Third reading of Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying)—Amendment by Senator Jaffer

By: The Hon. Wanda Thomas Bernard

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War memorial, Ottawa

Hon. Wanda Elaine Thomas Bernard: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in support of Senator Jaffer’s crucial amendment to Bill C-7, to include the collection of data disaggregated by race.

I want to thank you, Senator Jaffer, for deliberately advocating for race-based analysis in your committee work and for bringing this amendment forward. We have here an opportunity to set the precedent of collecting data disaggregated by race to interrupt the pattern we find ourselves in now, frozen in a state of non-action when it comes to addressing systemic racism head-on.

During the reintroduction of this bill, which would expand access to MAID, Minister Qualtrough reaffirmed that:

Medical assistance in dying is a human rights issue. The proposed legislation recognizes the equality rights of personal autonomy as well as the inherent and equal value of every life.

Clearly, every life matters. We must ensure that this legislation protects those most vulnerable in Canada. Systemic anti-Black racism has created such health disparities for Black Canadians that we must consider the vulnerability of diverse Black communities in any and all health legislation. Senator Jaffer’s amendment would ensure that we have the information to understand the long-term impact of MAID legislation on Black lives, on Indigenous lives, and on the lives of other racialized Canadians. I am deeply concerned that, without careful consideration, we are at risk of passing legislation that will allow Black lives and racialized lives to remain invisible in conversations about health, about disability, about aging and about poverty.

Minister Lametti said that this is “. . . a deeply personal issue that touches real people and real families.” For Black Canadians, this is also a community issue.

In committee, Senator Jaffer established that a race analysis was not completed on this topic. The reason given by Minister Lametti was that a Gender-based Analysis Plus was done, but that race-based data was not available. The next day, the Senior Executive Advisor to the Deputy Minister clarified that:

. . . as far as the federal monitoring regime is concerned, we are not collecting race-based data or other information with respect to ethnicity.

As was implied by Minister Lametti yesterday, we need to do better in that area and we will. We heard your comments yesterday and took them to heart and to mind very seriously.

In the recent Speech from the Throne, amongst many plans to address systemic inequalities, the government promised to build “. . . a whole-of-federal-government approach around better collection of disaggregated data . . . .” Unfortunately, we are hearing that a race-based analysis was not conducted for Bill C-7 because we do not have this data. Gender-based Analysis Plus is not simply a gender analysis. The “plus” is typically forgotten. So we must emphasize the “plus” in order to fully analyze information and properly inform our decisions which impact vulnerable Canadians affected by intersecting marginalization.

As my previous colleagues have said, it’s a quarter of our population in this country.

A race-based analysis is not only about statistics. What about community consultation? What about projections or expected outcomes given by expert witnesses? Last spring, before we even had numbers about COVID-19, even though there was no race-based disaggregated data available, we were able to predict the potential disparities due to current health and employment disparities already present in Black communities across this country.

A primary theme throughout discussions on MAID is that it offers freedom of choice. As we have heard Senator Pate mention several times during debates, some of the most marginalized Canadians who do not have access to adequate care do not have a choice. A choice between living without adequate care and MAID is no choice at all. I think of the many people in African Nova Scotian communities for example, who are living at the intersection of race and disability, often with concurrent illnesses, not having access to —

The Hon. the Acting Speaker: Your time has expired.

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