(Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette. APTN/File photo)
APTN National News
Indigenous Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette says he plans to vote against his party’s proposed bill to legalize medically assisted dying.
Ouellette, who represents a Winnipeg riding, said the decision to vote against the bill is rooted in deeply held spiritual beliefs.
“I think symbolically, for the community where I am from, that I will need to demonstrate that I believe in a certain path and that this is the path I am choosing,” said Ouellette, in an interview Wednesday.
Ouellette said he doesn’t believe he will face any repercussions from voting against the bill. Liberal MPs are being allowed to vote their conscience on the issue.
“I think it’s a very personal thing,” said Ouellette.
The Liberal government introduced a bill last week to make medically assisted death legal for consenting adults over 18 years of age. The bill would make assisted death legal for people who are in “an advanced stage of irreversible decline” and suffering from ailments where natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”
The government introduced the bill facing a June 6 deadline set by the Supreme Court which struck down the ban on physician assisted dying last year. The high court said consenting adults suffering from “grievous and irremediable” ailments should be able to seek medically assisted death.
Ouellette said the federal government should work around the deadline and delay legalizing assisted death for at least five to 10 years until it’s absolutely clear what sort of impact it would have in all corners of Canadian society.
“I think we need to take more time, especially in light of Attawapiskat,” said Ouellette.
Attawapiskat, a Cree community in Ontario’s James Bay region, recently declared a state of emergency after suffering through 11 suicide attempts in a 24-hour span.
“I think there are communities that have this issue and if you allow, all of a sudden, this to occur…it might be very difficult,” he said. “If grandma, grandfather decides they had enough in life…if they weren’t able to carry on, why should I carry on? If they weren’t strong enough, why should I be strong enough? I think that is a question that is asked in Attawapiskat more often than not and the ripple effect of assisted dying is not the same in Toronto as in other places.”
Ouellette said his views are known within the Liberal caucus and to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, an Indigenous politician who was a regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations. Wilson-Raybould played a key role in developing the assisted dying bill.
“People know my viewpoint on it,” he said.
Ouellette said part of his current position on the issue was influenced by a conversation he had with his Sundance chief about three years ago.
“We were talking about suicide and he was talking in the lodge about this and he said, ‘Never forget the spirit of suicide, you have to fight the spirit of suicide, make sure it doesn’t come into our lives,’” said Ouellette. “I am afraid if we open this little door right now we won’t be able to fight that suicide spirit.”
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett told reporters this week she didn’t believe the proposed bill, if it becomes law, would impact communities dealing with suicide like Attawapiskat. She said there is some concern medically assisted dying is sometimes referred to as assisted suicide.
“The more we can keep that separate, the better,” said Bennett.
The House of Commons debate on the bill is scheduled to begin Friday.
–with files from Canadian Press