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Amendment to Bill C-7

Honourable senators, we spent 45 minutes earlier today paying tribute to the first facilitator of the ISG, who was described as independent-minded and a maverick. Perhaps I’m paying the best tribute to her now in offering an independent and, perhaps, maverick view.

Let me start by saying that it would be unfair to make a presumption that any one of us speaking on any side of this issue lacks empathy or seeks to stigmatize or somehow is not in touch with people who have mental illness. Senator Boehm and others have talked about personal experiences that we’ve all had. Let’s go on the assumption that we have those sentiments at heart and feel it very deeply, however we might vote on this amendment and on the bill in general.

I thank Senator Kutcher for his proposed amendment because it is, in fact, a bridge from one place to another that tries to find a middle road through a very difficult issue.

Colleagues, there are two reasons to support this amendment. Both reasons, in and of themselves, are sufficient to support the amendment, and they are as follows: The first reason is if you believe strongly that the exclusion of mental health is unconstitutional; the second reason is if you believe, with a high level of confidence, that the medical profession already has the tools and knowledge to do capacity assessment. If you feel strongly about one or both of these conditions, not only can you support the amendment, but you should support getting rid of the exclusion altogether. We heard as much from Senator Carignan and to some extent from Senator Dalphond as well.

If you hold a softer view of the second condition, which is that medical professionals have well-established competencies to do the assessment and so on, then you open the door to this idea of a phase-in period, which is precisely what Senator Kutcher is offering us.

But you have to ask yourself what this phase-in period is trying to do. If you already believe that medical professionals have the competencies and it is just a question of, say, training more people, then why would you not go all the way to excluding mental health right now? The competencies are established. Why would we cause more suffering — to use the words of some senators — by delaying it further?

If, on the other hand, your view of the medical profession’s ability to do capacity assessment is that “it’s not quite there yet, there are still some standards or protocols or rigour that need working on,” then it’s not exactly clear what this waiting period is doing, this sunset period. If your view is that there is work left to be done, then you have to realistically ask the questions: How much work is left to be done? And is, in fact, 18 months the right period of time?

We’ve heard use of the term “sunset clause,” or “sunrise clause,” and a variety of other language. Perhaps it’s more akin to an aircraft taking off. Senator Kutcher, with his knowledge and expertise — which I regard very highly — is proposing that the runway be 18 months long. But what if the plane is not ready to take off in 18 months? What if the problem is not about training more people or aligning standards, but it’s about sorting out difficulties and challenges that the profession itself has in coming to terms with how they do capacity assessment?

Senator Kutcher does not agree with this view. I am simply pointing out the way we need to think about this amendment and how we go about voting for it. If you are persuaded already that it is unconstitutional, if you are persuaded that the profession has the tools, skills and competencies to, in fact, assess mental health as a sole underlying condition, then there is nothing to stop us from removing it altogether. If you have doubts, as I do, that there may be more work to be done, then perhaps the runway is not long enough, and perhaps we should keep the exclusion for the time being. Thank you, colleagues.