Unborn Victims of Crime Act

An Act to amend the Criminal Code (injuring or causing the death of an unborn child while committing an offence)

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

Sponsor

Ken Epp  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of March 5, 2008
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Criminal Code by making it an offence to injure, cause the death of or attempt to cause the death of a child before or during its birth while committing or attempting to commit an offence against the mother.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • March 5, 2008 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Preborn Children Act (Cassie and Molly's Law)
Private Members' Business

May 2nd, 2016 / 11:30 a.m.
See context

NDP

Murray Rankin Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, let me first say a few words to the people who I am sure are following this debate closely.

To Jeff Durham, his friends, family, and the people of Windsor, Ontario, who have stood with him since December 2014, and all of those who have lost loved ones to violence, I would say that every member of this House stands with them. I cannot fathom the depth of grief that they must feel. However, we can all see their strength and determination to fight to save other Canadians from experiencing a similar grief.

I want to begin by acknowledging the passionate speech by my colleague, the member for Yorkton—Melville. I hope that all members, wherever they stand on this particular measure before us, will take this opportunity to rededicate themselves to the task of not just reducing but ending violence against women.

Let me say at the outset that although I understand and sympathize with the important objective of the bill, I have serious concerns about the legal implications of some of the provisions within it. Whether intentional or incidental, some of the provisions in the bill would have effects far beyond the principle and scope of this bill. After careful review, we have decided that these flaws are so fundamental and potentially harmful that they would undermine the very objective of the bill. For those reasons, we will not be supporting the bill at second reading.

The bill would, for the first time and in defiance of multiple rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada, legally separate a fetus from its mother. The inescapable effect of that separation would be to reopen the debate on the reproductive rights of women, which has rightly and definitively been resolved by Canadians. It has been the object of more than 40 bills or motions in this House since 1987.

The member for Yorkton—Melville has said that it will not reopen the debate on the reproductive rights of women. She has said that abortion is explicitly excluded from the ambit of this bill. However, even if that is not the intention of the bill, its effect would be to lay the groundwork for the reopening of this contentious debate on the reproductive rights of women.

If these particular provisions seem familiar to members, it is because they are nearly a carbon copy of a measure previously proposed in the House in Bill C-484, the so-called unborn victims of crime act. The member does not seem to grasp that by enshrining the term “preborn child” it will have a significant ripple effect on the law in this context. It is defined as “a child at any stage of development that has not yet become a human being”.

First, I would note that under existing laws the victim's pregnancy is already used by judges as an aggravating factor in sentencing, despite the absence of any specific statutory requirement to do so in the Criminal Code. Second, I would note that Cassandra's killer already faces the most severe punishment available since the abolition of the death penalty, namely, a life sentence without parole for at least 25 years. Third, the victim's family members will have the opportunity to express their views in court by means of a victim impact statement. Fourth, even if separate charges were laid in the death of the fetus, they would most likely be served concurrently, that is, subsumed within the life sentence for first degree murder of the mother, leaving the number of years to be served unchanged.

The bill I mentioned earlier was debated in 2007. It did not proceed at that time in part because of the opposition of more than 100 organizations across Canada, many of which are dedicated full time to ending violence against women and upholding the rights of all. We cannot proceed with a flawed bill that fails to provide effective relief to those it seeks to protect and that may well jeopardize the constitutional rights of Canadian women.

Indeed, the experience of jurisdictions that have adopted such laws, including many in the United States, failed to reduce violence against women, and despite the best intentions of their sponsors, have been used to launch legal actions against mothers.

What is to be done?

The best way to protect fetuses is, of course, to protect mothers, which means directly protecting pregnant women by providing all the necessary resources to ensure good pregnancy outcomes, and by upholding women's constitutional rights. What is required then is a holistic approach to ending violence against women through both the protection of the constitutional rights of women and the prevention of violence, including intimate-partner violence.

The present government made a number of platform promises in the most recent election with relevance to this debate. They include the following: Criminal Code amendments to tackle intimate-partner violence, including listing it as an aggravating factor in sentencing; increased investment in shelters and transition houses; and a comprehensive federal gender-violence strategy and action plan.

The NDP supports these goals and other measures, such as restarting the police officer recruitment fund to ensure that communities have the officers they need to keep every family safe, yet no action has been taken to update the Criminal Code. Resources for shelters and transition houses remain woefully inadequate. Also, there has been no discernible progress on the development and implementation of a comprehensive federal gender-violence strategy and action plan.

Just last week, The Globe and Mail reported that the majority of women and children seeking shelter from violence, 73%, are turned away because of a lack of resources, and nearly half of the shelters that were studied had received clients from other provinces. This is truly a national problem. It is a crisis, from my home on the west coast in Victoria, to small towns, big cities, and remote communities all across Canada. The government must do more to ensure that no woman in Canada is denied the help she needs to escape violence and abuse.

In a previous session, the NDP member for Churchill—Keewatinook Aski tabled a motion to develop a national action plan to end violence against women. I salute the ongoing work to that end by the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith who has taken up this initiative. This is the kind of holistic approach that will be required to eradicate violence, including intimate-partner violence, but also to take positive steps to achieve equality in our society and our economy.

This is not the time for tinkering. This is the time for bold national action. Sadly, the bill before us is neither the solution we need nor is it free of further problems. For those reasons, we cannot support proceeding with further consideration of the bill.

I hope all members will join us in not only ensuring the government delivers on its platform promises to address intimate-partner violence, funding for shelters, and public safety, but also in bringing forward proposals of its own to ensure we are doing everything in our power to end violence against women in Canada.

Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Preborn Children Act (Cassie and Molly's Law)
Private Members' Business

May 2nd, 2016 / 11:25 a.m.
See context

Scarborough Southwest
Ontario

Liberal

Bill Blair Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

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.

Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Preborn Children Act (Cassie and Molly's Law)
Private Members' Business

May 2nd, 2016 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Yorkton—Melville, SK

moved that Bill C-225, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (injuring or causing the death of a preborn child while committing an offence), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to stand today in support of my private member's bill, Bill C-225, the protection of pregnant women and their preborn children act, which I will refer to as Cassie and Molly's law.

I was motivated to bring forward this bill after learning about the very tragic story of Cassie and Molly Kaake from Windsor, Ontario. Cassie was seven months pregnant with Molly when she was brutally attacked and killed in her home in December 2014. Molly's father, Jeff Durham, has been working tirelessly to bring some good out of this horrific tragedy.

I would like to quote a statement that Jeff Durham made on the day I introduced this bill in the House. He said:

Without a shadow of a doubt in my mind, neither Cassie nor any pregnant victim of homicide or violence would want their choice, their babies, to go ignored. Just because they're not here to say this law is needed, for anyone with a conscience and the power to do something about it, I say for them that this bill is needed.

I would like to explain now exactly what Bill C-225 would do and, just as importantly, what it would not.

This bill would create new offences for injuring or causing the death of a pregnant woman's preborn child while committing or attempting to commit a criminal offence against the woman—for example, while assaulting or killing a pregnant woman—with the knowledge that she is pregnant. These offences are not stand-alone offences. They would only apply when a person is, which I stress, committing or attempting to commit a criminal offence against a pregnant woman. In addition, it would only be when the offender has the knowledge that she is pregnant. The new offences are called “causing the death of a preborn child while committing an offence” and “injuring a preborn child while committing an offence”.

With this law in effect, two charges can be laid in crimes involving attacks on pregnant women that result in harm or death to their preborn children. One charge would be in relation to the criminal offence against the woman, and the second charge would be in relation to one of the new offences created by the bill, which would be either causing the death of the preborn child or causing injury to her preborn child.

This bill would also add pregnancy to the list of aggravating factors for sentencing purposes. Although judges can already treat pregnancy as an aggravating factor, codifying it in the criminal law is a way to more clearly and strongly denounce violence against pregnant women. We know from researching the case law that it is often unclear to what extent a woman's pregnancy is considered in sentencing. This bill would send a strong message to the courts that pregnancy must now be considered in the sentencing hearing.

Pregnancy should be a joyful and exciting time, the building of a family and a new generation. Unfortunately, the tragedy of Cassie and Molly, along with too many other Canadian women who were targeted and harmed because of their choice to carry their children to term, reminds us that the safety of women remains threatened.

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, choked, threatened with a gun or knife, or sexually assaulted. Cassie and Molly's law would be a strong deterrent to committing violence against pregnant women because of the severe penalties it would carry for intentionally causing the death of a preborn child.

In existing criminal law, if a pregnant woman is assaulted, not killed, and her child dies, the offender is charged only with assault on the woman, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years for aggravated assault. Under Cassie and Molly's law, the offender would be charged not only with the assault on the woman but also with the new offence for causing the death of her fetus. If her attacker's intention was to kill her preborn child, then that person would be liable to imprisonment for life, with a minimum punishment of 10 years. This is a far stiffer penalty than the offender would get under the simple charge of assaulting the woman.

Not only that, a judge has discretion on whether to impose consecutive or concurrent sentences. Therefore, in cases where this new law is applied, judges may very well require the offender to serve the sentence for each offence consecutively. In the most tragic case, both the woman and her preborn child die, as was the case with Cassie and Molly. It was also the case with Olivia and Lane Jr., the assailant confessing that his intention was to kill the child, shooting Olivia three times in the abdomen before shooting her twice in the head. In these cases, the judge may impose two life sentences and, at the judge's discretion, these could be served consecutively.

I want to be very clear about the intent of this bill so that there is no misunderstanding of what it is attempting to do. Cassie and Molly's law is about protecting pregnant women and their preborn children from the actions of third parties who want to do them harm. It would protect a pregnant woman's choice to bring her child safely to term.

I have been assured by legal experts that this bill cannot in any way be used to impact a woman's choice to terminate her pregnancy. Abortion is by definition excluded from the bill, because of the clear wording that makes causing injury or death to the preborn child an offence only if the person does so, and I am quoting from the bill,

while committing or attempting to commit an offence under this Act against a female person that the person knows is pregnant,

I want to reinforce that these new offences are not stand-alone offences. The new offences in Cassie and Molly's law address only the situations where a third party harms or kills a woman's preborn child while committing or attempting to commit a criminal offence against the woman, action which she is clearly not consenting to.

This legislation honours and protects a woman's right to choose to give birth to her baby free from harm committed by others against her will.

Cassie had chosen to have Molly, and was so looking forward to mothering her. As Molly's father, Jeff, stated:

Before they were killed, Cassie was the happiest anyone had ever seen her. She was happy to have chosen to be having our baby girl. She beamed with excitement and anticipation that was impossible for anyone who knew her not to see.

As the title of Bill C-225 makes clear, this law would protect pregnant women and their preborn children. With respect to preborn children, our health care system already offers them substantial protection, so why not our criminal justice system? In the area of fetal medicine, surgeons are able to perform delicate surgeries while babies are still in the womb, such as treatments for fetuses with spina bifida and life-saving heart interventions.

In the case of a pregnant woman who is rushed to the hospital after sustaining serious injuries in a car accident, physicians will do everything in their power to save the lives of both the woman and her unborn child. Even if the mother tragically dies, the doctors will not give up hope on saving her baby's life. No one questions these policy decisions because they are common sense. It makes perfect sense to save the baby in utero who is struggling to survive after its mother was harmed or killed in a car accident.

However, in the house across the street, there is another pregnant woman, and she is being beaten and kicked in the abdomen and loses her baby as a result. What does not make sense is that this woman's child does not matter in the eyes of our justice system, just like Molly, just like Lane Jr. Our justice system says it does not matter that their lives were brutally taken when their mothers were brutally attacked.

Why should women at their most vulnerable not have the backing of our criminal law to help them to protect what is most precious to them? It is simply wrong, and completely incoherent, when compared to the efforts and resources that our health care system puts into improving and saving prenatal life.

No one makes the argument that in order to protect abortion, we should not be performing life-saving surgeries on babies in utero. We allow both types of surgeries to take place in our hospitals, based on a woman's choice.

Our criminal justice system should do the same. If we can allow abortion to coexist with life-saving fetal surgeries in our health care system, then we can allow legal abortions to coexist with the law in our justice system that makes it a crime for a third party to harm or kill a woman's preborn child against her will. To do otherwise not only lacks coherence, it lacks compassion.

I turn now to concerns that have been expressed in the past by the medical profession. I understand that several physicians groups feared that a similar bill, Bill C-484, which was debated in Parliament in 2008, could criminalize doctors for performing abortions. I want to assure Canada's physicians that I have paid close attention to those concerns in the drafting of Cassie and Molly's law. Provisions in the earlier Bill C-484 explicitly excluded consensual abortion under a “for greater certainty” clause. However, that provision was causing concern amongst some physicians, who thought it would criminalize them for performing abortions. It was not a necessary provision and was only included for greater certainty.

Given that it did not have its intended effect, what was to make it clear that abortion would not be criminalized, and on the advice of my legal drafter, I decided not to include that provision in my bill. I have been assured by legal experts that this law cannot be used to criminalize doctors for performing abortions. I am confident this new approach will assuage any concerns that Canadian physicians had with the earlier bill.

The reason the bill does not interfere with the duties of physicians is that a person could only be charged with one of the new offences created in the bill if that person commits or attempts to commit a criminal offence against the pregnant woman. A doctor performing an abortion on a consenting woman is not committing any criminal offence against the woman, since abortion is not regulated by criminal law in Canada, and has not been since 1988.

Therefore, these new offences would not apply. They are not stand-alone offences, meaning that they can only apply while committing or attempting to commit a criminal offence against the woman.

I have also been assured by legal experts that Cassie and Molly's law cannot be used to prosecute a pregnant woman in Canada for any harm she may cause to her own preborn child. This is because, by definition, the new offences only apply when a person knowingly commits a criminal act against a pregnant woman and thereby harms or kills her preborn child. Simply put, the bill is strictly aimed at third parties who knowingly commit a crime against a pregnant woman and in the process harm or kill her preborn child.

Importantly, Bill C-225 could never act as a precedent for the courts to criminalize the behaviour of pregnant women, because Canada's criminal justice system does not allow courts to create criminal offences. That is the exclusive jurisdiction of Parliament. There is absolutely no way that Cassie and Molly's law could now or ever be used to criminalize any act or omission by a pregnant woman with respect to her own pregnancy.

Another point that must be stated clearly to negate any confusion about the bill relates to the definition of “human being” in the Criminal Code. The bill does not change the legal definition of human being or create fetal personhood, as some critics have tried to claim. Because the Criminal Code definition of human being precludes preborn children, the existing criminal offences against human beings, for example, murder, manslaughter, and assault, do not apply when the preborn child is harmed or killed during attacks against the pregnant woman. Instead, the bill creates brand new offences to cover the very narrow circumstances whereby a preborn child is harmed or killed during the commission of an offence against the mother, in spite of the fact that these children are not considered human beings in our criminal law.

The criminal law can be used to protect entities other than what is covered under the Criminal Code's definition of a human being. For example, the Criminal Code, in section 238, already protects a child during “the act of birth". It makes it an offence to cause that child's death in such as way that if the child were a human being it would be murder, even though that child during the act of birth is not a human being under the Criminal Code's definition.

We have criminal laws to protect animals from cruelty, and against the unlawful killing or injury of animals. There are also criminal law protections against the destruction of private property.

Families are the foundation of our country. The Criminal Code is missing a crucial component to protect Canadian women and their families. The increased penalties under Cassie and Molly's law create a legal mechanism that will enhance the safety of Canadian women and recognize the safety of their families. This approach is specific and robust. It is a common-sense approach designed to fill a gap in the Criminal Code that renders women and their preborn children vulnerable.

I truly believe that all of my colleagues want to do what they believe is compassionate and just. We should not turn a blind eye to the brutal violation of Cassie's choice to continue her pregnancy. We should not turn a blind eye to Molly's death.

We as parliamentarians have the long overdue opportunity to bring something good out of a horrific tragedy that is actually only one of many.

It is my sincere hope that we can put partisanship aside. I am asking all my colleagues to listen to their conscience. I am asking them to listen to everyday Canadians who instinctively know that it is wrong to violate a woman's pregnancy and cause the death of her yet to be born child against her will.

As legislators, we must hold to our responsibility to protect the innocent, with sound reasoning combined with compassionate and caring instincts.

Let us protect pregnant women. Let us work together to increase the chances that a pregnant woman will be able to continue her pregnancy free from violence. Let us protect the child she longs to bring into her family.

One of the tools we as federal parliamentarians have at our disposal to offer this much-needed protection is the criminal law. It is the 21st century, and the time is right.

Protect pregnant women and their preborn children. Vote for the passage of Cassie and Molly's law.

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

September 21st, 2012 / 2:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the House to express my strong opposition for Motion No. 312. I am strongly opposed to this motion based on my own personal convictions, but dozens of my constituents have also asked me to oppose it because they are concerned. While I am honoured to speak today, I am very disappointed that I am addressing the House about an issue that most Canadians thought was completely closed. The hon. member for Kitchener Centre wants to reopen a debate on an issue that we thought had been resolved for many years. It seems that he wants to try to break the social peace that has settled over this country. He brought forward a motion that reads as follows:

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;

The motion also sets out the composition of and powers given to the committee.

I would first like to clarify certain statements that the hon. member for Kitchener Centre made in the speech he gave during the first hour of debate and other speeches.

The definition dates back to 1892 and not to the 17th century, as he led us to believe. Many of our laws were sanctioned in the early years of our federation and they are still in effect and still relevant to the governance of the country. He also said that abortions were done in the third trimester, more specifically that there were no rights to protect the fetus in the third trimester. I would like to remind the hon. member that 90% of abortions are done in the first trimester. Only 0.3% of abortions are done after the 20th week, and most of those are done for quasi-medical reasons or when the mother's health is in jeopardy.

I would also like to mention to my colleague that abortions are down by an average of 1% per year. So, it is not true that fetuses are being aborted during the third trimester. The Conservatives are twisting the facts to justify their ideologies. Canadians have the right to have the real facts rather than twisted ones.

As I said earlier, in the mind of Canadians, this debate has been closed for many years, following many Supreme Court decisions. It is up to Parliament to make legislation, but it is the responsibility of the courts to review the legislation and to make sure that it is consistent with our Constitution and the individual rights that we all enjoy under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It is important to know the political and legal history behind this debate. Let me quickly go over the facts to refresh the memory of the hon. members opposite, in case they may have forgotten them. In 1988, the Morgentaler decision held that the Criminal Code provisions on abortion were unconstitutional. They violate section 7 of the Charter.

After the 1988 Morgentaler decision, a number of provinces tried to restrict access to abortion by using the health care system in terms of reimbursing costs. They prohibited abortions that were not performed in public hospitals by not paying for abortion fees. In the Morgentaler decisions against the provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba and Quebec, courts ruled in all cases that the provinces’ attempts to restrict abortion were contrary to the Charter.

All of these decisions always focused on a woman's inalienable rights concerning her body. However, as my colleague from Gatineau mentioned in a passionate speech, there was a fundamental aspect missing from the speech by the member for Kitchener Centre: a woman's right to control her own body. This right is included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But the member for Kitchener Centre seems to have completely forgotten that, or simply ignored it. The member said that he wants a study in good faith on the issue and that the definition in section 223 of the Criminal Code is dishonest.

Let us talk about honesty in speeches and statements. The member for Kitchener Centre said:

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.

However, the Chief Government Whip said:

...the ultimate intention of this motion is to restrict abortions in Canada at some fetal development stage.

The member for Ktichener Centre also indicated in an interview with Metro Ottawa published on April 26, 2012, that if we reach a conclusion on when a child becomes a human being then all of the other issues that are so complicated about abortion can be discussed with that honest conclusion as a bedrock foundation. Either the member is contradicting himself, or else the member for Kitchener Centre is hiding his real desire to turn women who have abortions into criminals. So, the member should be careful when he talks about honesty.

The Conservative Party does not have a good record on this issue. The Conservatives have been trying to criminalize abortion for a long time. The Mulroney government introduced Bill C-43 in order to criminalize abortion, but fortunately it was defeated at third reading.

In 2004, the then leader of the opposition, who is now the Prime Minister, said that the first Conservative government would not be interested in reopening the abortion issue.

In 2008, the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park tried to create a loophole for the criminalization of abortion by introducing Bill C-484, which would have made the murder of a pregnant woman a double homicide. Almost every Conservative, including the Prime Minister, voted for the bill.

In 2010, when the Muskoka Initiative for maternal health was launched by the G8, the Prime minister imposed a moratorium on funding for projects involving abortion in the developing world. Still in 2010, the member for Winnipeg South introduced Bill C-510, which would have made it an offence to coerce a woman to have an abortion.

In 2011, the Prime Minister reiterated this promise with the assurance that his party would not reopen the abortion debate. We know what happened: a member moved a motion with the ultimate goal of restricting access to abortion. One cannot help but wonder about the Conservative Party's ability to be consistent. The Prime Minister seems to have difficulty keeping the more extremist elements of his party in line with his position to not reopen the debate. In any case, the Conservative Party cannot be trusted when it comes to protecting women's rights.

How many times will the Conservatives try to reopen this debate? The Conservative ideology believes that the government should be as small as possible and that it should not interfere in the private lives of people, as demonstrated by its position on the firearms registry.

Strangely enough, this does not seem to apply when it comes to defending the rights and equality of women. If such a motion is accepted by the House, it could lead to the criminalization of abortion, which is completely unacceptable. Criminalizing abortions will not stop women from having them, even if that means having them in conditions that could jeopardize their health and life, not to mention the criminal prosecution that could follow.

Let us look at the example of the United States, where abortion is now severely limited. Women have to travel hundreds of kilometres to have access to this procedure. They have to use their rent and food money to pay for it and they have to go to judges to get permission. When they go to the clinic, they have to listen to anti-abortion propaganda and push their way past violent and aggressive anti-choice activists. They sometimes even have to wait for hours in their cars in the clinic parking lot because of a bomb threat, which is a frequent occurrence. All this to say that most women will do whatever it takes to have access to this procedure, regardless of the difficulty or risk involved.

Is this really the type of society that we want? Do we want to take such a big step backward? Women have fought for decades to assert their individual rights and to protect their safety and security.

We must never impose our beliefs and opinions on others. Members of the Conservative Party may never have to resort to abortion, and I fully respect their positions and their beliefs, but they should never judge women who do resort to abortion, nor should they attempt to take that right away.

Members of the New Democratic Party strongly oppose this motion, which is a direct attack on women's right to choose. The Conservative government, which now has a majority, is speaking out of both sides of its mouth on this issue. We want the Prime Minister to keep the promise he made to Canadians during the most recent election campaigns and to put a stop to these regressive debates. Abortion must remain a matter between a consenting woman and her doctor.

In closing, I am confident that the NDP members will unanimously oppose this motion.

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

September 21st, 2012 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, the motion being debated in the House today is nothing less than an attempt to reopen the abortion debate in Canada. This is quite literally a slap in the face to women who have fought long and hard for the right to control their own bodies and their ability to determine for themselves when they wish to have children. Motion No. 312 states:

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....

The member for Kitchener Centre's desire to open up this debate has an end goal of changing the legislation to enable the fetus to be declared a human being. We are all very aware that such a change in the definition will place Canada directly on the regressive path to banning abortions.

The member for Kitchener Centre held a press conference earlier this week. In that press conference he quite clearly stated that the current definition of a person is an exclusion of a class of people. These types of statements distort the truth. In reality, over 90% of abortions in Canada are done in the first trimester. Only 2% to 3% are done after 16 weeks and no doctor in this country performs abortions past 20 or 21 weeks, except for compelling health or genetic reasons.

The comments by the member are a blatant attempt to misrepresent the facts. A fertilized egg is not a class of people, and I am offended that the member would shamelessly misrepresent the women's rights movement as an example of why we should open the door to changing abortion rights in Canada.

I would like to highlight several legal precedents that have already dealt with the question that Motion No. 312 raises, in particular Tremblay v. Daigle, Dobson v. Dobson, Winnipeg Child and Family Services v. G., Borowski v. Canada, and R. v. Morgentaler.

These rulings have concluded or noted that the fetus has never been a person nor been included in the meaning of “everyone” in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; that a fetus must be born alive to enjoy rights, the born alive rule; and that the law has always treated a pregnant woman and her fetus as one person under the law.

We need not look far to see the danger of Motion No. 312. In the United States fetuses have legal personhood rights in at least 38 states, most through so-called fetal homicide laws, which are supposedly aimed at third parties who assault pregnant women.

In reality, these laws are used to justify prosecuting pregnant women under child welfare laws, and they function much like the 2008 bill of the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park, Bill C-484, which proposed changes to the Criminal Code that would, if passed, also threaten a woman's right to choose. The intent of that bill was to amend the Criminal Code to have two charges laid against anyone killing a pregnant woman, and it would in effect have given legal rights to a fetus, thereby changing the definition of when a fetus becomes a person under the law. While the stated purpose of the bill was the protection for a woman and her fetus, in practice, like Motion No. 312, these laws are primarily used to justify the prosecution of women.

Motions and bills such as these create obvious dangers for those who counsel or perform abortions. They also turn pregnant women into lesser citizens whose rights are subordinated to those of a fertilized egg.

What is absolutely clear is that Motion No. 312 is taking aim at a woman's right to choose and is a direct attack on jurisprudence. Canada was once a world leader in the promotion and protection of women's rights and gender equality. It was committed to the view that gender equality is not only a human rights issue but also an essential component of sustainable development, social justice, peace and security.

These goals can only be achieved if women are able to participate as equal partners, decision-makers and beneficiaries of the sustainable development of their societies. How can Canada be considered a world leader in women's rights when we have members of Parliament suggesting that we revert to the barbaric days of gender inequality through the restriction of abortion?

When abortions are illegal, women do not stop having them. They only take more risks to access the service and these risks can have deadly consequences. For instance, before abortions were legalized in South Africa in 1997, there were an average of 425 deaths stemming from unsafe abortions every year. Today, the numbers are below 20.

In Latin America, most abortions are considered illegal, yet roughly 3.8 million procedures are performed each year and are directly linked to over 4,000 avoidable deaths.

The same happened here. Before abortion laws in Canada were struck down, there were over 35,000 illegal abortions taking place every year. Between 1926 and 1947, there were an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 deaths as a result of desperate women submitting themselves to clandestine procedures.

Despite assurances from the Prime Minister—known for his tight control over his caucus members—that the government does not plan to reopen the abortion debate, there is a troubling trend in the government's backdoor actions and its support for backbenchers who are continually trying to revive this issue.

In the last Parliament, the member for Winnipeg South tabled Bill C-510, An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort (Roxanne's Law). In 2008, as I mentioned earlier, we saw Bill C-484, a bill that nearly the entire Conservative caucus supported, including the Prime Minister.

In 2010, as part of the maternal health initiative at the G8 summit in Muskoka, the government imposed a moratorium on the funding of safe abortions in 10 developing countries, emphasizing the protection of life yet ignoring the consequences of systemic rape in some of those countries. The statistics from those developing countries are heartbreaking. Approximately 70,000 women die each year due to unsafe abortions and 5 million are hospitalized because of complications resulting from unsafe abortions.

Women's groups in Canada fighting for comprehensive maternal health funding were told by a Conservative senator to shut up about abortion or else there might be a backlash. The senator contended that Canada was still a country with free and accessible abortion and to leave it at that.

This thinly veiled threat points to a greater fallacy, that abortion services are in fact available across Canada. Some provinces have very few hospitals providing services. Prince Edward Island has none. Canadian women living in rural areas and those in jurisdictions without an abortion provider travel long distances, encountering significant costs and additional stress. These constraints have the most impact on young women, those who have little job security, or women with significant family obligations.

Turning back the clock and reopening the debate on when human life begins is a dangerous path to take. The Canadian government should be working to strengthen women's rights instead of heading down a path that exposes women to the dangers of illicit, unsafe procedures.

Women in Canada have the right to choose. That has been established by the Supreme Court of Canada, and we demand that the government ensure this right's continuation and that all equality rights are protected. We need a government that will champion programs and policies that ensure that women's contributions to society, the economy, and leadership in this country are respected and encouraged. Access to safe, legal abortions are integral to these rights.

I want to make it very clear that I do not support this motion. New Democrats do not support this motion. We will actively fight against any motion or bill that will threaten a woman's right to choose. It is both frightening and insulting that the men who have introduced these bills and motions have so little respect for a woman's ability to determine what is best for her, her body and her family. The right rests solely with women who choose. No one has the right to interfere. The Supreme Court has upheld that right and so should the members of this Parliament.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

December 13th, 2010 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, on this side of the House, we have a tendency to recite the long list of the Conservative government's faults. But upon reading Bill C-510, I finally found something positive: this government is inventive.

Its dedication to limiting a woman's right to choose regarding abortion fascinates me. We thought it had tried everything, particularly with Bill C-484 on unborn children and its regressive international policy on maternal health. The cuts to Status of Women Canada, the court challenges program and the women's program are just more examples.

Although their actions show that they want to criminalize abortion and set back women's rights, the Conservatives keep repeating that they do not want to reopen the debate. But they are the ones who keep bringing this issue back to the House.

This time, with Bill C-510, An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort, the government wants to impose five-year prison sentences for anyone who coerces a woman to have an abortion and two-year prison sentences for anyone who attempts to coerce a woman to have an abortion.

The Conservatives are using the case of Roxanne Fernando, who was killed by three men, to misrepresent things. The crown prosecutor, one of the murderers and his lawyer have all stated that the murder had nothing whatsoever to do with the woman's refusal to have an abortion. The Conservatives are using this barbaric act to threaten the right to abortion, even if this right was not the issue. This was a case of domestic violence.

With Bill C-510, the Conservatives are moving forward with their right-wing political agenda instead of attacking the real problem, which is violence against women. The real solutions are based on achieving equality between men and women. This has to do with better access to the justice system through legal aid, financial assistance for victims of crime and their loved ones, pay equity and other improvements to social programs.

In addition to being so creative, the Conservatives also have a talent for bringing women's rights groups together. The Fédération des femmes du Québec is opposed to passing Bill C-510. It has declared that since the Conservatives took power, “abortion has never been so threatened”.

The Fédération du Québec pour le planning des naissances has also spoken out against Bill C-510. The federation expects the bill to have a number of negative consequences, one of which is that it will open the door to the criminalization of abortion. The federation also fears, with good reason, that workers in this area could be prosecuted if the bill is passed. The very vague concept of “coercion” would give the unborn child certain rights to the woman's detriment.

For these same reasons, a number of other organizations, including Canadians for Choice, are strongly opposed to the initiative of the hon. member for Winnipeg South.

At the very least, it can be said that the Conservatives do not give up. Since coming to power, they have tried every sly tactic they can think of to reopen the debate on abortion, but have been unsuccessful. On September 2, 2010, the infamous Dimitri Soudas stated that his party did not want to reopen the debate on this issue. Since that time, several members have made similar statements. Nevertheless, last May, the hon. member for Winnipeg South said that it is “always important to take steps, small steps, to acknowledge the value of the unborn”. Finally, a Conservative member who is willing to tell the truth about his intentions.

Twenty-two years ago, the Supreme Court invalidated the anti-abortion provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada. Since that time, there has been a strong consensus in our society that the debate on this issue should be over. However, from time to time, the Conservative Prime Minister agrees to reward the most well-behaved radicals in his party by letting them introduce regressive bills. Each time, the members of the House oppose these bills, with the exception of the Conservatives and a few misguided Liberals.

But that does not matter. Listening to the peoples' representatives in Parliament is not an option for this government. Not only is Bill C-510 downright disgraceful, it is also useless.

Counsellors at abortion clinics already screen women to ensure that they have not been coerced into abortion. Clinics refuse to perform abortions on women who are not sure of their decision or who are being coerced by a third party. In addition, the Criminal Code prohibits threats and assaults against women. That is why the criminals who murdered Roxanne Fernando are in prison. Nathanael Plourde was sentenced to 25 years in prison, and Manuel Toruno was sentenced to at least 10 years in prison. Their 17-year-old accomplice was given the maximum sentence for a minor: six years in prison and four years of probation. The maximum prison sentences proposed by this bill, five years and two years, are totally absurd and useless.

A woman's decision to abort is rarely made alone, although it is a decision that must clearly be made without any persuasion. As I just said, such coercion is already prohibited by the Criminal Code. However, it is normal for an adolescent or a woman to seek advice from those close to her. If this person's mother, father, brother, sister or partner counsels her not to keep the baby, the bill is so vague that the pregnant woman's family could be subject to jail time. That is completely unacceptable.

Bill C-510 is also condescending towards women. It suggests that they are often coerced into abortion and that they cannot make the decision on their own. But women are free to make that choice and they must continue to be free.

To conclude, I would like to emphasize that my political party and I are fiercely opposed to this bill. As a woman and a mother, I am personally insulted by these dangerous measures that restrict freedom of choice regarding abortion. In the name of women's right and freedoms, I ask all members to oppose it.

Status of Women
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

February 26th, 2009 / 10:35 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert for her excellent question. As I pointed out in my speech, I have never seen a government attack women's rights the way this one has. I have never seen a government attack women to this degree. I have never seen a government purposely do as much as this one has to eliminate appeal rights and try to pass private bills of which it is the silent architect.

Last year, we had Bill C-484, and I have no doubt that another Conservative Party member will introduce a similar bill. If so, I hope the government will know what to do.There is nothing so pernicious as a government that would have everyone believe that it believes in women's equality. There is nothing so pernicious and violent as a government that would have women believe that they have everything they need, then does everything it can to override and chip away at their rights, and, for all intents and purposes, extinguish them. That is terrible.

RESUMPTION OF DEBATE ON ADDRESS IN REPLY
Speech From The Throne

November 24th, 2008 / 6 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Johanne Deschamps Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Speaker, you will probably notice that my colleague from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord and I have something in common. My speech will touch on the same topics. I also live in a region that is particularly affected by the forestry crisis.

That said, first I would like to take this wonderful opportunity to sincerely thank the voters in my riding of Laurentides—Labelle, who have elected me for a third time. I am keenly aware that they have once again put their trust in me, and I will say once more that I am committed to fully representing them, to defending their interests and to being their loyal spokesperson. I would also like to congratulate each member for their victory in the latest election and, in particular, my Bloc Québécois colleagues. It is both reassuring and exciting to see another large delegation of Bloc Québécois members in this new Parliament. Quebeckers rejected the Conservative ideology when they made their choice. In addition, they chose to elect a majority of Bloc Québécois members because they, meaning Quebeckers, firmly believe that the Bloc are effective in Ottawa.

We keep our promises to the Quebec nation and we will oppose this Speech from the Throne because it reflects an ideology that was rejected by 78% of Quebeckers during the election and does not reflect the consensus in Quebec.

I would also like to talk about the people this visionless Speech from the Throne has forgotten, the same people that the Conservatives have abandoned since their first mandate in 2006 and the same people it seems they are going to continue neglecting. I am thinking about the unemployed, women, the manufacturing and forestry industries, the environment, the homeless, the provinces and, in particular, Quebec and its regions.

It is extremely disappointing to see that the Prime Minister has not learned a single lesson from the election results in Quebec. On the contrary, he has remained completely insensitive to the growing concerns and worries of Quebeckers. In his Speech from the Throne, the Prime Minister has not risen to the occasion and appears to be ready to ignore the situation as if everything were under control, even though things are far from being under control.

The situation is particularly disastrous in my region, which has been hit hard by the forestry crisis. In my region, residents of the RCM of Antoine-Labelle—a single-industry regional municipality—are very concerned about the Conservatives' inaction and neglect. They are concerned and uncertain because hundreds of people have lost their jobs over the past year. Hundreds of forestry industry workers have watched their mills and plants close one after the other. Many of them are too old to retrain and will have to choose between living on social assistance, or, worse still, leaving their region, their community, their town, their friends and their family. They will have to make the terrible choice to leave everything they worked so hard to acquire over the years. It is a shame that the government is bent on staying its disastrous course.

It will come as no surprise to you, Madam Speaker, to hear that during the most recent campaign in my riding, I saw no sign of the Conservative candidate on the ground. He hid out in his basement so that he would not have to answer for his government's irresponsible and inexcusable actions. He was too scared to face the disgruntled unemployed.

As always, the Bloc has taken responsible action in this area. We put forward concrete, intelligent solutions to this crisis. We asked the government to introduce a loan and loan guarantee program for the purchase of new production equipment for the forestry and manufacturing sectors; refundable tax credits for research and development; an income support program for older workers; and an enhanced employment insurance program. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister did not mention any of these things in his speech. At this point, I would like to quote my leader, who said the following in his reply to the Speech from the Throne:

It was the government's job to be clear about its desire to provide a workable plan to support businesses in the forestry and manufacturing sectors. That is a priority for Quebec and its regions. Instead, we got vague promises. Thousands of workers have already lost their jobs in the forestry sector, yet the government is bent on staying its disastrous course.

That sends a terrible message to thousands of workers, communities and regions that rely on the forestry industry: “You are on your own.” That is unacceptable.

What wonderful message of hope can the people in my region take from the throne speech? Nothing. They are being told to fend for themselves. This attitude is quite simply unacceptable. That terrible message has devastating consequences for the Upper Laurentians, and the people there have good reason to be angry with the federal government.

Showing drive and motivated by a strong desire to revive the economy in the Upper Laurentians, elected representatives and representatives of various socio-economic sectors rolled up their sleeves and set to work developing other niches, including tourism.

Mont Tremblant International Airport in La Macaza is one of the main sources of economic prosperity in my region. The government now has the duty to support the airport's plans to expand and upgrade its facilities and must settle once and for all the issue of imposing customs charges on regular flights.

All the elected representatives from the Laurentians region worked to have the airport considered on a par with the airports in Montreal and Quebec City. We all celebrated the unanimous adoption of a motion made by the Bloc Québécois. I myself led that fight in this House last June. Now, we want to take the next step. The government must reassure my community and allow the general manager of the airport to sign new commercial agreements without having to worry that customs charges will again be imposed.

We estimate that my region will lose $9 million in annual economic spinoffs if these new agreements are not signed. The government must act responsibly and take an open-minded approach to my region and all the regions of Quebec.

And it is not just the regions of Quebec that are suffering as a result of the Conservatives' ideological stubbornness. As the Bloc Québécois deputy critic for the status of women, I have to say, unfortunately, that women have been hit hard since the Conservatives came to power in January 2006. Judging by the content of the throne speech, things are not going to get much better.

Women have been hit hard these past two years with cuts to Status of Women and the women's program, the abolition of the court challenges program and the tabling of Bill C-484, which attempted to reopen the debate on criminalization of abortion. By the way, another similar bill is still on the Conservative horizon.

Yet, the Prime Minister promised in the 2006 election campaign and last October to not reopen the abortion debate. Women fought hard to have freedom of choice and there is a strong consensus in Quebec society that the issue has been debated and that it is no longer up for discussion.

What is disturbing is that there is no mention of this in the throne speech. What is even more striking is that the word “women” appears only a couple of times in this famous speech, and is used in a general context without making any commitment to them.

Even more disturbing about the Conservatives' intentions, is the adoption of a resolution concerning the status of the fetus at the recent Winnipeg convention. We cannot help but be very alarmed by this resolution because it comes from the militant grass roots of the Conservative Party.

My colleague from Laval and I demanded that the Prime Minister immediately lay to rest concerns raised by the adoption of such a proposal. Unfortunately, we have to face the fact that the government has no intention of doing so and the temptation is great within the Conservative caucus to reopen the debate.

What does the government plan on doing to clarify its intention of not reopening the debate on abortion? Nothing.

What does the government plan on doing to put a stop to violence against aboriginal women on reserves. Nothing.

What does the government plan on doing to end poverty, which affects twice as many women as it does men? Nothing.

The answer is clear: the Conservative government will do nothing for women, nothing for the unemployed, nothing for the manufacturing and forestry industries, nothing for culture, nothing for the environment and the homeless.

In closing, I would say that Quebec is still the most forgotten in the throne speech.

Unborn Victims of Crime
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

June 19th, 2008 / 3:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, once again I have a whole handful of petitions. These are in support of Bill C-484, the unborn victims of crime act.

The 1,523 people who signed this particular group of petitions are pretty well all from Markham and Scarborough. They support the legislation. They want Parliament to enact legislation that recognizes it is just wrong to force upon a pregnant woman the death or injury of her unborn child and that this is a violation of a woman's right to protect and give life to her child.

The petitioners urge that the legislation be passed. Of course I am delighted to present their petition in the House on their behalf.

Status of Women
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

June 18th, 2008 / 4:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will respond to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development by simply saying that if there really was a strategy to decrease poverty in Quebec and Canada, the Conservative government would have voted in favour of Bill C-207 to keep young people in the regions. The Conservative government would have voted in favour of Bill C-269 to give women and youth access to employment insurance. The Conservative government would have voted in favour of Bill C-490 to give seniors the right to an increased and retroactive guaranteed income supplement. And the Conservative government would have voted against Bill C-484 to ensure that women will always have access to legal and free abortion.

Mr. Speaker, as you can see, I do not need two-and-a-half minutes to respond to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development because I think I have summarized the situation.

Status of Women
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

June 18th, 2008 / 4:20 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for their enthusiasm.

I am obviously very pleased to speak about this topic raised by the member about the appointment of an independent commissioner to conduct a gender-based analysis of the government's measures and policies in order to ensure that women are properly treated.

We know that this is nothing new. When the Standing Committee on Status of Women decided that this measure should be put forward, it was not without considerable thought. The committee members made this decision after carrying out an extensive and serious study and after consulting international experts. We learned about other countries where commissioners had already been appointed, and where they had had some success after these appointments were made.

It is also nothing new that the government is supposed to be doing something to promote gender equality. In 1981, the government undertook to promote gender equality in a CEDAW document, because we thought that the United Nations was the best place to ensure that men and women would one day be equals in law and in fact.

Furthermore, in 1995, at the conference in Beijing, the government at the time reiterated that commitment. It increased the budgets of Status of Women Canada to promote the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action. It was a comprehensive action plan if there ever was one, and should have been fully implemented. Unfortunately, as with many other things in the government, things get lost and very few things happen.

We will also not forget the current Prime Minister's commitment. When I say “commitment”, I am choosing my words carefully. During the election campaign in January, he did not say he would ensure equality among men and women. He did not say he was promising that men and women would be equal under his government. He said he was committed to it. Commitment is a strong word. It is a word that the Prime Minister should have had the wisdom to respect. If there is one thing that he has not done over the past two and a half years, it is to honour the promise he made to the women of Quebec and Canada.

In the various policies and measures put forward by this government, this commitment has been completely ignored. The government began by cutting Status of Women Canada funding. It continued by eliminating grants to women's advocacy groups and telling women that they could no longer defend their rights. It then eliminated the court challenges program, which had allowed women to take their demands and their struggles to the highest authorities.

It also slashed funding for women who wanted to do research to ensure they were always on the leading edge in the defence of women's rights. It cut grants to women lobbyists and women's lobby groups. If women cannot lobby to assert their rights, how can they possibly do so? As we all know, there are only so many ways of going about this. Yet the oil companies that lobby here are very successful. The companies and big businesses that lobby here have a great deal of success. The reason they do not receive funding for their lobbying activities is because they are quite capable of using their own money to lobby.

Respecting commitments should be a prime minister's first priority. In the budget and the throne speech, the government indicated that it would produce a plan to ensure equality for women.

It is now June, the end of the session, and we have not heard or seen anything. There has been no talk of a plan. In fact, it is just a virtual plan that has been put on paper, but so far there is just a title, “A plan for women's equality”. There is no need to reinvent the wheel to come up with such a plan. Just take what is already being done quite well and has been validated by women's groups here and throughout the world. These groups have said that this plan would ensure that all women, throughout the world, are equal to men, can combat violence, have a roof over their head and achieve equality.

We asked the Standing Committee on the Status of Women to appoint a commissioner because we realized that despite the efforts by Status of Women Canada to educate, inform and train the various departments on gender based issues and gender specific budgets, these departments did not really understand what that meant. That was our impression.

The only analysis done was done after the fact. It was not done before the policy and measure were in put in place, but well afterward and it was wrong. Since the analysis was wrong even though it was done after the measure was implemented, we are entitled to wonder about the quality of the information received or interpreted. I believe that the problem stems not from the quality of information provided, but from how the information was interpreted by the people who received it.

Equity advocate positions were established in various departments, but the women who occupied those positions were replaced one after the other over a period of a few months by others who had fresh experience and expertise. They had to start over from what the others had done without getting any extra support. And when those women started to master the job, they disappeared and were transferred elsewhere. Some departments did not even replace the equity champions after they left.

This makes us wonder whether the government truly wants this equality to become a reality because we are not seeing that in any of its actions, policies or measures.

If the government had really wanted its policies to advance women's equality, we would not be debating Bill C-484. If the government had really wanted women to be equal, it would not have given them a child care allowance of $100 a month. Instead, it would have created a program that allowed women to choose to send their children to a specialized day care centre with specialized teachers and caregivers. Quebec is fortunate enough to have such a system. If the government had really wanted women to be equal, it would not have chosen to leave pay equity measures and programs at the point where they are now, unfortunately.

We know that pay equity measures are not worth it. In fact, some companies and their employees have been in court for more than 20 years over pay equity for women. These women come under the aegis of the federal government. It is terrible.

The government says it wants equality for women, but it is not doing anything to make that happen. All we are getting from this government is fine words and empty promises.

Different tax measures have also been mentioned.

For example, the government has introduced the tax-free savings account or TFSA. This is great for people who have money, but women, who still today earn only 70% of what men do, do not fall into that category.

When the government says that these measures were put in place for women and will benefit women as much as men, I wonder who thought about that. Was it men? Because if it was women, I am sure they would have seen the problem with that sort of thinking and I am sure they would have realized that it did not make sense.

A tax-free savings account is an attractive idea, but it will not benefit 80-year-old women. If the government had really wanted to introduce measures that would benefit 80-year-old women, it would have increased the guaranteed income supplement and made sure people who were entitled to it received full retroactivity.

For years the Bloc Québécois has been fighting for real people, real equity measures and real policies, whether in connection with employment insurance, seniors, women or children. No matter what anyone says, the Bloc Québécois is fighting real battles for real people. That is what we have always done and what we will continue to do.

When we talk about equality, we must also talk about social housing. There is no equality for single mothers if there are no special social housing measures for them.

Miloon Kothari, the United Nations special rapporteur, came to Canada to study what is being done in terms of social housing here in a supposedly civilized and advanced country. He learned of the existence of a tent city in Edmonton where people who work 40 hours a week do not have enough money to pay rent. Women, families and children live in tents in the middle of downtown Edmonton. He realized that many people did not have comfortable and adequate social housing in which to raise their children responsibly and decently.

He also realized that Canada had taken a step backward. He found out that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has astronomical surpluses in excess of $12 billion. It is shameful that this government has not given a portion of that money to provinces that have social housing programs to ensure adequate housing everywhere for people who need it.

The concept of equality and equity encompasses all of these programs. Unfortunately, I believe that unless an independent commissioner is appointed—as my colleague from Terrebonne—Blainville was saying—that will never happen. We will never see the day when women can finally breathe easy and say that they have the same working conditions, living conditions and benefits as their male colleagues, and that they can finally look forward to and work together toward a better future.

Only then will we be able to say that we have succeeded. I do not think that a government like this one, which is always trying to crush low income earners, such as those in the manufacturing and forestry sectors, will give us the measures we need to ensure equality between men and women.

I can guarantee that we will study the action plan that the government says it will put forward very thoroughly. We will take a very serious look at it. But I do not think we will have a chance to do that before next year. It seems to me that the plan is all in the minister's head and is not about to come out anytime soon. She has too many things on her mind.

It is true that nowadays, Conservative Party members are having a hard time remembering their responsibilities to the voters. We see evidence of that every day. We have been hearing all kinds of nonsense about all kinds of issues here in the house, despite the fact that we have serious questions about issues that are important to all Quebeckers and Canadians. The only thing the Conservative Party ever does is get one or two people to give utterly vague answers that are completely unrelated to the questions we ask.

Given this party's track record, we do not imagine that it has time to think about action plans for women's equality. It does not have time for that; it thinks about the strategy of the moment to try to confuse people a little more. And that is what we are seeing.

Unfortunately, the only way to achieve equality between men and women is to ensure that the government appoints an independent commissioner for gender budgeting analysis and that these recommendations are carried out.

In recommendation No. 20 of the report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, we are asking that when the Department of Finance brings down its budget, and with all subsequent budgets, it publish its gender-based analysis of the measures included therein. Mr. Speaker, do you think I believe this will be done? It is a very good report. It is not a rosy report as they said it was at last week's press conference. It is an excellent report. Unfortunately, I do not believe that this government has the will to implement it.

In coming here to the House of Commons to represent the citizens of Laval, I thought I would be surrounded by people who all wanted the same thing: to represent those who elected them in a responsible and respectful manner. Women live in the ridings where Conservatives were elected. We know that most women do not want to elect Conservatives—we can understand why—but they do live in those ridings. In my opinion, once elected, we represent everyone, not just those who voted for us.

The government should think twice about shelving this report. This report was prepared with a great deal of conviction, hard work and cooperation. All the hon. members who worked on preparing this report have spoken to one another. It deserves to be studied by the government and for the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages to take into account and carry out our recommendations. There are a number of them, but if she carried them all out, we would finally achieve equality between men and women.

Unborn Victims of Crime
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

June 17th, 2008 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present a petition signed by Canadians, many of whom are my constituents from towns in my riding in Alberta, including Camrose, New Norway, Kelsey and Bawlf.

The petitioners call upon Parliament to enact legislation that would recognize unborn children as separate victims when they are injured or killed during an offence against their mothers, allowing two charges to be laid against the offender instead of just one.

The bill would give rights and legal protection to unborn children. I voted in favour of Bill C-484 which specifically addresses this issue and the concerns of those who have signed the petition.

Canadian Multiculturalism Act
Private Members' Business

June 16th, 2008 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond briefly—since I have yet to give my speech—to the criticism of the Bloc's approach to Bill C-505 as a bit clumsy and heavy-handed.

I understand the NDP's vision, since its members are centralists. They have a centralist vision of Canada. I understand when we hear about the Couture-Cullen agreement. Nevertheless, people who decide to immigrate to Quebec do so in the context of the Canadian nation. Parliament has recognized the Quebec nation. It must also be understood that our distinct society needs all of the tools available to develop and that mixed messages are being sent to the immigrants who choose Quebec, because of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act as well as other acts. Is it not Canadian citizenship that one obtains when one chooses Quebec or any other province? So, does this Parliament really want to recognize the Quebec nation, with all that that entails? That is where we differ.

As for Bill C-505 on the ideology of multiculturalism, there has been endless debate since the concept was introduced in a bill by Trudeau in 1970 and in the legislation that followed in 1988. For many Quebec nationalists, this is one way of shifting the balance of power in Canada. Earlier, we heard our hon. Liberal colleague say that, thanks to section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, everything is just fine and that it shows an openness towards immigrants. This would seem to suggest that Quebeckers are not open to immigration. On the contrary, but their approach is very different and is based much more on interculturalism.

Does Canada really protect and accept cultural communities? Is that the goal of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act? In his book Selling Illusions, Neil Bissoondath responds to such questions by indicating that Canadian multicultural ideology pigeonholes cultures into dusty stereotypes and politically-driven clichés, but obstructs the creative possibilities that arise when diverse groups meet.

Adopting the vision of multiculturalism also means adopting the vision of a Canadian nation governed by an anglophone majority. I will come back to the vision that comes with that approach to multiculturalism later on. It is aimed precisely at minimizing our francophone society in Quebec and providing it with fewer tools.

For many nationalists, it is a way of changing the balance of power in Canada at the expense of the francophone community. The Quebec vision goes against that vision of multiculturalism designed to encourage minority groups to preserve and perpetuate their culture, as well as to promote these differences within Canadian institutions. So, in a way, the concept of multiculturalism promotes the Canadian nation, and the political discourse backs up this ideology.

One can read all that in a booklet published by the federal government.

Canada is populated by people who have come from every part of the world. Through the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, the government encourages Canadians to take pride in their language, religion and heritage and to keep their customs and traditions, as long as they don’t break Canadian laws.

Encouraging Canadians to take pride in their language, religion and heritage is a one-track approach and it is a problem in Quebec. Why? Because multiculturalism rejects the idea of a common culture by encouraging multiple cultures to coexist. Although it is defined as a model for integrating newcomers, in reality it promotes peaceful coexistence.

Concerned that multiculturalism divides society into a multitude of solitudes, Quebec has always deplored the Canadian approach, especially since it trivializes Quebec's position within Canada and refutes the existence of the Quebec nation. In 1971, Robert Bourassa, Premier of Quebec, stated in a letter to Pierre Elliott Trudeau: “—that notion hardly seems compatible with Quebec's reality—".

Quebec has adopted interculturalism as the model for integration. It requires immigrants to learn French as the common language. With the multiculturalism approach, not even a mention is made of the existence of a nation defined as the Quebec nation, the Charter of the French Language or French as the common language.

I would like to digress from my speech for a moment. With regard to the bilingualism approach, I am reminded of when I was a member of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and we went on a tour regarding the Broadcasting Act. I remember a certain individual who belonged to a cultural community, had become Canadian and said he was bilingual: he spoke English and his language of origin. This reaction is quite understandable because, according to multiculturalism, this person must retain his language and his culture. I can understand that. However, it is evident that we are sending mixed messages that are very dissimilar. This person honestly believed that he was bilingual, because that was his definition of Canadian bilingualism. That is not at all the intent of multiculturalism.

In other words, unlike the Canadian approach, which tends to value diversity, the Quebec approach supports integration through the learning of the French language—the official and common language of its citizens—and adherence to a set of fundamental values. Accordingly, the Quebec department of immigration and cultural communities states on its website:

An intercultural society's challenge is a collective one: to ensure harmony by maintaining and adopting the values and principles of action that unite all citizens.

I would like to come back to what a Liberal Party colleague said earlier when he referred us to section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This section is at odds with Quebec's wishes and vision for itself. What we have here are two different visions of how to integrate cultural communities, and we are well aware of the magnitude of the challenge.

Today we are discussing a Bloc Québécois bill that seeks to exempt Quebec from the policy underlying the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. I remember that even in 1998, when I was on the Canadian heritage committee, the Bloc Québécois opposed the vision set out in the Canadian Multiculturalism Act.

I know that I will not have time to say everything I planned on today, but I would like to speak about the Quebec nation. It is often said that the Quebec nation has been recognized, but what Quebec nation has been recognized if the tools are not there to fully develop it socially and economically?

As Prime Minister Trudeau hoped in 1970 when he established this law, later amended in 1988, the ideology behind multiculturalism was to reduce the influence of an evolving nation. Since the 17th century, this nation has often been described as a distinct nation in search of its own definition of what constituted a Quebec society on North American soil.

Unfortunately, my time is nearly over. I could have raised many other points to show that this House's recognition of the Quebec nation was nothing but an empty shell. In reality, this vision of Quebec is being denied in a number of areas. For example, there is Bill C-10 concerning financial support for films that are in line with public policy. What is public policy for the Conservative government?

We could also wonder about Bill C-484, which would give legal status to a fetus and which could drastically change the entire—

Unborn Victims of Crime
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

June 13th, 2008 / 12:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have another 598 signatures of petitioners mostly from Quebec.

The petitioners trust that the wording of the bill is accurate when it says that it specifically does not apply to elective abortion and that it is meant totally and entirely to protect a pregnant woman and the child that she was wants from an assailant, a third party, who would come with a knife or a gun and would attack her and take away both her choice and the life of the child she wants.

The petitioners are pleading with Parliament to pass Bill C-484.

Unborn Victims of Crime
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

June 9th, 2008 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, we continue to receive petitions, name after name, day after day, supporting Bill C-484. These petitioners recognize that pregnant women who have decided to bring their pregnancy to term and have a child actually deserve protection in law for that choice. The most poignant part of their petition is that they ask that injuring or killing an unborn baby during a violent act be a criminal offence.

I am very pleased to present these petitions, which today come mostly from the town of Estevan in Saskatchewan.