Euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal in Canada. Parliament has re-considered this numerous times in the last 20 years, but has never changed its stance. The SCC has also maintained the criminality of assisted suicide, citing the importance of protecting the vulnerable. In 2012, however, the BC Supreme Court (the “Court”) in Carter v. Canada ruled that the provisions prohibiting physician-assisted suicide were overbroad and that prohibiting assisted suicide except when done under stringent conditions would satisfy the objective of protecting the vulnerable. The Court suspended its declaration of invalidity in order for Parliament to amend the legislation to make it constitutional.

Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General) – Supreme Court of Canada, 1993
Rodriguez suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and had a life expectancy of 2-14 months. She was expected to lose the ability to swallow, speak, walk, or move without assistance. Rodriguez argued that s. 241(b) of the Criminal Code, which prohibited assisted suicide, was unconstitutional. The majority of the SCC disagreed. It found that while s. 241(b) did engage s. 7 because it deprived her of a choice concerning her own body, it did not violate s. 7. Section 241(b) was found to be in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice, as it maintained respect for human life. The SCC also held that the provision did not violate s. 12 (which protects against cruel and unusual punishment) as there was no active state process being forced upon her. The majority assumed for this case that s. 15 equality rights were infringed, but found that this was justified under section 1 as the objective of the legislature was to protect and maintain respect for life.

R. v. Latimer – Supreme Court of Canada, 2001
Latimer’s daughter Tracy suffered with a severe form of cerebral palsy and was in a lot of pain. When doctors advised additional surgery, Latimer took Tracy to his pickup truck and inserted a hose from the exhaust pipe into the cab, killing Tracy with carbon monoxide. The SCC upheld a conviction of second degree murder and the corresponding mandatory minimum sentence. It held that Latimer could not rely on the defence of necessity. There was no imminent peril or danger either to himself or to Tracy, and Latimer had a reasonable alternative to killing Tracy – continuing on the way it was. The SCC also held that killing her was not a proportionate response to the pain she was in. The SCC found that the mandatory minimum sentence was not a violation of s. 12 (the right against cruel and unusual punishment). While Latimer was certainly motivated by concern for Tracy and would not likely reoffend, this did not outweigh the seriousness of the offence and the importance of denouncing murder. Important factors included Latimer’s dishonesty at the beginning, his lack of remorse, the significant degree of planning of her death, and Tracy’s extreme vulnerability and dependency on him.

Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) – British Columbia Supreme Court, 2012
Taylor suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Carter and her husband, Johnson, had helped Carter’s mother travel to Switzerland for a physician assisted death. Together, with a physician and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, these plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of s. 241(b) and related provisions of the Criminal Code which prohibited physician-assisted death. The BC Supreme Court (the “Court”) found that the challenged sections violated s. 15 because individuals with physical disabilities were affected more than other Canadians. This was not justified under section 1. Parliament’s goal of preventing vulnerable persons from being induced to commit suicide could have been met by prohibiting assisted suicide except in accordance with stringent conditions. The Court also held that s. 7 rights to liberty, security of the person, and to some extent life, were engaged. The provisions were not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice because they were overbroad and grossly disproportionate. As in s. 15, the violation was not justified by section 1. The Court declared the provisions invalid but suspended this for one year. In the mean time, Taylor was granted a constitutional exemption to allow her to obtain a physician-assisted death.