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

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

Sponsor

Cathay Wagantall  Conservative

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

Status

Defeated, as of Oct. 19, 2016

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-225.

Summary

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 to cause injury or death to a preborn child while committing or attempting to commit an offence against a pregnant woman and to add pregnancy as an aggravating circumstance for the purpose of sentencing.

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

Oct. 19, 2016 Failed 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

October 17th, 2016 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, as tempted as I am to respond to my colleague on the issue of trade, that would not do justice to the important subject in front of us.

I want to again congratulate my colleague for bringing forward this important legislation, what we are calling Cassie and Molly's law, Bill C-225.

For those just joining the debate or watching, it is very important to underline what this bill would do and what it would not do. The bill would create a circumstance under which if a pregnant woman were attacked, killed, or assaulted, and her unborn child was harmed or killed in the process of that assault, then a separate offence would now exist under the criminal law which would punish the person who committed the offence for the attack on the unborn child, as well as on the mother. Punishment is not the core of it. The core of it is a recognition of the impact that this has on not just one, but on multiple people. That is what the bill would do.

It is very important to underline that the bill would only apply that offence in the case where another offence already exists. There is no possible way, under this legislation, and it is very well written and clearly put, in which a person could be charged for an offence against an unborn, preborn child if there were not also an offence against the mother.

I know that any time, in this place or elsewhere, we have this discussion that involves preborn, unborn children, there is a whole other debate that stirs in the minds of some people. However, because this only applies in the case where there is an offence against the mother, there is no possible way in which this bill could be twisted, or honestly there is no way in which it could be reasonably inferred to in any way inform a kind of legal change on an issue like abortion. It just is very clear there in terms of the way this bill operates.

If we were just isolating the question of the bill as it actually exists, I do not think anyone here would disagree with the principle, that when there is an offence against a mother and an unborn child, there is an impact, and two beings are involved. The suggestion by some members that we cannot pass the bill because it somehow, linguistically, indirectly, seems to invoke another controversy, I find unfortunate.

Obviously we know the question, for instance, of abortion is a challenging and divisive one. Can members who disagree on that question not come together on something that I think we should all agree on, which is combatting violence against women and which is the impact that this also has on another life.

I know some people object to the terminology. They do not like the term “unborn child” or “preborn child”. They would rather use the word “fetus” or something else. My understanding is that fetus is just a Latin word for the same thing. I try to avoid Latin ceteris paribus, but it really does not matter what terminology is used.

The point is that we have legislation which is just eminently sensible, which responds to a reality that if a woman loses a child because she is attacked, that she feels that loss in a particular way. To suggest that she does not, to suggest that this, for the person who is attacked, is simply akin to another kind of assault, or to suggest that there is not an added impact or added element calling out for some kind of justice really ignores the lived experience and the testimony of people who have brought forward this issue, and who have said that this is a priority for them.

The bill is named after real people who have real experience with this, who have spoken to my colleague and to other members, who have asked that we respond to it in this way, and who have asked that, hopefully, we come together as a House, across party and ideological lines.

I would encourage my colleagues, if they are hearing different things about this bill from different places, to take the time to have a look at the legislation and decide for themselves.

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

October 17th, 2016 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to respond to what is no doubt an important private member's bill. As other private members' bills come along, I acknowledge the efforts that members often put into their proposed legislation for a wide variety of reasons.

I have had the opportunity to go over this member's bill and have some serious concerns.

Often I stand in this place and talk about the importance of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I have argued in the past and I personally believe in the charter. The Liberal Party is a party of rights and freedoms. Listening to the member, I cannot help but reflect on that issue.

It is important to recognize that the government condemns all forms of violence against women, including pregnant women. We recognize that the criminal law must strongly condemn and hold fully accountable those who perpetrate violence against others, particularly those more vulnerable to violence.

When I think of our current legislation, it is important for us to emphasize a couple of aspects that are very germane to this debate. Subsection 223(2) and subsection 238 of the Criminal Code carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, which prohibits the causing of the death of a child who has not become a human being in an active birth under certain circumstances. Another aspect is to recognize that the Criminal Code contains comprehensive assault and homicide offences which apply to violent acts against pregnant women.

It is important to look at case law. One of the privileges I had serving as the justice critic in the Manitoba legislature for many years was to look at case law. What is being practised through our courts is important for all of us to take into consideration. Case law shows that abusing a pregnant woman and committing an offence is considered an aggravating factor for sentencing proposed and punished severely. That is a very important aspect that we need to take into consideration.

As I indicated, criminal law does take violence against women, including pregnant women, very seriously. The government believes that gender-based violence has no place in our society and we are committed to developing and implementing a comprehensive strategy against gender-based violence. Canada's approach includes prevention, support for victims and the criminal justice responses.

I am not one to shy away from what I believe are very important issues. This chamber deals with a wide variety of issues that affect the lives of the constituents who we represent. I represent the riding of Winnipeg North. When I knock on doors, there are different issues that people bring up. However, one of the issues people want to talk about, no matter what their background, is the issue of crime and safety as a whole. It is an area of discussion that I genuinely appreciate and want to explore. I am constantly looking for ways in which we can improve communities in which we live.

I have articulated, whether it is at the door, or inside this chamber, or inside the Manitoba legislature, that individuals have a right to feel safe in the environments in which they live, the neighbourhoods and the communities. In some areas of Canada there are concerns.

I want to highlight a bit of that, given what I have already said about the private member's bill. I do think it is important for us, when we have the opportunity, to incorporate into the dialogue what we believe are important issues for our constituents.

That is why, when I look at Bill C-225, I somewhat understand why the member is bringing it forward, though I would tend to disagree. Ultimately I believe there are laws in place, which have been demonstrated through our court system, that have already taken into consideration some of the sensitivities that the member is attempting to bring forward within this legislation. I started by talking about the importance of the charter, and that is something which I believe also needs to be highlighted.

In having this discussion at the doors with my constituents, I believe that what I am reflecting in the House today is an honest reflection of what my constituents would want me to be saying. In addition, I would argue that there are other aspects of the criminal law that could be looked at and considered.

We have had a government in the past that tended to take an approach of getting tough on issues, getting tough on the issue of crime. Sometimes we need to recognize that our constituents want us to put more emphasis on getting tough on some of the causes of crime. This is something that we lose sight of at times. The member has brought forward a piece of legislation that caters to a specific issue that raises a number of other concerns that members might have. Let me suggest that the best thing we can do is to look at ways we can prevent abuse that is taking place against women, let alone pregnant women. We recognize that it does take place, and I suggest that one of the best ways we can prevent violence is to ensure we have the types of programs that will make a difference.

That means, for example, that we have to start working more with our different stakeholders, in particular our provinces and municipalities. Let me raise specifically the importance of our schools, through education and the role that school divisions play in establishing the curricula, for example. If we want to really have an impact on combatting domestic violence, as an example, we need to consider the role that our teachers and our social workers could play, whether they work for our municipalities or provinces. That is why, when we have legislation of this nature, it affords us to expand the debate to encourage the government of the day, which I happen to be a part of, and all members, to explore the ideas that would make a difference in preventing some of the abuse taking place in our communities. I suggest that if we put a higher priority on that issue in itself, we will better serve the constituents we represent. At the end of the day, this should be about making our communities safer and better places to live.

Do not misunderstand what I am saying. I truly believe that there should be a consequence for a crime that is committed. I sat as an honorary probation officer, as a chair of a youth justice committee, for many years, and I appreciate the importance of consequences to a crime. Specifically with respect to the bill we are debating today, I suggest that there are aspects that have been overlooked, in particular issues such as our current case law and how it has been taken into consideration. In particular, there are other aspects of our Criminal Code which do take it into consideration, and hopefully will provide some assurances to the member who is sponsoring the bill.

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

October 17th, 2016 / 6:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I stand before you today to shed light on a very important topic that is affecting individuals across Canada. The issue that I speak of is with regard to the Criminal Code of Canada and a crucial component that is in fact missing from it.

In current law, if an offence against a pregnant woman is committed, one charge can be laid, which is for the offence against the woman. Despite the fact that her preborn child may also have been injured or in fact killed in the altercation, the mother's loss of her child is not recognized in our current system.

Cassie and Molly's law, the proposed law that is before us today, is a direct response to pleas for justice, the pleas of moms and dads from across our country who have lost a preborn child to acts of violence committed against the mother.

I stand here today in full support of this piece of legislation. I recognize that there is a significant gap in the Criminal Code, which fails to protect pregnant women and their preborn children.

The private member's bill was introduced by my colleague, the member for Yorkton—Melville, in hopes of creating a reform that would better protect Canadian women and their families. Bill C-225, if it were to be brought into effect would establish a new offence for violent criminals who knowingly injure or cause death of a preborn child while committing a criminal offence against a pregnant woman.

Our current law, which does not recognize harm caused to a preborn, or even the death of a preborn, is absolutely unacceptable in Canada. Criminals are let off without any consequence for their violent actions against mothers who have chosen to have their children. Their actions are destructive and intentional, yet without due consequence. At this time, the firmest penalty for assaulting a woman is 14 years. With Bill C-225, two charges could be laid, one charge for the criminal offence against the woman, the mother; and the other charge for causing the injury or death of the child. The criminal would then face a maximum penalty of life in prison and a minimum penalty of 10 years under the new legislation.

The Criminal Code of Canada is missing a very critical component for protecting pregnant women. Through this new law, a legal device would be put in place that would improve the protection of women and recognize that safety is of utmost importance. Ultimately, it would fill a gap in the Criminal Code that would be a response to those who are seeking justice for their loss.

The bill was put forward as a result of one man's very tragic and very sad story. This man is Jeff Durham. Nearly two years ago, he suffered the heartbreaking loss of his partner Cassie and their daughter Molly. Cassie and Jeff were two individuals who chose to commit to being parents of Molly and who eagerly anticipated her arrival. On December 11, 2014, when Cassie was seven months pregnant, a man broke into her apartment and committed the unimaginable. As a result, both lives were taken that night, leaving Jeff without his child.

The man responsible was charged on several accounts, including first degree murder, break and enter, indecent interference with a dead body, arson causing property damage, possession of incendiary material for arson, and arson with disregard for human life. His crimes are absolutely disgraceful and no person should ever have to hear of their loved one facing this type of reality.

During the investigation, police have concluded that Cassie did not die from the fire but actually from severe blood loss due to trauma. Police have also stated that the crime scene was one of the most disturbing ones they had ever seen. Cassie was brutally murdered by a man who was well aware that she was pregnant and only weeks away from giving birth to her baby, Molly.

Jeff has expressed his thankfulness that the perpetrator was convicted of first degree murder, but he has also voiced his difficulty in finding comfort, as he feels that the charges do not properly represent Cassie's rights as a woman. Cassie made the choice to carry Molly to term. She made the choice to become a mother. Jeff made the choice to become a father. However, that night they were robbed of that choice.

Canada is a nation that values human rights and equality. I am proud to live in this country that holds to these principles. However, our government has failed to acknowledge that the Criminal Code is missing a crucial component of protecting pregnant women and ultimately has turned a blind eye to this issue.

This piece of legislation is important in making our Canadian democracy stronger.

I am urging the government to stand by me and my colleagues, as well as by Jeff and his family and the millions of other Canadians who believe that this amendment is desperately needed.

This issue has gained overall support from both men and women from coast to coast to coast. According to a Nanos poll, it is suggested that 69% of Canadians are, in fact, in support of a law that would make it a separate crime to injure or cause death to a preborn while attacking a pregnant woman.

A study on the deaths of pregnant women determined that a pregnant or recently pregnant woman was more likely to be a victim of homicide than a woman who was not. This is a very scarey statistic for families across Canada, and Canadians are looking for ways to ensure that they are kept safe.

The bill would protect women when they are at their most vulnerable, and it would protect a woman's choice to bring her child to term safely.

The bill is about protecting the most vulnerable among us and about taking a stand against violence, particularly violence against women. By passing Cassie and Molly's law, Canada's government would demonstrate that this issue is not taken lightly in our nation. It would serve as a strong statement concerning the value we place on women and their right to choose. The bill is about protecting families, it is about standing up for the rights of women, and it is about taking a stand against violence.

It was suggested earlier that the criminal law already takes violence against women very seriously. However, the problem Bill C-225 seeks to address is not that the Criminal Code fails to take violence against women seriously; it is that the criminal law does not take certain forms of violence perpetrated against women seriously enough. Specifically, I am talking about crimes committed against pregnant women, thus preventing their choice from becoming reality. That is unacceptable in the country of Canada, and it is time for us to take a stand.

Canada is a country that continually seeks to uphold the fundamental principles of justice. We value human beings and their lives, and we recognize that it is vital to continue striving to defend the people who live within our borders. Part of this is defending their freedom of choice. It is time for us to take a stand for pregnant women who have chosen to carry the beautiful hope that lies within them; that is, carrying a child to full term.

In closing, the charges that have been laid on the accused are insufficient and are an absolute injustice to Jeff, who is left without ever knowing his daughter Molly. Unfortunately, he will never be able to hold her or rock her to sleep or tell her that he loves her. What he is left knowing, however, is that Molly had a loving and caring family that was anxiously awaiting her arrival. Unfortunately, that day did not come.

It is extremely shameful that Molly's life is not accounted for in the charges against the accused.

Sadly, Jeff's story is one of many. He speaks on behalf of those who have experienced similar tragedy and injustice.

Going forward, we absolutely need this piece of legislation. We can no longer stand idly by when there are no consequences in place when a criminal knowingly injures or causes the death of a preborn while committing a criminal offence against a pregnant woman. This cannot be tolerated any longer. Canadians are looking to us in this place to take leadership with respect to this issue. They are looking to us to amend this gap. They are looking to us to make the tough call to protect freedom of choice and the well-being of humanity.

Canadians seek a safer environment for pregnant women and their preborns who are susceptible to the same kind of harm and violence that Cassie and Molly tragically endured.

I am calling on this House to support this piece of legislation on behalf of nearly 70% of Canadians who agree that we need this change.

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

October 17th, 2016 / 6:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today in this place and speak to Bill C-225, the protection of pregnant women and their preborn children act, Cassie and Molly's law.

To begin, I want to recognize and thank my friend and colleague, the member for Yorkton—Melville, for the good work she has undertaken in introducing this bill and for the passion she brings to this important debate.

As I have shared in this place before, I am the mother of four wonderful children, three of whom are married. I am also the grandmother of seven beautiful grandchildren, three of whom I have not met yet; one will be arriving next month and the other two just after the new year in January and February. Our entire family is eagerly awaiting their arrival. Nurseries are being prepared and books of the most popular names are being pored over. As grandparents, my husband and I can hardly wait to love them, spoil them, and then return them to their parents.

As my entire family prepares to welcome these three new members, the reality that this bill seeks to address is very near and dear to my heart. Let us talk about what this bill would do.

Bill C-225 would allow for two charges to be laid for causing the death of or injury to a preborn child while attacking a pregnant woman. One charge is for the offence against the woman, like assault or murder, which currently exists in the Criminal Code; and the other charge would be for the new offence that this bill would create for causing the death of or injury to the preborn child from the commission of the offence against the woman.

The bill would also give added protection to pregnant women, even in cases where the preborn child is not harmed or killed, because it would codify pregnancy as an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes. While judges can already treat pregnancy as an aggravating factor in sentencing, codifying it in criminal law would require a judge to always consider this factor in sentencing. Codifying pregnancy in criminal law is another way to more clearly and strongly denounce violence against pregnant women.

I cannot even begin to imagine the range of emotions that I would experience if one of my daughters or daughter-in-law, or my unborn grandchildren were harmed or killed by someone. If a woman has chosen to have a baby, should she not be entitled to justice if her unborn child is harmed or killed?

This bill would provide some justice. How would the bill do this?

Justice is not served when a person does not face any consequences for intentionally causing the death of or injury to a preborn child while attacking a pregnant woman. Bill C-225 is aimed at third parties who knowingly commit criminal offences against pregnant women.

The new offences are not standalone offences. They apply in a narrowly and precisely defined circumstance: only when a third party is committing or attempting to commit an offence against a pregnant woman knowing she is pregnant. The stiff penalties of a minimum of 10 years and maximum of life imprisonment for intentionally harming or causing the death of a preborn child would act as a strong deterrent against the commission of violence against pregnant women, since the offender cannot get to the child without going through the woman. In other words, if the child is protected, the woman is protected.

For the remainder of my time I would like to highlight what the bill could not do, contrary to what some have suggested.

This bill could not change the definition of a human being or create false personhood. The criminal law can be used to protect entities other than what is covered under the Criminal Code's definition of human being. The bill could not be used to criminalize doctors or anybody for performing abortions. Finally, the bill could not be used to criminalize pregnant women for any acts of commission or omission that may cause harm or death to her own fetus.

I want to quote the sponsor of Bill C-225, who was motivated to bring this bill forward after hearing Cassie and Molly Kaake's story. She stated:

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 would encourage all members in this place to take the time to read the bill and then support it, as it is clear in its aim, which is to protect the preborn in a very narrowly and precisely defined circumstance, when the woman has not chosen abortion, and a third party causes death or injury to her unborn child against her will.

To conclude, choosing to have a child is one of the most important commitments one will ever make. As a grandmother, I would share in the grief of my daughters and their husbands should anything like this ever happen to them.

Finally, as a member of Parliament, I have always and will always stand up for the rights of victims in the face of horrific crimes, and this bill would do that.

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

October 17th, 2016 / 6:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak in support of Bill C-225. I want to thank my colleague from Yorkton—Melville for tabling the bill. I also want to thank previous speakers who have spoken so eloquently from their hearts.

Over 63,000 pregnant Canadian women were victims of spousal violence between 2004 and 2009. Since 2000, 24 pregnant women have been murdered. The bill is needed to fill a gap in the Criminal Code that is leaving pregnant women vulnerable.

As the law currently stands, women and families who are violated by those who abuse pregnant women have no recourse in law. Only one set of charges can be laid, but two lives have directly felt the impact of the crime.

The bill would create new offences for injuring or causing the death of a preborn child while committing a criminal offence against a pregnant woman when the person knows she is pregnant. This would allow for two charges to be laid when someone attacks a pregnant woman, and as a result kills or harms her preborn child. In current law, only one charge can be laid and that is for the offence against the woman, because injury or death of the child is not recognized.

When an individual receives no punishment for knowingly harming or killing a preborn child through an intentional act of violence against the child's mother, justice has not been served.

Bill C-225, the protection of pregnant women and their preborn children act, would allow two charges to be laid under such circumstances and includes an amendment to paragraph 718.2(a) of the Criminal Code, which would require the courts to consider pregnancy as an aggravating factor when sentencing those convicted of violence against women.

Cassie and Molly are remembered together. Their names have become known in households across Canada. While this acknowledgement and recognition of the heinous crime committed against both Cassie and Molly lends itself to a small measure of justice, justice has not been fully realized. Where two lives full of hope and promise were horrifically ended, only one murder charge stands. Molly matters.

There is no pro-life versus pro-choice debate. The choice has already been made. Molly's arrival was eagerly anticipated by her mother Cassie, her father Jeff, and countless other family members and friends.

Over the past 10 years, as I have served as a member of Parliament, one of the services I and all members of Parliament offer to our constituents in this chamber is to present petitions on their behalf. Over the past months and in fact years, petitioners from my riding and all across Canada have flooded my office and the offices of my colleagues, pleading to be heard, begging for action on this crucial issue.

I have heard them loud and clear. We need to fix this gap in the legislation and right the wrong that Cassie and Jeff have to endure. It is true that nothing will bring back the lives of Cassie and Molly, but we can take a stand for parents who have made the choice to welcome a baby into their family and have that choice taken away by violence.

A large majority of Canadians agree with the intent of Bill C-225. In fact a Nanos poll commissioned by the creator of the legislation found that 69% support or somewhat support a law that would make it a separate crime to harm or cause the death of a preborn child while attacking a pregnant woman, versus 21% who oppose or somewhat oppose such legislation.

The Prime Minister has, on several occasions, labelled himself a feminist. If that is true, I look forward to his support of the legislation as over 70% of women support these protections.

The bill would directly act as a deterrent against the abuse of women and their preborn children. The bill would 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 case law that it is often unclear to what extent a woman's pregnancy is considered in sentencing. The bill would send a strong message to the courts that pregnancy must now be considered in the sentencing hearing.

Pregnant women are four times more likely than other abused women to report having experienced a very serious violence, including being beaten, choked, threatened with a gun or knife, or sexually assaulted. This legislation would act as a strong deterrent against committing violence to pregnant women because of the increased penalties it would carry for intentionally causing the death of a preborn child.

Molly's story reminds me of an incident that occurred close to my riding in London, Ontario. Last year, at a Costco parking lot, a woman unintentionally drove into the entrance directly hitting a family of four. The family of four was torn apart by the immediate death of a six year old and the death of a baby who was born a week after the incident. Complications arising directly from the accident caused the subsequent death of the baby.

The results of this case may not have changed as a result of Cassie and Molly's law, however, the very real reaction from the victims' grandfather and other family members show the emotional heartache they felt, whether one had met or were waiting in eager expectation to meet a child. As I said, this case was an accident. How much more pain would the family be going through today if the perpetrator had carried out this offence intentionally.

Listening to the debate this evening and following it previously, it is clear that those who oppose this legislation want to make it about opening the abortion debate. This could not be more wrong. This is not about reopening the abortion debate. No part of this legislation could do that. The bill could not be used to criminalize doctors or any physician for providing abortion. Neither does it change the definition of human being nor give fetus personhood.

The bill would protect the preborn child in a very narrowly and precisely defined circumstance when the woman had not chosen to abort and a third party knowingly caused death or harm to the preborn child against the mother's will. As stated earlier, the bill would close a serious gap in the Criminal Code. When two lives full of hope and promise are intentionally and violently ended, it is simply common sense to expect that our laws would send a strong deterrent message, standing against the abuse of women and their preborn children.

Tonight and previously we have heard our Liberal colleagues say, “gender-based violence has no place in society”. If that really is true, if my Liberal colleagues really believe that, I ask them to stand up against gender-based violence and support Bill C-225.

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

October 17th, 2016 / 6:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley—Aldergrove, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to Cassie and Molly's law, Bill C-225.

Canadians want fairness. Canadians want justice. This is a prime example of an opportunity to provide that justice in Canada.

A piece of legislation called the unborn victims of crime act was presented to a previous Parliament, and that Parliament decided that it was an issue worthy of debate. The bill was about to go to committee at second reading, but unfortunately time ran out and that Parliament ended. That piece of legislation was put forward by former member of Parliament Ken Epp. We now have a new piece of legislation. It is similar, but it has been refined to clarify that this is not about abortion but about justice. I strongly believe that Canadians would like this legislation to at least be sent to justice committee.

For clarity, in the House, it is a rarity for a member of Parliament to be given a number at the beginning of Parliament. That number stands for the order of precedence for presenting a private member's bill. The member who introduced this legislation was given the unique opportunity of getting a low number. There is a connection too. She respected Ken Epp, and she remembered the time when his bill was almost sent to committee. She now finds herself representing her community and being given the honour and privilege of presenting her private member's bill. It was laid on her heart. She heard the story about Jeff Durham and the tragic loss of his partner, who was carrying their preborn child Molly. They were excited. For him to lose both his partner and his little girl who was yet to be born was tragic. Molly would have been born just a couple of months later.

Jeff wants justice. Canadians want justice. I believe strongly that the majority of us here in Parliament would agree that Jeff Durham deserves the opportunity to go to justice committee and tell his story and why he believes we need changes in the Criminal Code of Canada. At this point in time, the Criminal Code does not recognize the loss of Molly, but it does recognize the loss of Cassie.

The government has said that it is opposed to all forms of gender violence. This is its opportunity to allow the bill to go to committee. The vote will be happening shortly on second reading. Traditionally, a private member's bill is a free vote. I would hope that the Prime Minister would allow justice, would allow fairness, would allow transparency, and would allow victims of crime in Canada the opportunity to have a voice in this Parliament. That will only happen if members of the Liberal majority government give Mr. Jeff Durham and others the opportunity to come to committee and speak. If the Liberals vote against Bill C-225, it will end. The bill will die, and justice and fairness will not be served.

I cannot dream what it would be like to experience the loss that Jeff Durham and his family have experienced. He has the moral right to stand before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. This Parliament has been set up exactly for examples like this. To cut the process short would be a travesty of justice.

If, after hearing from a victim at committee, the government still considers that C-225 should not be supported, that would be their opportunity to vote against it. However, to cut it short before victims have a chance to speak about their losses and why they strongly believe that the Criminal Code needs to be changed and improved is not transparent, is not open, and is not inclusive.

This is a test for this Parliament. This Parliament is a majority Parliament. The Liberal Party of Canada and the Prime Minister have a majority in this House. This is their opportunity to do the right thing. I trust that they will. They have said that they will not support this. I believe they should have an opportunity to reconsider and allow Jeff Durham and others to come to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Removing that opportunity would leave a very unfortunate message, which is that only certain people and certain issues will have an opportunity for justice, and only certain issues will the government listen to and consider.

Is this an opportunity to listen and allow victims to have a voice? I believe so. This is a prime example. I ask the government, and particularly every member in this House, to allow Jeff Durham and his family to have a voice, a voice to call for justice, a voice to call for an amendment. I ask the House to please allow justice to prevail in this land.

Canada is known as a country where one is treated fairly. One can accomplish whatever he or she wants with hard work and commitment. This is an opportunity for the House to show its true colours, its true colours of justice, fairness, and respect for the law. The world watches things like this, as do our children.

This is a political House, yet it is a partisan House at times. This is also an opportunity to lay aside partisan issues and do the right thing. Each of us is here for a short period of time. We will look back at our time here and do some soul-searching and wonder if we did the right thing. Maybe we do not always do the right thing.

This is an issue of conscience. It has been made very clear that this would not reopen the issue of abortion. It is whether the victims should have the right to share their experience, the travesty they went through. Would that be part of a healing process? I hope so. Hopefully this House will not deny justice being done.

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

October 17th, 2016 / 7:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to close the second hour of debate on my private member's bill, Cassie and Molly's law. This bill is in response to the 2014 murder of Cassie Kaake in Windsor, Ontario, when Cassie was weeks away from giving birth to their daughter Molly. In Canada, there is no component in the Criminal Code to protect pregnant women from violence. This gap is leaving women vulnerable. Cassie and Molly's law would address this specific issue to protect pregnant women and their future families.

Since introducing this legislation in February, I have been inspired by the support of Canadians across the country for Cassie and Molly's law through a flood of letters, phone calls, emails, and meetings with everyday Canadians who know both Cassie and Molly deserve justice as do all the women who have been victims of violence while pregnant.

The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime endorse Cassie and Molly's law because it is justice for victims of serious crime. The Native Women's Association of Canada has endorsed Cassie and Molly's law because this bill is one step closer to justice for at least 18 of the missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. Canadians want this legislation.

In a nationwide poll by Nanos Research in which 97 respondents identified as pro choice, nearly 70% of Canadians were supportive of this legislation. Support among women was even higher at 75%. Canadians understand what this bill would do and, just as important, they understand what the bill would not do.

The 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. These offences are not stand-alone offences. The new charges under Cassie and Molly's law would only apply when a person was committing or attempting to commit a criminal offence against a pregnant woman. In addition, charges could only be applied when the offender had the knowledge that the female victim was pregnant.

The new offences are called causing the death of a preborn child while committing an offence or injuring a preborn child while committing an offence. With this law, two charges could be laid in crimes involving attacks on pregnant women that resulted in the harm or death of their preborn children: one in relation to the criminal offence against the woman, and the second charge in relation to one of the new offences either causing the death of or the injury to the preborn child.

Cassie and Molly's law would also add pregnancy to the list of aggravating factors for sentencing purposes. Codifying it in criminal law is a way to more clearly and strongly denounce violence against pregnant women. While the government suggests that courts consistently recognize pregnancy as an aggravating factor, I want members to know, from deeply researching case law, that it is often unclear to what extent a woman's pregnancy is considered in sentencing.

Opponents of Cassie and Molly's law claim that the bill could be a back door to limit a woman's access to abortion services. This is untrue and entirely misleading to Canadians. Simply put, Cassie and Molly's law would only add new offences for existing crimes against a pregnant woman that resulted in injury or termination of her pregnancy.

Because this bill would only affect existing crimes, and abortion is not criminal, Cassie and Molly's law would have no impact on abortion services. The bill would not change the legal definition of a human being or create fetal personhood as some critics have tried to claim. The constitutional experts at the leading firm, Supreme Advocacy, which the government highly respects, confirm that Cassie and Molly's law would have no impact on abortion laws. In fact, I would challenge the justice minister or the minister's representative in the House of Commons right now to present legal arguments that refute the expertise of these lawyers. Addressing violence against pregnant women is the strict and sole objective of the bill.

The government promised a strategy to combat gender-based violence. We are still waiting. Right here, right now we have an opportunity for a Liberal government and every member of Parliament to take a step toward reducing gender-based violence in Canada. Members of Parliament are here to serve Canadians, and Canadians have made their voices heard, loud and clear. They support this bill.

This is the proof: an e-petition with 6,100 signatures; paper petitions, over 20,000-plus; letters; emails; and phone calls reflecting all ages, men, women, expectant mothers, pro-choice supporters, victims, and those left to mourn. The Nanos Research poll confirming 70% of Canadians cannot be denied. Canadians across the great country support Cassie and Molly's law, and they expect the House to do the same.

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

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

Cathay Wagantall Conservative 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.

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

May 2nd, 2016 / 11:20 a.m.
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Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member on her work on this file, which is clearly deeply important to her. Nobody here believes that life is unimportant. However, this bill is clearly designed to reopen the abortion debate. The law already protects mothers. Pregnancy is already a factor that our justice system takes into account in sentencing.

This bill could end up reducing the total time served because sentences would be served concurrently instead of consecutively.

In my colleague's opinion, how would this bill really change the behaviour of those who commit violent acts against women?

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

May 2nd, 2016 / 11:20 a.m.
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Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is pretty clear to me that the member's question was formulated before my speech or, possibly, the member did not listen to my speech.

The law is very clear. It would not in any way change the definition of a “human being”. We are not dealing with circumstance where a woman would be in any kind of danger or positioned in any kind of danger of being charged. This deals with a third party committing a criminal offence against a women who he or she knows is pregnant and causing harm or the death of the pre-born child.

There are women all over our country to whom this law would apply. Women are women are women. We want to carry our children to term. We want the right to choose to have our children and to have this law in place.

One individual wrote to me and said that she was a young woman. She had a miscarriage, which was devastating. She got pregnant again and was not ready to have my family, so she chose to have an abortion. Now that she was having children, she wanted this law in place.

Today I am not just speaking on my own behalf, but I am speaking on behalf of women across the country. Having this bill in place to protect them and their pre-born children is long overdue.

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

May 2nd, 2016 / 11:20 a.m.
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NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are cognizant in Canada that the vast majority of women who are victims of murder are killed by someone they know. Almost nine in ten women are killed by an acquaintance or, even worse, by a spouse or intimate partner.

I am interested to hear the member's view on the great need for Canada to adopt a national domestic violence strategy to combat violence against women. I hope this will have an increased priority, which will affect most women and will have the greatest impact on women and their families.

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

May 2nd, 2016 / 11:20 a.m.
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Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, we are concerned about any kind of any violence, in any circumstance, against women, men, and children.

The truth is that this is a specific law that needs to be put in place because of the extra vulnerability women face when they want to carry their children to term and end up in a situation such as Cassie's. An intruder came into her home when she was seven months' pregnant and ready to deliver to this child. She was attacked in ways that I do not even want to talk about, but clearly it was an attack as well on her child who was fully expected.

There are situations everywhere in which we, as Canadians, need to stand up and intervene on behalf of the vulnerable. In this circumstance, vulnerable women who want to carry their children to term are being attacked. We need to put this law into place.

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

May 2nd, 2016 / 11:25 a.m.
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Scarborough Southwest Ontario

Liberal

Bill Blair LiberalParliamentary 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 / 11:30 a.m.
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NDP

Murray Rankin NDP 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 / 11:40 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise today to speak in support of Bill C-225. At the outset, I want to congratulate my colleague, the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville for bringing forward this important and much-needed legislation to protect women and close a glaring void in justice under the Criminal Code.

The legislation is appropriately named after Cassie Durham and her preborn daughter, Molly. Just 10 weeks away from giving birth to Molly, Cassie was brutally murdered. Cassie's killer was appropriately charged with first degree murder. However, what charges did Cassie's killer face for targeting Cassie as a pregnant woman and terminating a perfectly viable pregnancy against the wishes of Cassie? The answer is that no charges were laid, because there were no charges to be laid under the Criminal Code.

In 2005, Olivia Talbot was pregnant with her preborn son, Lane Jr. Like Cassie Durham, Olivia Talbot was brutally murdered. Her killer shot at Olivia three times and by his own admission he specifically targeted Lane Jr., yet no charges could be laid for those crimes.

The victims' families, Olivia Talbot's, Cassie Durham's, and other families, ask where the justice is. Where is the justice when there is no provision in the Criminal Code that would hold criminals who target pregnant women accountable? Where is the justice when there is no provision in the Criminal Code to hold accountable those persons who violently terminate a woman's pregnancy against that woman's choice? The answer to those families who ask, “Where is the justice?” is that there is no justice.

The stories of Cassie Durham and Olivia Talbot are not isolated stories. Indeed, over the last 15 years some 24 reported cases have involved women being attacked or murdered while pregnant.

There are some who say this legislation is not necessary. They say, simply provide that, for those who target pregnant women, that can be an aggravating factor in sentencing. It already is an aggravating factor in sentencing in common law. Bill C-225 would codify the common law and that is a step in the right direction. However, simply providing that targeting a pregnant woman is an aggravating factor at sentencing is not sufficient for justice to be truly done.

An important component of our criminal justice system is that criminals are held accountable for all of the crimes they commit against their victims and not just some of the crimes. However, clearly in the cases of Cassie Durham and Olivia Talbot their killers were only charged and held accountable for some of the crimes, not all of the crimes. That is unjust.

With respect to sentencing, we can take for example someone who knowingly targets a pregnant woman, assaults her, and in the process of the assault terminates her viable pregnancy. What would happen to that individual if targeting a pregnant woman were merely an aggravating factor? It is likely that the individual would be charged with aggravated assault. The maximum penalty for aggravated assault is 14 years, and because it is an aggravating factor, it is more likely that the perpetrator would be sentenced closer to 14 years than less, which is a positive thing.

Let us face the reality that what would have occurred in that situation is something more than aggravated assault. A woman's viable pregnancy would have been terminated against her will, her bodily integrity infringed upon, and her choice as a woman violated.

Bill C-225 recognizes that reality and would give judges the tools they need to hold criminals who commit those kinds of crimes truly accountable by potentially putting those types of criminals away a lot longer than 14 years.

There are some who say, and we have heard it today from several hon. members who spoke, that this is really about reopening the abortion debate. The fact is that, in Canada, abortion is available and lawful for the full nine months of a woman's pregnancy, and Bill C-225 does absolutely nothing to change that fact.

Not only does Bill C-225 do nothing to change that fact, but Bill C-225 expressly provides that a preborn child is not a human being in law, to leave no ambiguity and no confusion: Bill C-225 has absolutely nothing to do with abortion.

What Bill C-225 has a lot to do with, however, is justice. It is justice for women who are targeted because they are pregnant; justice for women who are injured because they are pregnant; justice for women whose rights are violated; and justice for women by ensuring that those who violate the rights of women are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

Let us, as a House of Commons, do what is right, what is fair, and what is just. Let us close this glaring loophole in justice under the Criminal Code, and pass Bill C-225.