House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Veterans Affairs and National Defence
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Veterans Affairs and National Defence
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

December 13th, 2007 / 3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

moved that Bill C-484, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (injuring or causing the death of an unborn child while committing an offence), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I have been waiting for this moment for over 14 years. Those members who have been in the House frequently have heard me say, during private members' business, that I have never been drawn. That was true until now, just as I am about ready to leave the place.

I am very honoured to have this extraordinary privilege of bringing forward a very important piece of legislation. It is especially important because it will be the last piece of legislation debated here in this fall term.

I want to begin by putting forward some background. I have to do this on a very personal and somewhat emotional basis because what we are dealing with here is crime. We are dealing with vicious criminal attacks against pregnant women and we are dealing specifically with addressing the issue of grief for the families who are left behind. Grief is always extremely sad.

I remember some five years ago when my father died. He was almost 91 and everybody said that he had a good life. However, I still distinctly remember how sad I was. He had been my dad all my life and now he was gone and it seemed so brief. There was sadness but it was somewhat softened by the fact that indeed he had had a good long life.

Just a couple of months ago, my wife's only brother passed away. The grief was also great there. He was a younger man. He succumbed to cancer but there had been a little warning because his fight with cancer extended about three years. As he was gradually losing this battle, people in the family were being prepared to deal with that grief. When he finally passed away on September 1 of this year, there was both relief, because he was no longer suffering, but also grief.

We also had a very sad event in January of this year when my first niece passed away. The grief there was notched up from the previous two that I mentioned because Sherry died suddenly. She started her life on Friday morning, as normally as we did this morning, but she had an aneurysm and died instantly, totally unexpectedly. She was only 47. She left her loving husband, her children and the rest of the family. There was tremendous grief. I cannot express the sadness that a family goes through when dealing with such a death.

Then there was a very bad accident this past summer in British Columbia on Canada's Highway No. 1. Some distant relatives of ours were travelling along the road and as they were going along a gravel truck came around the corner. He was going too fast for that corner. The pup trailer that he was pulling, which was also full of gravel, lost its position and rolled onto the car an instantly killed a young man in his late twenties.

There is an added notch to the grief there because, like my niece, the death was sudden but there was another element and that is that it was due to the truck driver's carelessness. The family is anguished. Why did the truck driver not pay attention? Why did he not drive properly?

There is the normal grief of the loss of a loved one but now there is also that element of grief that is added because it could have been prevented.

The reason I mention those examples is because this bill is about helping the families of people who have been murdered, and that is a whole compounding of grief yet again. Unlike the accident, where it was somebody's negligence, the truck driver, I do not think, could ever be accused of saying that he was going to go out and kill someone today with his truck. It was an accident. It was a misjudgment. It was not planned.

However, when a family experiences the murder of a loved one, we have another level of emotion and grief and that is a level of anger. Why would someone deliberately kill my loved one and take away that life so unnecessarily?

Bill C-484 deals with the death as a result of a criminal act against a pregnant mother. Now the grief for the family is compounded yet again, because not only have they suffered the maximum level of grief by having their loved one murdered, but they are also suffering the loss of that wanted and anticipated child, that nephew, niece or grandchild. In a very real sense, they are suffering and grieving a loss under the most egregious of circumstances and the loss of the unborn child. This is what my bill addresses.

I will try to build a case here for support of this bill from all people, regardless of their views on other issues. I want to ensure we all know what the bill deals with. It deals specifically with the death or injury of a mother and/or her unborn child, where that mother has made the choice to have that child. It is a wanted child, an anticipated child.

I can tell members from my own experience, I am getting old but my memory is still good, I remember when my wife and I were having babies. It was almost as much fun as having grandchildren. In each case, when the anticipated birth was there, everyone got excited. This is very personal, but my wife used to invite me to put my hand on her abdomen to feel the movement of that baby. I think we have all experienced that.

When that is happening, both the mother and the father, and other members of the family, especially little brothers or sisters, are building an emotional attachment to a wanted child. They are anticipating its birth and welcoming it into the family. My bill deals specifically with when that desire, that decision is taken away from that family, from that mother against her will, against her choice, not of her choosing, without her consent and, in this bill, always in a criminal way, because charges will only be laid if the individual was committing an act of crime against the child's mother.

This is a very specific, focused bill. It deals with no other issues. It deals with this issue, the unborn victim of a crime.

I want to give a few examples. One of the most well-known cases for this happened in the United States when Laci and Conner Peterson were killed in California. California is a state that has had for many years an act similar to this. As a result, Scott, who was convicted of the crime, was in fact charged and convicted of two crimes. There were two offences to which he was found guilty.

Another case that comes to mind was in a city that is real close to my riding. It happened in Edmonton in 2005 and it is the case of Liana White, a young pregnant mother. She was a mother because she already had a three year old daughter, Ashley. Liana was stabbed to death by her husband, Michael. He was later convicted of the crime of assault and murder of the mother but there were no charges for the death of the unborn child. At the time, Liana was four months pregnant. The family grieved over the fact that the child was not recognized.

Another example is of Olivia Talbot in Edmonton, a tremendously sad case. She was a 19 year old girl who had some youthful troubles but she was working her way out of it and making progress. She was seven months pregnant when a childhood friend shot her. He first shot her three times in the abdomen. His target was the unborn child. He then went ahead and shot her twice in the head to make sure that she also was dead.

Can members imagine the family's grief? Olivia's mother, Mary, has been and is on a crusade to this very day and probably will be for years until a bill such as this is enacted. She said that it grieved them tremendously because Olivia was seven months pregnant and they were anticipating the birth and the welcoming of the new child. The mother was, as I said, making huge progress and putting the troubles of her past behind her, and then suddenly she is brutally murdered and her unborn child with her.

I am appealing to my fellow colleagues in the House of Commons to support this bill because we are dealing explicitly with cases where women have been injured or killed and their unborn children, who they wanted to bring to term and to give life, have been taken away from them. In a way, somebody else forcibly made the decision for them and the woman's choice was totally negated.

I can think of another case in Surrey. I will not go into all of these in detail because it would take too long. We have the case of a 38 year old mother in Surrey who was four months pregnant. She disappeared. The police looked for her. A week or so later they found her charred body. She had been burned, killed by her husband because she was pregnant.

We just heard a very sad story recently in Toronto about the case of Aysun Sesen, a 25-year-old who was seven months pregnant. She was killed by her boyfriend. He killed her by repeatedly stabbing her in the abdomen with a knife until both she and the child were dead.

This is what my bill is about. It is about a woman being the victim of the most egregious crime, her own death and the death of her child.

I think, if I dare do this, the biggest case was in the United States, the case of Tracy Marciniak. She was only about a week or so away from the baby's due date. She was pummeled in the abdomen until her child was killed but she survived. The only charge laid against the father was assault. The life was not recognized.

What I am saying is that this bill, which I hope all members have read, provides for a separate offence in the death or injury of an unborn child.

I want to assure all members present that those issues about constitutionality and some of the things that were raised in the previous debate on this issue when my colleague from Vegreville—Wainwright raised it, have all been addressed. As I said at the beginning, we threaded the needle on the wording. People who have other concerns do not need to worry. This was all done. I have had the legal opinions of a noted constitutional lawyer. I simply urge all members to support this bill because it is right.

I urge all members to vote on what the bill says, not on what it does not say. I urge every member of the House to take the time to read and study the four-page missive I have sent to every member of Parliament where all of those issues are addressed in detail. I thank the members for their support.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park for bringing forward this important bill.

I have to say it was a bit difficult when I thought about some of the cases. My wife is about eight months pregnant now with our fifth child, and in thinking about the state of some of the women in these very high profile cases that we are talking about here, and anticipating a child and waiting for a child, I could not imagine if a crime like that were ever committed against her.

The context of the bill is appropriate. This is a criminal justice issue. It is an assault against women issue. I certainly commend the member.

I would like him to hone in on the importance of this being a bill that is in support of women. That is an important component of what we are doing here. I think all members in this House are seized with the importance of sanctions for these kinds of acts of violence against women and against unborn children as well. I wonder if the member would comment on that.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely correct. It is an issue about women, criminal attacks against pregnant women and sanctions being available for those criminal acts against the unborn child as well as the attacks on the mother.

I also want to point out that the general public understands the necessity for this kind of legislation. In a recent Environics poll it was shown that 72% of Canadians support such legislation. That is tremendously high. I would venture to say that is well above the support of any political party in this country right now. Canadians support it.

There are a couple of other things that are amazing. Women supported it at a higher level, which is not surprising I guess, but what I found surprising is that among the youth ages up to 30, the support was up at 79%. I think that is a feather in the hat of our youth. They think about these things and they realize that this is a very important issue and one to be clearly differentiated.

I want to assure the member that yes, this is a very important issue. It has widespread support. Definitely, to vote for it is to vote for what is right.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member specifically regarding his bill. Several things about this bill bother me. Consider, for example, a pregnant woman who is attacked by someone in the street who wants to steal her purse. But when the thief grabs the purse, the woman falls down and her baby dies.

Is that individual charged with theft or murder? In fact, the person intended to commit theft, not murder. Can my colleague respond to this question? I wanted to ask him another question, but it will have to wait until later.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question. I urge the member to actually read the bill. It says specifically in the bill that the attacker must have intent. He must know that the woman is pregnant. He must intend to injure the child. Remember that this is a separate offence. The offence against the woman would be there in any case in terms of charges being laid. But if the attacker intends to harm the child and he knows, or ought to have known, that the woman was pregnant, then there is room for a second offence to be laid because he harmed the child. That is not available in the present law.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me start out by congratulating the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park on finally managing to get a private member's bill before the House. I should point out just for the record that getting private members' bills into the House is not a question simply of merit. There is a bit of mathematical chance involved so all of us are treated fairly equally, but I am sorry the member had to wait so long to get a bill in front of us.

I should also note that the member for Vegreville—Wainwright had a bill similar to this one but not identical before the House in a previous Parliament.

The member opposite speaks of the grief that accompanies death or serious injury as a result of a criminal act. I have often found it difficult in the House and the justice committee to import that element of grief. It is very real for all of the victims, their families and friends and for Canadians. I often find that the analysis of our laws around here is pretty clinical and academic at times, pretty legalistic, so I thank the member for putting on the record the emotional and the grief components that accompany this area of law.

Bill C-484 attempts to address what is arguably a gap in our criminal law, and it has been a gap for some time. One might ask why it has been a gap or why we have failed to note the protection that should be accorded to a pregnant woman and her child. We certainly afford protection to the woman.

It is perhaps the long national debate over the termination of pregnancies, that whole field, that has obscured this particular piece, and I am pleased that the House now has an opportunity to deal with it.

Having said that, it is important to note that this bill meticulously imports the element of mens rea, the element of intention into the bill. It makes sure that the perpetrator, in order to be charged and convicted, has to know that there is a woman who was pregnant and victimized by a criminal act. That is a very important component linking the perpetrator to the wrongdoing involved. If we were not to do that, there could be a scenario where the perpetrator of a crime might not be aware of the pregnancy, and in our criminal law we almost never convict people in law unless they know the consequence of what they are doing.

There is a section of the Criminal Code that now partially, some will say very partially, protects the unborn child, the fetus. Section 238 makes it an offence to cause death during the act of birth, causing death to the child being born in the act of birth. That is a very narrow window of time. Of course, this bill looks well in advance of the time of birth.

I am advised that according to the National Conference of State Legislatures in the U.S.A., our neighbour to the south, some 37 states have fetal homicide laws, in other words, laws that protect the unborn child, the fetus. Two of those 37 states have developed their law, not by passing laws in their legislatures, but by judicial case decisions, by judicial case law.

Each state in the U.S. develops its own criminal law in this field. In Canada we do it cross-country. We have one Criminal Code. I say that to signal that Canada would not be alone in this. In fact, we are not even near the front of the pack on this, as my friend earlier pointed out.

One other thing I want to mention is that the bill explicitly by its own terms does not deal with the lawful termination of a pregnancy consented to by the mother. It does not deal with that category of action, but it does very much deal with protecting an unborn child during a criminal act directed at the mother knowing that the mother is pregnant.

In layman's terms, I ask myself the question, who could reasonably deny to a child prior to birth during an assault or another criminal attack on the mother, knowing that the mother is pregnant, the protection of the Criminal Code that that child deserves? I could not deny that. It sounds so very reasonable. Admittedly the circumstances where it might occur are not going to be too common but it just takes one instance.

My friend from Edmonton—Sherwood Park has put on record reference to a number of incidents where exactly this kind of thing has happened. In a world of over six billion people and a country of 33 million, there are going to be unfortunate incidents.

I believe that we should act now to pass this law. I could not deny that protection and I do not believe my constituents would either.

My friend has pointed out that according to some polling, 75% of Canadians agree some form of law would be appropriate. I am one of those 75%. I think my constituents would support me in that. I will be supporting this bill.

Tabling of OPP Statements
Points of Order
Private Members' Business

3:35 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

There were requests yesterday that I table documents that I had quoted from in the House. These are statements from the OPP that had exonerated the Minister of the Environment of the cloud of suspicion that had been cast over him, by, among others, the member for Ajax—Pickering who persisted in asking questions in the House about him.

I read from these statements and I know there was a request that I table them. I was remiss in not doing it today after question period. I had planned to, but I did not have the documents with me at the time, so I am now rising to seek permission of the House to table them at this time.

Tabling of OPP Statements
Points of Order
Private Members' Business

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am not sure the hon. government House leader needs the permission of the House because he was asked to table them but I thank him for doing so.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-484, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (injuring or causing the death of an unborn child while committing an offence), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-484. I will start by saying that, as a woman, I would have never believed that I would still be here fighting for the rights of women. It has been a fierce battle, waged by so many women before me.

The Conservatives, with this bill, are implicitly trying to achieve an objective, that is, restrict the right to abortion. I will explain.

With this bill, the Conservatives hope to add a new offence to the Criminal Code. This bill proposes that an individual who directly or indirectly, causes the death of a child during birth or at any stage of development before birth while committing or attempting to commit an offence against the mother of the child, who the person knows or ought to know is pregnant—is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for life and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of 10 years if the person means to cause the child’s death...

Basically, a person who assaults a pregnant woman and causes the death of the fetus could be charged with murder. As the member said, this bill would introduce a new offence. The text of the bill provides that the pregnant woman herself can be charged with causing the death of the fetus inside her. Clearly, the battle for women's rights is not yet won. The bill clearly states that in cases of a crime committed against an unborn child, a fetus, a person cannot use the defence that the child was not a human being.

Gestation of the unborn child begins with conception and ends with birth. Case law has confirmed that an unborn child is not a legal person. I understand that such a clause can apply at the moment of birth, when the fetus becomes a human being. It is something else entirely to grant these rights to an unborn child, a fetus, when it is not a separate entity from its mother.

The Conservatives are trying to make substantial changes to the Criminal Code's definition of a child, which is quite specific. Section 223 of the Criminal Code states that:

223.(1) A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother, whether or not

(a) it has breathed;

(b) it has an independent circulation; or

(c) the navel string is severed.

I am sure you will agree that the government is making a surreptitious attempt to deprive women of their freedom of choice regarding abortion.

After attacking the right to abortion by questioning the medical necessity of that procedure, the government is now attacking that right by attempting to recognize the rights of the fetus. It seems that this bill was devised to set a precedent for recognizing the fetus' right to life and thereby restrict the right to abortion and perhaps even abolish it completely.

It is up to women to decide. They have their own reasons for their choices. This is a pro-life bill that is trying to hide behind the concept of the unborn child. This bill opens the door to limiting women's power to be free and to make the choices they have the right to make.

I was recently reading some surveys and responses to surveys. We learned that the Conservative member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park, who describes himself as pro-life, had said in response to a survey conducted by the Campaign Life Coalition for the 2006 federal election that he considered that human life began at conception. In 1997, he responded that if he was elected, he would work to remove abortion from the services covered by the Canada Health Act. He is not the first Conservative member to have said that. There are also rumours going around about a committee being formed here in the House with both Conservative and Liberal members.

The previous bill the Conservatives introduced was similar, but was deemed unconstitutional. A few changes have been made to it, but the objective is the same. The Conservatives' determination is an indirect threat to women's rights, and that threat is evident in the member's remarks.

He is trying to do indirectly what he would like to do directly.

No one is happy about an abortion. It is not something anyone wishes for. But women must be able to make that choice, for any number of reasons. Women are entitled to have their decision honoured. It is a difficult decision they do not take lightly. Women fought long and hard to win the right to abortion.

With this bill, the Conservatives are trying, in a roundabout way, to attack those rights by making dangerous statements or by attempting to give legal personality to the fetus. They are separating the fetus from the mother and rewriting the legal definition of the child. That is what they are trying to do with this bill.

Women have a fundamental right to interrupt a pregnancy. It is a way of exerting control over their lives and their living conditions. This bill challenges women's rights. The courts have repeatedly had to rule on the right of the fetus and the possibility of restraining the conduct of the mother in order to protect the child's right to be born. In every case, the Supreme Court has refused to invade the privacy of pregnant women and limit their right to freedom and independence.

This was the case in Tremblay v. Daigle, in which a father sought an injunction to prevent the mother from having an abortion, claiming that the fetus had a right to life. The Supreme Court once again ruled that only human beings have constitutional rights and that these rights start at the time of live birth. The Court also rejected the father's claim that he had rights over the fetus as a father. The Court determined that the father could not obtain an injunction to prevent the pregnant mother from exercising her constitutional right to choose to have an abortion.

With all due respect to the members, the consensus in society is clear and was evident during the last election campaign. The Leader of the Conservative Party himself made a commitment not to reopen the abortion debate. The measure proposed in Bill C-484 goes against that commitment. The House will obviously have to look at this issue and women will have a decision to make come election time. It is clear that the lobbies who subscribe to moral and social conservatism are hard at work in the back rooms of Ottawa. We need to be vigilant. Putting an initial restriction on abortion opens the door to a whole series of other restrictions.

With respect to the rights of the fetus, there is already a large body of case law arguing that the fetus is not a human being. I think that the mistake in this bill is to try to change the definition of a child. The law is clear on the definition of a human being.

I urge the House not to support this bill, which opens the door to the criminalization of abortion. There is a hidden objective in this bill to prevent a woman from choosing whether or not to have a child.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity this afternoon, in the dying moments of this fall session, to speak to Bill C-484, a bill that its sponsor has chosen to entitle the unborn victims of crime bill.

Having reviewed this private member's bill, and even before hearing the speech of the member who has introduced it, I came to the conclusion that there were some major concerns about it. They have lead me to indicate that I am unable to support such a bill.

It is a private member's bill and it is important to remember that. Every member has the opportunity to consider where he or she stands on the bill. However, a brief discussion among my colleagues does not lead to the conclusion that there is a great deal of support or enthusiasm for the bill.

At the outset, I do not doubt for a moment the sincerity of the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park. I listened to his comments, which came after my having read the bill. Therefore, I was even more intent on listening to what he would say in introducing the bill, to determine whether he would dispel some of the very uncomfortable concerns I had about the possible implications of the bill.

He devoted a considerable part of his speech in the House this afternoon to the victims of families that have lost a wanted child, the successful outcome of a pregnancy through a violent attack on a pregnant women.

I do not think there is a single member here, regardless of where they stand on this bill, who cannot empathize 100% with the grief that such a loss would cause an individual and their loved ones. However, it has reminded me that there is a good reason why we do not turn over the drafting, or the crafting or the adoption of laws in a democratic and diverse society to people who are singled out for being grief-stricken by personal tragedy.

I did not expect to say this until I listened to the amount of focus on the issue of grief, but I returned briefly in my own life experience to my period of time as a psychiatric social worker. Grief is a very normal human emotion, and it is something around which we comfort people and support them. However, we also know that grief is almost always accompanied by feelings of anger, despair, rage and quite often revenge.

In our democratic society, we have long decided that revenge is not a proper basis for drafting or adopting our laws. A great deal of psychiatric evidence indicates that if there is a great deal of reinforcement for the notion of revenge, when someone has suffered a loss through a violent, unacceptable act, it impairs the emotional healing process.

I do not want to go further down that road, but my discomfort with the bill, before hearing the comments of the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park, has been deepened and intensified by the amount of emphasis he placed on the issue of grief, anger and rage. I do not question his sincerity about identifying and empathizing with the grief, but I think it is a very questionable basis for introducing such a law.

Let me say that I also heard many comments about how this is something that women very much want and need, and he even referred to some polling. I have to say I would need to be convinced based on a great deal more information than he shared, but if he wanted to share the basis for a claim that there is a very high percentage of women who are really looking for this, I would give it my consideration.

However, I would find it extremely surprising, because I have to say that in my almost 40 years of involvement in the women's movement, and my 28 years in public life, where it has been well known that I very much see the responsibility of myself and every other woman in public life to be responsive to women's concerns, I have never had a single woman, a single advocate, a single representative of a single organization, or an individual family member come to me and say that this is a law they would like to see implemented.

That does not mean it is not worthy of introduction and consideration, I want to say that, but to cite it as something that large numbers of women want and need, I find surprising. Maybe I am a little bit suspicious about that, when I would think that if this was something widely felt and wanted by women there might be some indication in the House and there would be a good number of women here for this debate and wanting to put forward their views.

Maybe I am a little unfair in saying this, but in regard to coming from the caucus with by far the least number of women in the House, then one wonders whether it is really an authoritative basis for the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park to talk about how much women want and need this.

I will speak from my own personal experience. In my region of Atlantic, the government party has run 32 men for Parliament in the 32 seats in Atlantic Canada, so I am not sure about the authoritativeness of speaking on behalf of women's pressing needs.

Let me say, however, that there are a lot of things women desperately need that have been ignored by the government. Not one of them that has ever come to my attention is a call for this kind of bill. Women certainly need a lot more protection against domestic violence and violence that is visited on them in far too many communities.

I would say that at the heart of my concern about the bill is that it does indeed arouse considerable concern, real apprehension, about whether it is in fact a thinly veiled step in the direction of recriminalizing abortion in our country. I am sure there are going to be protestations, with people saying, no, no, that was made clear, the language was made clear and all the rest of it, but let me say that it further made me uncomfortable to hear several references, both from the Conservative sponsor of the bill and from the Liberal who spoke in support of it, to a number of American states, mostly southern U.S. states, and in particular, South Carolina, as one of the states that has had considerable experience with this bill.

Let me say the evidence is very clear that the bill not only could become a thin edge of the wedge in the direction of recriminalizing abortion, but actually identified as one of the benefits of the bill is that to adopt such a bill could in fact accomplish that very objective that sponsors of the bill in South Carolina have cited as the reason for their introduction of the bill.

There are many more things I could say, but I think that in the final analysis the point is that women need to be protected far more effectively and aggressively against violence, and that is the best way to protect vulnerable fetuses. If that were the objective, then we would be very much wanting to support such a bill.

We do not, however, feel persuaded. As I say, it is a private member's bill. I do not want to speak for others in my caucus, but I, for one, am very uncomfortable with where the bill is intended to go and what its real purpose is. I want to say that those concerns have already been expressed by a good many of my colleagues, so I think members have gotten the impression: I will not be supporting this private member's bill.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

4 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to private member's bill, Bill C-484, which aims to amend the Criminal Code with respect to the injury or causing the death of an unborn child. I commend my colleague, the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park, who proposes the creation of new offences and penalties where an unborn child is injured or killed when an offence is committed against the mother.

I believe the majority of the members in the House agree with the intent of my colleague's bill.

On a personal note, his heartfelt passion to ensure that violence against women and children does not occur is very compelling. I have looked at all his notes and the bill very carefully I support 100% the intent of the bill.

Surely a criminal assault that seeks to involve or harm an expected child is deserving of a sanction. However, I am not yet convinced that the private member's bill in this form is the best way to proceed without a bit of further examination. I have some concerns that the bill may reduce rather than increase the actual penalty for causing harm or death to an unborn child, and I will tell members why.

Subsection 223(2) and section 238 of the Criminal Code currently provides some protection to the unborn child by stating that a person commits homicide by killing an unborn child in the act of birth, under certain conditions. Both offences carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The Criminal Code also contains comprehensive assault and homicide offences, which apply to violent acts against pregnant women. Under the accumulated common law, resulting harm to unborn children is considered an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes and the offender is punished severely.

Should the code permit two charges to be laid in such cases, as proposed by Bill C-484, it is likely that the two sentences would be served concurrently. Pregnancy, as an aggravating factor, could no longer be taken into account and, therefore, the end result ultimately could be a shorter sentence than is currently provided for in the law.

I do not believe this is the intent of this important bill, but we have to realize that it could be the result and we have to guard against that.

I would respectfully suggest that perhaps what is most needed is a Criminal Code amendment to allow for consecutive sentences for offences of this nature, as well as other serious personal injury offences.

During the last election campaign, our government proposed that sentences for multiple convictions be served consecutively. I have spoken with the justice minister and I am confident he will introduce legislation early in the new year to address this deficiency in the law.

The justice minister has been extremely busy over the course of the year. Our government's efforts and our aggressive law and order agenda, including Bill C-2, the tacking violent crime act, are very much appreciated by women all across the nation.

Bill C-2, which is currently before the Senate, merges most of the criminal laws from the last session of Parliament into one comprehensive bill, and we know what that bill includes. It includes mandatory minimum penalties for firearm offences, age of protection, dangerous offenders, impaired driving and reverse onus on bail for firearm offence.

The proposed reforms to deal with dangerous and repeat violent offenders are of particular importance to this dialogue today to address a concern that I believe needs to be looked at today in the context of this very important debate, which is violence against women and children in general.

The dangerous offender proposals are designed to address concerns with respect to the ability of police, crown prosecutors and the courts to sentence and manage the threat posed to the general public by individuals who are at very high risk to reoffend sexually and violently. The victims of sexual and violent assaults are all too often women.

Under Bill C-2, where offenders are convicted of a third sufficiently serious offence, the Crown must formally advise the court that it has considered whether to bring a dangerous offender application forward. The declaration requirement is intended to ensure more consistent use of the dangerous offender sentence by Crowns in all jurisdictions.

Where the Crown decides to bring such an application, an offender convicted of a third primary designated offence, a narrow and proportionate list of the 12 most serious and violent sexual offences that commonly trigger a dangerous offender designation, and often that is involved in this kind of a crime that we are speaking of today, will be presumed to be a dangerous offender unless he or she could prove otherwise.

Bill C-2 also proposes reforms to ensure that persons who are designated as dangerous offenders are appropriately sentenced.

I do not want to go over my time and I want to make sure that I get everything that I wanted to say said. The approach our government has taken has been a step in the right direction to bring law and order to our country. We are all familiar with Bill C-2.

Early last month the Minister of Canadian Heritage acknowledged woman abuse prevention month in Ontario. Members were talking about combating violence against women and women abuse, and these are common threads in legislation here in Parliament. In Winnipeg several projects were announced recently, one of which is to combat violence against women with intellectual disabilities.

I want to applaud our government for its efforts to recognize and prevent violence against women. I want to particularly applaud the member for bringing this bill forward. I reiterate my support for the intent of this private member's bill.

I do question its effectiveness in its present form in actually providing lengthier jail terms for the offence of injuring or causing the death of an unborn child while committing an assault against the mother. This type of horrendous, abhorrent crime must be addressed. Having said that, all these issues should be taken into consideration so that this bill achieves its intended objective.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat uncomfortable with this bill. I was listening before to the speech by the NDP member for Halifax and I agree with what she said.

As a Catholic priest, I find it somewhat difficult to relate to this bill quite simply because the member who tabled it belongs to a pro-life group, the Campaign Life Coalition, which, in my humble opinion, is a fairly extremist and fanatical group. I am pro-life, but I do not belong to that group.

In my opinion, this bill will open the door to recriminalizing women who have an abortion, and that is not a good thing. I am against abortion, but I do not believe that is how we will deal with the problem of abortion. I have always stated that we need education, support and assistance for women dealing with unwanted pregnancy. In my opinion, the problem of abortion will be solved with these types of measures and not by recriminalizing abortion. I absolutely do not want that.

When a pregnant woman is assaulted or killed and her fetus is killed at the same time, I agree completely that it is an abominable crime. It is revolting, but at the same time I believe that when the fetus is in its mother's womb, they are one being. Only when it leaves her womb does it become a child. I believe that is the Supreme Court definition of 1969.

I know that killing a pregnant woman, like any murder, is a serious matter. However, I believe it is dangerous to establish a new law that would treat the murder of the fetus and of the mother as a double murder. I believe that it is dangerous and that is not how we will put an end to abortion. Not in this way.

As I just said, it is more through education, support, love and understanding. There are any numbers of things we can do to reduce the abortion rate in this country. As long as we fail to take control of the situation and we fail to be there to help these pregnant women, who are often facing financial difficulties or problems in their relationship, until we resolve those problems, there will always be abortions. That is what is needed, rather than—through new legislation, that is Bill C-484—recriminalizing the murder of a pregnant woman.

I also mentioned that pro-life group, Campaign Life Coalition. I know that the president of the Quebec group is Luc Gagnon. That group's journal is always full of condemnations and rejections, and there is never any love or compassion in their journal. In my view, what is needed is compassion when a woman is dealing with a pregnancy caused by rape or any unwanted pregnancy. I do not feel there is any compassion within that group. I therefore oppose that pro-life group, just I oppose the pro-choice group, whose views are, in my opinion, too exaggerated, too unrealistic.

As I was saying, I think a moderate approach is needed. It is not by creating new legislation that we will successfully reduce the number of abortions and creating new committees, if we can say—