racism, be they government, education, policing, corrections, child welfare and so on, the concept of First Nations, Métis and Inuit receiving adequate care in these public institutions is already compromised. To reverse the way health care is given and managed will take years to change the mindset of the humans involved. To add capacity assessment work on top of this seems unrealistic. Where did this certainty come from?

Yes, I understand that we are dealing with the Criminal Code, but it is intimately connected to health care policy. When you look at life holistically, you cannot separate these two. Health care providers will be expected to provide the service, many against their will and unprepared to do so. Patients will be offered the service. That is the reality. I have seen health care delivered and spoken to the nurses and doctors. They are so busy with daily emergency care and, now, COVID-19 that most are overwhelmed. Where would they find the time to discuss and consider this issue adequately and without force?

Honourable senators, I can tell you many stories about individuals who are forced to live a life they don’t deserve because they aren’t given the resources to deal with their issues. I am already hearing stories about people who are inappropriately being referred for assisted dying and requesting assisted dying due to social circumstances exacerbated by COVID-19. What recourse do families have to deal with these issues? Where are the safeguards for those under threat of having their life terminated inappropriately? Thank you.

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