National Post: Judges question simple marijuana possession cases as legality remains in limbo

Below is an excerpt from a National Post article, which can be found here.

OTTAWA — Some criminal trial judges are questioning why people continue to be prosecuted for simple possession of marijuana while the Liberal government moves to legalize the narcotic, the country’s most senior prosecutors told parliamentarians Thursday.

The House of Commons justice committee heard that one magistrate is even considering whether to continue with a simple-possession case before the court given the Liberal’s promise to turn pot consumption into a legal, regulated recreational activity.

In the meantime, the federal government is spending upwards of $4 million a year prosecuting those caught with small, personal stashes of the drug, the committee was told. Tens of millions more is spent on police, jail and court costs. In 2014 alone, 22,000 people were charged with marijuana-related crimes.

The government has not announced a timetable for when it intends to introduce its reform legislation and growing public uncertainty over the state of law is clearly frustrating police and others.

“People in my community, I’m talking the police and others, they don’t know what’s going on,” NDP MP committee member and health critic Murray Rankin said Thursday.

“These people have talked about reform, why can’t they decriminalize in the near term, why can’t they show us a road map of where we’re going in marijuana?”

 

Victoria News: Support growing for physician-assisted death

The following article can be found at Victoria News here.

On the heels of one of Canada's first physician-assisted deaths, support for the right to choose how a person wants to die is gaining momentum in Victoria.

Dying with Dignity Canada, a national organization committed to improving quality of dying and expanding end-of-life choices, recently launched its first Victoria chapter.

“I'm very interested in having choice at the end of life,” said Victoria resident and chapter co-chair Ellen Agger. “If I'm hit by a car, I don't have a choice. But if I get some kind of illness that has an outcome of death, then I would like to be able to choose the manner and time that I die.”

Agger first started thinking about end-of-life options when she was in her 30s. She would have discussions with her mother about the types of treatment they would prefer.

But the discussion turned into reality when her mother was diagnosed with a fast-progressing dementia.

She lost the ability to feed, bathe, clean and care for herself. Whenever she spoke, Agger could not understand her. Her mother passed away a year and five months after diagnosis.

Seven years ago, her father was diagnosed with lung cancer and suffocated to death.

“I want to control how I die. I want to die peacefully. I want it to be a gentle death, I don't want to suffer,” Agger said.

Support has been growing for physician-assisted dying in Victoria.

The group has more than 320 supporters in Greater Victoria and 850 on the Vancouver and Gulf islands.

According to Agger, there's been a shift in how people think about death and more people are comfortable with talking about the idea of dying.

Under Canada's current laws, it is a crime to assist another person in ending their life.

However, two recent Supreme Court decisions allow exemptions if certain criteria are met.

Last month, a special joint committee on physician-assisted dying released a 70-page report with 21 recommendations on new federal legislation to enable physician-assisted dying.

Recommendations include medical assistance in dying be made available to individuals with terminal and non-terminal medical conditions that cause intolerable suffering; that the federal government work with provinces and territories to ensure all publicly funded health care institutions provide medical assistance in dying; and medical-assisted dying can be carried out if two physicians are present.

Victoria MP Murray Rankin was the vice-chair of the committee which heard from 61 groups and more than 100 written submissions about physician-assisted deaths.

Rankin said he's hopeful new federal legislation will be passed in June based on the recommendations put forward.

“I'm satisfied with our job of protecting the vulnerable. We took that very, very seriously,” Rankin said.

“I'm hopeful, having heard from witnesses and trying to make the judgements we were asked to make, that the government will see this as a positive report . . . and the bill will be drafted along similar lines.”

In an emailed statement a spokesperson with the Vancouver Island Health Authority said “The direction the federal government takes in response to the Supreme Court's ruling will determine how we proceed in B.C. I expect there will be strong direction provided by the provincial government and the College of Physicians and Surgeons, which Island Health would follow.”

The issue has sparked debate between people for and against physician-assisted dying, after a Calgary woman was granted the right to physician-assisted death last week.

She travelled to Vancouver to end her life with the help of two physicians last week.

National Post: Opposition parties decry Liberals’ approach to parliamentary security committee

The following is an excerpt from a National Post article, which can be found in it's entirety here. The image is courtesy of Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press

Opposition parties say they deserve a seat at the table as the Liberals put together a watchdog committee on national security and intelligence.

The Conservatives say the government is politicizing a process that the New Democrats say requires a transparent and independent approach.

While the opposition parties say they are united in their belief that all parties must work together on the establishment of the committee, they sent individual letters this week to the prime minister and public safety minister.

In a letter Tuesday, Conservative public safety critic Erin O’Toole said Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale should know from his consultations in the United Kingdom the importance of ensuring the committee’s work is entirely non-partisan.

“The appointment of a chair before the committee is structured and your public pronouncements on the committee without any all-party discussion suggests to both official opposition parties that the government intends to foist upon Parliament a committee that is immediately politicized because of a lack of collaboration and information-sharing,” O’Toole said in his letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press.

The Conservatives presented 18 ideas for the mandate, structure and duties of the committee, including a requirement that it publish an annual report and that all its members should have had some exposure to security, intelligence or defence issues.

Both parties single out NDP MP and lawyer Murray Rankin as someone who should play a major role in forming the body. Before being elected in 2012, Rankin served as legal counsel for the Security and Intelligence Review Committee, the independent body that oversees Canada’s spy agency.

The Catholic Register: NDP seeks right to palliative care

The following article can be found here. The photo is courtesy of Deborah Gyapong

If legalized assisted suicide is one wing of the bird the other wing is palliative care, said MP Murray Rankin as he tabled a motion to make access to palliative care a right for all Canadians.

The lone NDP member on the Parliamentary committee on physician-assisted dying, Rankin urged that the committee’s report on assisted suicide include recommendations for a properly funded, pan-Canadian palliative care program based on co-operation between the federal, provincial and territorial governments.

The committee “must be committed to implementing the Carter decision and providing recommendations on how it goes forward,” Rankin said. But the other wing of the bird “has to be a serious commitment to palliative care,” making it a “reality and a right.”

Calling his motion the first to require “actual funding” for palliative care by the federal government, he said “we need to put our money where our mouth is.”

Rankin read that motion and several others related to palliative care into the record Feb. 4 as the committee heard the last of 62 witnesses. He told Canadian Catholic News he “moved a series of motions to make sure palliative care is front and centre in the committee’s report.

His motion followed a similar call from Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins. Addressing the committee on Feb. 3, he called for a cross-Canada network of palliative care facilities to provide end-of-life services to give people viable options to physician-assisted death. He called this a “moral imperative” for all levels of government. (See below for the cardinal’s full statement).

“Our worth as a society will be measured by the support we give to the vulnerable,” he said. “What does it say about us as a society when the ill and vulnerable in our midst feel like burdens? Often, a plea for suicide is a cry for help.

Society should respond with care and compassionate support for these vulnerable people, not with death.”

The committee has gone behind closed doors to brief analysts who will draft the report that must be finished by Feb. 25.

Seventy per cent of Canadians can’t access palliative care and “some estimates are even higher than that,” Rankin said.

In welcoming the motion, the legal council for the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition said palliative care already “is a right.” Hugh Scher expects a court will be asked to confirm that.

“That said, the government has already recognized, historically and presently, this right but has failed to provide the resources or the means to give effect to it,” he said. “That failure represents a fundamental violation of basic principles of health care and basic principles of constitutional law. I expect a Charter challenge will be launched shortly in the event the government does not implement such a program to reflect that right.

“No Canadian should be left with the choice of either suffer to death or kill yourself.”

Rankin said his motion is consistent with NDP MP Charlie Angus’ Motion 456 that called for a pan-Canadian palliative care and end-of-life strategy. His motion was passed almost unanimously by Parliament in May 2014.

Angus said he was disappointed the previous government “never moved on it and the Supreme Court came down like a ton of bricks and now we’re really behind the eight-ball here.”

“This is all supposed to be wrapped up in June by law,” he said. “It will be legal to have the right to die, but not access to quality end-of-life care across the country. To me that is profoundly disturbing.”

Global: Joint committee on physician assisted dying holds first meeting

This article was first published on Global, and can be read in it's entirety here. Below is an excerpt from the article.

The joint committee examining the issue of physician assisted dying will meed for the first time next Monday, January 18 2016. The committee consists of 11 members, including Victoria's own Murray Rankin. A full list of the members can be found below:

Sen. James Cowan (Liberal)
Sen. Serge Joyal (Liberal)
Sen. Nancy Ruth (Conservative)
Sen. Kelvin Ogilvie (Conservative)
Sen. Judith Seidman (Conservative)
MPs:
John Aldag, (Liberal Cloverdale-Langley City)
Rene Arseneault (Liberal Madawaska-Restigouche)
Steven Blaney (Conservative Bellechasse-Les Etchemins-Levis)
Michael Cooper (Conservative St. Albert-Edmonton)
Julie Dabrusin (Liberal Toronto-Danforth)
Denis Lemieux (Liberal Chicoutimi-Le Fjord)
Robert Oliphant (Liberal Don Valley West)
Murray Rankin (NDP Victoria)
Brigitte Sansoucy (NDP Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot)
Brenda Shanahan (Liberal Chateauguay-Lacolle)
Mark Warawa (Conservative Langley-Aldergrove)