MAID Deaths on the Rise in Canada

Assisted suicide has been legal since June 2016 (December 2015 in Quebec), and the numbers of patients requesting and receiving assisted suicide are on the rise.

According to CBC, from June 17, 2016 to January 10, 2017, BC has reported 188 deaths from medical assistance in dying, with 77 of those patients residents of Vancouver Island, which itself has a population of only 760,000 and accounted for 2 percent of all deaths on the Island for that period.

Alberta posts weekly data regarding medical assistance in dying, and from February 6, 2016 (when MAID was accessible via court order) and April 10, 2017, 109 patients died from MAID. Data updated to February 28, 2017 reveal that 64 people have not met the criteria, 22 patients have had some sort of transfer to facilitate death, and the age of patients dying ranges between 63 and 88.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority reports that as of January 6, 2017, 24 patients have died from MAID in Manitoba, with 28 dying before completing the process, 14 actively being assessed, 18 declined (of whom 5 had solely mental health concerns) and 18 inquiries.

In Ontario, as of March 30, 2017, MAID has claimed the lives of 365 patients.

Quebec outpaces the rest of Canada with 461 patients dying from MAID. From December 2015 to June 2016, 166 patients died, and between June 2016 and December 2016, 295 patients died. This accounts for slightly more than half of the 721 requests for MAID by Quebec patients. Quebec’s law came into effect on December 10, 2015, which accounts for the higher number of deaths.

Not surprisingly, the numbers from the eastern provinces are much lower. As of October 16, 2016, the Nova Scotia Health Authority reported 16 deaths from MAID.  New Brunswick has approved 9 MAID requests, Newfoundland and Labrador have performed 4 assisted suicides, but neither PEI, the Northwest Territories nor Nunavut have performed any assisted suicides. In the Yukon, reports suggest one patient has died from MAID.

In total, it has been reported that 1,324 people have died by MAID in Canada within the first year of its legalization. By comparison, in Belgium, it was reported that 24 people died by euthanasia the first year the practice was legal. 

University Pro-Life Club Seeks Court Order Against Campus "Security Fee"

Corbett Hall, University of Alberta, Edmonton

Corbett Hall, University of AlbertaEdmonton

In February 2016, UAlberta’s Pro-Life student club filed a court application against the University of Alberta in UAlberta Pro-Life v University of Albertachallenging the $17,500 “security fee” the school demanded the club pay in order to set up a peaceful display on campus grounds. The mandatory payment, the Pro-Life club argues, unjustifiably infringes on their right to religious freedom. University of Alberta claimed that the cost was the amount to cover the wages of security guards and police, barricade the venue, and pay for the potential havoc that may arise due to the display.

Unable to pay the fee, the Pro-Life club was forced to cancel its event. In fact, in the same event held by the Pro-Life club in 2015, a student-led mob blockaded and obstructed the club’s display. University of Alberta Protective Services (UAPS) did nothing to stop the blockade despite being notified in advance that a mob was being organized. In March of 2015, the club filed a formal complaint with UAPS against the mob organizers; in November of 2015, the UAPS decided that the University would neither prosecute or charge the students responsible for the blockade. The court application in this case also seeks a declaration that the UAPS’ decision is unreasonable. The hearing for this case is scheduled for June 8 and 9 in Edmonton.

 

Ontario Bill 89 to Allow State to Take Away Children "Abused" on the Basis of Gender Identity

(Photo by Benson Kua, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10803582)

(Photo by Benson Kua, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10803582)

Earlier today, Bill 89, Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act, 2017, which repeals and replaced the old Child and Family Services Act, received royal assent. This new legislation permits the state to intervene in families that are not accepting of the child’s chosen gender identity and gender expression. The Minister of Child and Family Services, Michael Coteau, characterizes parental opposition to a child’s self-expressed gender identity as a form of abuse that justifies the state to remove that child “from that environment and place [them] into protection where the abuse stops”.

While some see this legislation as progress, a “paradigm shift” that is child-centred, promotes children rights, and is in the best interests of the child, there are others who are critical of it, deeming the bill “totalitarian”, dangerous, a threat to people of faith who have children, and a direct attack on the family and parental authority. Petitions are currently calling for a repeal of this bill. 

Swedish Court Rules Against Pro-Life Midwife

Swedish midwife Ellinor Grimmark is pro-life and refuses to perform abortions. Because of this, she was denied employment at several hospitals. Yet Sweden’s Labor Court ruled she had not been discriminated against and found her freedom of opinion and expression had not been violated. In addition to losing her court case, she was ordered to pay costs and damages of approximately $139,000 CAD to the local County Council. Her legal team is considering an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

New Brunswick Judge Grants Permanent Injunction Against Pro-Life Protesters

Earlier today, a permanent injunction (court file no. BC/115/2013) was granted to the plaintiff Vitalité Health Network by Justice Reginald Legér of the Court of Queen’s Bench of New Brunswick to prevent protesters from holding demonstrations on the property of the Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst. The permanent injunction follows from an interlocutory judgement that was previously granted to the plaintiff following an incident in September 2012 in which an ambulance was forced to come to an abrupt stop - causing a paramedic to fall over and a patient’s mask to become dislodged -  due to the presence of anti-abortion protesters on the access road to the hospital’s emergency department.

The defendant protesters maintained that they had “nothing to do with the incident,” emphasizing that their “40 Days for Life” group consists primarily of senior citizens who seek to promote a pro-life message through silent prayer and vigil. Although both the plaintiff and Justice Legér rejected this assertion, they conceded that the grant of a permanent injunction would infringe the defendants’ Charter right to freedom of religion, expression and assembly. However, Justice Legér concluded that the plaintiff’s right to ensure “the safety of all hospital users” as well as “the good order and proper functioning of the hospital environment” ultimately took precedence over this right. The court further rejected the defendants’ proposed compromise that would have seen a limited number of demonstrators allowed to protest for a set number of hours each day at a fixed location beside the hospital’s access road.

Ontario Government Rejects Conscience Protection for Physicians

(Photo by Benson Kua, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10803582)

(Photo by Benson Kua, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10803582)

Bill 84 presented the Ontario government with the opportunity to protect physicians’ conscience rights. An amendment proposed by official opposition health critic Jeff Yurek would have ensured that participation in, and referral for, MAID is entirely voluntary. His amendments were rejected by the committee studying the bill. The committee heard oral presentations from 42 individuals and/or organizations, 31 of which supported conscience protection, including Christian Legal Fellowship and the Ontario Medical Association, among others. Mr. Yurek now plans to table a private member’s bill in May to protect conscience rights. CLF’s written submission to the committee can be read here and a video of its oral submissions viewed here

Saskatchewan Government Vows to Invoke Notwithstanding Clause

(Photo by Marc Lostracci - originally posted to Flickr as Every Canadian Needs A Copy, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4522975)

(Photo by Marc Lostracci - originally posted to Flickr as Every Canadian Needs A Copy, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4522975)

In a lawsuit concerning the constitutionality of provincial government funding to a separate Catholic school division in Theadore, Saskatoon, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Donald Layh ruled that public funding for non-Catholic students who attend such schools is a violation of the state’s duty to religious neutrality. Following that decision on April 20th, on May 1st, the Saskatchewan provincial government announced that it would invoke the notwithstanding clause to nullify the judicial ruling.

The notwithstanding clause permits provinces to enact legislation that may violate Charter rights, but only for a five year period. Former Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association president, Tom Fortosky, is grateful for the government’s decision to invoke the clause but still sees the need for an appeal of the decision which would “resolve the issue for all time”.

First Criminal Polygamy Trial in Canada Begins

While there have been a variety of court actions surrounding polygamy, the criminal charge has never been taken to trial. That is set to change with the trial of polygamist Winston Blackmore and James Oler, in Cranbrook, British Columbia. Blackmore is accused of having two-dozen wives over a 25-year period, and Oler of having four wives, in violation of s. 293 of the Criminal Code.

This case has been pending since 2007, when BC Attorney General Wally Oppal appointed a special prosecutor to review RCMP files on Blackmore and his religious community, known as “Bountiful”. This prosecutor recommended a constitutional reference rather than criminal charges. A second, and then third prosecutor was appointed, with the third agreeing to lay charges; however, those charges were stayed upon a finding that the prosecutors had been improperly appointed.

The constitutional reference case followed, in which the criminal prohibition was held to be a justifiable limit on the Charter rights of religious freedom and association. CLF intervened in that litigation, and the BC Supreme Court adopted a number of its submissions related to the harmful effects of polygamy.  The current, and fourth, prosecutor has had carriage of the criminal case since 2014. Blackmore’s lawyer has indicated that the defence will squarely raise the question of religious freedom and argue that Blackmore is entitled to an exemption of criminal prosecution on the grounds of his religious belief. The trial is expected to last several weeks. 

Supreme Court Grants Leave to Appeal in Religious Dispute

The Supreme Court has decided to hear the appeal of  Wall v Judicial Committee of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 2016 ABCA 255. Mr. Wall was a Jehovah’s Witness from 1980-2014, when he was “disfellowshipped”. He was disfellowshiped as result of his alleged drunkenness, verbal abuse toward his wife, and s refusal to shun his previously expelled 15-year old daughter, all actions for which he was deemed not sufficiently repentant. He appealed the decision through all available internal mechanisms, finally turning to the courts.

The majority of the Alberta Court of Appeal held that a court has jurisdiction to review the decision of a religious organization where there is an alleged breach of the rules of natural justice, or where all internal avenues of appeal have been exhausted; in such cases, the court can determine whether the internal decision was carried out in accordance with the organization’s rules and natural justice. More controversial was the majority’s opinion that Mr. Wall’s economic losses as a result of disfellowship were also reasonable grounds for court intervention because it interfered with his civil rights.

In a meticulously footnoted dissent, Justice Wakeling vehemently disagreed with the majority, finding that private actors are not subject to judicial review, and being a registered charity does not attract a significant enough public dimension to change the Congregation’s character from non-public to public. Even if it was subject to judicial review, the decision to expel Mr. Wall did not raise a justiciable issue, and constitutional principles give Congregation members the right to determine their membership. Finally, even if a large proportion of his real estate client base no longer does business with him, Mr. Wall’s property and civil rights are not affected by his expulsion.

This appeal raises several important issues - the ability of a religious community to define its own membership requirements, the immunity that protects religious communities when it acts to discipline or expel members, and the freedom religious communities have to create internal mechanisms and responses to address concerns of a spiritual nature. This will be an important case to follow as the outcome will significantly impact the autonomy and freedom of religious communities. 

Children Taken Away from Foster Home that Refuses to Affirm Existence of Easter Bunny

Derek and Frances Baars, a devout Christian couple that runs their own foster home, have filed for an application against the Hamilton Children’s Aid Society (CAS) for closing down their foster home in March 2016 on the grounds that the couple refused to lie to their girls about the existence of the Easter bunny. CAS support worker, Tracey Lindsay, was satisfied with the quality of care the girls had received but took issue when the Baars refused her request that they, as part of their parental duty, teach the girls about the Easter bunny in honour of “Canadian culture”.

In response to their refusal, Lindsay gave the Baars notice that the girls would be taken away and that their foster home would be shut down; she refused their request for a transition period of more than 24 hours. Aside from the apparent triviality of the issue at hand, Hamilton CAS has insisted that the foster home be closed down despite the fact that foster homes and foster parents are in severe shortage now.

Ontario Human Rights Commission Supports Religious Accommodation in Public Schools

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) issued a policy statement today emphasizing that the duty to accommodate creed-related needs to the point of undue hardship applies to education providers. Accommodation is appropriate where it results in equal opportunity to enjoy the same level of benefits and privileges experienced by others, or achieves equal opportunity and meets creed-related needs. The statement was largely in response to criticism of schools in Peel Region (GTA) for providing space to Muslim students for Friday prayers. 

EU Court of Justice Rules Employers Can Impose “Religious Neutrality” on Employees

Is a private employer allowed to prohibit an employee from wearing a religious symbol such as a headscarf in the workplace? Is it permitted to dismiss an employee who refuses to comply with such rules restricting the wearing of religious symbols?

In a preliminary ruling, the European Court of Justice has answered both questions in the affirmative, depending on the context. It held that an internal rule of an employer that prohibits all employees from visible wearing of any religious, political or philosophical sign does not constitute discrimination. However, the court also clarified that where no such internal rule exists, it is not a legitimate occupational requirement to demand employees remove religious head coverings in response to customers’ requests for “neutrality”.

The court was asked to provide a preliminary ruling on the proper interpretation of a Council Directive that established a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation. A female employee was fired because she wore a headscarf when interacting with a customer; the customer later complained that the wearing of a veil had “upset” a number of its own employees. The woman received a dismissal letter stating the company requires “discretion” as regards the “expression of the personal preferences” of its employees.

The Court held that Article 4(1) of Directive 2000/78 must be interpreted as meaning that the the wishes of a customer not to receive services from a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered a genuine and determining occupational requirement within the meaning of that provision. However, it did recognize that an employer could prohibit visual signs of religious belief as a bona fide occupational requirement in pursuit of a policy of “political, philosophical and religious neutrality” in its customer relations.Although it may constitute indirect discrimination, the court indicated  that discrimination could be appropriate and justified.

 

Peel District School Board Issues Fact Sheet on Religious Accommodation

In response to increasing criticism of its policy to accommodate Friday prayers for Muslim students, the Peel District School Board issued a 13-point Fact Sheet today on religious accommodation. The Board stated that it takes its legal obligations and commitment to genuine inclusion seriously. It sought to clarify important facts that are often misinterpreted. The Fact Sheet noted the following: the legal requirement for Ontario school boards to provide religious accommodation, that it has been taking place for over 15 years, that the Board does not favour one faith over another, and that religion does have a place in secular schools when accommodation is requested. Furthermore, it noted that Friday prayer does not negatively impact student learning, that staff will supervise but not interfere with the practice of faith, and that there is significant difference between the removal of the Lord’s prayer from school and Friday prayer accommodation.

Alberta Education Minister Orders Christian Schools to Allow Gay-Straight Alliances

(Photo by Ludovic Bertron from New York City, Usa - https://www.flickr.com/photos/23912576@N05/2942525739, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14831997)

(Photo by Ludovic Bertron from New York City, Usa - https://www.flickr.com/photos/23912576@N05/2942525739, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14831997)

Earlier today, Alberta Education Minister David Eggan issued a ministerial order to two Christian schools requiring that they permit students to form Gay-Straight Alliances (“GSAs”) or Queer-Straight Alliances (“QSAs”). The order stemmed from a legal opinion received by the Minister in November 2016 which recommended the schools’ accreditation be revoked at the end of the 2017 school year if the schools do not allow GSAs or QSAs. Through legal counsel, the schools responded by noting they currently comply with all legislative requirements (no students have sought to establish GSAs or QSAs), and referred to Loyola and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in support of religious schools and parental rights to choose education and transmit religious beliefs.

Ontario Islamophobia Motion Passed Unanimously

(Photo by Benson Kua, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10803582)

(Photo by Benson Kua, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10803582)

Earlier today, Motion 37 was introduced by Nathalie Des Rosiers in the Ontario Legislature and unanimously passed by all parties. The motion reaffirms the importance of diversity, recognizes the “significant contributions Muslims have made” to Ontario’s social and cultural fabric and prosperity and purports to “rebuke the growing tide of anti-Muslin rhetoric and sentiments”. It condemns all forms of Islamophobia but does not define that term, and affirms support for government efforts to address and prevent systemic racism and increase anti-racism awareness and education, including Islamophobia, in all parts of the province.

Mother Seeks Declaration Confirming School Board Violated Her Freedom of Religion

Servatius v School District 70, which is currently before the British Columbia Supreme Court, concerns a BC mother of two children who claims that School District 70 violated her and her children’s right to religious freedom in forcing them to participate in a cleansing rituals and religious prayer. Candice Servatius had received a letter in September 2015 from John Howitt Elementary School (JHES) notifying her that JHES would be performing Aboriginal cleansing rituals in the school’s classrooms.

In January 2016, Mrs. Servatius learned from her children that Aboriginal prayers had been performed at a JHES student assembly; JHES had not notified the students’ parents. School District 70 denies that these rituals violate Mrs. Servatius’ religious freedom because they are “cultural”. Earlier this month, Mrs. Servatius sought a declaration with the BCSC in Nanaimo. She is currently awaiting a verdict.

Transgender Rights and Misgendering as Human Rights Violation

Earlier this month, Bill C-16 passed through the House of Commons and is now before the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. The Bill would add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act and to the list of characteristics of identifiable groups protected from hate propaganda in the Criminal Code. Where a criminal offence is motivated by bias, prejudice or hate on the basis of gender identity or expression, it will constitute an aggravating circumstance for a court to consider when imposing a criminal sentence. Most provinces already include gender expression under human rights laws; the exceptions are New Brunswick, Nunavut and Yukon.