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Bill C-7 - Medical Assistance in Dying - Third Reading

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to third reading of Bill C-7. In a meeting I had with a chief yesterday, he said, “We have ugly politics on the reserves, but at critical times —” referring to funerals, “— we bury the hatchet and we work together.”

Colleagues, where do I come from when I speak to you, one senator to another? I don’t look at education or degrees, at privilege or at hierarchy. My main responsibility is to get First Nations and the disability community’s concerns on Bill C-7, at their request, on the record and remain true to the people who have shared their lives and stories with me.

At the same time, I also remain true to myself and my continuing connection and grounded experience with community-based holistic health care to ensure that the populations that have been ignored, unheard and misrepresented and those people under threat, are heard.

The question of how I work, as a First Nations senator, within the archaic political system of a dominant culture in Canada, which is one grounded on racism, while maintaining our truth and culture as First Nations, has been a 500-year-old conflict among First Nations peoples. This system continues to impact negatively on autonomy: questioning the sovereignty of First Nations. We haven’t addressed the issue of racism in crucial institutions, including our own, for racism does not go hand in hand with change.

It has been a struggle to continually see First Nations issues marginalized and not properly considered in legislation and not give up hope that one day our concerns will be addressed seriously and justly on every single bill that hits the Senate floor.

Honourable senators, The Tyee July 8, 2019, article, “The Not-So-Hidden Role of Racism in Canadian Politics” by Andrew McLeod quotes Tanya Clarmont, who is Teme-Augama Anishnabai:

When you don’t see yourself reflected in the system at all, it’s hard to feel motivated to participate. But at this point I think we need to be in there making ourselves heard and impacting the outcome.

She is quoted further in the article:

It can be really challenging to step into a space and participate in a governance structure that literally has legislation that’s based on you because of your race.

When you live in a country that has race-based legislation, it’s hard to feel there’s a space for you to step into and influence that structure. It feels overwhelming even.

Honourable senators, First Nations, the disability community, the LGBTQ2 community, the medical doctors, nurse practitioners and nurses have not been adequately consulted, so their voices and protection are not in this legislation.

Today I speak to you from the margins as the populations and the issues I continue to bring forward have no voice in this bill.

While most of the senators are speaking on behalf of people who may consider MAID, I speak for the people who want to be excluded from MAID.

In the Winnipeg Free Press article on February 12, 2021, entitled “Ottawa to define ‘prior consent’ through dialogue with Frist Nations,” Mr. Lametti states:

From Canada’s perspective, free, prior and informed consent is about self-determination, respectful two-way dialogue and meaningful participation of Indigenous Peoples in decisions that affect you, your communities, and your territories.

Lametti said that it’s about having a consensual and informed relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. “It touches upon all the other aspects of the declaration, [UNDRIP], and about our relationship.”

It hasn’t been done in the past, and that’s one of the real vestiges of colonialism, that’s still exists in such a wide variety of sectors.

Including Bill C-7.

In the article, Lametti says his view of free, prior and informed consent is that “you try to get to yes, and you do that through dialogue.” Yet Bill C-7 ignores the process toward self-determination, consent and the right to consultation for First Nations. It should be noted that many First Nations are part of the disability community. First Nations and the disability community want to be part of Canada, to finally experience real connection, but cannot do so at the cost of their voice, autonomy, authenticity, freedom, spirit and power. This casual indifference is structural and systemic in most bills and will make self-determination impossible for many years.

Colleagues, yes, this is criminal law involving the health sector. Research by many scholars has established that racism is endemic in the health sector.

In regard to the forced sterilization of women, it was established that there was coercion by nurses, social workers and physicians while they were at their most vulnerable. We saw this same racism toward First Nations, Métis and Inuit women in the hospitals of Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and B.C. There was no opt-in or opt-out for their mistreatment because of racism and the power differential of providers.

There’s been little structural change, despite this well-documented racism. These will be some of the same providers working with, interpreting and applying MAID. Do we really believe they can suddenly change?

With Bill C-7, we are talking about the real potential of taking lives that are not meant to be taken.

Honourable senators, it’s been made evident and has been acknowledged by many senators that adequate data is not available for the 25% of racialized Canadians. We also have no data, be it qualitative, quantitative or Indigenous knowledge, on the multiple types of health care professionals involved in this delicate matter who will handle this in their clinics, offices and nursing stations. We do not sufficiently know their readiness, concerns, preparation, et cetera.

I would like to quote from two letters from Canadian doctors in response to this debate. Senator Plett had quoted Dr. Thomas Fung, who stated:

I am very grateful for your voice at the Senate, and for taking to heart the concerns that Indigenous voices, people with mental health & disabilities, and healthcare professionals raise about the irreparable damage that Bill C-7 will have in its current form.

. . . please be consoled that my friend with schizophrenia thanks you. He said that if MAiD was available at his worst, he would not be here today. He is glad to be alive, having accomplished a PhD in Math. He shares his love of reciting poetry in public to the delight of many.

Another patient of mine had indicated to his family that he wanted MAiD 1.5 years ago when he entered long term care. He didn’t qualify because he was not near death. . . . Had Bill C-7 been in effect, his life would have been cut short, and he would have been deprived of the opportunity to make peace with himself. He died comfortably of natural causes this week.

These are some of the reasons why I reject Bill C-7 in its current form. I will also continue to work with Indigenous advocates to hold the Government of Canada accountable for not having allowed their voices and concerns to have any meaningful influence in policy development & health delivery. Much work is needed ahead.

A second doctor stated:

Thank you for speaking out in support of physicians’ conscience rights.

I am deeply concerned about the precedent and direction of forcing professionals to act contrary to their judgment and conscience. Even though it was pointed out in the debate that there is nothing in the Criminal Code that compels an individual to provide or to assist in providing MAiD, neither is there anything that prevents another body such as the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario from compelling their members to do so.

Colleagues, it is so important to hear the perspective of health professionals.

Honourable senators, the GBA used for this bill was largely data from other countries, and the main recipients were older White males with college degrees. Is this a bill for a privileged class of people? As one senator stated, we don’t know if MAID will be applied equally and fairly across all demographics. What will happen if it is applied inappropriately through coercion? How will the stats be documented for inappropriate application of MAID?

Colleagues, society has largely been brutal to Indigenous women. I was in northern Manitoba on a dental clinic two weeks ago, and I had several young women come to me to express concern about coercion to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The concern was for themselves and their elders — the elders who were fragile. It is always the women who take the brunt of giving voice and action, and the violence that comes with it. I can’t imagine what they would do if MAID were offered to their dad and grandfather. It isn’t in their culture, and MAID would be a violent intrusion. Research has shown that for First Nations self-determination to be successful, it must address the question of violence against the women.

I want to share how I envision a just version of Bill C-7 concerning First Nations, Métis, Inuit, non-status and the disability community. It would involve a fulsome consultation with all of the above, including all the relevant health care providers. This would allow all of their concerns to be stated.

Colleagues, when it comes to this bill, the government didn’t fulfill its sacred responsibilities. I can’t be a part of this repeated process where we expedite a bill to get it passed at the expense of a large group of Canadians.

Last week, I was interviewed by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs on Facebook Live. I had spoken to the audience about the responsibility of the Senate to balance the representation by population of the House of Commons by representing and protecting the rights of Canada’s marginalized and First Nations, Métis and Inuit people. The question asked of me was: Should Canadians still believe and trust the Senate, given recent obvious issues that have been propagated on Indigenous people? How would you answer that question?

Thank you.

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