Speech – 2022.09.29 – Bill C-230


Bill C-230 – Freedom of Conscience
2nd Reading
September 29, 2022

Mr. Len Webber (Calgary Confederation, CPC): Madame Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-230, the Protection of Freedom of Conscience Act.  My colleague from Carlton Trail-Eagle Creek has worked hard to bring this legislation forward and I applaud her for doing so.

Right off the bat, I do want to say that my honourable colleague and I come at these issues from opposite ends, but I thank her for encouraging me to share a different perspective on the matter.

I support a women’s right to seek an abortion and always will.

I support Canadians having access to medically-assisted dying and always will.

In fact, I proudly supported the legislation that made access to medically-assisted dying possible several years ago.

However, I also respect that medically-assisted death is not acceptable for a large number of Canadians, especially those who hold strong religious convictions where their teachings prohibit such acts.

So, today I find myself standing strongly to defend those who disagree with my fundamental beliefs.

If we want others to defend our rights and freedoms, we have to be willing to defend theirs.  Rights and freedoms are a two-way street.

As I said in 2016 when debating MAiD, I said, “this is a complex issue for which there are strong opinions on both sides.”

Trying to solve and encapsulate such complex emotional issues into legislation is always a challenge and it will never be perfect.  As such, I strongly supported the original legislation’s requirement that there be a review at the five-year mark to re-evaluate the legislation.

I feel this thorough re-evaluation has never taken place and breaks faith with the spirit of the original legislation.  I would strongly urge the Liberal government to undertake a deep review of the MAiD legislation and address its shortcomings.  The trust of Canadians is being put to the test and it does not have to be this way.

I have always been a very strong advocate for palliative care and will continue to be.

My dear friend Lou Winters, who worked for me for many, many years was the executive director of Rosedale Hospice in Calgary.  My family and I have volunteered here and saw directly the importance of palliative care.

My late father-in-law, David Macdonald, was the executive chef at the Rosedale Hospice. He spent much of his long life career as an executive chef in many hotels throughout the country. He spent his final years cooking for the dying in the hospice.

As many Members know, I was widowed when my wife passed away from breast cancer.  That journey, more than any other, showed me that palliative care is necessary and timely access to it is critical.  In fact, one of the conditions on which I supported MAiD was that we simultaneously and strongly support palliative care.  One cannot replace the other – they are both needed.

The fact is that palliative care remains grossly underfunded and access is hit-and-miss depending on where you live and when you need it.

Both MAiD and palliative care rely on medical professionals.  These professionals are people, real people, with personal beliefs, personal convictions and personal experiences.

I can understand that not all medical professionals support abortion or MAiD — and I support their belief that they should not be forced to perform certain procedures that put them at odds with their conscience, their beliefs and their community.

Quite frankly, I would not want to have a procedure performed on me by anyone who did not believe in what they were doing – would you?  Would it not be better to know if your doctor or nurse was willing to put 100% effort into their work before the procedure started?

Protecting conscience rights ensures that both the patient and the medical staff are fully informed and aware of issues when giving consent.  I do not need to go into detail to explain the importance of informed consent in the medical process, but I believe conscience rights protections are an important aspect of the whole informed consent process.

The whole process of dying is deeply personal and individually unique.  Sometimes you have experiences with the dying that leave lasting impressions and I feel compelled to share one quickly.

On a Thursday in August 2020, my constituent Sophia Lang wrote to me to tell me she had been approved for MAiD.  She said, “You have no idea how much peace of mind that gives me: that there is a merciful way out of needless pain and suffering. I thank the Lord each day that I have that option for when life is no longer worth living.”

She went on to say, “However there is a problem. One needs to have mental faculties to be able to consent at the very end. That is a reason that many people — and I may be one of them — choose to activate MAID early: for fear of being unable to consent at the end. I wish you, as my representative in parliament, to help improve the law so that advance directives are made legal. Many people would be able to live longer and at peace.”

Imagine my shock when I later learned that we had these exchanges in her last days.  She died just four days after our last exchange as I learned through the Calgary Herald obituaries. She never mentioned how close she was to leaving this world in any of our emails.  I found it so powerful that when she had so little time left on this earth, she spent precious moments advocating for those who would follow in her footsteps.

Sophia has been gone for two years now, but her voice is not silent.

I will continue to support access to MAiD, advocate for proper advance directives and strongly call for a better palliative care system in Canada.  At the same time, I will defend and speak for those who have conscience objections to these procedures.

I truly believe, as a society, we must find a way to give Canadians something without taking something away from others.  Protection of Conscience Rights does just this by ensuring law-makers can, in good conscience, give access to certain medical procedures without unjustly compromising the existing freedoms exercised by others.

As Democratic politician and American lawyer Joe Andrew famously said, “The hardest decisions in life are not between good and bad or right and wrong, but between two goods or two rights.”

I believe we can find a common ground on these issues and we must.

We need to find a way to make rights compatible — to find a way to give something to some without taking away from others.

I call on all Members of this House to support this Bill into Committee.  I think this is an important conversation we need to have as a Parliament.

Again, I understand my colleague and I have a fundamental disagreement on issues like MAiD and abortion, but I hope we have demonstrated to our colleagues that when Members do share common ground on an issues, like conscience rights, we owe it to Canadians to work together.

Thank you.