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Assisted dying bill passes House of Commons after filibuster delay

Minister of Justice David Lametti gives a thumbs up as he rises to vote in favour of a motion on Bill C-7, medical assistance in dying, in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

A bill to expand access to medical assistance in dying was approved Thursday by the House of Commons after the Conservatives ended a days-long filibuster.

Bill C-7 passed by a vote of 212-107, with the support of all but four Liberals — two of whom voted against and two of whom abstained — and all Bloc Quebecois and New Democrat MPs.

Read more: Bill to amend law on assisted dying in Canada reintroduced 2 months before court deadline

Nearly all Conservative MPs voted against the bill, but for 15 who supported it and one who abstained.

The Senate, where opinion on the bill is deeply divided, now has just one week to deal with it before a court-imposed deadline of Dec. 18.

The Conservatives spent four days putting up speaker after speaker to debate the bill at third reading, after similarly dragging out debate on the justice committee’s report on the bill.

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Click to play video 'Liberal MP stresses duties of members to protect rights of Canadians in case for assisted dying bill' Liberal MP stresses duties of members to protect rights of Canadians in case for assisted dying bill
Liberal MP stresses duties of members to protect rights of Canadians in case for assisted dying bill – Oct 19, 2020

As a result, passage of the bill Thursday came almost two weeks later than the government had planned and it remains to be seen whether the Senate can whip the bill through all stages of its legislative process in just one week.

The upper house is not expected to begin second reading debate on the bill until Monday. If senators vote to approve the bill in principle, it must then go to the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee.

The committee last week conducted a pre-study of the bill, hearing from numerous witnesses, in a bid to help expedite the bill’s passage through the Senate. But it may yet call more witnesses and must still give the bill clause-by-clause scrutiny and consider proposed amendments.

And then it must be debated and voted on again by senators in the chamber as a whole.

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Read more: Health-care costs in Canada dropped after assisted dying became legal

Should the Senate amend the bill, it would have to be sent back to the House of Commons for consideration. The Commons is scheduled to break Friday until late January but could be recalled if necessary.

The bill is intended to bring the law into compliance with a Quebec Superior Court ruling last fall, which struck down a provision allowing medical assistance in dying only to those whose natural death is reasonably foreseeable.

It would drop the near-death requirement but set out two sets of eligibility criteria, making it easier for those near death to receive an assisted death but setting up more restrictive conditions for those who are not.

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