Supreme Court of Canada signals change in jurisprudence

In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada has struck down three laws restricting prostitution and suspended the effect of its ruling for one year to give the government an opportunity to draft replacement legislation.  Some observers are of the view that the ruling increases the likelihood that assisted suicide or euthanasia will be legalized in Canada, either by judicial fiat or by legislation supporting such a change.  In the prostitution judgement, the court granted lower courts much greater latitude to set aside earlier Supreme Court precedents if new legal issues are raised, or if there has been some other change that “fundamentally shifts the parameters of the debate.”

The Supreme Court is set to hear an appeal from British Columbia in the case of Carter v. Canada, which turns on a precedent established by the Supreme Court in 1993 in the Rodriguez case.  The circumstances are virtually identical (plaintiffs suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease seeking a right to assisted suicide/euthanasia).  The Supreme Court judge in Carter distinguished the case from Rodriguez on some issues and ruled in favour of the plaintiff, but the British Columbia Court of Appeal overturned the ruling in a split decision, citing the Rodriguez precedent as binding.  Since the Supreme Court accepted the trial judge’s finding in the prostitution case that new evidence required a precedent to be set aside, counsel for the plaintiffs in the Carter case is optimistic that it will take the same approach when ruling on euthanasia. [National Post]