The federal government considered referring its proposed assisted dying law to the Supreme Court to see if it's constitutional, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould disclosed Friday.
But she said that option was ultimately rejected because the court had indicated it's up to parliamentarians to come up with a legislative response to its landmark ruling last year, which struck down the ban on medical assistance in dying.
Wilson-Raybould suggested that the court would have bounced the matter right back to Parliament.
"To be very honest ... we considered it, but how I feel is that we've been asked by the Supreme Court of Canada to do our job," Wilson-Raybould told delegates at the Liberal party's first convention since taking power last fall.
"If I was to put a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada, I fundamentally believe that our honourable justices would say, 'Do your job'."
Wilson-Raybould and Health Minister Jane Philpott were called on to defend the proposed law at the convention, where some delegates have been pushing for a more permissive approach to assisted dying.
Wendy Robbins, the policy chair of the Liberal women's commission, spear-headed an effort to have the convention debate an emergency resolution calling on the government to drop its insistence that people must be near death to qualify for medical assistance to end their lives.
That provision has been widely panned by civil liberties and legal experts who believe the proposed law does not comply with the Supreme Court's ruling or with the charter of rights.
But the party's national policy committee rejected the resolution late Thursday.
"Is there a mood to prevent this from being discussed? A hundred per cent sure," Robbins said Friday.
"It's like opening a can of worms."
Noting that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised a new era of openness and transparency and bottom-up decision-making, Robbins asked: "Why not let people at a forum on policy talk about the most important policy of our generation?"
But Liberal delegates themselves showed little inclination to rock the boat.
A couple of hundred showed up for a panel on social justice issues, which offered an opportunity to grill Wilson-Raybould and Philpott. Only Robbins and one other delegate asked about assisted dying.
By contrast, several thousand delegates showed up for a celebratory speech by Katie Telford, national campaign director and now Trudeau's chief of staff, in which she recounted how the Liberals won the last election.
At the panel, Robbins asked Wilson-Raybould to disclose the legal opinion on which she bases her assertion that the assisted dying bill is constitutional. And she urged the minister to refer it to the top court to test its constitutionality, sparing the families of grievously ill and dying individuals "the agony and expense" of launching a court challenge themselves.
The justice minister acknowledged many people believe the legislation "doesn't go far enough or that it goes too far." She maintained it strikes "the right balance between personal autonomy and ensuring that we protect the vulnerable."
"I'm confident that this approach is justifiable, it's responsible given the time frame that we have in order to respond to the Supreme Court decision," she said.
Bill C-14 would make assisted death available only for clearly consenting adults "in an advanced stage of irreversible decline" from a serious and incurable disease, illness or disability and for whom natural death is "reasonably foreseeable."
That's considerably more restrictive than the criteria set out by the Supreme Court, which ruled that consenting adults with "grievous and irremediable" medical conditions who are enduring suffering that is intolerable to them have the right to seek medical help to end their lives.
Wilson-Raybould and Philpott both insisted there are "significant risks" if the proposed law is not enacted by June 6, the date on which the ban on assisted dying will be formally lifted, in accordance with the court ruling.
They warned there'll be "no significant safeguards" to protect the vulnerable and that doctors will refuse to provide the service in the midst of legal uncertainty.
Neither minister acknowledged that medical regulators in every province have issued guidelines instructing doctors how to proceed with assisted dying. Most include requirements for more than one doctor to agree on eligibility and for witnesses to verify requests for assisted dying; some have imposed conditions more stringent than those proposed by the federal government.
In any event, it seems virtually impossible that the bill will be enacted by June 6, although Dominic LeBlanc, the government House leader, said he hasn't given up hope yet.
He said the bill will be put to a vote at report stage in the House of Commons on Monday and is scheduled for a final vote on Tuesday.
It will then be sent to the Senate, leaving just two sitting days for senators to put the bill through all its legislative stages by June 6. Few senators have shown any inclination to rush the bill and the government has no levers to control the agenda in the more independent upper house.