Right-to-die ruling signals tough stance by top court

Tue Feb 10, 2015 3:33pm EST
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Euan Rocha and Leah Schnurr

TORONTO/OTTAWA (Reuters) - A landmark decision to overturn a ban on physician-assisted suicide by Canada's top court shows it could take a tough stance on federal government legislation, including security and citizenship bills, that challenge the boundaries of the country's rights-based constitution.

Academics and lawyers said that even though right-leaning Prime Minister Stephen Harper has appointed 7 of its 9 justices since he became prime minister in 2006, the Supreme Court is proving to be a stern defender of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that took force in 1982.

"The perception that the current government is pushing rights-diminishing legislation through without apparent regard to the Charter may well be effectively forcing the Court to be more liberal, more activist, and more protectionist," said Jamie Cameron, a professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.

The Supreme Court last week voted 9-0 to overturn a ban on physician-assisted suicide - a position not supported by Harper's Conservative government. Parliament has a year to implement a regulatory framework. Or it can do nothing and allow the court ruling to come into effect in 12 months' time.

It was the latest in a series of defeats for the government. Last year, the court blocked Harper's plans to introduce elections to the Senate and term limits for senators. In 2013, it struck down Canada's restrictions on adult prostitution over the government's objections. Both decisions were unanimous.

While Harper has appointed judges who have a record of being more restrained and less activist, how an individual judge will be affected by the evidence and arguments in a case is unpredictable, noted Carissima Mathen, an associate professor of law at the University of Ottawa.

"It is a cautionary tale for any prime minister who thinks that they can insert certain factors to shift the way the court works," she said.

"The charter provides a framework for argument, it provides a benchmark and now, 30 years on, it provides a whole body of case law such that if the court wanted to go in a radically different direction, it would have to explain itself," Mathen said.   Continued...