Judge Declares Quebec's Assisted Dying Law Inoperative

Note: Since initial publication, this decision has been overturned by the Quebec Court of Appeal. 

Portions of Quebec's An Act respecting end-of-life care (Bill 52) that purport to authorize “physician assisted dying” were declared inoperable by the Quebec Superior Court of Justice. The ruling can be accessed (in French) here.

The foundation for the declaration was the doctrine of paramountcy. Christian Legal Fellowship (CLF) intervened in the hearing, with Robert Reynolds as counsel. CLF raised the concerns of faith-based health care institutions and medical professionals about participating in euthanasia or assisted suicide, which were referred to in the judgement. CLF also spoke to the issue of paramountcy, in support of similar arguments advanced by the parties challenging Quebec’s law (a physician and a woman with a disability) and by the Attorney General of Canada.

According to the doctrine of paramountcy, federal law trumps provincial law where the two are in conflict. Quebec’s law, which purports to authorize “physician assisted dying”, is in conflict with the Criminal Code of Canada provisions related to assisted suicide, which continue to be in effect until February 6, 2016 (the date the declaration in Cartertakes effect).

Justice Pinsonnault stated, "The doctrine of federal paramountcy applies in this case and continues to apply until the incompatibility with sections 14 and 241(b) of the Criminal Code disappears.”

Robert Reynolds, Board President of CLF and legal counsel in this intervention, commented, “This is a sound, well-reasoned, and clear judgement affirming that assisted suicide remains subject to criminal law. We welcome the clarity this decision provides, as well as the temporary reprieve it will offers to those opposed to providing or participating in euthanasia or assisted suicide.”

Quebec’s government has announced that it will appeal the ruling. Quebec’s government contends that this is a “health matter” and therefore falls under exclusive provincial jurisdiction. In our view, Quebec’s position is in conflict with clear judicial declarations that health is an area of concurrent or overlapping jurisdiction – an area over which both federal and provincial government have jurisdiction – and that there is no “protected core” of provincial power over health care to which the criminal law does not apply (see, e.g., Carter v Canada, 2015 SCC 5, paras 49-53).