Dianne Pothier, leading expert on constitutional law and a long-time champion of disability rights, passed away unexpectedly January 3rd 2017 at home in Halifax, NS. The following is a letter to the Community Living movement and its allies from CACL EVP Michael Bach.
It is with such a profound sense of loss and sadness that I share the news of the sudden and unexpected passing of Dianne Pothier.
Dianne was instrumental in helping to draft the Vulnerable Persons Standard. Catherine Frazee and I reached out to her last January as we started to design the VPS and consider the legal and ethical arguments for robust safeguards. Dianne taught for a number of years at the Dalhousie University Schulich School of Law, and brought a keen mind, brilliant insight and analysis, and prodigious publication. As Canada’s leading disability rights scholar she leaves an immense and invaluable legacy for disability rights legal theory and practice.
With those gifts she generously responded to our request to help us think through how to articulate and advance a legal and constitutional case for robust safeguards for medical assistance in dying. In our first outreach to her she agreed to help us, and then was always available from that moment forward. She spent hours on the phone with us working through arguments and drafting background analysis. She travelled with me to Ottawa numerous times, presenting to the Minister’s office, at press conferences, at Parliamentary Committees, and to Senators when we put a final push on last May. Dianne wrote Op Eds articulating a constitutional analysis to justify robust safeguards and the case for restricting access to end of life situations, and a landmark paper on the constitutionality of our position that has been widely published and circulated in the past months. Most recently, she joined us at the national Federation meeting in Ottawa in early December to talk us through the legal analysis for intervention in medical assistance in dying cases.
I can’t put into words the depth of my gratitude for what she did, and the legacy she has left for our movement; for her completely voluntary contribution to our cause in the past year, and to the decades of her prior contribution. She listened so deeply to our concerns about people with intellectual disabilities in a system for medically-assisted death, and about the consequences of this system for entrenching devaluing perspectives, for putting at such risk the tentative headway we have made in nurturing a culture and ethic of inclusion and belonging. The last pieces she prepared for us I think mark a breakthrough in legal argument in particular about how Charter obligations to equality of historically disadvantaged and vulnerable groups must temper claims of autonomy in medical assistance in dying.
We have lost a passionate, brilliant, caring friend to our movement. I was honoured to get to know her this past year, found her wicked sense of humour a salve on tough days, and found such hope in the legal and social horizons she envisioned. What she crafted for us will stand us in such good stead for many years to come. What a gift indeed.