Carter v. Canada (Attorney General)

2015 SCC 5

This case arose out of a challenge to the constitutionality of ss. 14 and 241(b) of the Criminal Code, which together prohibited physician-assisted dying. The applicant Gloria Taylor had been diagnosed with a fatal neurodegenerative disease, and was joined by two more claimants who had helped their mother access physician-assisted dying in Switzerland. They alleged that the provisions infringed on their s.7 and s.15 Charter rights, as well as those of competent adults suffering intolerably as a result of grievous and irremediable medical conditions. The challenge on s.7 was accepted at trial, but was overturned by the BC Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the provisions unjustifiably infringed s.7 of the Charter, affirming the trial judge’s reasoning. They ruled that the trial judge had been correct in overruling Rodriguez v British Columbia (Attorney General), [1993] 3 SCR 519, citing the new legal issues raised by the challenge and the changed legal circumstances around s.7 jurisprudence. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial judge’s reasoning that the impugned provisions engaged the right to life by forcing some people to choose between premature suicide and a slower death as a result of their medical condition. The provisions also engaged s.7 liberty and security of the person rights in the form of the autonomy and dignity of the affected individuals. The infringement was found to violate the principles of fundamental justice. While the objective of the impugned provisions was to protect vulnerable persons from being induced to commit suicide, the prohibition caught competent adults who were not vulnerable to such inducement, and were therefore overbroad. In the s.1 Oakes analysis, the justification failed at the proportionality stage, the Crown not having discharged its burden of proving that there were no less restrictive means to achieve the objective.

Having found an infringement under s.7, the Supreme Court declined to consider whether there was also a violation of s.15. As remedy, the Court granted a one year suspended declaration of invalidity, to the extent that the provisions deprive persons like the claimants of their s.7 rights.

SCC Reasons for Judgment

Faculty of Law Scholarship discussing Carter v. Canada (Attorney General)

Kent Roach, “Polycentricity and queue jumping in public law remedies: a two-track response,” (2016) 66 Univ of Toronto LJ 3.

Kent Roach, “Dialogue between the Court and Parliament: a recent Charter trilogy,” (2016) CLQ 251.


Date Document
2014/05/13 Appellants – Lee Carter et al.
2014/07/04 Respondent – Attorney General of Canada
2014/07/07 Respondent – Attorney General of British Columbia
2014/09/11 Appellants (Reply) – Lee Carter et al.
2014/09/11 Respondent (Reply) – Attorney General of Canada
2014/09/18 Appellants (Reply) – Lee Carter et al.
2014/08/01 Intervener – Attorney General of Quebec
2014/08/05 Intervener – Attorney General of Ontario
2014/08/26 Intervener – Criminal Lawyers Association (Ontario)
2014/08/25 Intervener – Christian Legal Fellowship
2014/08/27 Intervener – Dying with Dignity
2014/08/27 Intervener – Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
2014/08/26 Intervener – Catholic Health Alliance of Canada
2014/08/26 Intervener – Christian Medical Dental Society of Canada and the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies
2014/08/29 Intervener – Alliance of People With Disabilities
2014/08/29 Intervener – Canadian Unitarian Council
2014/08/29 Intervener – Canadian Civil Liberties Association
2014/08/28 Intervener – Collectif des medecins contre l’euthanasie
2014/08/29 Intervener – Catholic Civil Rights League
2014/08/29 Intervener – Faith and Freedom Alliance and Protection of Conscience Project
2014/08/28 Intervener – Council of Canadians with Disabilities and the Canadian Association for Community Living
2014/08/24 Intervener – Farewell Foundation for the Right to Die and Association Quebecoise pour le droit de mourir dans la dignite
2014/08/28 Intervener – Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (British Columbia)
2014/08/29 Intervener – Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and HIV/AIDS Legal Clinic (Ontario)
2014/08/27 Intervener – Canadian Medical Association
2014/08/27 The Association for Reformed Political Action