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Federal government seeks fourth extension to update assisted-dying law

OTTAWA — The Trudeau government is seeking a fourth extension to the court-imposed deadline for expanding access to medical assistance in dying.

OTTAWA — The Trudeau government is seeking a fourth extension to the court-imposed deadline for expanding access to medical assistance in dying.

Justice Minister David Lametti is asking the court to give the government one more month — until March 26 — to pass Bill C-7.

The bill is intended to bring the law into compliance with a 2019 Quebec Superior Court ruling that struck down a provision allowing assisted dying only for people nearing the natural ends of their lives.

The bid for yet another extension reflects doubt that the government can get the bill passed by the current deadline next Friday.

On Tuesday, the House of Commons is scheduled to begin debating whether to accept or reject major amendments passed by the Senate.

That debate could drag on for days and whatever the Commons ultimately decides on the amendments, the bill must still go back to the upper house, where senators will have to decide whether to defer to the elected chamber or dig in their heels.

Theoretically, the bill could bounce back and forth between the two parliamentary chambers indefinitely.

The Senate was to resume sitting on Tuesday but that has now been delayed until next Friday, in seeming recognition that C-7 is unlikely to be back in senators' laps before then.

Sen. Marc Gold, the government's representative in the Senate, said the Senate can be recalled earlier if need be. In a statement, Gold said he remains "fully committed to the legislation receiving royal assent expeditiously and in time to meet the court deadline of Feb. 26."

In a joint statement, Lametti and Health Minister Patty Hajdu said they too continue to hope that the bill can receive royal assent by Feb. 26. But they said the government is seeking the one-month extension "as a prudent step" in case Parliament can't meet the deadline.

"Amending Canada’s MAID (medical assistance in dying) law has been a lengthy and complex process. After months of review in both the House of Commons and the Senate, we are now at a critical stage," the ministers said.

The bill would expand access to assisted dying to intolerably suffering individuals who are not approaching the natural ends of their lives.

The Senate has passed the bill with five amendments, two of which would expand access well beyond what the government proposed.

One would allow people who fear losing mental capacity to make advance requests for assisted dying. The other would impose an 18-month time limit on the bill's proposed ban on assisted dying for people suffering solely from mental illnesses.

The Conservatives, who were largely opposed to the original bill and dragged out debate on it, have called for extended sitting hours for the Commons, even into the weekend, to allow for thorough debate on the Senate amendments.

“Canada's Conservatives believe any bill that is life-or-death like MAID requires a significant amount of scrutiny," the party's justice critic, Rob Moore, said in a statement.

"The constant scrambling from the Liberals to try and ram this bill through should be alarming to all Canadians.”

As the Liberals hold only a minority of seats in the Commons, the government would need the support of at least one opposition party to cut debate short.

It will also need at least one party to support its decision to accept, reject or modify each of the amendments.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2021.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press