OTTAWA - The federal government is asking a judge for the second time to extend the deadline for revising Canada's law on medical assistance in dying.
A Quebec court found parts of the law unconstitutional last fall, striking down a provision that allows only individuals whose natural deaths are "reasonably foreseeable" to be eligible to end their lives with a doctor's help.
The court has already granted a four-month extension to the deadline for Parliament to revise the law, until July 11, but the government said Thursday that the disruption in the parliamentary schedule caused by the COVID-19 pandemic makes it impossible to meet that timeline.
In a joint statement, Justice Minister David Lametti and Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the government is asking for another extension, to Dec. 18, to give it time to pass amendments to the law that were introduced in late February.
The bill was still at the initial stage of the legislative process when the House of Commons adjourned due to the pandemic in mid-March.
"While this legislation remains a priority for the government of Canada, the realities of the pandemic have unfortunately rendered it impossible to advance Bill C-7 through the parliamentary process in order to meet the current deadline of July 11, 2020," they said.
"A five-month extension of the ruling’s suspension period is needed to provide sufficient time for Parliament to properly consider and enact this proposed legislation, which is of importance to many Canadians and families across the country
Except for brief, single-day sittings to deal with emergency aid legislation, the Commons has been adjourned since March 13 as part of the bid to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Under a deal struck last week between the governing Liberals and the NDP, the Commons is not scheduled to resume normal operations until Sept. 21.
Without another extension, Lametti and Hajdu argued that the reasonably-foreseeable-death provision would cease to apply in Quebec after July 11, while it would continue to apply in the rest of the country.
"This means that criminal law would no longer be applied consistently across the country," they said.
In agreeing to the first extension, Quebec Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin said in the interim people who are not near death have the right to seek a court-ordered exemption from the reasonably foreseeable death provision.
Under the proposed bill, reasonably foreseeable death would no longer be an eligibility requirement for an assisted death. However, Canadians whose natural deaths are not imminent would still face more restrictive conditions than those who are considered near death.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2020.