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Euthanasia issue won't be reopened, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says

Gloria Taylor, 63, is seeking the right to commit suicide given the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, she is suffering from.

Shannon Lindal/Shannon Lindal

Canada's Justice Minister says the Conservative government won't be revisiting the question of assisted suicide despite a B.C. Supreme Court ruling to expedite a case on the matter.

Rob Nicholson was commenting Thursday on the case of Gloria Taylor. The 63-year-old resident of Westbank, near Kelowna, is seeking the right to commit suicide given the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, she is suffering from, and this week the B.C. court agreed to expedite her case.

But following an unrelated roundtable meeting with community leaders, Mr. Nicholson told reporters that Parliament has passed judgment on the issue of euthanasia, and won't soon return to the matter.

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He was referring to the defeat of a bill on euthanasia and assisted suicide introduced by veteran Bloc Québécois MP Francine Lalonde, but defeated 228 to 59 in May, 2010.

"Parliament passed judgment on that," Mr. Nicholson said, referring to euthanasia. "The question of euthanasia was rejected within Parliament, just within the last year."

Mr. Nicholson declined comment on the court case involving Ms. Taylor, noting he does not routinely comment on matters before the courts.

"We are in court on a regular basis arguing on the constitutionality of existing laws of this country, and we have indicated we have no plans to reintroduce this within Parliament," he said.

But lawyer Joe Arvay, acting for Ms. Taylor, said the minister is overreaching.

"Parliament obviously has an important role to play in the political process, but when it comes to determining what our fundamental rights and freedoms are, the court has the last word because the constitution is the supreme law of the land and not Parliament," he said. "Obviously [Mr. Nicholson]knows Parliament does not have the last word."

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, acting for Ms. Taylor and others, is challenging laws that make it a criminal offence to assist in a suicide. An affidavit says Ms. Taylor was told in January, 2010, that she would likely die within a year, and that she "wants the legal right to die peacefully, at the time of her own choosing, in the embrace of her family and friends."

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The B.C. Supreme Court accepted Mr. Arvay's appeal for an expedited trial on the matter – specifically, he asked for a trial this fall – overruling appeals by Ottawa and B.C. which were seeking more time to prepare for the case. The trial is likely to run from the fall into December.

The decision is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. But Mr. Arvay said that, if he wins in B.C., Ms. Taylor could receive assistance from a physician in ending her life while awaiting the appeal process.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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