June 16, 2017

The CCLA argued at Ontario Divisional Court on Thursday that even where doctors have religious convictions preventing them from performing certain sensitive and important procedures, rules that ensure patients receive care speedily ought to stand.

The Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS) and others have put forward a constitutional challenge to College of Physicians and Surgeons’ (CPSO) policies requiring that doctors give patients “effective referrals”, i.e., a referral to an available and non-objecting physician, when the doctors themselves are morally or religiously opposed to procedures—including doctor-assisted dying and reproductive health services. Counsel for CMDS argued in Court that by being obligated to offer referrals, doctors are forced to choose between their work and their religious beliefs.

“The court has the unenviable task of balancing rights,” CCLA’s counsel Rahool Agarwal told the Divisional Court panel at Osgoode Hall in Toronto.  Agarwal emphasized the seriousness of what is at stake for patients whose access to equal services would be stymied if effective referral requirements were struck down by the court.

CCLA’s counsel asserted that the impugned policies do in fact represent an appropriate balance of the competing rights and freedoms, ensuring full access to constitutionally protected healthcare services, while only minimally impairing certain physicians’ religious freedoms.

Agarwal articulated CCLA’s position that legislation standing in the way of effective and timely access to medical services, when life and health are endangered, is an infringement of patients’ Charter rights.

After hearing submissions from CMDS and CPSO as well as interventions by Attorney General of Ontario, CCLA, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Dying with Dignity Canada and other civil society organizations, the three judges reserved judgement.

You can read more about the case in CCLA’s factum here.