House of Commons Hansard #111 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will just ask this. The Conservatives constantly stand up and say they received a strong mandate from the Canadian people. They did not receive a mandate from the Canadian people to make changes to old age security because they never campaigned on it. To use it in their favour, they have to take the corollary with it.

I ask my hon. colleague to comment on this. If a demographic boom or bulge was seen coming from decades away, if we all saw it coming, why does she think the Conservatives did not have the courage to tell the Canadian people that they were intending to make them work to the age of 67 to get old age security, if in fact it is truly necessary?

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, we saw the premier of the day in British Columbia, Gordon Campbell, lie to the Canadian people before he implemented the HST. I am not using that word in the House in terms of the government.

However, if the Conservatives saw the demographic bulge coming, they did not talk about their planned change to the age of eligibility for old age security from 65 to 67. Why were they afraid to tell Canadians what they planned on doing? That is hardly a mandate when they actually do not tell people what is on their political agenda.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It being 5:15 p.m., pursuant to an order made earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the opposition motion are deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Monday, April 30, 2012, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

The hon. Chief Government Whip.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I ask that you see the clock at 5:30.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Is that agreed?

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

April 26th, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

moved:

Motion No. 312

That a special committee of the House be appointed and directed to review the declaration in Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code which states that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth and to answer the questions hereinafter set forth;

that the membership of the special committee consist of 12 members which shall include seven members from the government party, four members from the Official Opposition and one member from the Liberal Party, provided that the Chair shall be from the government party; that the members to serve on the said committee be appointed by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the membership report of the special committee be presented to the House no later than 20 sitting days after the adoption of this motion;

that substitutions to the membership of the special committee be allowed, if required, in the manner provided by Standing Order 114(2);

that the special committee have all the powers of a Standing Committee as provided in the Standing Orders; and

that the special committee present its final report to the House of Commons within 10 months after the adoption of this motion with answers to the following questions,

(i) what medical evidence exists to demonstrate that a child is or is not a human being before the moment of complete birth, (ii) is the preponderance of medical evidence consistent with the declaration in Subsection 223(1) that a child is only a human being at the moment of complete birth, (iii) what are the legal impact and consequences of Subsection 223(1) on the fundamental human rights of a child before the moment of complete birth, (iv) what are the options available to Parliament in the exercise of its legislative authority in accordance with the Constitution and decisions of the Supreme Court to affirm, amend, or replace Subsection 223(1).

Mr. Speaker, an oriental proverb says that the beginning of wisdom is to call all things by their right names. It is in the hope of reaching such wisdom that I propose a study of Canada's 400-year-old definition of a human being. Perhaps that ancient definition made sense when leeches and bloodletting were standard medical practices, but does it make medical sense in the 21st century?

Our knowledge has come a long way in 400 years. We now know when a child's organs, from heart to liver, and fingers are fully formed. We can detect when a child's brain functions. Parents watch in real time as their child reacts to stimuli and sucks his or her thumb. None of this was possible 400 years ago when the law struggled to describe who was human.

Why is any law defining a human being so important? Why devote time and attention to this question? Why does it matter that such laws are crafted with great care and with utmost honesty?

It is sad to even ask this question. It is sad that it is not obvious why our law defining a human being must absolutely be an honest law based on cogent evidence and sound principle.

The reason it is so important is that powerful people can strip vulnerable people of all rights by decreeing that they are not human beings. The only way to protect the inalienable rights of all is to protect the inalienable rights of each. As the wise and courageous Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

If basic rights can be denied to even one vulnerable person, they can be denied to anyone. Here is the way the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts it:

...recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world...

That is why we should never accept any law that decrees some human beings are not human beings. No policy justifies it. No ideology justifies it.

Here is what our 400-year-old definition of a human being says:

A child becomes a human being...when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother....

How many Canadians believe that birth is a moment of magical transformation that changes a child from a non-human to a human being? Very few; most Canadians know that our existing definition dishonestly misrepresents the reality of who is a human being.

In the 1850s, nine highly educated, civilized judges of the U.S. Supreme Court decided that African Americans were not persons under U.S. law. If members had been in Congress then, would we not have put up our hands and said that is wrong?

In the early 20th century, nine highly educated, civilized judges of the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that women were not persons under all Canadian laws. If members had been in Parliament then, would we not have put up our hands and said that is wrong?

Now in the 21st century, we discover that we have a 400-year-old law that decrees some children are not human beings. Why not put up our hands and say that is wrong? We should never accept any law that decrees some human beings are not human beings.

If we accept a law that decrees some human beings are not human, the question that must be asked is: Who is next? This question was recently answered for us. Professors Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva told us who they think should be next in an article published in the respected Journal of Medical Ethics online. These are serious academics affiliated with respected universities.

If we accept their premise that it is acceptable to decree that some human beings are not human persons, their logic follows, inevitably. They point out there is no difference between a child before birth and a newborn. Since we have already decreed that a child before birth is not a human person and a newborn is no different, then, they say, we can and should decree that a newborn infant is also not a person. Here are their very own words:

--the same reasons which justify abortion should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is at the stage of a newborn.

This might sound like a spoof, but it is not. It is a serious conclusion from serious academics. It is completely logical if it is acceptable to decree, without regard to biological reality or principles of human rights, that some human beings are not human beings.

The Giubilini-Minerva article shows why it is so important that Parliament reject any law that says some human beings are not human beings.

This is not merely an academic question. In Canada every year, the deaths of 40 to 50 infants who are born alive and later die are classified as “termination of pregnancy”.

The great author, Émile Zola, was once charged with treason for defending the fundamental human rights of a French soldier. What he said expresses my concerns about subsection 223(1). He said, “I denounce to the conscience of honest people this pressure brought to bear upon the justice of our country.”

Motion No. 312 simply calls for a study of the evidence about when a child becomes a human being. It does not propose any answer to that question. In fact, it directs the committee to make no decision and no recommendation but merely to report options.

Now, those who believe that the moment of complete birth does somehow transform a child from a non-human into a human being should have enough confidence in their own belief to expose it to an examination of the evidence. What have they to fear from the full flood of light? Why oppose a mere study?

Zola's words apply again, and I paraphrase them. The reason they oppose a mirror study is “they dread your good sense, they dare not run the risk of letting us tell all and of letting you judge the whole matter”. Again using Zola's words, I have had to “fight step by step against an extraordinarily obstinate desire for darkness. A battle is necessary to obtain every atom of truth.” As Zola said I say, “It is on your behalf alone that I have fought, that this proof might be put before you in its entirety, so that you might give your opinion on your consciences without remorse.”

When we consider a child before birth, do we see a new human life, with a beating heart and 10 human fingers? Or do we see the child as an object and an obstacle, even a parasite? Will we at least consider the evidence?

If the evidence tells us that a child is a human being before the moment of complete birth, will we close our eyes to the truth simply to justify abortion? Do we need to pretend a child is not human until the moment of complete birth in order to justify abortion? We do not. Even if a child is found to be a human being, it is arguable that the mother's rights will outweigh her child's rights.

When the rights of two people conflict, it is never, ever acceptable to deny that one of them is a human being.

Madam Justice Bertha Wilson, in the 1988 Morgentaler case throwing out Canada's abortion law, said the following:

The precise point in the development of the foetus at which the state's interest in its protection becomes “compelling” should be left to the informed judgment of the legislature which is in a position to receive submissions on the subject from all the relevant disciplines. It seems to me, however, that it might fall somewhere in the second trimester.

Those are her words. Clearly, this eminent jurist with impeccable feminist credentials believed that it was wrong to refuse all recognition whatsoever to children before birth. Clearly, she felt it is Parliament's duty to remedy that, a view shared by other courts subsequently.

In fact, almost 80% of Canadians think our law already recognizes the interests and rights of children after the second trimester. They are not aware that our 400-year-old definition of human being actually strips away such rights. When informed, over 70% of Canadians say they believe our law should recognize the rights of children at least during the third trimester of their development.

This consensus is greater than on any other issue today. Canadians across our great country are beginning to know from their own experience and to care about the truth that a child is a human being before the moment of complete birth. In other words, Canadians know that subsection 223(1) is dishonest.

Do we want a Canada where any person or group can arrange a dishonest law to decree that some human beings are not human beings as subsection 223(1) does? That is not the Canada Canadians want. If members search their hearts, that is not the Canada they want either.

If we care about the truth, we will courageously follow the facts wherever they lead. Canadians expect parliamentarians to embody that courage, that strength, that principled quest for the truth. Will we be seen as bold for the sake of truth, or as fearful? We can trust Canadians to embrace the truth with us.

Justice Wilson suggested that Parliament inform itself from the relevant disciplines. Motion No. 312 asks Parliament to do exactly that.

Once the committee delivers its report, Parliament can act on it or take no action. Whatever it chooses, Canadians will at least have the benefit of being informed by 21st century information from all the relevant disciplines as recommended so many years ago by Justice Bertha Wilson. It is Parliament's duty to do that much at least.

A great Canadian once said:

Those who talk the talk of human rights must from time to time be prepared to walk the walk....Heaven forbid that we should fail to do that of which we are capable when the path of duty is clear....Canada is not that kind of nation.

Members should not concern themselves with fearful imaginings but look solely at the dishonesty of subsection 223(1). Members should cast their vote to expose that to the light of scientific evidence. Canadians will thank them for it.

Please, let us bring Canadians together on this—

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order. Perhaps the hon. member can close there.

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, since I will have the opportunity to reply to the hon. member, I will simply ask him a question.

The hon. member likes to quote Justice Wilson. There is nothing more extraordinary than hearing lawyers sharing quotes from the same decisions, the same judges.

What the member opposite seems to be forgetting is that Justice Wilson also said, in the context of the 1988 Morgentaler decision, that section 251 of the Criminal Code limits a pregnant woman's access to abortion and violates her right to life, liberty and security of the person within the meaning of section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in a way which does not accord with the principles of fundamental justice.

The impression that I got from listening to the hon. member's entire speech was that, in the beginning, he was trying to make us believe that his motion, Motion M-312, was a serious one and that he really wanted to conduct a comprehensive study. Yet he already has all the answers.

I would like to ask him this question. Is he waiting for answers regarding his motion or does he have them already? Has he already answered his own questions?

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I have enjoyed working with the hon. member on the justice committee. I always enjoy having a respectful dialogue and exchange of views with any Canadian, any parliamentarian and particularly another lawyer.

The only point at which my views have been inserted into the motion is that it is true I have concluded that the point of complete birth is not a rational or a reasonable point at which a child suddenly transforms from a non-human into a human being.

I have some information about what I think will be the evidence that might be heard if and when the committee undertakes this study, but I am quite content to allow the witnesses to come, providing the evidence is heard. The committee can report back to Parliament.

I am not asking the committee to choose what evidence to believe or not to believe, but simply to report the options back to Parliament. Whatever my views are on that, I hope that Canadians, in the end, will overall be informed. What have we to hide from? Why would we be afraid to let the evidence come out?

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Madam Speaker, my conscience tells me that we must respect the social harmony in this country. My conscience also tells me that we must respect women's rights. Finally, my conscience tells me that we must respect the right to be pro-choice.

In this speech, there was a lot of talk of honesty and dishonesty. What I find dishonest about this speech is that, in reality, what the member wants to do is re-criminalize abortion. If he wants to be honest, why does he not just say that that is what he wants to do?

What is more, his own Prime Minister has said that he will vote against this motion. Is the hon. member really just trying to reopen a debate that has already taken place? In this country, we want social harmony and respect for women's rights.

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I honestly want what the motion asks, and that is for a respectful dialogue and an open-minded study of the evidence.

I would like all Canadians to be informed about this. Whatever views one might have about the issue of abortion, it surely must be helpful to know whether or not a child actually is a human being before the moment of complete birth. Knowing that will inform our discussions, make them more fruitful, and help us to reconcile Canadians of differing views on these issues.

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, I find it infinitely unfortunate that we are talking about this subject. That being said, my speech will be very respectful.

In the hon. member's speech, one fundamental element stood out by its absence, and that was women's rights. In fact, I think the word “woman” was used only once in Motion M-312. The word appears only once in the entire text, even though pregnant women are at the heart of this matter; there is no getting around it.

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

We were very respectful during the member's speech, so I would appreciate the same level of respect. We listened carefully to what he said, even though we sometimes found it hard to hear.

What the member is trying to do is involve us in what he calls a “conversation on the fetus”. Wow. When I was elected in 2011, if someone had told me that I would be here on April 26, 2012, having a “conversation on the fetus”, I would have asked what planet this was.

It is all based on a false premise. According to my colleague's basic premise, which is false, this provision is 400 years old. We are starting from certain comments that have been made.

It is like saying “thou shalt not kill” or something like that. Certainly, I could go back to the Old Testament and suggest we re-examine the issue of first degree murder, because that commandment has been around for so long and perhaps it is time we re-examined the concept.

However, it is even more false than that. We need to come back to the basics of his motion, which seeks to review the definition of subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code, which establishes when a child becomes a human being. According to the Criminal Code, which was created in 1892 and not in 1600:

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...

It is clear, within the meaning of the Criminal Code, that the child must be born alive. This has nothing to do with whether one is for or against abortion. It is in the homicide section of the Criminal Code.

At first I was not sure what the member wanted to do. I thought that perhaps he was sincere and that he wanted to form a committee—as though there were not enough of them—to hear from a multitude of leading scientists.

This is the first time that the Conservatives have shown an interest in anything scientific. It had to be something to do with the fetus and abortion or something that goes against women. Congratulations. Nonetheless, the Conservatives have decided that we will hear from a multitude of people working in medical science, who will talk to us about the fetus and show us different things.

The Conservatives pretend to be interested in the answers, in listening and hearing them. A committee usually hears both sides of the argument, but that is not the case here. Let us make no mistake. This is a direct attack on a woman's fundamental right to choose.

Whether you are for or against abortion, one fact remains and it is not 400 years old: the Morgentaler decision, the Daigle decision, in fact all decisions on various aspects of the issue gave a central place to a woman's inalienable rights concerning her body. The Conservatives really have a hard time accepting this concept. It is an aberration for them.

What we have to say is that it is fine if they do not like our views on this matter. But I do not wish to impose my views on anyone. They are mine alone. It is not my place to tell a pregnant woman what to do. Perhaps she was raped, but no matter what the reason is, it is none of our business. Perhaps the Conservative members would never resort to abortion. Good for them. I recognize that they have this right. But who are they, the men sitting opposite, to judge?

I use the word “men” because that is who I see in front of me. I do not mean it in a pejorative or sexist way. They can object as much as they want, but that is what I see before me. Ah, excuse me, I do see one woman, no, two women. That is excellent, lovely.

Having said that, it is not up to us to say what a pregnant woman should do. I would like to remind my colleagues opposite that case law has established that when a woman is pregnant, her fetus is a part of her body. I do not want to start lecturing about medicine and science, but it is part of her body. Often, the rights of one may be in conflict with the other's.

That is why I asked him the question. If my colleague had been smart, he would have said that he intended to wait for the committee's findings, and he would have won me over a little. But no, we know what he thinks. At least he has the courage of his convictions and was not afraid to say that he is categorically against abortion because he believes that a fetus is a fully fledged human being. Which is why he said, “a human being is a human being,” a phrase he trots out constantly at all his press conferences and elsewhere.

That is the definition that my colleague subscribes to. The problem is that section 223 of the Criminal Code stipulates that the fetus is not a human being. This definition makes sense.

Imagine what will happen. We will end up criminalizing abortion again. Think about it. If a child becomes a human being from the moment of its conception or two or three weeks thereafter, will someone in this chamber then turn around and say that we are going to kill a human being? No way. That is the problem. It will mean that we are once again criminalizing abortion, but it will not stop there.

Imagine the pregnant woman for a moment. For a government that claims that the state must be as small as possible, in its simplest form, in all senses of the term, imagine the government now taking an interest in the way in which a pregnant woman experiences motherhood and pregnancy.

If the fetus, a human being according to what the mover of M-312 tells us, is protected, and if we accept his theory, are we going to have to start delving into the lifestyle of a woman who has alcoholism or addiction problems, for example? We have a Charter of Rights. It may gall our friends opposite to no end, but thank heaven that we have this Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Sometimes, when I see this government, with its 39% of the votes cast by 62% of the electorate, telling us that this is what we have to do and trying to interfere in people’s lives, in how they live their lives, in what they believe in their innermost selves, in what affects them personally, it scares me to death.

I have talked with colleagues from every party. The even greater fallacy in their argument is when we come to the question of an abortion at eight or eight and a half months in a pregnancy. For heaven’s sake, the people listening to us have to know that under most of the protocols at all the various hospitals in the provinces, no one is performing great numbers of abortions after the twentieth week of pregnancy. I will say again that this is a decision that must be made by the woman and her doctor. If there are any such abortions, it is often because there may be a medical problem for the pregnant woman, who could possibly die from it.

So let us stop scaring people and abide by the Charter and the decisions, not the ones made 400 years ago, but the ones made in 1988 and 1990 and 2000 and so on. Let us stop these constant attacks on the women of Canada.