It is the time of the year when people get their rainbow flags out and celebrate sexual diversity. This weekend will be pride in Toronto with all the glitter and the shirtless men it entails. There is a lot of debate surrounding the political aspect of pride, or lack thereof, but that’s not what I want to talk about. I don’t mind pride as it is: a giant queer festival (I have issues with it on some level but I will not explore them here). I usually just let myself get carried by the atmosphere and let the politics behind for a time. Nevertheless, I thought it was a good time to see were we, Canada, were on trans issues (legally speaking). Two years ago, I lamented the foreseeable death of Bill C-279 in a post. The bill was revived at the beginning of the current session of Parliament, but sabotaged in committee with a slew of bathroom panic arguments. Now it will likely die (again), only to be brought back if the next government, after the fall election, actually values the lives of trans people. From that point, let’s see what has happened and will happen for trans rights in Canada.
This winter the Supreme Court (SCC) handed down a decision in the Carter case on the constitutionality of prohibiting assisted dying. This judgement is part of a series first started in PHS Community Services Society (safe drug injection sites) and continued in Bedford (sex work) on the expansion of the right to life, liberty and security of the person. When the Court of Appeal handed its decision upholding the assisted dying ban, I commented on this blog on how, even if the plaintiffs won at the Supreme Court (which they did, unsurprisingly for people who follow constitutional law and/or the issue), the result would be limited to being permitted to exercise a right instead of truly recognizing the equality of the group claiming this right. This post is in part of follow up on my initial thoughts and represents some of my reflections on the advancement of the right to life, liberty and security (section 7 of the Charter), and the fall of the right to equality/non-discrimination (section 15 of the Charter).
Carter and the right to end one’s life
Last week the British Columbia Court of Appeal decided to allow the Attorney General’s appeal to the constitutional challenge of the assisted suicide prohibition: the Carter case. This case featured two persons named Gloria Taylor and Lee Carter. Both suffered from intractable and progressive diseases, and wished to have the option of physician assisted suicide when their life would become intolerable (they both passed away before the appeal was rendered). However, s 241(b) of the Criminal Code makes aiding or abetting a person to commit suicide a crime. Ms. Carter and Taylor challenged the constitutionality of the section alleging a violation of their right to life, liberty and security of the person, and of their right to equality. One of the major hurdles they faced was that a similar issue involving the same section of the Code was challenged on similar grounds and had been decided by the Supreme Court of Canada in the past. In Rodriguez, the plaintiff lost her appeal to the Supreme Court by a close 5 to 4 vote. Nevertheless, the trial judge, Justice Smith, found that she was not bound by the Supreme Court ruling because this case raised three new grounds: (1) the right to life was not at stake in Rodriguez; (2) two principle of fundamental justice did not exist at the time of Rodriguez, overbroadness and gross disproportionality; (3) the majority did not consider s 15 (equality) in its entirety in addition to the fact that recent Supreme Court decisions changed the applicable test. She found in the plaintiffs’ favour and declared the section unconstitutional with a grace period of one year for the government.