MLA Dan Williams Tables Bill Enshrining
Conscience Rights for Medical Professionals

“Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: freedom of conscience…”

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Sec. 2 (a)

(Edmonton, AB: November 6, 2019): Dan Williams, MLA for Peace River today tabled Private Members Bill 207, the Conscience Rights Protection Act, which seeks to commit health care providers’ Section 2 (a) rights from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in provincial law. The Bill is based on supporting existing policies, Standards of Practice, and Codes of Ethics, of Alberta’s healthcare regulatory bodies while maintaining access to health care services.

“Health care providers should never have to choose between their most deeply held beliefs and their job,” said Williams. “This bill commits to law the first enumerated right in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, freedom of conscience, and strengthens existing protections. Let me be clear, this bill not only protects freedom of conscience, but it also in no way limits access to health care services in the province.”

Conscience rights legislation exists in jurisdictions across the country and in Codes of Ethics and Standards of Practice of many of the colleges that regulate the health care professions. In the 2015 Carter decision of the Supreme Court of Canada on euthanasia and assisted suicide, provincial legislatures were specifically encouraged to craft legislation dealing with matters of conscience and the Charter rights of providers.

“Freedom of conscience legislation provides the necessary support to engage front line health care professionals, institutional and regulatory governance, health care educators and the public on the importance for expressing and addressing issues of conscience that are becoming increasingly complex in Canadian health care contexts,” said Dr. Christina Lamb, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Nursing at the University of Alberta. “To that end, Bill 207 is a positive step forward for ethical health care in this country.”

In wide consultations with health care professionals MLA Williams frequently heard a desire to have strong protections for conscience in Alberta law. A recent Court of Appeal decision in Ontario that physicians who object to providing services like euthanasia and assisted suicide must offer their patients an “effective referral” was also a catalyst for the bill. A 2015 survey of Canadians physicians showed that 63% would object to providing “medical assistance in dying.”

“Jurisdictions across Canada and around the world have found ways to protect both patients and those with conscience concerns. We live in a pluralistic society,” said Dr Thomas Bouchard of the Alberta Committee for Conscience. “The government allowing for patient access without forcing physicians to compromise themselves is the best solution to allow for diversity to continue to be a cherished value in our society.”

Former Supreme Court Justice, John C. Major, C.C., Q.C., after reviewing a legal opinion of Bill 207provided by Miller Thompson L.L.P. stated, “The opinion is thoroughly researched and clearly expressed. It reviewed the Charter of Rights, caselaw and relevant legislation. His conclusion which speaks for itself is that Bill 207 is valid legislation that embraces the Charter rather than breaches it. An opinion that I agree with.”

Contact: Hadyn Place UCP Caucus (780) 719-2940

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