An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort (Roxanne's Law)

An Act to amend the Criminal Code (coercion)

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.


Rod Bruinooge  Conservative

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


Defeated, as of Dec. 15, 2010
(This bill did not become law.)


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

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to make it an offence for someone to coerce or attempt to coerce a female person to have an abortion.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


Dec. 15, 2010 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

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

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


Sylvain Chicoine NDP 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

September 21st, 2012 / 1:45 p.m.
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Irene Mathyssen NDP 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.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of GovernmentBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

March 10th, 2011 / 12:25 p.m.
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Johanne Deschamps Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé. My remarks will be a bit more moderate, but my message will come across just the same.

I am pleased to take the floor today to demonstrate to the House the government's disregard for democracy and its determination to go to any lengths to advance its partisan interests and impose its regressive ideology. As soon as it was elected, in January 2006, the Conservative government radically changed Canada's official development assistance and foreign policies by concentrating on its own economic and trade vision.

It deliberately abandoned the African continent. Up until then, African countries were getting a sizeable portion of our official development assistance budget. In 2009, the Conservative government decided Africa would no longer be a priority, and eight African countries were dropped from the priority list, including Rwanda, Niger, Burkina Faso and Benin. The 2005 list included 14 African countries, but only 7 were left on the 2009 list.

The Conservative government preferred to prioritize countries with which it is signing or negotiating free trade agreements, such as Ukraine, Colombia, Peru and Honduras. Although these countries do experience poverty, CIDA's 2005 list of priority countries included more poor countries than the 2009 list. Under the Conservative government, Canada’s foreign policy has become merely a trade policy.

Over many decades, Quebeckers and Canadians earned a good reputation abroad thanks to their respect for human rights and international law and their fervent support for democracy, advocating diplomacy rather than the use of force. A majority of Canadians still support these values and principles, but since the Conservatives are in power, economic prosperity, militarism and the security agenda have replaced the values that once were so distinctively Canadian on the world scene.

This is another example of how this government has imposed its regressive ideology on Canada's official development assistance. During the G8 and G20 summits in June 2010, the government said that one of its priorities was maternal health, a millennium development goal. That is a very commendable and admirable priority. However, CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency, refuses to fund abortion, even though many experts say it should be included in order to cover all women's health needs.

The women of Quebec and Canada have won this freedom of choice, and the debate is closed. In Canada, women have the right to choose to end a pregnancy and they have access to all the care and services required for that choice. So why did the government remove all funding for abortion in its assistance plan for women in developing countries, if not to appease groups that advocate this conservative ideology?

Since coming to power, Conservative members have been introducing bills meant to surreptitiously reopen the abortion debate. One such example is Bill C-484 introduced by the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park. That bill would have given a legal status to a fetus, which has no such status under current laws.

Another perfect example is Bill C-510 introduced by the member for Winnipeg South. That bill patronizes women by implying they are frequently coerced into abortion, but the vast majority of women make their own decision to have an abortion and take full responsibility for it. It is clear that, once again, the Conservative government was trying to limit a woman's right to choose regarding abortion, by making women feel isolated when making such a decision.

This government will stop at nothing to promote its partisan interests and impose its regressive ideology, as it demonstrated with non-governmental organizations, civil society representatives and human rights groups.

The government is refusing or cutting funding for organizations that dare to criticize it, question its motives or voice a different opinion. The Canadian Council for International Co-operation, or the CCIC, and KAIROS, two organizations that are internationally recognized and known for their excellent work, had their funding requests denied by CIDA.

All of the controversy surrounding the refusal of funding for KAIROS clearly shows that the Conservative government is prepared to go so far as to allow a minister to falsify documents and make misleading statements to the House in order to ensure that there is no deviation from its ideology and that it can freely promote its partisan interests.

Shocked and disturbed by this behaviour, the members of the opposition raised a question of privilege. Yesterday, the Speaker of the House ruled that the Minister of International Cooperation did indeed abuse the privileges enjoyed by members of the House of Commons and that she could be found in contempt of Parliament if the opposition decides to take the matter that far. What is outrageous is that the government's ideology is harmful to democracy. We condemn the autocratic approach of the government, which has demonstrated on numerous occasions its total lack of respect for democracy and the parliamentary system.

The government has gone even further by imposing its regressive ideology on projects that it funds abroad. The government fears the unions in Canada, so it tries to stifle them abroad. Canada could help to improve the situation of workers in Mexico and other southern countries, but the Government of Canada is refusing or cutting funding for cooperative programs with labour organizations. CIDA ended funding for the CSN and the Centre international de solidarité ouvrière for their projects designed to support workers in the south.

Not only has the government interfered politically in official development assistance and let pro-life groups dictate its policies, but it is also slowly destroying Canada’s image abroad. It goes even further. It is even changing the terminology public servants should use. International organizations and NGOs have all agreed on a common terminology, but it seems it does not suit the Conservative government anymore. In order to avoid the key words often used by women’s organizations and other groups dedicated to the protection of rights, the Conservatives are imposing a whole new terminology on diplomats.

Under the Conservatives, “gender equality” does not exist anymore. It has been replaced by “equality between men and women”. We should not talk about “child soldiers”, but”. The terminology is being changed. When talking about rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the word “impunity” has been replaced by “prevention”. These are serious changes that show how much this government is under the influence of its strong right wing.

The crisis in the Rights and Democracy organization revealed the true face of the Conservatives. By appointing people who subscribe to the Conservative ideology to the board, the government could keep this organization under its control. But this organization should be instead at arm’s length from the Canadian government if it is to perform its work adequately and keep its credibility.

There is a long list of actions taken by the Conservative government to change Canada’s foreign policy to please its partisan base. The government does not realize how badly it is tarnishing Canada’s image abroad. When it failed, last fall, to win a seat on the UN Security Council, it should have understood that its radical positions are hurting its diplomatic relations.

In conclusion, the fundamental concern we all have is how far the Conservative government is willing to go to promote its regressive ideology.

Status of WomenStatements By Members

February 4th, 2011 / 11:10 a.m.
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Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister was recently boasting about his government's accomplishments over the past five years. The real picture, however, is far less impressive, particularly concerning the status of women. Let me refresh everyone's memories.

Since 2005, the Conservatives have slashed Status of Women Canada's budget by 40%, thereby forcing the closure of 12 of its 14 offices. They abolished the court challenges program. They eliminated funding allocated for feminist research and women's rights organizations.

Conservative members have introduced bills attacking women's rights and the gains we have made. Consider for example Bill C-391 to abolish the long gun registry or Bill C-510 on abortion. Even more recently, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development suggested that women who have other people care for their children are inferior mothers.

This government has done nothing for women. If anything, it has compromised the gains women have made over the years. That is a more accurate portrait of the Conservatives.

Prevention of Coerced AbortionPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

December 15th, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise in the House today to present a petition.

Canadians who have signed this petition have asked me to formally express their support for Bill C-510, otherwise known as Roxanne's law. The bill was tabled by my good friend and colleague from Winnipeg South.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 15th, 2010 / 3:10 p.m.
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The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

It being 3:15 p.m. pursuant to order made on Tuesday, December 14, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-510 under private members' business.

Call in the members.

The House resumed from December 13 consideration of the motion that Bill C-510, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (coercion), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

December 14th, 2010 / 6:20 p.m.
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Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, If you seek it, I believe you would find consent for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, the deferred recorded division on the motion for second reading of Bill C-510, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (coercion), currently scheduled to be held immediately before the time provided for private members' business on December 15, be held instead at the conclusion of oral questions on December 15; that any further recorded divisions deferred to Wednesday, December 15, pursuant to Standing Order 66(2), 93(1), 97.1 or 98(4), be held instead at the conclusion of oral questions on the said Wednesday; and that the time used for the taking of the deferred recorded divisions be added to the time provided for government orders that day.

Prevention of Coerced AbortionPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

December 13th, 2010 / 3:10 p.m.
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Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am really proud today to introduce this petition that was collected in Winnipeg at Church of the Rock. In a matter of two hours, over 1,167 signatures were collected in support of Roxanne's law, Bill C-510.

I want to thank all the pastors who were engaged in asking for these petitions to be brought in: Pastor Mark, Pastor Tim, Pastor Keith and Pastor Aubrey. I want to pass along my congratulations to them for finding a way to get 1,167 signatures in a matter of hours. It was very amazing.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 13th, 2010 / 11:45 a.m.
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Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, as a father, I love my children and I know their mother perhaps loves them even more than I do, if that is possible. Some mothers fall in love with their children even before birth in a way that few of us can understand. These mothers should never have to make a choice between protecting themselves or the child they love.

Forced abortion should be made illegal in Canada. Roxanne's law would accomplish this. The main argument used against Roxanne's law is that the bill is totally redundant because, so opponents claim, abortion coercion is already covered in the Criminal Code under existing provisions for assaults, uttering threats or intimidation. If I wanted to oppose a bill whose sole purpose was to protect women from abortion coercion, I too would want to find some excuse that made it sound like I was in favour of forced abortion. Saying it is already illegal gives me that cover. It allows me to oppose the bill for what sounds to be a legitimate reason while still professing how terrible it is to coerce a woman into having an abortion. After all, who wants to be known as someone who supports what the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada called a crime against humanity? The problem is that the argument that it is already illegal falls apart upon analysis.

Although some of the conduct described in Bill C-510 could fall under existing provisions in the Criminal Code, depending on the circumstances, not all behaviour that could fall under the definition of coercion in Bill C-510 would be captured under existing provisions. It is important to note that the list of examples of coercion in Bill C-510 is not exhaustive. This allows the court some discretion in deciding what constitutes abortion coercion given how it is defined in the bill. Above all though, the fact that no one has ever been charged with coercing an abortion in Canada is absolute proof that clarification of the law is desperately needed, a law Roxanne Fernando could have used to protect herself.

Even in cases where a more general provision would suffice, there is tremendous value in having a new Criminal Code provision specific to abortion coercion. Criminal law scholars say we use the criminal law as a way of indicating a serious condemnation of an activity or action not only to punish people but also to state our most important social values and to send a clear message expressing society's rejection and intolerance of a specific act. When we single out coerced abortion as a separate offence, it is a signal that such behaviour should be denounced as a serious offence. It reflects a social value about the unacceptability of forcing a pregnant woman into ending a pregnancy she wants to continue.

Creating specific provisions when a more general provision already exists in the Criminal Code is not a new idea. There are three such bills currently before Parliament which have passed at least one parliamentary vote. Bill S-9 makes it an offence to steal a motor vehicle even though theft is already an offence. It received royal assent last month. Bill S-215 and Bill C-464 also bring important clarifications to laws that perhaps already capture the crimes contemplated. These are excellent ideas and important clarifications, just as Roxanne's law is.

Thus, it is clear that as legislators we often create offences and provisions even when a more general provision would suffice. We do this in order to send a strong message of denunciation to affirm society's deeply held values and to educate the public. Should one choose to vote against Bill C-510, it will be seen as a choice to turn a blind eye to a horrible injustice.

Roxanne Fernando's story has now been heard across the country and if not now, someday soon she will be considered a Canadian hero. In this Christmas season, I ask members to consider bringing additional protection to mothers with child who are facing dangerous circumstances.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 13th, 2010 / 11:35 a.m.
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Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak in support of this great bill.

It is important for all members to be fully informed before they vote on Bill C-510, so I want to address several misconceptions about this bill that were revealed during the first hour of debate.

First, the bill was criticized for using language that was vague and would therefore be subject to a charter challenge. The member who made these comments referred to phrases used in the bill, such as “compel by pressure”, which he said was quite new, and “rancorous badgering”, which he said was extremely new.

Quite honestly, in fact, while the language may seem unusual, the member for Winnipeg South has been assured by legal experts that it comes from long, settled legal jurisprudence.

I also understand from legal experts that the threshold for deeming a law vague is high, and in their opinion the wording used in Bill C-510 gives clear direction as to what is prohibited and how the section should be enforced.

Terms used, such as rancorous badgering, as previously mentioned, and coercion have been considered and upheld by various courts in both criminal and labour law cases. These terms, along with others found in the bill, therefore provide sufficient guidance to avoid allegations of vagueness.

Second, during the debate, one member claimed that this bill would restrict access to freedom of choice. The truth is that the bill actually expands the pregnant woman's choice and freedom to protect her against anyone who uses coercive means to take away her freedom to continue her pregnancy.

The only choice restricted by this bill is the choice of a third party who wants to impose an abortion on a woman against her will.

Should this bill be enacted into law, full legal access to abortion will still be available to women who freely choose that option. It would be no different, the same as today.

Third, a very serious misreading of the existing Criminal Code is obviously behind the statement made by a member who said, “This bill recognizes the fetus as a child and therefore a person with legal status”.

If the member's comments were actually true, that is, if recognizing the fetus as a child in the Criminal Code implies that the fetus is a person with legal status, then that would mean that the fetus is a person with legal status right now, that is today, because the Criminal Code as it exists today also refers to the fetus as a child. Obviously that would have a legal impact on abortion today without Bill C-510.

The member was incorrect in stating that the use of the word “child” implies anything about personhood. The Criminal Code currently uses the term “child” and only that term when referring to the fetus. The Criminal Code, much to the disappointment of pro-life people, quite honestly defines human beings in section 223(1) as follows:

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

Fourth, the same member was also incorrect when she stated that Bill C-510 contradicts the election promises of the Conservative Party. During the last election, its platform stated, “A Conservative Government will not support any legislation to regulate abortion”.

Of course there are two problems with this statement. First, Bill C-510 has nothing to do with the Conservative government. It is a private member's bill, not a government bill. Second, while it is true that the Conservative government does have a policy as described by the member, Bill C-510 does not go against that policy.

As I said before, and it bears repeating because people do not seem to understand this point, this bill does not regulate abortion in any way.

Bill C-510 does not prohibit a single abortion and it does not regulate a single abortion. It deals only with behaviour that aims to impose an abortion on a woman who does not want it.

Not only does Bill C-510 not go against existing Conservative policy; it actually is supported by another Conservative policy adopted in 2008, which recognizes the need for additional protection for pregnant women.

Fifth, another member criticized the bill for being totally redundant. She claimed it was entirely covered already by existing Criminal Code offences. Whether every single behaviour that could conceivably be captured by Bill C-510 is already sprinkled throughout various existing provisions in the Criminal Code is not at all clear. While there is certainly some overlap, it is almost certain that some of what constitutes abortion coercion in Bill C-510 would not be a crime today.

What is clear is that, while coercion clearly occurs, we are all well aware from various reports, as well as from personal testimonies, that no one has been charged with this offence. This means that our current laws are not doing their job.

It hardly matters if something is already illegal if no one, including the victim, the perpetrator or the police, actually knows it is illegal. Bill C-510 would clarify the law. With a clear law on the books, a law that defines abortion coercion explicitly, which no law currently does, pregnant women would be more aware of their rights and would be empowered to take action before it is too late, not after.

The general public would also become more aware and this would help curb coercive behaviour against pregnant women in the first place. I believe Bill C-510 would raise the public conscience to a new level of respect for pregnant women, which would have a positive impact not only on the lives of women but the whole of Canadian society.

We already have offences that one could argue are not necessary because more general provisions would cover them. For example, let us use the definition of assault. It is intentionally very broad, intended to encompass all sorts and forms of assault, but Parliament chose to add sections specifying assault with a weapon, aggravated assault, sexual assault and assault causing bodily harm. These crimes were specified because they were deemed unambiguously worthy of condemnation. I hope the critics of Bill C-510 are not implying that coercing a woman to abort a wanted pregnancy is not especially worthy of condemnation.

It is significant to note that this type of law also exists in other free democratic societies. For example, translation of a German law states, “whosever unlawfully with force or threat of serious harm causes a person to commit, suffer or omit an act shall be liable to imprisonment...”. An especially serious case typically occurs if the offender causes a pregnant woman to terminate a pregnancy.

In Italy, any person inducing a pregnancy termination without the consent of the woman shall be liable to four to eight years imprisonment. Consent extracted by violence or threats or under false pretenses shall be deemed not to be granted.

Laws also exist in France and some U.S. states.

Bill C-510 has the potential to do much good. The criticisms made against it are based on misunderstandings of the bill and misunderstandings about laws that exist today. Numerous other jurisdictions worldwide have similar laws. Women today, especially those who are in vulnerable situations, can only be helped by such a law. It would have no impact on the current legal status of abortion in this country.

I support this bill, and I see no reason to prevent it from getting a fair hearing at committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 13th, 2010 / 11:25 a.m.
See context


Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-510, an act to prevent coercion of pregnant women to abort, which was first introduced in the House by the member for Winnipeg South in April.

In his press release dated April 15 of this year, the bill's sponsor stated:

This bill would help protect a pregnant woman who does not want to terminate her pregnancy...No woman should ever feel intimidated to have an unwanted abortion. Anyone who attempts to force a woman to abort her wanted fetus should face consequences.

At the outset, I certainly agree with that sentiment and I have great respect for the sponsor, my friend from Winnipeg South. However, I am troubled by the legislation before the House.

I am sure we all agree that the safety of all Canadians is paramount, in particular protecting the most vulnerable in our society from violence. It is clear that violence against all women, pregnant or not, is a serious issue, with far-reaching effects and consequences.

Violence against women is a persistent and ongoing problem in Canada and around the world, affecting women's personal safety and their ability to contribute to society. It also affects their children, who witness this violence and experience its aftermath, therefore contributing to intergenerational cycles of violence. Although Canadian women fare better than women in most parts of the world, violence against women, sadly, persists in Canada.

However, Canada's criminal law provides a broad range of measures designed to protect persons from violence, including provisions prohibiting all of the following: assault and sexual assault, murder and manslaughter, kidnapping, forcible confinement, trafficking in persons, criminal harassment, uttering threats and intimidation. This government has taken concrete steps to build on these protections through further recent criminal law reforms to ensure that everyone, particularly the most vulnerable members of our society, feel safe and secure in their homes and communities.

The government is proud of its accomplishments in promoting safe streets and communities. For example, the Tackling Violent Crime Act, enacted in 2008, includes enhanced mandatory minimum penalties for firearms offences and strengthens the danger offender provisions. Bill C-48, which is recently before the justice committee on which I proudly serve as a member, would protect Canadians by ending sentence discounts for multiple murders act. It will return to the House in short order.

The Criminal Code also takes violence against women into account in its sentencing provisions, which requires that spousal abuse and abuse of positions of trust or authority must be considered as aggravating circumstances for the purposes of sentencing. In other words, this fact should increase the sentence imposed against the perpetrator.

It is evident that Canadian criminal law aims to protect all women, indeed all Canadians, from violence in its many forms.

As I understand it, Bill C-510, also known as Roxanne's law, was introduced in response to the tragic murder of Roxanne Fernando because of her unexpected pregnancy in a volatile relationship. She was tragically murdered by her boyfriend and two of his friends. One of the reported motives was that Ms. Fernando was murdered because she would not have an abortion.

It is important to point out that all three offenders involved in this murder are currently serving prison sentences for that murder. There is no question that this is a tragic case, but appears to be one where the criminal justice system has been used to its fullest extent.

Since the case of Ms. Fernando was the inspiration for Bill C-510, let me now discuss the legal effects of the bill. I apologize in advance that some of it is technical and legal, but it is important that members understand the legal ramifications of the bill.

Bill C-510 would create two new hybrid Criminal Code offences. The first would be the offence of coercing a woman to procure an abortion she did not want. This would be punishable by a maximum sentence of five years on indictment and 18 months on summary conviction. The second proposed offence would be the offence of attempting to coerce a woman to procure an abortion she did not want. This would be punishable by a maximum of two years imprisonment on indictment and six months on summary conviction.

The bill proposes a number of definitions to help bring clarity to these offences. Most notably, the bill defines “coercion” and explains where coercive behaviour would reach the level of attracting criminal liability.

The bill states that a person coerces an abortion when he or she engages in conduct that directly or indirectly causes a pregnant woman to consent to an abortion that she would otherwise have refused. The bill goes further to include anyone who conspires with another person to engage in coercive conduct.

Also in the definition of coercion is a list of conduct that could amount to coercion if it were undertaken for the purpose of causing a pregnant woman to have an unwanted abortion. The conduct includes, but is not limited to, violent and threatening behaviour directed either at the woman, her fetus or a third party. Also included is removing, or threatening to remove, financial support or housing from the pregnant woman in attempting to compel by pressure or intimidation including “argumentative and rancorous badgering and importunity”.

While most would agree, and I certainly would, that we would not want to encourage such conduct, it is not conduct that normally attracts criminal sanction.

The bill states that the conduct outlined in the proposed definition of coercion is not exhaustive. Therefore, it could encompass much more conduct than is currently outlined in the bill, or for that matter, that the author of the bill foresaw, but it leaves this open to be determined be a court.

A final part of the definition of coercion is what I call the charter exemption. It is a novel approach in crafting a criminal offence. The bill states that speech, which we all know is protected by section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, would not be captured by the definition of coercion and therefore would not attract criminal liability.

There are two other sections of the bill that are worth noting.

First is the limited exemption for a physician who attempts to convince a pregnant woman to have a medical intervention, which may result in the death of the fetus, when the woman's physical health is endangered.

Second is the unique severability provision, which states that if any provisions of this bill are found to be invalid or unenforceable they are to be severed from the bill and shall not affect the application of the other provisions.

In summary, the impacts of this bill would be to criminalize conduct that is already captured by several Criminal Code offences.

For example, conduct such as committing, attempting to commit or threatening to commit physical harm is captured by the offence of uttering threats in section 264.1, assault in section 265 and the general attempt provisions contained in section 24 of the Criminal Code.

Other types of conduct, such as compelling by pressure and rancorous badgering and importunity, are not defined in the bill and would most likely lead to interpretative difficulties and subsequent charter challenges.

Further, interpretive difficulties would most certainly arise because of the charter exemption, which attempts to insulate certain types of conduct from criminal liability if the conduct is protected by section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This exemption would require individuals, police and prosecutors to determine whether the conduct in question is protected by the charter, though ultimately it would be the courts that would have to pronounce and be determinative on this issue.

Finally, the novel severability provision, which aims to sever any provision of the bill that a court finds unenforceable, could be interpreted as fettering the discretion of the court to determine the appropriate remedy in the event of a charter breach.

In short and to conclude, I certainly appreciate the objective of the bill and support its author in bringing this matter forward to this House for debate. I believe all members of this House support better protection of pregnant women against any specific form of violence and, in fact, protection for all members of society against all forms of violence. However, I strongly believe that the existing Criminal Code protections adequately protect women, as evidenced by the convictions and significant penalties imposed in the Roxanne Fernando case.

With all due respect and for those reasons, I will be voting against Bill C-510.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 13th, 2010 / 11:15 a.m.
See context


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak in this important debate today.

As the youngest woman in the House of Commons, I do not believe we would be discussing a bill in 2010 that would seek to take away the rights for which women before me have fought so hard. While the bill claims to react to a tragic situation around coercion and the discussion of abortion, it is an attack on a woman's right to choose.

The bill is mostly redundant because threats and illegal acts are already covered under the Criminal Code. In fact, this part of the debate is so critical to the discussion. It is certainly not a discussion about the facts. Unfortunately what is in the Criminal Code is not being discussed in the House. Bill C-510 is unnecessary and it is redundant. Threats and illegal acts are already covered under the Criminal Code. Counsellors at abortion clinics already screen for possible coercion in women seeking abortions.

The anti-choice movement has noted claims that women are coerced. However, when we walk by abortion clinics across our country, and certainly even the one close to Parliament Hill, we see a much greater movement to coerce women not to get an abortion, often with very aggressive tactics, taking advantage of women who are already in a vulnerable situation, who are already having to make a very difficult decision, often a very conflicted decision.

This debate is also one that is so critical because it identifies the notion of fetal rights that challenges the discussion and the way abortion and a woman's right to choose are legally framed, noting that women have the control over their bodies. The discussion is about the fetus, not the child. As we enter into this discussion, many of us fear that this will open the door to making abortions in our country illegal. The bill attempts to reintroduce the notion of fetal rights through indirect means, by presenting abortion as a social harm to be criminalized.

I noted earlier that while the foundation of the bill is based on a tragic experience, one that took place in my home province, it is important to recognize that much of what has come out has been misrepresented. We note that in this legal case, the murderer, the lawyer and the crown prosecutor all agreed that coercion to have an abortion was not the motive. The bill claims that it would prevent what happened Ms. Roxanne Fernando from Winnipeg. However, when we look at it more closely, it attacks the rights of women to choose, it challenges the work of abortion providers and it rolls back the rights of women in our country by decades.

Unfortunately this is not a new development. The Conservative government and members of it have promoted an anti-choice agenda since they were elected into government. Ironically, in past elections it was stated that a Conservative government would not support any legislation to regulate abortion. Yet the bill deals entirely with that issue. It strives to take a major step in challenging that right of women to choose.

Unfortunately, the bill and the words used to present it have been framed in such a way as to claim to deal with the violence that women face, not only in the discussion around a woman's right to choose, but generally violence that women face. We all know that women face levels of violence, domestic violence, physical, sexual and mental violence in a way that we do not see it with men.

Unfortunately, the bill would do nothing to deal with those levels of violence. Not only would the bill not do anything, the government has done nothing. Not only has it failed to reinvest in and continue programs that are critical, it has sought to take away gains that have been made in policy, governing structure and the supports that women look to in order to seek equality.

How many signs do we need to know how much further we have to go forward, not just in the levels of violence that women face. We also need to look at the absence of women in power structures and positions of decision making? It is shameful that in the year 2010 only 21% of the members in the House of Commons are women.

Young people ask me why that is the case. I believe we can look, unfortunately, at very recent policies that seek to strip away the voice of women, as well as men, to speak out as to what is needed for us to eradicate gender-based violence and for women to truly achieve equality.

Let us look at some of the Conservative government's work, not only in the discussion around attacking women's right to choose, but the overall attack on women to achieve equality.

From 2006 onward, we have seen the elimination of equality as an objective in the Status of Women Canada's mission statement. We have seen a 100% cut in funding for advocacy, lobbying and independent research projects funded by the Status of Women Canada.

Dozens of feminist organizations have had their funding severed and have had to close their doors. In the past year, nine groups have lost their funding, including the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, the New Brunswick Pay Equity Coalition and Réseau des tables régionales de groupes de femmes du Québec.

We have shamefully seen the lose of funding for the Sisters in Spirit initiative that has sought to counteract the tragic and historically perpetuated levels of violence against aboriginal women. While the government promoted the work of Sisters in Spirit for years in the House, it did not renew the funding for an organization that clearly made known the barriers that aboriginal women faced.

We also saw the loss of funds for over 130 projects in the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, the cancellation of the pan-Canadian child care program and the elimination of the court challenges program.

We need to look at ensuring women have economic support. In my home community in the province of Manitoba, women are going to be losing their jobs in the smelter and the refinery, only to be made more vulnerable in an economy facing a recession.

These are the messages, the actions we need to support women in their work to achieve equality, in our work as Canadians to achieve equality. We need to leave alone the battles for which women, along with men, have fought, which are the right to choose, the right to shape our futures and the right to be equal in our country, Canada.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

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


France Bonsant Bloc 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.

The House resumed from November 1 consideration of the motion that Bill C-510, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (coercion), be read the second time and referred to a committee.