Dignified Dying: Supreme Court of Canada’s life-altering decision

“You do not need to have a fatal or terminal condition to be eligible for medical assistance in dying,” reads the eligibility criteria for medically assisted dying on the Government of Canada’s website. However, other criteria poses a limitation to this statement.

In a decision reached last Wednesday, the Quebec courts struck down the restriction limiting assisted dying, deeming it unconstitutional.

According to the CBC, Justice Christine Baudouin of the Supreme Court of Canada was largely in agreement with the court case of two Montrealers with degenerative diseases, Jean Truchon, 51, and Nicole Gladu, 74. They were seeking access to Quebec and Canada’s assisted dying laws, and challenging the current Criminal Code, which states that one must “be at a point where your natural death has become reasonably foreseeable” to receive aid to die.

This restriction on the assisted dying law is flawed in that it “forces [Truchon and Gladu] to endure harsh physical and psychological suffering,” according to Justice Baudouin’s judgement. Both Truchon and Gladu sought to have a dignified and serene death as they know their diseases are incurable.

With that, Baudouin agreed it was a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Her decision gave governments six months to come up with something new before suspending that provision of the law.

Quebec’s end-of-life care law appeared in late 2015 and required patients to be at the end of their life. A new law was created after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Carter v. Canada that parts of the Criminal Code would need to change to satisfy the Charter Rights. In June 2016, the federal assisted dying law was passed.

Nevertheless, medically-assisted dying can seem like a moral battle. Some members of the Advocates for Canadians with Disabilities say the Quebec judgement would diminish the value of some lives and pushes a societal view that it is better to be dead than disabled, according to the Globe and Mail.

According to the same Globe and Mail article, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities added: “It is telling people with disabilities that simply having a disability is reason enough for us to want to die.”

Moreover, there is an ongoing tension between the rights of vulnerable patients and the religiously based policies of many hospitals operating across Canada that do not agree with assisted-dying, according to the Globe and  Mail.

The federal and provincial governments still have a lot to consider in the next six months and could decide to appeal the decision. In the meantime, it grants an exemption for Gladu and Truchon that allows them to apply for medically assisted death immediately.

According to the National Post, the government is reviewing the decision before deciding its next steps.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


One, two, three drinks you’re out

Image via Flickr

Drunk driving has been a continuing problem in our province. But now, there might be a way to make Quebec roads a bit safer.

With a new ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada, it will now be possible for Quebec authorities to seize cars from drunk drivers after their third offence.

Considering just how dangerous drunk driving is, this new preventative step is one in the right direction. Driving is not a right, but a privilege. If someone is unable to refrain from drinking and taking the wheel, they shouldn’t have the privilege to drive in the first place.

You would think that with all the ads we’ve been subjected to that warn us of the dangers of drunk driving, people would think twice before taking the wheel. Apparently this isn’t so. According to Statistics Canada, police reported close to 90,300 incidents nationwide involving impaired driving in 2011. This was an increase of 3,000 compared to the year before.

Although the number of total incidents in Canada have increased, in Quebec the number of deaths related to drinking and driving has gone down from 800 to 200 between 1978 and 2008. However, even with the decrease, driving under the influence is still a problem. According to the SAAQ website, “from 2005 through 2009, 31 per cent of fatalities, 16 per cent of serious injuries and 5 per cent of minor injuries were related to alcohol.”

With drunk driving still presenting a serious problem on our roads, it’s comforting to know that the punishment will be equivalent to the crime. If someone is caught on three different occasions, being slapped with a fine and racking up a few demerit points will not be enough to prevent them from doing it again. Therefore having them off the road altogether is a relief.

In February of last year, a 67-year-old Quebec man was convicted for his 24th drunk driving offence. According to the Toronto Sun, this is believed to be a Canadian record for the most drunk driving offences—not exactly a record to be proud of. This is a prime example of a flawed system. Had the new Supreme Court ruling been in effect then, it could have prevented 21 additional offences.

The argument against this new law is that it takes away the freedom of transportation for some.

Another Quebec man, Alphide Manning, had his vehicle seized after he was apprehended for his fifth offense of driving while intoxicated. He contested the decision, as he apparently needed his truck to be able to go to the hospital where he and his wife were being treated for various health problems. However, that does not take away from the fact that he is a public danger. Taking his truck away is a preventive measure to ensure the security of himself and others on the road. The Supreme Court agreed and ruled against him 7-0 on Jan. 17.

The common misconception is that driving under the influence affects only the driver. The truth is that it affects everyone involved, whether it is someone in the passenger seat or someone else driving. As much as a car is a way of transportation, it is also a deadly hunk of metal racing on the highway. Thus the decision to limit the number of offences is a good way of limiting the dangers that repeat offenders pose. The government has its responsibility to make sure you or your loved ones don’t end up in a body bag over something so preventable and this legislation is a step in that direction.


Right to a fair trial vs. freedom of religion

Image via Flickr

On Thursday Dec. 20, 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada determined that Muslim women can be asked to remove their religious niqabs or veils to testify in court if deemed necessary by the judge. As a result, the controversial issue will continue to pop up in Canadian courtrooms and be handled on a case-by-case basis. In other words, there was no ruling at all. The decision seems all-encompassing and politically correct.

“The decision illustrates the tension and changes caused by the rapid evolution of contemporary society and by the growing presence in Canada of new cultures, religions, traditions and social practices,” said dissenting judges Louis LeBel and Marshall Rothstein.

Personally, I believe despite one’s religious faith, the niqab can be removed briefly while testifying because the alternative allows Muslim women the opportunity to mask other facets of communication. The court is a controlled environment and the reasoning behind my opinion is that religion is sacred for those practicing, but laws must be sanctified by all. The courtroom should not cater to individual needs; it has structure because that arrangement has been tested and proven to work.

In this particular case, a man is being accused of molesting a Muslim woman, and he’s demanded that the victim remove her veil while testifying against him. Needless to say, this has stirred up quite some controversy, leading to the ultimate decision from the Supreme Court. Two of Canada’s most important rights are in a head to head clash; the right to a fair trial, and freedom of religion. The Supreme Court judges seemed to struggle with the decision as well, the decision being split 4-2-1.

As Justice Louis LeBel suggests, a ban of the niqab in court during testimonies conveys “openness of the trial process” and “would also be consistent with the tradition that justice is public and open to all in our democratic society.”

However, conventionally, Supreme Court cases set precedents for other trials and outline boundaries in order to solve critical issues. Not only does this decision seem economically unsound (there will be an endless amount of appeals and resources will be exhausted trying to solve these issues case by case), but the ambiguous nature of this ‘equilibrium approach’ will be damaging in the court of law.

Our justice system allows one to take the stand and reveal information, but in doing so one must be open and willing to be analyzed thoroughly in the process. Facial expressions, tone and deliverance are important when interpreting the message given by a witness.

Justice Rosalie Abella, a supporter of Muslim women wearing the niqab in court, said she believes that there are other instances in which demeanour is difficult to assess, like for those with speech impediments or facial paralysis. She says, “witnesses who wear niqabs should not be treated differently.”

Although I respect her analogy, wearing the niqab is not the same. The impediments, regardless of their level of difficulty to assess, are analyzed nonetheless. If a woman wears the niqab it is impossible to measure facial expression. Furthermore, it is a religious choice, rather than a physiological reality.

For Muslim women, interpretation of their testimony should not be limited to their eyes and words behind the veil. Examining facial expressions during a testimony is an extremely important facet of our justice system, and although freedom of religion is one of the most important rights in our society, the right to a fair trial is a stronghold in Canadian society and should not be tampered with in any way.


Ask yourself, would you risk it?

Graphic by Phil Waheed.

In a controversial decision, the Supreme Court of Canada has decided that those infected with Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) won’t always have to inform their sexual partners of their diagnosis.

Back in 1998, people were obliged to be upfront to their partners regarding whether or not they had HIV. if you didn’t, you could be charged with aggravated sexual assault.

Now, more than a decade later, the Supreme Court stated that as long as you are wearing a condom and taking medication that is treating your disease, you no longer have to tell your partner if you have HIV because “there is no reasonable risk of transmission.”

For those not familiar with HIV, it is a virus that “targets certain immune cell types and destroys them thereby crippling the immune system,” said Sophia Ushinsky, a professor of biology at Concordia University.

Ushinsky said that in most cases, taking treatments can cause complications and doesn’t always guarantee the person to be risk free of transmitting the disease.

“HIV is a retrovirus. This class of viruses has a high level of mutation,” she said. “This can result in the virus acquiring a change that makes it insensitive to antiviral therapies.”

HIV has been intensively researched over the last 30 years and there is still no cure or vaccine. Ushinsky continued to say that “each cell the virus infects, the viral genome becomes integrated in the DNA of the person it infects and remains there until that particular cell is dead and destroyed by the body. The virus itself can replicate very rapidly.”

A main concern is that by requiring people infected with the virus to disclose their condition only “if there is a ‘realistic possibility’ a sex partner might become infected,” it infringes on the rights of those who are not infected.

I’m pretty sure any individual would like to know whether or not their partner has HIV, even if they’re being treated and wearing a condom. The problem here is that the Supreme Court is completely taking away the right of the uninfected individual to make an informed decision on whether or not to have sexual relations with an infected partner.

In an article published in the Chronicle Herald, it was stated that the evidence showed that when the “‘viral load’ — which measures HIV in the blood — of the infected person was low, due to proper treatment, risk of transmission dropped by more than 85 per cent.” The court also reported that data retrieved showed that by wearing a condom, the risk is reduced by 80 per cent. This, to the court, means that by wearing a condom and taking proper medication, the risk of transmission becomes “speculative, not realistic.”

I do not understand this decision at all. Everyone has a right to information that will essentially help them make a choice in their life. By taking away this information, people do not have the ability to make the best choice.

Ushinsky went on to say that she worries about “the compliance of the patient in taking their medications.”

“Some of these drugs have serious side effects and a person’s immune status may have an effect on the disease course. Not knowing how often patients are monitored for changes in viral load makes me uneasy as a change reflects a change in infection status which may be asymptomatic.”

The Supreme Court seems to have a lack of sympathy and judgement when it comes to sex. In many cases, a condom can break and can be up to zero per cent effective if not used properly.

So brace yourselves boys and girls, HIV isn’t something you want to live with for the rest of your life, and once that condom breaks, there’s no going back.

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