The woman who has been the public face of Canada's leading seniors organization for the past eight years says she has been dismissed by media mogul Moses Znaimer, who is also the organization's president, because she insisted on taking a neutral approach to the emotionally charged issue of assisted dying.
Susan Eng was told on Tuesday that she was no longer needed as the executive vice-president of advocacy at CARP Canada. She then learned on Wednesday that she was being replaced by Wanda Morris, the head of Dying with Dignity Canada, which advocates for access to physician-assisted dying and against unnecessary barriers when safeguards are being imposed to protect the vulnerable.
The dismissal by Mr. Znaimer occurred as the federal government is preparing to change the law around assisted dying. Parliamentary hearings have already begun on the matter. "The only reason he fired me was so that they can put out an official position for CARP saying that they want to insist on assisted dying on demand," said Ms. Eng, a Toronto lawyer and former chair of the city's police services board.
Mr. Znaimer, a founding patron of Dying with Dignity, has written columns in which he strongly defends a person's right to take his or her own life. He issued a news release on Wednesday saying Ms. Eng had departed CARP "effective immediately," and praising the abilities and experience of Ms. Morris.
CARP sent an e-mail to The Globe and Mail on Wednesday denying Ms. Eng's allegation that her dismissal was in any way related to her position on the question of physician-assisted dying.
"The membership of CARP has spoken clearly and in overwhelming numbers in support of physician-assisted dying. CARP fully supports this position," the e-mail said.
Ms. Eng said her hasty departure from CARP, a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of Canadians who are 50 years of age and older, was prompted by a poll she recently conducted to assess the attitudes of the organization's more than 300,000 members about assisted dying.
The online survey, which was completed by 2,700 people, asked questions such as: "Which is more important to you? Ensuring access to assistance in dying, or protecting the vulnerable against undue internal or external pressure?"
The views of the respondents were clear, Ms. Eng said. When it comes to their own deaths, they want the decisions to be made by themselves and their doctors, but they also wanted a prior review for people who are in vulnerable positions, including the disabled.
It was a smart set of responses from Canadians who are most likely thinking about this issue, she said. And "it was a beautiful poll because it was completely balanced," Ms. Eng said.
But "because I asked these questions, I was fired," said Ms. Eng, who did not seek input from Mr. Znaimer in crafting the questions. She said she never asks for advice from anyone when writing the questions for CARP's polls because the surveys have become powerful influences on public policy and she wants them based on research – and not personal bias.
Unlike CARP's other polls, she said, this one has not been promoted by the organization to the public or the media.
The official reason given for her dismissal was that she was insubordinate, she said. But the letter telling her that her services were no longer required by CARP says: "You have ensured that Mr. Znaimer has been shut out from CARP's operations by creating a hostile environment for him with the staff of CARP and deliberately excluding him from certain discussions, such as the one ongoing, to establish CARP policy regarding physician-assisted suicide."
CARP does not have an official policy supporting assisted dying, Ms. Eng said. And, as vice-president in charge of policy, she said she kept it that way.
"This is an issue of conscience," Ms. Eng said. "When it comes to an issue of conscience like this, I will not say what CARP's official position is. Rather, I will say what a number of people said in the poll, which is a slice of opinion that can be persuasive."