Mr. Speaker, I rise today to join in the second reading debate of the private member's bill, Bill C-225, an act to amend the Criminal Code, injuring or causing the death of a pre-born child while committing an offence.
I would like to begin by acknowledging the member for Yorkton—Melville for her compassion and sincerity in bringing the bill forward. I also want to assure her that I have listened very carefully to her speech. In addition, I have read her bill very carefully and I have also examined some of the case law and some of the preceding matters brought before the House.
Bill C-225 would make it a separate offence to cause injury or death to a fetus during the commission of an offence against the fetus' mother. Similar reforms, but not identical, have been proposed by two former private members' bills before the House: Bill C-484, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (injuring or causing the death of an unborn child while committing an offence); and Bill C-291, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (injuring or causing the death of a child before or during its birth while committing an offence). Bill C-484 died on the Order Paper in 2008, and Bill C-291 was designated a non-votable item in 2006 because it was deemed not charter compliant.
Unlike these previous private members bills, Bill C-225 seeks to codify abuse of a pregnant woman as an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes. We can all agree that protecting women from violence, including pregnant women, is a pressing objective. I, quite frankly, have spent much of my adult life in attempting to deal with issues of domestic violence and the protection of the most vulnerable citizens in our society, in particular women and pregnant women.
However, I am concerned that most of the proposals in Bill C-225 will not ultimately meet this objective. In order to reach this objective, the focus must be placed upon violence against women and not on the fetus. In fact, by focusing on the fetus, we may have the unintended effect of negatively impacting women, in particular women's right to choose. Please allow me to explain.
First, providing protection from violence to pregnant women would likely involve ensuring longer sentences in these types of cases. However, sentencing an offender for two separate offences in cases involving abuse of a pregnant woman, one for the harm caused to the fetus and the other for harm caused to its mother, will very likely result in not a longer sentence since sentences are generally served concurrently in cases involving two convictions arising out of the same set of facts or series of events. In other words, it is unlikely the convictions for two offences would result in a lengthier sentence than a conviction for one offence under these aggravating circumstances.
Second, the law already protects pregnant women from violence. First and foremost, case law shows that abusing pregnant women in committing an offence is already considered an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes and is punished severely. As an example, in 2015, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in R. v. Grandine, a 15-year sentence was imposed and the offender convicted of manslaughter in the killing of his 20-week pregnant wife. In that case, the judge very specifically stated, “...I consider the fact that the deceased was pregnant to be an aggravating factor”.
Acts of violence against pregnant women are already addressed by existing criminal law in several ways.
Subsection 223(2) and section 238 of the Criminal Code, which carry a maximum penalty of life in prison, prohibit causing the death of a child, who has not become a human being, in the act of birth under certain circumstances. Subsection 223(1) of that section provides that a child becomes a human being when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother...”.
The Criminal Code contains comprehensive assault and homicide offences which apply to violent acts against pregnant women, and case law shows that abusing a pregnant woman in committing an offence is considered an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes and is punished severely.
I realize that Bill C-225 would not directly impact a woman's right to choose. However, because its proposed offences apply to a fetus at any stage of its development before birth, which means they could apply from the moment of conception, they give the fetus a status that is not currently recognized in law.
Moreover, unlike Bill C-484, Bill C-225, as the member for Yorkton—Melville has mentioned, does not specify that its proposed offences do not apply to cases involving lawful termination of pregnancy, persons acting in good faith to take steps to preserve the life of the mother or the fetus, or any act of omission by the mother.
The fact that the bill's proposed reforms indirectly implicate women's rights issues is deeply problematic in my view. The possibility of restricting a woman's right to choose was decided by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1988 in the Morgentaler decision, and we have known for quite some time now that any kind of limit on access to abortion implicates women's section 7 charter rights.
A woman is indivisible from her fetus. Protecting her necessarily means protecting her fetus. We must therefore focus on protecting pregnant women from the violence that they experience, and supporting legislative changes that may lead to a loss of a woman's section 7 charter rights is not the answer to the serious problem of violence against pregnant women. Simply put, gender-based violence has no placed in our society.
Our government has committed to addressing violence against women in all of its forms. A federal gender violence strategy and action plan is being developed which will include measures to better protect victims of domestic violence. This approach will include prevention, support for victims and appropriate criminal justice responses. Examining this issue through the violence against women lens is the best way to ensure the protection of pregnant women.
The criminal law already treats abuse of pregnant women very seriously. Judges routinely consider abuse of pregnant women as an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes. While there may be some merit in ensuring that this is clearly stated in the Criminal Code, I am not convinced that Bill C-225 is the right legislative vehicle to effect that, since the bill's main purpose is to protect the fetus by creating separate offences for those who would cause it harm, not to protect pregnant women by codifying a principle already routinely applied by sentencing judges.
I acknowledge the very good intentions of Bill C-225. I acknowledge the compassion and sincerity that the member has demonstrated in bringing this matter forward. However, with great respect, I do not think it would achieve the important objective of protecting pregnant women. Therefore, I will be opposing it for the following reasons.
The criminal law already takes violence against women, including pregnant women, very seriously. The bill fails to address the broader issues of violence against women. In addition, it is very likely in my opinion that the bill would be challenged under the charter.
I would like to thank the sponsor for bringing this important issue forward for debate. Violence against women is a terrible crime and impacts us all. It has no place in our society and I join with the member in condemning it.