Sex-selective Abortion Act

An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sex-selective abortion)

This bill was previously introduced in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Cathay Wagantall  Conservative

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

Status

Second reading (House), as of April 14, 2021

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-233.

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 for a medical practitioner to perform an abortion knowing that the abortion is sought solely on the grounds of the child’s genetic sex. It also requires the Minister of Health, after consultation with representatives of the provincial governments responsible for health, to establish guidelines respecting information provided by a medical practitioner in relation to a request for an abortion.

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.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

April 14th, 2021 / 5:35 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

moved that Bill C-233, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sex-selective abortion), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, one of my responsibilities I have greatly enjoyed and look forward to again is attending many of the trade shows throughout my riding of Yorkton—Melville. They are an incredible way to connect with hard-working Canadians. I always bring along petitions to ensure I am responding to the concerns of my constituents, everything from firearms to palliative care and also a petition on sex-selective abortion.

Every member of the House will know that Canadians are not shy in voicing their deeply-held opinions on matters of conscience. Like a majority of Canadians, many expressed to me how they firmly believed in continued access to abortion. However, as we talked, all were horrified to learn of the practice of sex-selective abortion in Canada, which is the deliberate termination of a pregnancy due solely to the sex of a child. Further, they were shocked to learn that Canada had no law against it. Needless to say, those who were at first very apprehensive were very quick to sign my petition.

Sex-selection abortion is wrong, it is a discriminatory practice on the basis of sex and it takes place in our country because we have no law against it. As members of Parliament, we have been sent here to represent the Canadians' concerns and their needs. That is why it is an honour and privilege to rise today to represent the 84% of Canadians who would like to see this Parliament enact a Criminal Code prohibition of sex-selective abortion.

I am speaking this evening on behalf of pro-choice and pro-life Canadians, religious and non-religious, those on the left, right and centre of the political spectrum; new Canadians, the young, the elderly and those in the medical profession across our country seeking support for a framework from the federal government to make sex selection in utero illegal. I am standing today in response to all seven Supreme Court justices who agreed that the state had some interest in protecting the fetus and expected a new law to be created to fill the gap left by their decision in the 1988 Morgentaler case.

The sex-selective abortion act would create protections for unborn baby girls whose lives are ended simply because they are girls. During the past quarter of a century alone, sex-selective abortion and post-natal sex selection has deprived over 100 million women and girls the opportunity to live, work and affect change through their unique abilities. These global trends are very disconcerting, however, they are not the focus of my bill.

Sex-selective abortion is a Canadian problem that requires a Canadian solution. Peer-reviewed studies from the Canadian Medical Association Journal point to a worrying trend in Canada. In fact, a ratio of 1.96 males to every female has been recorded among those who had previously given birth to two girls. Following one or two induced abortions, the ratio becomes even more alarming.

The absence of any law to protect preborn girls shouts to the world that valuing one sex over the other is permissible in Canada. We are the only democratic country that has no law against it, the only one. The only other country that also fails in any way to protect preborn children from sex selection is North Korea, not good company for Canada. Our health care profession has shown concern about sex-selective abortion and discourages the practice.

In 2007, the executive of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada stated that medical technologies for the sole purpose of gender identification in pregnancy should not be used to accommodate societal preferences and that the SOGC did not support termination of pregnancy on the basis of gender. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario as well as British Columbia and Saskatchewan also echoed these concerns. However, medical bodies do not make laws. Canadians send parliamentarians to Ottawa to work on their behalf and to reflect Canadian human rights values at home and internationally.

It is in this spirit that I brought forward this proposed sex-selective abortion act. Over a year ago, I introduced Bill C-233 to amend the Criminal Code of Canada to make it an offence for a medical practitioner to perform an abortion, knowing that abortion was sought solely on the grounds of the child's sex. It would also require the federal Minister of Health, in consultation with provincial counterparts, to establish guidelines respecting information provided by a medical practitioner in relation to a request for an abortion from the medical practitioner to the individual asking for an abortion. Fittingly, the criminal sanctions in my bill for a medical practitioner who is found guilty mirrors those that are actually found in Canada's assisted dying laws.

I introduced Bill C-233 in response to Canada's lack of the legal framework to respond to the wishes of a clear majority of Canadians and to honour our core values.

Canada prides itself on our commitment to ending discrimination against any person on the basis of sex. Equality between men and women forms a crucial part of Canada's efforts to promote and protect human rights, as reflected in its laws and international commitments.

As long as we do not have a law, we continue affirming ending the lives of baby girls simply because they are baby girls. Canadians believe it is time for our country to join the rest of the world by implementing a strong legal framework prohibiting sex-selective abortions. If a baby girl is unwanted simply because she is a girl, I am pleased to say that the majority of Canadians believe abortion access has gone too far.

A new reality is rising in Canada. A very recent national poll found that a majority of Canadians would be more likely to support a political party if that party promised to legally restrict sex-selective abortion in its platform. Among the results, 52% of Canadians overall, 58% who voted Conservative in 2019, 51% who voted Liberal and 61% who voted for the Bloc would be moderately to much more likely to vote for a party that promised to restrict sex-selective abortion. This critical mass of Canadians is calling on political parties to stop playing politically with the lives of baby girls and legally restrict sex-selective abortions in Canada. There is unity across the country for Canada to assert itself on this fundamental human rights issue.

This poll result comes less than a year after the results of a 2019 DART & Maru/Blue poll conducted for the National Post, which found that 84% of Canadians believed it should be illegal to have an abortion if a family did not want the baby to be a certain sex.

These 2019 poll results reinforce that Canadians are united and no longer accept the myth that Canadians are polarized. They are not. They want this law.

In the same DART poll, it was determined that 62% of Canadians identified as pro-choice, while 13% identified as pro-life. With 84% of Canadians opposed to sex selection, it is clear that this issue has overarching public support.

I have been so truly humbled by the response of Canadians to this bill. Tens of thousands have signed petitions and family and youth are urging their MPs to support the bill in creative and unique ways. Citizens across the country have taken notice.

In its statement of endorsement, the Vedic Hindu Cultural Society Of British Columbia declared that Bill C-233 was a reasonable limit on abortion that would work to enhance Canada's human rights image. The United Sikhs is a UN-affiliated international non-profit, non-governmental, humanitarian relief, human development and advocacy organization. The Canadian chapter sent a letter of endorsement as well. It stated, “C-233 proposes a reasonable limit that would reflect Canada’s respect for human rights at all stages of life. The practice [of] sex-selective abortion takes place in Canada and it is our duty to defend those whose lives would be ended simply because of their sex.”

The Minister of Justice has also publicly declared, in response to petitions tabled by many members of the House, “The Government of Canada condemns all practices that are motivated by discriminatory views of women and girls, including sex selective practices.” Countless Canadians are encouraged by that statement and wait with anticipation for how members of the Liberal Party will vote on this bill.

If the Prime Minister and his cabinet truly claim to be feminist and wish to condemn sex-selective practices, then their voting for Bill C-233 at second reading and sending it to committee is a reasonable expectation by their supporters. I encourage every member of the House to have the courage to exercise their rightful freedom to vote their own conscience, the way that we on this side of the floor have that freedom to do, and pass this bill.

Stopping short of a full commitment to ending sex-selective abortion in the second half of the Minister of Justice's petition response, he attempts to wash his hands of any responsibility. It reads, “In Canada, the administration and funding of health care services is a provincial responsibility that falls under the purview of the provincial governments. As is the case for other medical procedures, the delivery of abortion services is determined by the policies of the provincial governments and the standards set by the medical profession itself." On delivery, it is very true.

Canadians, however, are very aware that there are many bills that we have worked on in the House together, such as Bill C-7 and Bill C-8, where the federal government chose intentionally to legislate on primarily provincial issues when it believed a charter interest was in play. With regard to discrimination on the basis of sex, the same applies.

The federal government has already recognized the inherent discrimination tied to sex selection. In 2004, a Liberal government created a precedent in law with regard to sex selection through the Assisted Human Reproduction Act. According to the act, no one may, “For the purpose of creating a human being, perform any procedure or provide, prescribe or administer any thing that would ensure or increase the probability that an embryo will be of a particular sex, or that would identify the sex of an in vitro embryo.”

In an attempt to downplay the need for a law, I have heard the justification that choosing to abort a baby girl simply because she is a girl rarely takes place in Canada compared to countries like China and India. The number aborted is not a legitimate reason to not have a law, and currently research indicates that this number is approximately 2,000 per year in Canada.

Canadians have spoken loudly on other issues for women. When the Liberals tried to remove female genital mutilation from our citizen book, they spoke out loud and clear, and we have a law to highlight that value. Those who are fine with allowing sex-selective abortion in Canada also claim that the law would be useless because it would be impossible to enforce.

As members of Parliament, our role is not to enforce laws, but to create laws that reflect Canadians' values and respond to the concerns of Canadians. Through Bill C-14 and Bill C-7, the federal government crafted a response to a national mandate it received from vocal Canadians and the courts. Ultimately, the enforcement of assisted dying laws were delegated to the provinces and provincial medical bodies, as would be the case here.

Bill C-233's language clearly outlines a directive to the federal government to work with the provinces to determine effective communications on the framework that sex-selective abortion is illegal in Canada. Indeed, enforcement is an important consideration, but just as impaired driving laws have not removed all drunk driving from our roads, the sex selective abortion act would not put a hard stop to the practice all on its own. However, the bill enshrined in Canadian law will send a clear message about what our country stands for within our country and to the rest of the world, and also what it does not permit.

Canada must bring legislation in line with human rights obligations to prevent sex selection before birth. Bill C-233 is a necessary step in doing so.

It is an honour to rise alongside my colleague from Elgin—Middlesex—London today. We are traditionally from opposite sides of the abortion debate. However, we are both part of the 84% of Canadians who recognize that sex selection is not permissible in a society that advocates for equality of the sexes. Adopting appropriate legislation to end discrimination against any person based on sex is part of Canada's commitment to advancing human rights. My bill addresses inequality between sexes at the earliest stages of life.

This is a cause for which Canadians are united. While some oppose and some promote, we can all stand together, side by side, against sex-selective abortion, as we all have a moral obligation to stand against gender inequality. No issue important to Canadians should be vetoed from debate in this place by absolutist political narratives for political gain. It is past time to stand in the gap and do the right thing in defence of preborn girls.

Will elected members of Parliament from all political parties condemn this practice and make it clear to all that Canada values women and equality? Every female preborn child who is terminated because of her sex has paid the price with her life because our lack of laws say she does not matter. With the implementation of this bill, we will be telling the world that Canada has had a change of heart.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

April 14th, 2021 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Pickering—Uxbridge Ontario

Liberal

Jennifer O'Connell LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, nobody would support sex-selective abortion. However, that is not what this bill is and the member knows it. Ninety per cent of abortions that take place in the country are within the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy when we cannot even determine sex. This is just another example of Conservatives who just recently got together to strategize on how to create backdoor anti-abortion legislation.

If the bill is truly only about banning sex-selective abortions, then why did her own leader come out saying that he did not support it and that he would vote against it? If it is truly not a backdoor way to remove women's rights, why does her own leader not support it?

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

April 14th, 2021 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Madam Speaker, in my party, we have the freedom on private members' bills to bring forward whatever is important to us as individual members of Parliament, something that I do not think is available on the other side of the floor. We also have the freedom to vote our conscience. I respect that choice in my leader, as he respects mine.

I would say this to the individual who is indicating that this is a back door to other abortion laws. As she knows, 84% of Canadians support this. That means 16% of Canadians do not. Of that 84%, the vast majority are individuals who are pro-choice. This is a bill Canadians want, right across this country. It is time we respect that call to protect baby girls in the womb.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

April 14th, 2021 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

Madam Speaker, polls that are taken out of context are not useful.

The member said that 84% of Canadians are against sex-selective abortions. This is not a news flash, since no one supports sex-selective abortions. Does that mean that 84% of Canadians are in favour of chipping away at abortion rights and going as far as passing a law? Really?

She also said 52% of Canadians were in favour of abortion. It is odd, but the firm behind this poll is led by former members of the Conservative Party. Can we really trust these numbers?

Finally, she encourages Liberal members, who claim to be feminists, to vote for her bill. I, in turn, encourage Conservative members who claim to be feminists to vote against it because, frankly, it contravenes the principal and fundamental right of women to control their own bodies.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

April 14th, 2021 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Madam Speaker, the truth of the matter is that every one of those recommendations, as far as percentages of Canadians go, is accurate. The same poll the member is referring to also indicated that the majority of Canadians want to continue to have access to abortion. That is the truth. However, it also asked the question very specifically on certain issues, whether this narrow concern should be legal or illegal. Eighty-four per cent of Canadians indicated that a sex-selection abortion, where the abortion is taking place solely because of the desire for a certain sex of that child, should be illegal.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

April 14th, 2021 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Lindsay Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, I too want to express my deep, heartfelt dismay at this debate today and support my colleagues who have raised amazing questions with respect to the member's statistics, which are wrong and misleading. I am truly upset by the fact that she is directly misleading her constituents, as she said at the beginning of her speech.

I would like to know this. Our Supreme Court struck down the abortion law in 1988 because it violated women's right to bodily security. Why does she not believe in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

April 14th, 2021 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Madam Speaker, I do not totally remember what the member's question was after all of that, but I will say this.

It is really important that we recognize that the Canadian Medical Association did major studies in 2012 and 2016 with ethnic researchers involved and with the ethnic community involved, and they indicated that this is a growing problem in Canada that needs to be addressed. Of course, it is happening for other reasons as well, but the truth of the matter is that this is a scenario where the majority of Canadians are saying they are not polarized the way certain groups would like them to think they are. This is an issue where Canadians come together and want a law that restricts sex selection as an option for abortion.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

April 14th, 2021 / 6 p.m.
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Oakville North—Burlington Ontario

Liberal

Pam Damoff LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous Services

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-233.

Let me start by saying that our government condemns all forms of gender-based violence. We have taken strong legislative action and made investments to protect women and girls since we took office, from improving judicial education to prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression, investing in an ambitious gender-based violence strategy and, yes, approving the use of Mifegymiso in Canada.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have provided an additional $100 million in funding to organizations across the country to support their efforts to end gender-based violence. In my community, $170,000 of that funding has gone directly to organizations that are dedicated to combatting gender-based violence.

There is no evidence to support the need for Bill C-233. This is a bill searching for a problem that does not exist. Canada is not seeing a disproportionate number of male versus female births. The sex ratio at birth for Canada is consistent with the global average. In fact, I believe this bill introduces considerable risk in stigmatizing racialized communities, which already experience disproportionate police surveillance, over-criminalization, and violence and discrimination at the hands of public officials.

Abortion providers and counsellors are trained to ensure that each person is comfortable and certain about their decision and that they are not having an abortion under pressure from anyone. Abortion is health care, and the patients' health and life need to be the primary concern for health care providers; that means ensuring that they can have access to a safe abortion.

We must assess the bill's ability to achieve its intended objective in light of the evidence showing that ensuring access to abortion services advances gender equality. Evidence shows that restricting such access, in particular through criminal law, has a detrimental and negative impact on equality rights. I am concerned that this bill may serve to exacerbate sex-based discrimination, not combat it.

This is not the first time the Conservative Party has attempted to legislate women's bodies. The anti-choice movement has co-opted the language of human rights and feminism to try to limit access to abortion.

The United Nations has issued reports recommending against criminalizing any aspect of abortion, including sex-selective abortion, since research shows that doing so creates barriers to accessing abortion services, which negatively affects women's equality. International agencies have made strong statements that women's right to make decisions about their own bodies is at the very core of the fundamental right to equality, and I agree.

Abortion is a medical decision made between a woman and her doctor. There are already safeguards in place within the medical community surrounding abortion. Legislators are not doctors and have no business interfering with the doctor-patient relationship. I firmly believe that legislators have no place in the uterus of women across our country.

There are obviously those in the Conservative Party who do not feel that way, including the sponsor of this bill, who has said she believes that abortion should never be performed, under any circumstances. If the hon. member truly is concerned about gender-based violence and discrimination, I would ask whether she supports preventative measures that are far more effective at reducing abortions, including comprehensive sex education, consent-based awareness-raising activities and campaigns, free and accessible birth control, and laws and policies that promote gender equality and actually address gender-based discrimination, including gender parity in all decision-making spaces, pay equity, paid parental and other forms of leave, and comprehensive social support services, including affordable housing, universal pharmacare and national child care. The list goes on.

If we want to tackle stereotypes that value men over women, the answer is not criminalizing women's bodies. The answer is getting to the roots of misogyny and sexism and doing the hard work, as a government and society, that we need to do to ensure that women's lives are valued. We need to ensure that young women who want birth control can access it without fear of recrimination. We need to ensure that we support the work that local women's organizations like SAVIS and Halton Women's Place are doing to cultivate male allyship, and we need to call out all people, regardless of gender, who think it is their right to control what a woman does with her body.

In 1988, in the Supreme Court of Canada's well-known Morgentaler decision, restrictions on abortion were found to violate women's section 7 security of the person rights. Since then, it has remained a medical decision, as it should be.

This bill is one more example of the rising power of the anti-choice movement across our country. Here in my riding, I have worked with the Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Services to raise awareness about how hard it is for women in my region to access abortion services. One cannot get an abortion in Halton unless it is an emergency. Over half a million people live in Halton Region. We are one of the safest and wealthiest communities in the country, and one out of five women in my region who choose to have an abortion in their lifetime will have to go outside the region to seek essential health care.

Halton Region is the best-case worst-case scenario. We sit between Toronto and Hamilton and are part of the most densely populated area of the country. Members should think about the barriers that exist for women who live in rural or remote areas or women who do not speak English or French. Members should think about the barriers that exist for women who cannot pay for the $100 taxi ride from Oakville to Hamilton. Now members should think about how these barriers are amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel between provinces is limited, sometimes outright banned, and clinics have closed. These barriers do not make our communities safer; they put women in danger and they act to restrict choice.

The rise of the anti-choice movement has also led to dangerous online misinformation campaigns sponsored by Alliance for Life Ontario, spreading dangerous falsehoods about medical abortion. This is part of a larger ideological initiative that seeks to misinform individuals and restrict their reproductive rights.

What is medical abortion, and why does the anti-choice movement want to convince Canadian women that it is unsafe and can be reversed? To begin with, medical abortions have been practised all over the world for more than 30 years. Despite three decades of evidence that proves they are safe and effective, they were only made available in Canada since 2017 under our Liberal government.

There are two drugs that are used for a medical abortion, sold together in a product called Mifegymiso. Mifegymiso is prescribed by a doctor, and it can only be given within the first nine weeks of pregnancy. A woman takes one tablet, and then 24 to 48 hours later the subsequent tablets, and that is it. Medical abortions are safe and effective, and the vast majority of abortions in Canada, about 90%, happen very early in a pregnancy, before the sex of the fetus is even known, I might add.

The campaign is targeting women who are seeking an abortion with wrongful claims that a medical abortion can be reversed mid-procedure, in the 24 to 48 hours after the first tablet. Advocates for the abortion pill reversal frequently cite research from Dr. George Delgado, a medical adviser for the Abortion Pill Rescue Network and medical director of Culture of Life Family Services in San Diego, a self-professed provider of Christ-centred medical care. This research has been condemned by the medical community, and compelling evidence exists that abortion pill reversal is ineffective and potentially dangerous. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada has released a statement condemning the practice, as has the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Simply put, denying access to health services that only women require, including abortion, is a form of gender-based violence. The UN has recognized this, our Supreme Court has recognized this, and I am confident that a majority of the hon. members in this place will recognize this.

I call on all members of this House to call out the anti-choice movement and recognize this bill for what it is, a bill that is trying to find a problem that simply does not exist in Canada, and I ask all members to join me in voting against this bill.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

April 14th, 2021 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

Madam Speaker, it is with a heavy heart that I rise today to speak to Bill C-233.

The Bloc Québécois is obviously against the bill, which is essentially an anti-choice bill. The Bloc Québécois unequivocally defends the right of women to control their own bodies, their right to free choice and their right to free and accessible abortions. Of course, the Bloc Québécois opposes sex-selective abortion, but it also opposes the idea that the government can tell women what to do with their own bodies. Women are free to choose whether to terminate their pregnancy or not.

The fight against sex-selective abortion is a pretext used by the Conservatives to initiate a debate on abortion rights. Although the Conservatives claim that they do not want to reopen the debate on this issue, they keep coming back to it. Bill C-233 is yet another example. The Conservatives are looking for new legal grounds to criminalize abortion. Although sex-selective abortion is based on misogynistic and sexist ideas, we cannot fight it by imposing more social control on women. We cannot fight sexism with sexism. The solution is not more control, but more equality.

I will share the Bloc Québécois’s position on the issue. I will then speak about the importance of defending the right of women to control their own bodies, and I will conclude by tying this in to reproductive health.

The Bloc Québécois believes that rhetorical manipulation, the hijacking of the discourse on human rights and the fight against discrimination for other purposes are outdated and worn-out stratagems that do not show the manipulators in a good light and undermine citizens’ confidence in democratic institutions.

Hijacking the discourse on human rights undermines the fight for human rights. It is our responsibility as parliamentarians to state our real intentions when we open a dialogue on behalf of the citizens we represent. The This is about the quality of the democratic conversation. Obscuring the debate on abortion rights undermines the quality of the democratic conversation. This is why these practices must be recognized and condemned, and they must stop. The Bloc Québécois demands that the leader of the Conservative Party publicly acknowledge that Bill C-233 is merely a stratagem for attacking abortion rights, that he ask his members to oppose it, and that he call to order the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville.

Let me provide a definition of sex-selective abortion. It is a selective abortion based solely on the sex of the child. It involves primarily female fetuses in countries where cultural norms value boys. In Canada, a 2016 study by the Canadian Medical Association reignited the debate about selective abortions within some South Asian communities in Ontario. There is some evidence suggesting that, for cultural reasons, certain groups choose to terminate certain pregnancies in order to promote male birth in Canada. Nevertheless, this is extremely rare in Canada, and it has no impact on the ratio of male to female births in this country.

It would be wrong to think that this is a common practice in cultural communities in Quebec and Canada. The vast majority of cultural communities do not practise sex selection. Most importantly, the practice tends to fade away on its own within one or two generations. This evolution happens precisely because of the cultural effect and the value placed on gender equality, and not because of any prohibition. It reminds us that we must oppose all instances of discrimination. We need to emphasize the importance of valuing equality and promoting human rights and minimize coercion and control. Yes, sex-selective abortion is a legal practice that does happen in Canada, but it is much less widespread than is being suggested.

I would remind the House that the Bloc Québécois has taken the same position as the women of Quebec. The debate on women's right to control their own bodies is over and done in Quebec. It is a fundamental value that we uphold.

In connection with the debate on sex-selective abortion in 2012 and 2013, the Fédération des femmes du Québec clearly and publicly expressed its position against sex-selective abortion, against banning it and controlling women and against the Conservatives' veiled tactics. In keeping with our long-standing commitment, the Bloc Québécois stands with Quebec women and endorses that position.

There is a huge difference between opposing sex-selective abortion and supporting a ban on the practice in a bill. Criminalizing a medical procedure and making doctors liable to imprisonment is a major move we must not make.

We know that the problem the Conservatives want to solve is not selective abortion but abortion altogether. Quebeckers will not fall for the Conservatives' tactics. Women do not need to justify their choice to end a pregnancy. Health care professionals' only concern is and should be the health and safety of their patients, who have the right to a safe abortion.

The provisions of Bill C-233 compromise patient safety by sowing fear and mistrust into the doctor-patient relationship.

The issue of sex-selective abortion is not new to federal politics. In 2012, a Conservative member moved a motion to condemn it, thus reviving the abortion debate. That motion came on the heels of one moved by another Conservative member on the rights of the fetus, asking to create a parliamentary committee to study at what point a fetus should be considered a human being for the purposes of enforcing Criminal Code provisions. These tactics, aiming to surreptitiously criminalize abortion, were carried out despite the electoral promise of the former prime minister not to reopen the abortion debate.

The member for Yorkton—Melville herself has a history of introducing anti-abortion legislation. Is it not a bit odd that the battles waged by the member are never openly about the right to abortion, but that they all result, in one way or another, in a proposal to criminalize this medical procedure and make it subject to stiff prison sentences?

Today, in 2021, 33 years after abortion was decriminalized in Canada, the Conservatives are continuing their pro-life or, in my opinion, anti-choice militancy. By introducing a bill such as this in Parliament, their assault on women's rights pays political dividends by pandering to the religious right.

The Bloc Québécois's response to Bill C-233 is that it gives every parliamentarian, no matter their political stripe, the opportunity to reject regressive legislation that proposes an inappropriate solution to a false problem. By rejecting the bill, they will help put an end to the chronic problem of Conservative attacks on women's integrity and their right to control their bodies.

It was only in 1988 and after much effort that women gained the right to legal abortion. This fragile win continues today to be threatened by these opponents, who are using a set of tactics with a view to reopening this debate and limiting by alternate means women's freedom to choose abortion.

In Quebec, there has been a consensus that the debate on abortion must not be reopened since the 1988 Supreme Court ruling that struck down the provisions that criminalized abortion. The decision to have an abortion is one of the most difficult decisions in a woman's life. Such a serious decision must be left up to women, and women only. The Bloc Québécois is reiterating its support for freedom of choice, which has unanimous support in Quebec. A woman's body belongs to her.

The Conservatives are constantly repeating the same refrain about how they do not want to reopen the abortion debate; yet, they are the ones who regularly draw the debate back to that topic.

Let us now talk about reproductive health. Although the practice of sex-selective abortion is rather common in some regions and countries, the selective abortion of female fetuses is rather rare in Canada since it has little or no impact on the proportion of boys to girls. We are talking about a ratio of 105 boys to 100 girls, which is comparable to the international average.

Passing this bill could even have racial consequences. If Bill C-233 is passed, doctors could engage in racial profiling by questioning only pregnant women who are Asian or Indian. Canadians do not want to support a bill that encourages racism. Women's health and safety are at stake. Doctors and staff are trained to ensure that patients are all right with their decision and that no one exerts any pressure on them to have an abortion.

However, a woman could be at risk of physical violence at home if she does not have access to sex-selective abortion. Furthermore, women may feel forced to become pregnant until they have a boy. In such cases, the abortions are much higher risk and full-term pregnancies are even more so, especially when there are multiple ones close together.

The primary concern for medical professionals should be the health and life of their patients. This includes providing a safe abortion, regardless of other circumstances. No reason needs to be given for an abortion in Canada. Doctors should not ask and patients do not have to disclose that information. Bill C-233 could make women afraid to speak up, and it could have an impact on their relationships with their doctors by sowing fear and mistrust or causing adverse health effects.

This bill is clearly driven by an anti-choice agenda and religious beliefs. The bill is ostensibly meant to combat gender-based discrimination, but that is not the case. What we need to do is work on addressing these inequalities.

In conclusion, an ultrasound at 12 weeks will indicate whether it is a girl. However, such a determination also means that it is a human being, which opens up the debate on the right to abortion. If we truly want to protect women's health, safety and rights, we must vote against Bill C-233, in the name of respecting a woman's right to control her own body. Let us act now.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

April 14th, 2021 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Lindsay Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, women in Canada and around the world have fought long and hard for the right to control what they do with their own bodies. Sadly, many women still do not have this right or they have actively lost it. In some cases, particularly here in Canada, the right to choose is only available in theory. The practice of this right is hindered by the fact that consecutive governments have not ensured that all women have the same rights under the Canada Health Act or the charter.

To my utter dismay, here we are again. This private member's bill, Bill C-233, is nothing short of a direct attack on women. Despite all the rhetoric claiming to be in defence of women's equality and despite the Conservative leader's assurances that his party will not reopen the abortion debate in Canada, we are debating a bill that does just that.

I am not surprised. He, like so many former leaders of the Conservative Party, has allowed his members to repeatedly try to undermine women's rights. Since 2006, members of the Conservative caucus have tried seven times to introduce anti-choice laws. In fact, this is not even the first time the member for Yorkton—Melville has tried to challenge women's rights under the charter, and like the other anti-choice private members' bills introduced by Conservative Party members, Bill C-233 is a Trojan Horse.

I am proud to say that women must retain their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and as a New Democrat in the House and as a woman who has the privilege to speak here tonight, I will never vote for a bill that is quite literally a slap in the face to women who have fought long and hard for the right to control their own bodies.

Dangerously, the argument that is being used within the bill is couched in language around gender equality, but I cannot state emphatically enough that Bill C-233 does nothing to address gender equality. Let me repeat that: Bill C-233 does nothing to address gender equality. It is a step toward regulating and eroding access to abortion.

When abortions are illegal, women do not stop having them. They only take more risks to access the services they need, and these risks can have deadly consequences. Before anti-choice laws in Canada were struck down, there were over 35,000 illegal abortions taking place every year. Thousands of women died because they were not given a choice. They were desperate and submitted themselves to clandestine procedures.

Our Supreme Court struck down the abortion law in 1988 because it violated a woman's right to bodily security. Recriminalizing abortion in any way would be a violation of the charter rights that cis women and transgender people have to life, liberty and conscience.

If we look at examples from India and Nepal, we see that laws against sex-selective abortion do not work, and because of these laws many women avoid the health care system. They risk their health and lives by resorting to unsafe abortions.

A 2019 study found that sex-selective abortion bans in South Korea, China and India are difficult to implement and have limited impact. They reduce access to safe abortion services and negatively affect the life chances of women and girls. By contrast, other studies have shown that policies that include mass messaging and measures to increase gender equality show a quick impact in reducing people's preference for having sons and in increasing parental investments in girls.

The sex-selective abortion of female fetuses is a symptom, not the problem itself. The root issue here is misogyny. A law banning sex-selective abortion only sends the problem underground. The answer lies in raising the status of girls and women over the long term.

In the promotion and protection of women's rights and gender equality, Canada must be a world leader. We must commit to the view that gender equality is not only a human right, 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.

However, how can Canada be considered a world leader in women's rights when we have members of Parliament suggesting that we revert to the days of gender inequality through the restriction of abortion? How can Canada be considered a world leader when the government refuses to enforce the Canada Health Act, which requires provinces to fund equal access?

In 1988, abortion was decriminalized, but that does not mean everyone in Canada has access. Last year, Action Canada published “Access at a Glance: Abortion Services in Canada”. This overview of abortion care in Canada shows huge gaps in what care is available and where. There are significant disparities between rural and urban access to abortion. In some provinces, like Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, abortion providers are only in urban centres, despite the fact that 35% to 40% of the population is living in rural or remote communities.

Hundreds of people are forced to travel out of their communities to access abortion and must pay for travel expenses out of pocket. Travelling to another city for a procedure can mean having to take time off work, planning and paying for child care or elder care. Some people cannot afford to pay for these expenses.

Access to health services should not depend on one's postal code or income. Unlike any other province or territory, New Brunswick illegally refuses to pay for abortion services outside of hospital settings. This means that abortions provided in clinics are not funded by the government. This is a human rights violation and contravenes the Canada Health Act.

For decades, people across New Brunswick and Canada have been advocating for the government to strike down this discriminatory regulation, yet successive governments and the so-called feminist Liberal government continue to ignore this call, and persist in maintaining an unfair, illegal policy that seriously impacts abortion access in New Brunswick.

Everyone has the equal right to the best quality health care, regardless of race, age, class, immigration status, gender expression, sexuality and ability, but abortion care is impacted by discrimination and bigotry, both systemic and as a result of individual prejudice on the part of service providers. Racism, xenophobia, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and ageism in Canada are all direct and intersecting barriers to accessing abortion.

If the member introducing Bill C-233 was truly interested in strengthening gender equality, this bill could have ensured everyone's right to access health services. It could propose solutions to fight against racism and poverty and homelessness or combat homophobia and transphobia. It could propose operational-based funding for women's organizations, ensure permanent funding for shelters in Canada, put forward a universal early learning and child care bill, introduce a guaranteed basic livable income, ensure free access to birth control or Mifegymiso, create a national action plan against gender-based violence, or implement just one of the 231 calls for justice from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry.

If the member for Yorkton—Melville was truly dedicated to advancing gender equality, she could have drafted a bill that actually addresses the social, economic or political inequities women experience as part of their daily lives, inequities exacerbated by past and current governments.

Tragically, this bill does nothing to implement the long-term solutions that would reduce the inequality between men and women. In May 2020, Canada celebrated the 50th anniversary of the abortion caravan, the convoy of activists, advocates and brave women who travelled from Vancouver to Ottawa to protest the criminalization of abortion in 1970.

Canadian women fought long and hard for the right to safe, legal abortions. Women have been forced to put their private lives under scrutiny in the courts and in the fight for the right to choose. I would like to thank all the brave women, organizations and abortion providers who fought for our right to choose.

I urge all members of this House to recognize this bill for what it is, an underhanded attack on women's choice. I urge all members to vote against it. If we are to sincerely achieve true gender equality, we will not tolerate the sham that has been perpetuated against women of this country.

Instead of attacking health services and access, we need to address the reasons why women are undervalued, underpaid and underserved. We need a government that would champion programs and policies that ensure women's contributions to society, the economy and leadership in this country are respected and encouraged. Access to safe, legal abortions is integral to these rights.

New Democrats, it is safe to say, do not support this bill. We will actively fight against any motion or future bill that would threaten a woman's right to choose.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

April 14th, 2021 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to start tonight's discussion regarding my multiple attempts to write this speech. I kept on changing the way I wanted to discuss it. What is my angle? Who is the audience and what do they expect? I knew I had to focus on the right tone and what specific words to say and why am I, a person strong in her belief, so worried about presenting on this important topic?

I have seen how these discussions have gone in the past, or should I say, I rightly recognize that this is not a discussion. Instead it is a debate characterized by a great deal of animosity from all sides with no resolutions. However, the bill challenges us to have a genuine discussion. The bill could be used as a potential platform to address concerns, but as I have witnessed, I am afraid there are few people willing to come to the table to have a well-intentioned, meaningful debate.

The bill should make us all think on how we feel about this subject, specifically on sex-selective abortion. I know that in these 10 minutes every word that I choose to say will be ripped and torn apart and we are losing the opportunity to have a real discussion and properly debate Bill C-233, the bill introduced by my colleague and friend from Yorkton—Melville.

This is a topic that people are very vocal on, with people being labelled as either absolutely right or completely wrong. Everyone has a label forced on them, but is that really what we want when it comes to such a complex issue? This should not be about how we feel on the right to choose to have an abortion. This is whether sex-selection abortion is happening in Canada and what is ethical in this situation. This is a subject that we just cannot win. There is no right or wrong on this issue.

When I talk about abortion, it is in general and not specific. I support women having a choice and when I speak on this issue, I recognize that there are many Canadians unaware of what our laws in Canada are. I want to go back 33 years to when there was a law. I want to share with everyone tonight the executive summary and the information available on sex-selective abortion.

One of the best and simplest summaries was a bill that the Library of Congress, prepared by Stephen Clarke, senior foreign law specialist in the United States. This where I found the best information on Canada.

Federal legislation that made the obtaining of unapproved abortion a crime was held to be unconstitutional in 1988 and has not been replaced. Canada has no legal restrictions on the obtaining of abortions. Abortion for sex selection is legal and there are reports that it is being practised. Sex selection and reproductive technology is prohibited, subject to an exemption that allows sex selection to prevent disorders or disease.

Until 1988, Canada's Criminal Code required women who wished to have an abortion to satisfy a therapeutic abortion committee established by a hospital that the continuation of her pregnancy would be likely to endanger her life. However, in the case of R. v Morgentaler, Smoling and Scott, the Supreme Court held that this provision violated section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 7 of the charter provides that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived therefore, except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

Since 1988, Canada has not had a law prohibiting any type of abortion, including abortions for the purpose of sex selection, although there have been several attempts at legislative reforms that have failed.

We have actually heard a lot about those tonight.

The absence of an abortion law in Canada does not mean that a woman can easily obtain an abortion at any time during her pregnancy. Physicians in Canada normally do not perform abortions after the 24th week of a pregnancy unless the health of the woman is in serious jeopardy, even though they cannot be prosecuted for this. Although information on the subject is not readily available, it may also be the case that many physicians refuse to perform abortions for the purpose of sex selection.

Now, turning to in vitro fertilization, the same paper from the Library of Congress states that:

Reproductive Technology

Canada’s Assisted Human Reproduction Act states that no person shall:

[f]or the purpose of creating a human being, perform any procedure or provide, prescribe or administer any thing that would ensure or increase the probability that an embryo will be of a particular sex, or that would identify the sex of an in vitro embryo, except to prevent, diagnose or treat a sex-linked disorder or disease.

Thus, Canada does generally prohibit sex selection in embryonic procedures, except to prevent, diagnose, or treat a sex-related disorder or disease.

What I just read is from the Library of Congress in a journal written back in June 2009.

There is a much bigger discussion here that we are not permitted to talk about politically. However, I believe in facts. I believe in multiple sides on these issues. When I think about a good debate and great conversations, I think about my own family. Yes, we are all from the same family, but then we add on the in-laws and extended family and brothers-in-law who call themselves the Martyn men. We have extremely heated debates, and sometimes things can get pretty spicy. Sometimes mother sighs, “That is just enough”. However, we share unique perspectives and have had different experiences in the past that have shaped our lives and our beliefs on certain issues. One thing I recognize is that I always learn something new about someone or something during these debates. I respect them, and I respect their views on these issues.

We do not have to believe to the same degree on every single issue, and I think that is where we are today. This issue could lead us to more. It could lead us to a study of greater awareness of an issue that is happening, such as sex selection. Yes, it can be a very difficult discussion, but I believe it can be a very thoughtful discussion as well.

As I have said in the House and in committees many times, I am a Pollyanna. I do believe in the best, and I do believe that when people are committed to discuss issues with diverse opinions, they can find the right balance.

One thing that I have learned through this pandemic is that what is important to people and how people react can be very different. I recognize the vast opinions on COVID-19, and I recognize that I do not have to agree with all of the opinions in this discussion. However, here sex selection abortion becomes something we truly should look at and consider. We have the right to pro-life and pro-choice, and we have the right to question if more needs to be done or considered. I am not saying today that more needs to be done, but is there an issue with sex selection?

As I said earlier in my speech, the debate is characterized by a great deal of animosity from all sides with no resolution. There are a few people willing to come to the table to have a well-intentioned, meaningful debate. My table is always open for all opinions on this matter, for and against.

There are many things that we must challenge our presumptions on. It is important that we are willing to challenge ideas and test them against other thought patterns. That is why in every Parliament we have a government with an opposition that challenges it.

Listening does not mean that one must agree. However, today's debate is on sex selection abortion and, unfortunately, this means that many members have decided to stop listening before the conversation even begins. Does this issue deserve to be studied? Is there an issue that is actually occurring here in Canada that needs to be addressed? We cannot know if we are not willing to even start the conversation. We must be willing to at least have this conversation to discuss this difficult topic and not immediately reach for the attacks and ignore the substance of the bill itself.

I thank everybody for listening to me today, and I wish everybody the best.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

April 14th, 2021 / 6:35 p.m.
See context

Pickering—Uxbridge Ontario

Liberal

Jennifer O'Connell LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, normally I would say I am happy to rise in this chamber, but on this topic I could not be more disappointed. I am disappointed, as a woman in this country in this day and age, to be once again faced with Conservatives attempting to take away long-fought, long-established women's rights. Members should make no mistake about this. I guarantee nobody in this House supports sex-selective abortions, but that is precisely not what the member has intended with this legislation.

Just this past weekend, members of the Conservative party and their staff gathered with the Pro-Life Association to strategize on and discuss how to get backdoor anti-abortion legislation in this country to take away women's rights. In addition to that, they were referring to MAID and amendments there as an example. According to one article, they said this is “a 'very powerful first step and foundation' to introducing conscience rights in other areas, like targeting abortion or denying access to medical services for trans people.”

These are the values that this Conservative party represents, and I am ashamed. In this day and age there should be no debate. The last speaker said they wish there could be a debate, but the debate on women's rights is over. We are equal, and governments do not make decisions on our health and on our bodies.

There is no law or power that any government has to control decisions on the male body, so if members of the Conservative party want to talk about equality, then this debate is over. Let us work on abolishing inequality in this country, but a woman's right to choose is fundamental, and government has no place and no business in that decision.

Sex-selective Abortion ActRoutine Proceedings

February 26th, 2020 / 3:45 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-233, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sex-selective abortion).

Mr. Speaker, in Canada we value human rights and equality. At home and around the world, we are known for our voice in championing equality between men and women, between girls and boys. We as legislators in the House of Commons have the responsibility to act on behalf of Canadians on an issue that is widely condemned and flies in the face of equality between the sexes.

I am pleased to introduce my private member's bill, the sex-selective abortion act, and I thank the member for Battlefords—Lloydminster for seconding the bill.

It is true that the majority of Canadians agree with having access to abortions. It is also true that 84% of Canadians stand against sex-selection abortions.

I look forward to debate in the House.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)