Controversial ‘conscience bill’ delayed until spring

Peace River MLA Dan Williams was in the midst of a passionate speech in defence of his private member’s Bill 207, also known as the “conscience rights” bill, when an adjournment of the Alberta legislature was called due to a suicide. [File photo].

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

Peace River MLA Dan Williams was in the midst of a passionate speech in defence of his private member’s Bill 207, also known as the “conscience rights” bill, when an adjournment of the Alberta legislature was called due to a suicide.

Williams rose on Dec. 2 to oppose the position of a committee report on Bill 207 that recommended the bill not continue to second reading.

Williams was interrupted by Speaker Nathan Cooper as the Legislature was adjourned shortly after 3 p.m.

Ken Chan fatally shot himself with a handgun on the Legislature building’s front steps at around 3 p.m.

Chan, 62, was a military veteran who served for 25 years. His stepson Harald Linder told CBC that Chan suffered from PTSD and depression.

The Royal Canadian Medical Service Association issued a statement on social media remembering Chan’s medical service.

“Ken was a medical assistant in the early 1980s in 1 Field Ambulance who later re-mustered to become a vehicle technician,” Maurice Beauchamp of the association wrote.

“… we send our deepest sympathies and condolences to his family and friends.”

Chan and his wife were also longtime volunteers at the Animal Cancer Therapy Subsidization Society [ACTSS].

In public social media comments, ACTSS volunteer coordinator Lia Watkin says, “He and his wife Judy were dedicated volunteers [and] generous donors who loved animals and volunteered alongside their dog Mork for many years. Ken was always ready to help. My sincerest condolences to the family. Such a tragic loss.”

Before he died, Chan reportedly sent two e-mails simultaneously. One e-mail was to his coworkers at a trucking company, and one was addressed to both the provincial and federal governments. That e-mail expressed concern about access to medical assistance in dying, or MAID.

Williams’ “conscience rights” bill has been criticized by MAID advocacy organization Dying With Dignity Canada for potentially allowing health care providers to refuse to provide accurate information on MAID to their patients.

The bill allows healthcare providers to not only refuse procedures that may go against their religious beliefs, but also removes the requirement to refer patients to other health care providers. The organization argues that could limit patient access to MAID.

Critics also raised concerns the bill could potentially limit access to birth control and abortion, or adversely affect LGBTQA patients.

The bill had passed first reading, but was sent before a committee where stakeholders made presentations on the possible impact of the bill. The committee voted 8-2 against allowing the bill to proceed to second reading in the Legislature, with four UCP MLAs voting against further debate of the bill.

Williams was speaking in opposition to the committee’s recommendation, specifically about letters he had received from Albertans about the conscience bill and MAID, when the house was adjourned by Cooper.

During his speech Williams quoted Andrew Bennett, who says that physicians and other healthcare providers must make moral judgments more often than other professions.

“I heard this time and time again, not from the majority of Albertans but from those select few that are in these professions, from those select few that do not have the same moral views as the wider society,” Williams said, as officially recorded in Hansard.

“One palliative care nurse in Calgary wrote, ‘It is a real concern of mine that I would one day have to give up my calling [as a palliative care nurse] and so I feel strongly the need for the Conscience Rights Protection Act; so that my ability to nurse for those suffering and dying may not be jeopardized. That I may not have to tip-toe facility to facility in search of a job that would be ‘safe’ for me to work.’”

Williams continued.

“One other letter I received was from a young girl who recently graduated high school and is in her first year of university. She was a Syrian refugee. She came to Canada just over three years ago. This was the same time that MAID became legal after the Carter decision. She wrote a long letter, and in that letter she mentioned a few things that I want to highlight to the Assembly today. I never want to be told or forced to advise someone to [pursue] euthanasia … She’s writing because, like many young Albertans, she wants to work in health care. She has plans to become a doctor,” Williams said.

“How do we reconcile these deeply held moral convictions with the fact that we will have a diverse society where there is a moral majority with a set of views, that they think services should be accessed? I suggest that the solution is not being a bull in a china shop and running roughshod over the rights and freedoms of those individuals. I suggest the path forward, instead of turning doctors, physicians, and nurses into a question…”

It was at that point that the Speaker interrupted and House Leader Jason Nixon moved to adjourn for the safety and security of MLAs.

The house was reconvened at 7:30 p.m., but with the fall session of the Legislature now ended, no further action will be taken on private member’s bills including Bill 207 until spring.

Chan’s funeral services were held Dec. 7 at North Pointe Community Church.

Premier Jason Kenney issued a statement on the suicide on his social media accounts.

“Saddened by the tragic event that occurred outside the Legislature,” his statement reads.

“Our hearts go out to the victim’s family and loved ones. If you need help, or know someone who does, please call Alberta’s Mental Health Helpline: [1-877] 303-2642.”

Share this post