House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

The House resumed from December 13 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

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When the matter was last before the House, the hon. member for Repentigny had the floor and there are eight minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think that my remarks were misrepresented after I spoke to this bill in the House in December. That is why I would like to set the record straight today. I think this is in order because my bishop and the apostolic nunciature in Ottawa have received a number of e-mails. I want to clarify and qualify a few things.

First, I am against abortion. I regard human life as sacred and abortion as always being a tragedy in our society. We must do everything in our power, while showing respect for those involved, to limit the number of abortions and promote life.

Second, I sincerely believe that human life starts at conception, and even before. From the moment that a couple decides to have a child, the process has already begun. I have never said that I agreed with the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada whereby a child becomes a human being when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother, and that until then, it is not distinct from its mother. I simply quoted the definition given by the Supreme Court of Canada. I understand it, even though I disagree with it.

Third, the high number of abortions is distressing. We must identify the causes to be able to find solutions: lack of sexual knowledge, poverty, violence, emotional deprivation and lack of values, just to name a few.

Fourth, the recriminalization of abortion will not solve the problems I mentioned, since before abortion was legalized, many women risked their lives with self-induced abortion or turned to charlatans.

Fifth, by educating, teaching values, fighting poverty, ensuring respect and dignity for people, achieving equality between the sexes, fighting for justice and supporting pregnant women, we can hopefully decrease the number of abortions or even eliminate them entirely. A doctor told me the following: “With all the resources we have available to us now, there should be no more abortions. But we need to promote these resources, which a number of religious institutions refuse to do to this day.”

Sixth, I also said in my speech that the president of the Quebec office of the Campaign Life Coalition is a fundamentalist and an extremist who judges and condemns everyone who does not share his narrow views on life, and he does so in the name of God. That is not my God or anything like the God of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. I have been on radio shows with this man, Mr. Gagnon, and he has not once shown any compassion for people who are marginalized and excluded. But I think that is what the Christ of the Gospels would do.

Seventh, it is interesting to note that not one of the letters in which people insulted, threatened and condemned me was sent to me personally; they were all sent to my bishop or to the apostolic nunciature. The least people could have done would have been to send the letters to me too, since they do concern me. Moreover, the letters were written in English only. Can it be that people misunderstood what I said because my comments were made in French with simultaneous interpretation in the House of Commons? Why did no francophones write to criticize what I reportedly said? I get the feeling that comments made by two people, John-Henry Weston in LifeSiteNews.com and Mr. Jalzevac, incited this taking up of arms. This is the second time a reporter working for that website has attempted to discredit me.

After I appeared on a Télé-France broadcast with Luck Mervil and Imam Jaziri in Quebec, I received emails that misrepresented the statements I had made during the meal.

Eighth, in my pastoral experience as a Catholic priest, I learned that I could change things only by welcoming others, by being non-judgmental and open to people, through tolerance, dialogue, communication, compassion, forgiveness and unconditional love, and by living my faith. One cannot change things with rules, laws, punishment, warnings, exclusions and condemnation. I do not believe that this bill offers any solutions to the problem it sets out to solve. That is why I think we should vote against this bill.

I would like to end with the words of St. Vincent de Paul, friend to the poor and unfortunate, who said that it is better to free 20 guilty people than to condemn a single innocent one.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-484 proposes changes to the Criminal Code that will have no real positive effect, but rather will potentially jeopardize a woman's right to choose.

This proposed private member's bill would have two charges laid against a person who kills a pregnant woman. This would in effect give legal rights to a fetus and change the definition of when a fetus becomes a person under the law. Currently a fetus is not considered a person until actual live birth.

While I will not argue that murdering a pregnant woman is particularly abhorrent, this bill will in the end do more harm than good for women's rights in Canada.

This House has heard from some who may contend that this bill has nothing to do with abortion and is just about ensuring that someone who murders a pregnant woman will pay doubly for his or her crime. However, this bill is the thin edge of the wedge as it will change the definition of when a fetus becomes a person.

This change will have an effect on the legal status of abortions in Canada. Canadians, Parliament, the courts and the Senate all made a determination on this issue and have supported a woman's right to choose. This is not something that needs to be opened to debate again.

Canadian women fought long and hard for the right to safe, legal abortions in Canada. Women have been forced to put their private lives under scrutiny in the courts in the fight for the right to choose. If we take away that right, women in desperate situations will have to take desperate measures, like a young woman who in 1989 bled to death after attempting to perform an abortion on herself. This tragedy was the result of fear and despair and happened while the federal government debated making non-emergency abortions illegal.

I am profoundly concerned that Bill C-484 is nothing but a thinly veiled attempt to make abortions illegal in Canada. I am extremely disappointed that the member would use tragic murders of young women to push an anti-abortion agenda.

Bill C-484 calls into question a judge's ability to take mitigating circumstances into account. Courts already take aggravating circumstances into account when deciding on sentences for crimes and would most certainly consider injury to or the death of an unborn child to be a serious aggravating circumstance.

Furthermore, two separate offences would not necessarily mean more jail time. In Canada, unlike the United States, multiple sentences are often served concurrently. I bring up our neighbour to the south for a reason. As many of my colleagues well know, this type of bill has been passed in several U.S. states. This bill does have some impact there because jail sentences are often served consecutively, thus actually increasing time served. I would also like to note that it is also the same country where there is an active attempt to ban access to abortions for American women at the state and federal levels. The supporters of this type of bill are the very same people actively working to ban abortions.

The evidence is clear. To date, courts across Canada have blocked provincial attempts to substantially regulate the issue of abortion, finding that the pith and substance of such attempts is actually an attempt to recriminalize abortion through the back door.

Bill C-484 essentially represents an indirect recognition of an unborn child as a person with legal status. Such an initiative could have significant ramifications in a number of different areas of law and opens a Pandora's box in the abortion debate.

I believe it is essential to this debate to discuss an area of concern that the Conservative government has failed to address, and that is, of course, violence against women. Homicide is a leading killer of pregnant women and it is well known that violence against women increases during pregnancy.

What the government needs to address is better measures to protect women in general and pregnant women in particular from domestic violence. A fetal homicide law would completely sidestep the issue of domestic abuse and do nothing to protect pregnant women from violence before it happens. It would also do nothing to protect women who are abused shortly after giving birth.

Before we start talking about laws to protect fetuses, the government has an obligation to make sure that women's rights are protected first by addressing the systemic problem of domestic violence. If a woman is safe, her unborn child is safe.

In Canada, women have guaranteed rights and equality under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Persons do not gain legal status and rights in our society until after a live birth, as per the Criminal Code. Also, the Supreme Court has ruled that a woman and her fetus are considered physically one person under the law, as in Dobson v. Dobson.

If we give legal rights to a fetus we must automatically remove some rights from women, because it is impossible for two beings occupying the same body to enjoy full rights. If we try to balance rights, it means the rights of one or both parties must be compromised, resulting in a loss of rights. Legally speaking, it would be very difficult to justify compromising women's established rights in favour of the theoretical rights of the fetus.

It is also of concern that Bill C-484 essentially contradicts the election promises of the Conservative Party. During the last election, its platform stated, “A Conservative government will not initiate or support any legislation to regulate abortion”.

Bill C-484 does just that. It initiates legislation that will effectively regulate abortion in Canada by changing the definition of the legal status of a fetus. It opens the door to making abortion illegal in Canada.

If the government is truly concerned about women and their children, it will abandon its recent budget and reverse its unacceptable policies, policies that have removed equality from the mandate of the women's program, cancelled the court challenges program, closed 12 regional offices of Status of Women Canada, and ended research, lobbying and advocacy on behalf of women in a dismal budget document that failed to reintroduce a national housing strategy or affordable decent housing.

Let us imagine what such a housing policy would do for these women fleeing violence, including those carrying unborn children. The government could also introduce a national child care program and needed changes to maternity and parental leave. It could have provided adequate funding for legal aid, restored the court challenges program, helped women with disabilities, implemented proactive pay equity and invested in programs that would address violence against women.

It could do all these things, but that would require a real commitment to women, children and families. Instead, the Conservatives have chosen to promote Bill C-484.

A woman's right to choose was hard fought for. It would be detrimental to Canadian women and an international embarrassment to remove that right. The Conservatives are not standing up for Canadian women by tabling such bills. It is indeed time that the government remembered its election pledge.

I hope all thoughtful members of this House will respect a woman's right to choose and respect the fact that women need safety, not this kind of indirect attack.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House today to support my colleague from Edmonton—Sherwood Park and his private member's bill, Bill C-484.

First, why do we need this legislation? Many Canadians are shocked to learn that when an attacker kills a pregnant woman's unborn child, no charge can be laid in that child's death, even when the attacker purposely intended to kill the child. This is because our criminal law does not recognize children as victims of crime until they are born alive. This gap in federal law gives rise to grave injustices.

In November 2005, Olivia Talbot of Edmonton who was 27 weeks pregnant was shot three times in the abdomen and twice in the head by a long time friend. No charge could be laid in the death of baby Lane.

Another pregnant Edmonton woman was slain by her husband in the summer of 2005. Again, no charges could be laid in her baby's death.

In March 2007, a man from Surrey, B.C., was charged with second degree murder in the death of his wife who was four months pregnant at the time.

Recently, a woman from Toronto was seven months pregnant when she was repeatedly stabbed in the abdomen.

In all of these cases, there has been no recognition of a crime against these women's unborn children. Clearly, there are two victims in these types of crimes and this is recognized by the public. The grieving families of the victims have made impassioned pleas to their members of Parliament and the government to enact legislation to recognize unborn children as separate crime victims when they are harmed or killed during criminal attacks against their mothers.

This bill is totally focused on protecting the choice of a pregnant woman to carry her baby to term and to give her child life. The bill uses terminology that describes the injury or death of the unborn child during the commission of a crime against the mother.

The unborn victims of crime act would not change the definition of “human being” in the Criminal Code. The Criminal Code defines homicide as follows in subsection 222(1):

A person commits homicide when, directly or indirectly, by any means, he causes the death of a human being.

Therefore, in today's criminal law, legal protection is afforded the child only once it has been born alive.

The unborn victims of crime act would amend the Criminal Code, so that legal protection will not only be given to human beings as defined by the Criminal Code but also to unborn children who are harmed or killed during the commission of an offence against the mother.

The amendment would not change the definition of human being. It would offer protection to the unborn child in a very particular circumstance despite the definition of human being.

Why do we need to recognize the unborn child as a separate victim? Our criminal justice system already takes into account aggravating factors, so why can the pregnancy not be treated as an aggravating factor?

First, aggravating factors are taken into account only for sentencing purposes, not when determining what offence was committed in the first place. The issue here is not just about how severe the sentence should be. It is about creating an offence specifically for the harm done to the preborn child in recognition of the fact that the child is also a victim of a crime when it is harmed or killed during an attack on the mother.

Even though treating pregnancy as an aggravating factor would serve to acknowledge that pregnancy makes a woman more vulnerable, it would send the message that it is only the physical condition of pregnancy that is relevant and that prenatal human life has no intrinsic value.

Any pregnant women who survives a violent attack but loses her preborn child, a child she wants and loves, will grieve for that child and no one can say she grieves for that child any less simply because that child had not yet been born. Failure to recognize these children as crime victims amounts to telling women that they lost nothing of value when their children were killed.

In existing criminal law, if the pregnant woman survives the attack but the child dies there is no murder charge. The offender is charged only with assault on the woman, but under the unborn victims of crime act the offender would be charged not only with the assault on the woman but also with the offence in the death of the child.

Second, if a mother and her already born child were attacked and intentionally killed, or if a person opened fire in a public place and killed multiple people, the offender would be charged with multiple counts of murder, not just one, regardless of our concurrent sentencing system. The point is that our criminal law recognizes each of these victims and recognition is not dependent on whether or not more jail time would be served.

In this respect, unborn victims legislation is no different about how our existing criminal law handles multiple victims. Some people have claimed that this type of law would be used to target pregnant women, citing U.S. examples of women with drug abuse problems being prosecuted under unborn victims of violence laws in the U.S. as evidence to support this claim.

Bill C-484 could never be used to prosecute pregnant women because it applies only during the commission of an offence against the woman. For greater certainty, the bill states that it does not apply in respect of any act or omission by the mother of the child.

I believe the intent of Bill C-484 is to protect the unborn child from third parties during the commission of an offence against the woman. Canada is unique in the democratic world for having virtually no legal protection for children before they are born. This legislation seeks to address this injustice by creating an offence for injuring or causing the death of an unborn child during the commission of an offence against the child's mother.

An Environics poll released in October 2007 found that 72% of all Canadians and 75% of women would support legislation making it a separate crime to injure or kill a fetus during an attack on the mother. Unborn victims of crime legislation protects a woman's choice to bring her child to term safely and it protects the life of that child. It is an area of common ground between those who call themselves pro choice and those who call themselves pro life.

Unborn victims of crime legislation is about protecting children whose mothers have chosen life for their children. The Supreme Court of Canada has said that any legal protection for unborn children must be decided by Parliament, not the courts. The legislation is an attempt by Parliament to do something the Supreme Court has said is up to Parliament to do.

According to the Canadian Perinatal Surveillance System, women abused during pregnancy were four times as likely as other abused women to report having experienced very serious violence, including being beaten up, choked, threatened with a gun, knife or sexually assaulted. It is very disturbing that when a woman is at her most vulnerable she is at increased risk of attack.

The bill would act as a strong deterrent to perpetrating violence against pregnant women. Researchers have found that the most common area of the body struck during pregnancy was the abdomen. This suggests that those who attack pregnant women are purposely targeting the baby.

We give more legal protection to animals than we do to the preborn human child. We have cruelty to animal laws, humane slaughter laws et cetera. What message are we sending to the woman when we refuse to recognize that the child growing inside of her is worthy of protection under the law? What message are we promoting about the value of human life?

Bill C-484 is supported by 72% of Canadians. Protecting preborn children in law is constitutional. The bill does not apply to actions by the mother. This new offence applies only if the woman's attacker knew or ought to have known she was pregnant.

I would urge all members in the House to support Bill C-484.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I feel it is my duty to rise in the House here today to speak to this bill. I would like to begin by quoting a majority decision handed down by the Supreme Court in 1999 in a historic case, which found that a pregnant woman and her fetus are physically one indivisible person. In Dobson v. Dobson, the majority judges eloquently stated:

Pregnancy represents not only the hope of future generations but also the continuation of the species. It is difficult to imagine a human condition that is more important to society. From the dawn of history, the pregnant woman has represented fertility and hope. Biology decrees that it is only women who can bear children. Usually, a pregnant woman does all that is possible to protect the health and well-being of her foetus. On occasion, she may sacrifice her own health and well-being for the benefit of the foetus she carries. Yet it should not be forgotten that the pregnant woman—in addition to being the carrier of the foetus within her—is also an individual whose bodily integrity, privacy and autonomy rights must be protected... The biological reality is that a pregnant woman and her foetus are bonded in a union.

During the first hour of debate on this bill back in November 2007, this House heard stories about the terrible violence suffered by pregnant women who compromised—and often ended—the incredibly complex and mysterious bond that forms during pregnancy. I would like to offer my deepest sympathy to the victims of such violence against women, which is somehow even more heinous when directed at a pregnant woman or young mother.

I have taken a great deal of interest in this bill since it was introduced and have studied it closely. In my view, it fails to adequately address what is a very real issue and what should be the central issue, that of violence against pregnant women and new mothers. It fails on two fronts, which I will now explain.

The first is in its painstaking and yet completely unnecessary focus on the fetus. In spite of the protestations of the bill's sponsor and some of the Conservative speakers who I have heard today that this was not his intent, the bill would effectively revolutionize how the Criminal Code defines life.

Currently under section 238 of the Criminal Code, paragraph (1) reads:

Every one who causes the death, in the act of birth, of any child that has not become a human being, in such a manner that, if the child were a human being, he would be guilty of murder, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment....

As for how the code defines a human being, we must look to section 223 of the Criminal Code, which reads:

(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.

(2) A person commits homicide when he causes injury to a child before or during its birth as a result of which the child dies after becoming a human being.

Bill C-484 completely rewrites section 238(1) of the Criminal Code, creating new offences for attacks against the mother that kill or injure the fetus. Furthermore, it has a specific clause, clause (5), which reads:

It is not a defence to a charge under this section that the child is not a human being.

By eliminating this defence, it effectively negates the section 223 definition of what is a human being. I can only imagine the legal confusion this would create around existing jurisprudence on human life and the relationship between a mother and her fetus.

As I mentioned at the outset, the Supreme Court has already ruled that the fetus and mother are one and the same. Any attempt to separate the two through a redefinition of a human being in the Criminal Code would only cloud the issue of a woman's rights over her own person. I cannot say whether this confusion and clouding of a woman's rights over her own body is the intended consequence of this bill or not but it is, nevertheless, alarming.

This brings me to my second criticism of Bill C-484. In introducing this bill to parliamentarians, the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park sent out a letter on November 28 to all parliamentarians of all parties in which he argued emphatically that:

This bill is all about protecting the choice of a woman and protecting the unborn child that she has chosen to give birth to.

Members will notice that there is no mention whatsoever about protecting the women, only about protecting her choice. Additionally, Bill C-484 implies that the protection of the woman and of the fetus are of equal but separate importance.

I have heard from various groups that this bill is about women's rights. If, indeed, Bill C-484 is about women's rights, why the blatant reference to the need to protect the choice of a women, rather than protecting pregnant women, pure and simple?

Violence against pregnant women and new mothers is a very real and growing concern. In the United States, homicide is the leading cause of death for pregnant women and new mothers. According to a study, which was released in 2000, one in six women are abused during their pregnancy.

In 2004, Health Canada reported that women who were abused during pregnancy were four times as likely as other abused women to report having experienced very serious violence, including being beaten up, choked, threatened with a gun or knife or sexually assaulted.

Further, this same Health Canada study reported that of the women who were abused during pregnancy approximately 18% reported they had suffered a miscarriage or other internal injuries as a result of the abuse.

Those figures are shocking, but what is of great concern is that Bill C-484, which purports to protect the rights of women, ignores the 82% of abused pregnant women who do not have their pregnancy ended prematurely by abuse. To me, this is a glaring oversight.

The question is whether it is an intended oversight or simply an unintended consequence. All abuse against pregnant women is unacceptable. We should be concerned about the health and well-being of the mother.

While attacks on pregnant women in Canada are considered by judges during sentencing, by parole boards during parole hearings and are even included in the Criminal Code hate crime law, its gender clause would cover attacks against women because they are pregnant. There are also examples where new offences for attacking a pregnant or new mother can be created.

Thirteen U.S. states have enacted legislation which either makes assaulting a pregnant woman an aggravating factor during sentencing or have created specific new offences for attacking or abusing pregnant women. This, I believe, would be the most effective means of addressing this very serious issue.

In ignoring this more effective model for addressing violence against women, I can only conclude that the sponsor of this bill and his colleagues in the Conservative Party are hoping to divide Canadian women on the emotional issue of violence against pregnant women. By couching his proposal in the language of choice, the rights of the unborn and recognizing the grief for a lost child, the member is once again playing the classic Conservative game of playing on emotions and playing to its socially conservative base while trying to make this issue appear to be one that all women should support by playing on the grief and heinous nature of the crimes involved.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Carole Freeman Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the presence in the gallery of my son Xavier.

I rise today—

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant should know that only the Speaker may make such an acknowledgement and only at the appropriate time, that is 3 p.m.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Carole Freeman Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in the debate at second reading of Bill C-484, which makes it a criminal offence to injure or cause the death of a child, before or during its birth, while committing an offence against the mother. The bill presented by the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park has the merit of being simple. However, it has serious repercussions for women in our society.

As a woman, mother and lawyer, I am disturbed, when I read this bill, by the underlying reactionary aspect of what at first seems to be a good intention. In fact, the logic of Bill C-484 suggests that an individual who causes the death of a fetus by attacking the mother may be prosecuted for the death of the fetus. Hidden behind what would seem to be a praiseworthy intention is a restriction on the right to abortion.

At first, this statement may seem surprising. However, my thoughts on the matter hinge on the fact that Bill C-484 attempts to limit abortion under the pretext of safety concerns which, typical of the Conservatives, emphasize repression rather than prevention. Therefore, the purpose of Bill C-484 is not what we might be led to believe by the preamble.

There are three points I wish to make. First, subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code clearly states that a child becomes a human being when it has completely proceeded from the body of its mother. This is very clear. Moreover, in 1989, the Supreme Court ruled in Tremblay v. Daigle that Canadian common law and Quebec civil law do not recognize the rights of the fetus unless it is born alive.

However, Bill C-484 rejects this definition and gives the fetus rights. It gives the fetus a totally separate personality under the law. In other words, Bill C-484 opens the door to an automatic quasi-right to life. In my opinion, this would create a direct conflict with the woman's rights, her personal dignity, her physical integrity and her independence.

The bill sets a precedent by recognizing the right to life of the fetus, which would lead to a restriction on the right to abortion or even pave the way for abolishing this right.

I have two children, and I am very proud of them. I have nothing but admiration for these joys life has given me. Like many parents, I find it regrettable that some women choose abortion. It is not something anyone wishes for. But women must be able to make that choice, for any number of reasons. Women fought long and hard to win the right to abortion. I could tell stories about that fight. With this bill, the Conservatives are trying, in a roundabout way, to undermine that right.

However, the courts have repeatedly had to rule on the rights 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.

In the famous case of Tremblay v. Daigle, which I mentioned earlier, a father sought an injunction to prevent the mother from having an abortion, claiming that the fetus had a right to life under the Quebec Charter. 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.

This could not be clearer. Bill C-484 is at odds with this decision. It runs counter to the general consensus in today's society.

Furthermore, the Leader of the Conservative Party promised in the last election campaign that he would not reopen the debate on abortion. However, the measure proposed in Bill C-484 has just completely contradicted that promise.

Second, Bill C-484 can result in some rather absurd situations. For example, granting these rights to the fetus will have to be done against everyone else, including the mother, whose habits and behaviour can just as easily compromise the development of the unborn child. Should we control all pregnant women and their lifestyle? I will leave the worst scenarios to your imagination, but the fact remains that controlling the mother is precisely what the Supreme Court has previously rejected.

As I was saying, the nature of Bill C-484 is appalling considering how living conditions for women have improved and the context of the times we are living in. The sponsor of Bill C-484 cannot be neutral either, since the hon. member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park is a self-described pro-life advocate. In 1997, he even said that if he were elected, he would work to exclude abortion from the services covered under the Canada Health Act. In 2003, he supported Motion M-83, a motion by the Canadian Alliance that attacked women's freedom of choice. The legacy of everything women have fought for is at stake here.

If he wants to protect life, my colleague should understand that far too often women's lives are endangered when they are forced to resort to underground abortions performed by people without training. To criminalize or restrict abortion is in fact to knowingly put in danger the lives of women who, for one reason or another, do not want to bring their pregnancy to term.

Third, I want to point out that there are solutions that better respond to the needs of pregnant women, or those who no longer wish to be pregnant. Those solutions would more easily achieve the hidden goal of this reactionary bill and still respect the freedom of choice of women.

I indicated earlier that abortion is a rights-based choice, but we have to recognize that it is a painful solution. It should be considered only as a last resort, after careful consideration. As a parent, I recommend to young women education, understanding and support as the best ways to help those who are pregnant and struggling with financial or marital problems. Compassion must also be shown to women in dealing with a pregnancy caused by rape, or any unwanted pregnancy. Through simple actions such as these, we could reduce the number of abortions in our society in a natural way.

Unfortunately, Bill C-484 does not provide for that. There is no compassion in it; only an expression of suffering and rancour, both of which would be dealt with using a purely punitive approach. It would invariably fail to achieve its hidden goal of curtailing abortion instead of protecting the fetus.

To conclude, for all these reasons, I must oppose Bill C-484, whose approach would slowly take us back sometime before 1969, to a time when it was illegal to perform abortions in Canada.

Again, the Conservatives would really like to take us back 40 years. It is the same thing with the death penalty. They supported it by defeating on January 31 Motion M-411 designed to reiterate our formal opposition to such an inhumane punishment. To my way of thinking, they are contradicting themselves because they want, on the one hand, to defend life and, on the other hand, to take it away.

Frankly, we can do better than that for pregnant women through enhanced social services, support from others and guidance with a human focus. Bill C-484 distracts from that necessity by making it illegal. Unless it proposed a solution respectful of the rights of women, this bill deserves at best a mention in the House of Commons records of deliberations. While the Conservative Party wants to take us back 40 years, Quebec chooses to be modern and to respect freedom.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to private member's Bill C-484, which proposes to amend the Criminal Code to make it an offence to injure, cause the death of, or attempt to cause the death of a child before or during birth while committing, or attempting to commit an offence against the mother.

I do not think that anyone in the House could oppose the intent of this legislation. The assault of a pregnant woman and a direct or indirect assault against the child she is carrying is deserving of a very significant and strong penalty.

The bill is technically complex and therefore, in my opinion, should be carefully reviewed if it is referred to committee for study.

Bill C-484 proposes a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years for the offence of directly or indirectly causing the death of a child while committing or attempting to commit an offence against the mother, who the person knows or ought to know is pregnant. I am not a lawyer, but I hope that the term “ought to know” satisfies the constitutionally required mental elements for criminal offences intent.

I am concerned that if two charges are laid as proposed in the bill, one charge for assaulting the pregnant woman and one charge for injuring or killing the child she is carrying, it may not necessarily result in a lengthier sentence for the accused, as most sentences in this country are served concurrently. I therefore believe we need to address this deficiency not just within the bill before us today, but in general.

I know that the justice minister has had a full agenda over the last year, and I strongly applaud him for his initiatives, for example, with the tackling violent crime bill, but I do hope that in time he will address the issue of concurrent sentences by allowing for consecutive sentences for limited offences. In my opinion, it is not right that an offender who may seriously assault multiple victims serves the sentences for each of those offences concurrently.

I would also urge our government to continue the ongoing commitment and efforts to address spousal violence and violence against women.

According to a 2006 Statistics Canada report, women in this country are still more likely than men to be the victims of the most severe forms of spousal assault, as well as spousal homicide, sexual assault and criminal harassment. The report states that only 8% of sexual assault victims report the assaults to police.

The key findings of the report with respect to spousal violence are: women are more than twice as likely as men to be physically injured by their partners; women are four times more likely than men to be choked; women are six times more likely to receive medical attention; women are five times more likely to be hospitalized as a result of the violence; women are twice as likely than men to report ongoing assaults, and by that I mean 10 assaults or more; women are more than three times as likely as men to indicate that they feared for their lives from a violent spouse; and, the rate of spousal homicide against females has been three to five times higher than the rate for males.

This government's tackling violent crime priority aims to ensure that everyone, particularly the most vulnerable members of our society, can feel safe and secure in their communities and their homes. This government has introduced and passed a number of bills, including Bill C-9 in the first session of this Parliament, which ended conditional sentences for serious personal injury offences such as aggravated sexual assault.

This government has also introduced a number of non-legislative measures, including the announcement of a $52 million boost to programs, services and funding for victims of crime over the next four years to help federal, provincial and territorial governments respond to a variety of emerging issues facing victims of crime across the country. The appointment of Steve Sullivan on April 23, 2007 as the first federal ombudsman for victims of crime is a part of that package.

Since February 2006 the federal-provincial-territorial working group on missing women has been examining the issue of missing women and, in particular, cases involving serial killers who target persons living a high risk lifestyle, including but not limited to those working in the sex trade.

Justice Canada, through the family violence initiative, actively addresses family violence, which has a serious impact on women through ongoing activities that focus on criminal policy development and support research, programming, public legal education and evaluation.

Although Justice Canada does not have the mandate to provide sustained funding for direct service delivery, including shelters, it does contribute to programs, public legal education materials and consultations that are designed to protect aboriginal women and children from family violence.

This government is firmly committed to protecting women and other vulnerable persons from all types of violence and to holding perpetrators accountable for their acts.

The intent of the bill before us today aims to protect women. It is a bill that I wholeheartedly support, and I encourage all of my colleagues to support it as well.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, 19-year-old Olivia Talbot from Edmonton was 27 weeks pregnant when she was brutally murdered on November 23, 2007. Her killer, Jared Baker, fired three shots into her abdomen and then two shots into her head. During his trial, Baker told the court he aimed the shots directly at her torso to “get the baby”.

The attack on Olivia's baby boy, Lane junior, was not treated as a crime. Although not yet born, baby Lane was alive before Olivia was murdered. Although not yet born, baby Lane was wanted and loved and anticipated before Olivia was murdered. Yet Lane junior was not recognized by our criminal law, our justice system, and our government as a victim of a heinous criminal act.

Lane junior was very much a wanted child. Olivia was very much a willing mother. Just ask Mary Talbot, the mother of Olivia and the grandmother of the baby, Lane. She has been campaigning since 2005 for a change to our law to allow charges to be laid in the injury or death of an unborn child when the child's mother is the victim of a crime.

More recently, Aysun Sesen from Toronto was eight months pregnant when she was stabbed to death by her husband. No charges were laid in the death of her daughter, Gul. Like Mary Talbot, Aysun Sesen's brother-in-law, Aydin Cocelli, has been campaigning for a change to our laws.

We have found at least 15 similar cases since 2004 where wanted unborn children were killed as a result of attacks against their mothers. Canadians are aghast to learn that no charges can be laid today in these deaths.

Bill C-484 would make it an offence to intentionally or recklessly harm or kill a pregnant woman's unborn child while committing a criminal offence against the child's mother.

This is a bill that families of slain women are urging members of Parliament to support. This type of legislation has wide-ranging support among all Canadians across party lines. A poll released in October 2007 found that 72% of Canadians and 75% of women would support legislation making it a separate crime to injure or kill an unborn child during an attack on the mother. Voter support was as follows: Conservatives, 77%; Liberals, 71%; Bloc, 71%; and NDP, 66%.

Why the strong public support? Because the vast majority of Canadians see this bill for what it is: a law that recognizes that a crime has been committed. This is a bill that is right and good and necessary in a just and compassionate society. Such a law hopefully would act as a deterrent to committing violence against women when they are most vulnerable.

Surviving family members are asking for separate charges to be laid in these situations. From what we have seen from letters, emails, and signed petitions rolling into MPs' offices from Canadians across the country, this is also what the Canadian public is demanding. That is because it is obvious to Canadians and especially to the surviving family members that there are two victims in these crimes and the law needs to recognize this by allowing two charges to be laid. As for the family members who are left behind to cope, their grief goes unvalidated. They try desperately to mourn a death that our law refuses to recognize in that there are no charges to be laid in the injury or death of an unborn child when the child's mother is the victim of crime.

The Supreme Court of Canada has consistently said in numerous rulings that it is not up to the courts to decide what level of protection to give the unborn child, that it is up to Parliament. In fact, in the 1988 Morgentaler decision which struck down Canada's abortion law, all seven Supreme Court justices were unanimous in finding that the state has an interest in the protection of the unborn child. Justice Beetz said:

I am of the view that the protection of the foetus is and, as the Court of Appeal observed, always has been, a valid objective in Canadian criminal law.... I think s. 1 of the Charter authorizes reasonable limits to be put on a woman's right having regard to the state interest in the protection of the foetus.

In this ruling, the Supreme Court was looking at the issue of controversial abortion. Even in that context, all justices agreed that the criminal law had a role to play in protecting the unborn child and the court left it to Parliament to figure out how to do that.

Therefore, if the court is acknowledging that the state should protect the child in some circumstances, even when the mother wants an abortion, then how much more appropriate is it for the state to protect the unborn child when the woman does not want an abortion? If the state cannot step in and protect the wanted child from a brutal third party attack against the mother's will, then just when can it? What cases would the Supreme Court judges have in mind if not the cases where a pregnant woman and her wanted child are victims of a criminal act of violence?

Our current law, which fails to recognize a woman's unborn child as a separate victim of criminal act, amounts to telling those people who abuse women that since society places no value on human life growing inside of them why should they. If the state has no interest in protecting a woman's unborn child, why should they?

By our failure as a society to recognize any worth whatsoever in the baby, who the pregnant woman wants and is trying to protect, we are only encouraging abusive behaviour toward pregnant women. We must all share in the blame of the consequences of children maimed or killed in their mothers' wombs.

As for the family members who are left behind to try to cope, their grief goes invalidated. They try desperately to mourn a death that our law refuses to recognize because it refuses to recognize that a living baby ever existed at all.

Responding to the coordinator of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, who has publicly misrepresented both Bill C-484 and the intentions of the member who introduced this bill, last week Mary Talbot said:

I hope you never have to experience the pain and anguish and sense of injustice of losing a beloved family member to violence, only to learn that no crime was committed, only to learn that the one your heart breaks for, was of no worth.

I hope colleagues in the House would also demonstrate this respect in a concrete way by voting on Wednesday in favour of sending Bill C-484 to the justice committee to be studied further.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank all members who have spoken on both sides of the bill. I cannot possibly, in the few minutes I have now, answer all the objections from those who spoke against the bill. Therefore, I invite them to visit kenepp.com within a day or two. When I get Hansard, I will do the same analysis that I did with the member for Halifax, which is already on the website. I have the speech repeated and then my comments to it.

I will say a few things that are very important.

First, some changes could be made in committee. A few minor things have come up, which has been suggested, for example, by the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre. I encourage people to vote in favour of sending the bill to committee so those issues can be addressed. If there are issues that need to be fine tuned, I welcome that.

Meanwhile, I want to emphasize that the bill does exactly what I want it to do, which is to address the issue of the protection of the child to whom the women has chosen to give life.

The key word is that this is not a fight of rights between the unborn child and the mother or the pregnant woman, as the critics of the bill have stated. Every one of those who spoke against the bill this morning put that, and it is not. This is one place where we should all come together. The child is very young, but let us assume that the child wants to live. This is a case where the mother wants the child to live.

It is interesting to note that the Liberal member has said that generally a women does everything possible to protect her unborn child. I think I have that right. I cannot for the life of me understand then why people would not support the bill. If the woman has chosen to have a child and she, in the words of the Liberal member, has done everything possible to protect her unborn child, why should she have to stand alone?

We have so many laws that help us to do what is right. Certainly, the people who call themselves pro-choice, should say that they support the bill. The bill says that a woman has chosen to have a child and we will put the strength of the law behind protecting the child who she has chosen to want and protect. This is protecting her right.

There were words like “protecting the woman's autonomy”. The member from the Bloc and also the member from the Liberal Party said this. It is true we are protecting the woman's autonomy. Whether the woman lives or dies, the choice of the woman was to have the child. This has nothing to do with elective consensual abortion. This has to do with the case where the woman has not given her consent. The woman has said that she wants to have the child.

One of the speakers even mentioned that the man should not have power over her body. Usually, not always, the attacker is a man. The man is saying to the victim, “You want to have your baby? I am sorry, I'm going to prevent that”. We have several cases where the woman made that choice, was attacked, lost her child and the woman survived. Women are not getting justice.

There is the gruesome case in Halifax where the guy plunged a sword into a women's abdomen up to 15 times, according to testimony in court. He did that against her will. When he was sentenced, the young women said to the media, “He took so much away from me”. There was no charge for the death of the child.

I urge people to support sending the bill to committee and let us look at it. Meanwhile, visit kenepp.com for the full debate.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The time provided for debate has expired, so the question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Unborn Victims of Crime Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.