⚖️ Dying assistance

To: Hearsay Readers

Today’s update includes:

  • Moving ahead with assisted dying for mental illnesses

  • Rapper says lawyer dropped the ball by using AI

  • Man banished from a Yukon First Nation

— Dylan Gibbs

LEGISLATION

Bill to block MAiD for mental illnesses defeated in House of Commons

Can doctors provide medical assistance in dying (MAiD) when someone is suffering from a serious mental health condition? That’s the plan, come March 17, 2024. Conservatives pitched a bill that would shut the change down, but it was defeated yesterday in a relatively close vote.

Background: Canada used to have a blanket prohibition on helping someone end their life. But in 2015, the Supreme Court said the prohibition violates the Charter rights of people suffering from grievous medical conditions.

Enter MAiD — if you meet certain conditions, medical professionals can help you end your life. When the government introduced MAiD in 2016, people asking for MAiD had to meet four eligibility conditions:

  1. A serious and incurable condition

  2. An advanced and irreversible state of decline

  3. Intolerable and enduring suffering

  4. Death is reasonably foreseeable

The last one blocked access to MAiD for people who experience intolerable suffering but aren’t going to die any time soon. Because of that, the Superior Court of Quebec concluded in 2019 that the fourth requirement also violates the Charter.

The federal government has now removed the “foreseeability of death” requirement. But they needed more time to consider whether mental illnesses should qualify for MAiD. So, since March 2021, the eligibility conditions have looked something like this:

  1. A serious and incurable condition (not mental health related)

  2. An advanced and irreversible state of decline

  3. Intolerable and enduring suffering

But on March 17, 2024, the mental health limitation is being removed. That’s why a Conservative MP introduced Bill C-314 earlier this year, which would keep the mental illness restriction in place indefinitely. Yesterday’s vote was to decide whether the Bill would continue to the committee stage for further review.

The vote came down 167–150 and split the House along atypical lines. The NDP and Green Party agree with the Conservatives that mental illness should not be included in MAiD. So do eight Liberal MPs, who broke ranks with the rest of the party and voted in support of the Bill. But the remaining Liberal votes, with the help of the Bloc Québécois, were enough to carry the day.

Barring any new developments, mental illnesses will qualify for MAiD as of March 17, 2024.

LEGAL PRACTICE

Artificial intelligence or incompetence?

Rapper Pras says lawyers are at the forefront of generative AI — at least in the “what not to do” category. Pras is asking for a new trial after he was convicted of conspiracy-related offences in Washington earlier this year. One of his arguments for a new trial is that his defence lawyer (David Kenner) used generative AI to draft a subpar closing argument.

Pras says Kenner’s closing argument was so bad it hurt the defence instead of helping. He says Kenner made frivolous arguments, mixed up legal theories, and failed to point out key weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. Yes, a human might have made those choices. Yes, Kenner’s closing argument might not have been any better if he wrote every word himself. But there’s more than one way to ride the AI bandwagon — who can blame Pras for equating novel technology use with negligence?

No such thing as bad press: Shortly after Pras’s trial, the company that created Kenner’s AI tool celebrated the first use of generative AI in a federal trial. The press release uses Pras’s picture but doesn’t mention he was convicted of all charges.

Screenshot of press release by EyeLevel.AI saying the company's product was the first use of AI in a federal trial

HEARSAY ROUNDUP

🙅 A self-governing First Nation in Yukon successfully banished an alleged drug dealer for the next 18-months. Selkirk First Nation went to court alleging that Brent Nibecker posed a threat to the community. The First Nation was initially asking for a permanent ban, but the parties reached a settlement before the scheduled court hearing.

🗳 At a BC Court of Appeal hearing today, Democracy Watch is continuing its fight against British Columbia’s 2020 snap election. The group says the Premier can’t just call an election whenever he wants and should have stuck to the set election schedule. Democracy Watch had some success in a similar New Brunswick case, where the New Brunswick Court of Appeal said Premiers need to act honourably and can’t call an election simply to gain an advantage for their party. But so far, BC doesn’t agree. Democracy Watch is appealing from the BC Supreme Court, where a judge held the Premier can call an election for any reason whatsoever. If we end up with different rules in different provinces after the BC Court of Appeal’s decision, the Supreme Court of Canada might eventually want to weigh in on this issue.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

I cannot help but make the sad observation that between them, the parties managed to incur legal costs that exceed their combined net worth when they separated more than seven years ago. Emotion won. How sad.

[T]heir complaints about the other closely resembled white noise with an overlay of “blah blah blah”.

Justice A.D. Grace in Brennan v. Fournie