Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) [2014-2015]

05 February 2015
Bruce Clemenger

EFC President explains court decision and what’s next on 100 Huntley Street (Feb. 9, 2015)

The Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) case led to the striking down of Canada’s laws that prohibit assisting someone to commit suicide. The federal government was given a deadline of Feb. 2016 to introduce legislation to regulate when and how assisted suicide can be legally practised. The government asked the court for a six-month extension on this deadline and eventually did pass legislation.

This case was heard at several courts, with the final appeal heard Oct. 15, 2014 and the Supreme Court's decision released Feb. 6, 2015. The EFC, an intervener in the case, responded the same day.

EFC resources, commentary and media releases

EFC Resources and Commentary

Bruce Clemenger

Anticipating court decision on PrimeTime Politics (Feb. 5, go to 20-min. mark)

Media Releases

Legal history

2012 British Columbia Supreme Court: On June 15, 2012, Justice Lynn Smith of the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled that exceptions should be carved out of the existing Criminal Code provision that prevent euthanasia and assisted suicide, particularly section 241’s prohibition on counselling or assisting someone to commit suicide. The judge ruled, contrary to the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1993 decision in Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General) and despite the demonstrated expressed will of Parliament, that the Code’s provisions violated equality rights and the rights to life, liberty and the security of the person. The judge determined the existing provisions discriminated, in particular, against persons with physical disabilities who might be unable to commit suicide without assistance. Accordingly, she concluded the state should be required to provide a means to assist those who want to commit suicide but are unable to do so.

Over the last 20 years, since the decision in Rodriguez that found s. 241 of the Criminal Code to be constitutionally valid, there have been nine private members’ bills which sought to decriminalize euthanasia and assisted suicide which were voted down in the House Commons. The last attempt, in private member’s Bill C-384, was defeated on April 21, 2010 by a wide margin in a vote of 228-59.

The EFC’s unique and useful perspective focuses on the principle of “the sanctity of human life” as a deeply rooted value underpinning the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which finds expression in the criminal law generally and on the prohibition on physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia in particular. 

2013 British Columbia Court of Appeal: The British Columbia Court of Appeal heard the case from March 4-8, 2013. A decision was announced Oct. 10, 2013, which kept physician-assisted suicide illegal.

2014 Supreme Court of Canada: The final appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was heard Oct. 15, 2014. The EFC intervened again in this case. The court's decision came Feb. 6, 2015, and the EFC responded.

Legal submissions and court decisions

Court Decisions

Legal Submissions