OTTAWA (CCN) — The grassroots Quebec anti-euthanasia group Living with Dignity has hired a new executive director with a unique background that combines overseas development and theatre.
Aubert Martin, a Montreal native, replaces Nic Steenhout who has moved on to new employment.
Martin spent much of the past 10 years in Burkino Faso, first teaching high school for three years, then returning to work another three years as a communications officer for an international development agency. But upon returning to Canada about three years ago, he returned to an earlier passion — acting, singing and songwriting and puppeteering.
“It’s all about information,” he said in an interview from Montreal. Any law allowing euthanasia and assisted suicide “will literally affect all Canadians somehow; it’s a matter of life or death.”
Quebec’s euthanasia law comes into effect in December and the next federal government will face drafting a law to come in line with the Supreme Court of Canada’s Carter decision last February striking down provisions in the Criminal Code against assisted suicide.
“I think our main focus will stay on protecting vulnerable people, mainly through information,” Martin said. “There is still a lot of confusion in the public.”
People do not know what euthanasia really is, nor what “medical aid in dying” really is, he said. Living with Dignity will “inform people of their rights” and of the dangers of medical aid in dying.
“Many are talking about free and informed consent, but if people do not know what is going on, how can they have a free choice?” he asked.
Living with Dignity is “currently working on a service that will help people facing these issues when the law will be enacted,” he said. “For now, it’s all theory. When it comes to practice, a lot of people will realize what’s going on in terms of pressure and counselling to receive ‘medical aid in dying’ and everything.”
“We will be seen a companion, a great help for people who would like information knowing we won’t push them to kill themselves,” he said. “We won’t stop. We are here to protect vulnerable people.”
Martin said it is ironic that the side pushing euthanasia is seen as the compassionate side, as opposite to us. “We’re talking about compassion, about helping humans throughout their entire lives, not telling them they should end their days earlier because they are burden.”
“We are there to the end,” he said. “We will always be there with you; that’s the message we want to send.”
A graduate of the University of Montreal with an honours degree in history, Martin sees both his academic and acting background as providing him with communications skills to reach audiences and transmit that message.
“The art of speaking in public is exactly the point of being an actor,” he said. “How to reach people through emotions and words, to analyze the text and the play in the point of view of ‘What is the message and how can we get it through?’ — this background really helped me, even as a student in university.”
After university, Martin left Montreal to study theatre at the conservatory in Quebec City. After living in Quebec for a while, on ride to Montreal with with Allo Stop, a ride-sharing service, he met a young woman who had just returned from Africa. She had spent three months there and said it had changed her life.
“I remembered, when I was young, like a lot of people, I had big dreams to go to Africa, but I had forgotten about it,” he said. When he returned to his apartment, within five minutes, he received a phone call from his older brother. His brother said, “I know this is going to sound weird but how do you feel about going to Africa?”
“Yes, I’ll do it,” he said. And they ended up in Burkina Faso, a small country north of Ghana and Ivory Coast.
On this first trip there he taught geography, English and history, three classes of 67 girls for each year,” he said.
He met his wife there. “She was studying English at the university and one of her sisters was in my class, that’s how we met,” he said. “She thought at first, Canadians speak English a lot, so she wanted to chat with a Canadian to practice her English. For a French guy it’s a funny story to be approached as an English person.”
Their first child, now seven, was born in Burkina Faso. They have three girls, and a boy, nine months old.