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.
The past decade has not been kind to migrants. The events of 9/11 added extra hurdles to immigration process as immigration authorities’ paranoia grew. Western countries’ hospitality is much colder as xenophobia increased fuelled by right wing political groups such as the Tea Party in the USA, the Front National in France or the Conservatives in Canada and the UK. In Canada, since the election of the conservative government of Prime Minister Harper, we have adopted a series of reforms in immigration and refugee law. The focused is now on so called “desirable” migrants, usually people with education and language proficiencies in English or French. Inadmissibility rules continue to prohibit family from reuniting, disabled and sick migrants from settling, and otherwise qualified migrants with tenuous link to alleged terrorist groups from immigrating. Parliament adopted the so called Balanced Refugee Reform Act in 2010 making it harder for refugees to seek protection in Canada. Additionally, Refugees’ access to health care was cut by the federal government. Many of those changes are being or will be challenged in court. Whether these challenges will succeed is hard to predict as the Supreme Court has tended to be deferential towards the government on immigration and refugee issues. Two cases handed down in the last two months may shed some light on what the future holds for refugee and immigration law.
On 30 September 2011 the Supreme Court of Canada released the Insite decision. This case began when the Government of Canada made it clear that it wouldn’t renew Insite’s – a supervised drug injection clinic in the Down Town Eastside of Vancouver – exemption from the application of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (the CDSA). Insite and its many supporters decided to challenge the constitutionality of the CDSA applicability to Insite and of the refusal of the Minister of Health to grant the exemption. A few weeks ago, the judicial battle ended with a victory for society, and for Insite and its patients.
I am happy for the people who are involved with Insite; it is a great victory for them and probably a great relief as they won’t have this Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads anymore. It was, however, a predictable victory. The Supreme Court of British Columbia and the British Columbia Court of Appeal had already found that the applicability of the CDSA to Insite violated section 7 of the Charter (right to liberty, life and personal security of the person). The facts of this case were overwhelmingly in favour of Insite. The project had the support of the community, the business close to Down Town East Side, the public health authorities, the City ofVancouver and theProvince ofBritish Columbia. The federal government, to no surprise, only had demagogical arguments. It was thus a predictable victory as I couldn’t conceive how the Supreme Court, in anyway shape or form, could agree with the federal government. The CDSA was not found inapplicable but the refusal of the Minister of Health was found to violate section 7 and the Court ordered the government to exempt Insite and to give an exemption to any safe injection site that would meet certain criteria.