Sex-selective Abortion Act

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

This bill was last introduced in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2021.

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


Cathay Wagantall  Conservative

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


Outside the Order of Precedence (a private member's bill that hasn't yet won the draw that determines which private member's bills can be debated), as of Feb. 26, 2020
(This bill did not become law.)


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

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to make it an offence for 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.


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


June 2, 2021 Failed 2nd reading of Bill C-233, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sex-selective abortion)

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

June 2nd, 2021 / 3:35 p.m.
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The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Pursuant to order made on Monday, January 25, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-233 under Private Members' Business.

The House resumed from May 28 consideration of the motion that Bill C-233, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sex-selective abortion), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Women and Gender EqualityOral Questions

June 2nd, 2021 / 2:55 p.m.
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Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is 2021, yet there are still those who would debate a woman's right to choose what happens to her own body. Today we will be voting on a Conservative MP's bill, Bill C-233, which is yet another attempt to police women's bodies. It is an attack on women's autonomy over their bodies by the Conservatives.

Canadian women need to know. Will the Prime Minister stand against Bill C-233 and stand up for women's rights across our country?

Sex SelectionPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

June 1st, 2021 / 10:10 a.m.
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John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I present a petition on behalf of my New Brunswick constituents calling for Parliament to end the abhorrent practice of sex-selective abortions in Canada. Abortions based on gender are currently legally permitted in Canada, yet there is a broad consensus to prohibit them as 84% of Canadians agree that sex-selective abortions should not be permitted.

I hope the House of Commons will reflect this consensus when we vote Wednesday on Bill C-233.

Sex SelectionPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

May 31st, 2021 / 3:25 p.m.
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Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, the next petition I have to present comes from Canadians across Canada who are opposed to the discriminatory practice of sex-selective abortion.

The petitioners note that sex selection is completely legal and that 84% of Canadians, regardless of their views on abortion, think that sex-selective abortion should be illegal. The petitioners state that several organizations around the world have recognized the damages and impacts of the absence of girls. Additionally, Canada's health care professionals recognize that sex selection is a problem in Canada.

The petitioners call for the quick passage of Bill C-233.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2021 / 2:40 p.m.
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Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Madam Speaker, as we close second reading on the sex-selective abortion act, I have some thoughts to share.

I would like to thank my colleagues on both sides of this House for contributing to the debate. Regardless of our political stances, parliamentarians have begun to have the important discussion that Canadians have been asking for on this universally condemned practice.

Eighty-four percent of our constituents have been clear that an evaluation of sex-selective abortion and its place in our country is overdue. I am glad this House and this minority Parliament, have begun to honour their wishes.

We should not be afraid to have this conversation. Despite claims to the contrary, sex-selective abortion does not fit within a rigid understanding of abortion in Canada. Let us remember that a majority of Canadians would like to continue to have access to abortion. That is what makes this debate so unique.

It is clear that Canadians identify and treat sex selection as a stand-alone human rights issue. The medical community, cultural groups and those with divergent views on the matter of abortion believe that this procedure, performed solely on the basis of sex, is fundamentally wrong. As I have said many times during the course of this discussion, the vast majority of those who would like sex selection to be made illegal are in fact pro-choice. They are not pro-abortion for any reason, but pro-choice. These facts should send a strong message to everyone in this House. We have a mandate from Canadians to act.

As Dr. Kiely Williams, MD, said, “We are finally in a position to stop [sex-selective abortion]. It is very rare in politics when we’re presented with a bill that all parties can support. There are no Canadian political parties that do not support a woman’s right to life.”

Indeed, I was encouraged to hear from my colleagues throughout this debate that they believe sex-selective abortion is wrong, so why are some members against passing this bill into law?

We should be gripped by this discussion and treating it with the seriousness it deserves. As direct representatives of the people of Canada, we were elected to defend the equality of all Canadians before and under the law, regardless of race, nationality, ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability. We have an obligation to address gaps in our laws that fail to meet this standard.

The continued practice of sex-selective abortion is a glaring hole in our laws that denies equal rights to Canadians on the grounds of age and sex at a minimum. It needs to stop and we have the power to do so.

Furthermore, we were each sent to this place to enact the reforms that Canadians want. That is a key reason why I introduced this bill and I am so proud of it.

Poll after poll tells us that the tolerance of Canadians for sex selection has run out. Rather than resorting to tired accusations that do not speak to the heart of this bill, we have the opportunity to judge it for what it is, which is a reasonable limit on abortion that forms just one part of a response to the prevalence of sex-selective practices. On this issue, parliamentarians should abandon absolutist narratives on the abortion debate and accept that Canadians have identified a key problem that is in need of a legislative solution.

I truly believe this House has taken the first step on behalf of women and girls in addressing a persistent human rights failure. Indeed, as the only democratic country internationally that lacks a sex-selection law, the world is looking at Canada to fill this void.

The debate that we have had on this bill will not soon be forgotten by Canadians and the human rights community. It is one thing to permit a debate to take place. It is an entirely different thing to take the necessary action to rectify the tragedy of sex-selective abortion. This Parliament has the power to make a bold statement in defence of equality between the sexes in the next generation. Canadians are counting on us to make that important decision now so that future generations can benefit from it later.

Today I am asking members to continue to honour the wishes of Canadians by taking the next step forward and voting in favour of Bill C-233. To me the choice could not be clearer. On the one hand, we can allow divisive politics to continue to obscure this debate and permit the deliberate termination of baby girls to continue solely because of their sex. On the other hand, we can take a bold stand for women in this country, see this bill for what it is and pass a prohibition on sex-selective laws. We can send a clear message, both here and around the world, about the values our country stands for and what it does not permit.

I know our nation is behind this bill, and wants it to be sent to committee so it can receive the debate and constructive scrutiny it deserves. Finally, I rest my case for today. I know I have represented the concerns and desires of the majority of those who have been called here to serve to see the sex-selective abortion act become law in Canada.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2021 / 2:35 p.m.
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Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to my hon. colleague's private member's bill, Bill C-233, the sex-selective abortion act.

Canada is a nation that has long been firmly committed to and defended human rights, both at home and abroad. We have often been proactive in our efforts to protect those who cannot protect themselves and to stomp out discrimination.

Now we are being confronted with the issue of sex-selective abortion. It is an issue that will test our commitment to protecting human rights. The bill seeks to amend 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 medical practitioners in relation to a request for an abortion.

It must be noted that in Canada, sex selection in the case of embryos is already illegal under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, 2004, section 5(1)(e). I believe that a criminal prohibition should be added to the Criminal Code in order to extend this same protection to pre-born girls.

Research from the Canadian Medical Association Journal, as well as several provincial colleges of physicians and surgeons, has indicated that sex-selective abortion is an issue in Canada. This is intolerable. In fact, Canada's health care profession has shown concern with sex-selective abortion and discourages the practice.

Sex-selective abortion is wrong and this practice is happening in Canada today because there is no law against it. It is also well documented that sex-selective abortion disproportionately targets girls. There is this idea, and it is perpetuated from the beginning of life, that for some reason the life of a male is more valuable than the life of a female. How can we proclaim ourselves a country of equality when we continue to allow the practice of terminating a pregnancy on the grounds of the genetic sex of a child, perpetuating the belief that one sex is more valuable than the other?

In a society such as ours, one that strongly advocates for and seeks to protect equal rights between the sexes, sex-selective abortion has no place. If as a society we are truly serious about fighting sexism, we must start at the very beginning with the practice of sex-selective abortion. It is an inherently discriminatory practice that targets females and promotes sexism, and it must be stamped out.

Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that every person should be treated with the same dignity, respect and consideration regardless of sex. However, the practice of sex-selective abortion starts females off on an uneven footing. They are being treated differently from the very beginning. This practice cannot be allowed to continue in a society that claims to support equality of the sexes.

It is also important to note that while a majority of Canadians support access to abortion, a majority of Canadians oppose sex-selective abortion. The purpose of the bill is very clear. It is not intended to limit access to abortion; rather, it is being put forward to address the inequality that exists between the sexes in their earliest forms.

To summarize, the bill would prohibit medical practitioners from knowingly performing sex-selective abortions and includes indictable and summary offences should they do so. It includes a directive for guidelines to be established on how medical practitioners would provide information on the prohibition to pregnant persons. Finally, the penalties outlined in the bill are consistent with those found in section 241.3 of the Criminal Code for failing to allow the medical assistance in dying safeguards.

I implore every member of the House to give their support to this bill. This is not a question of access to abortion, but a question of the use of abortion for a specific purpose that targets females.

For a society that has come so far in combatting sexism, we must continue in our fight to stop sexist practices. This is a time when we can all come together and send a message that the targeting of pre-born girls is unacceptable and we will not allow it to continue in Canada.

By adopting appropriate legislation to end discrimination against any person based on sex, we are reconfirming Canada's commitment to advancing human rights.

I would ask all members in this place to vote in favour of this bill to send the message that discrimination is not acceptable in Canada and will not be tolerated. This protection is long overdue.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2021 / 2:25 p.m.
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Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Madam Speaker, today we are debating an extremely sensitive topic that should not even be up for debate, in my view.

I cannot believe that the Conservatives want to reopen the abortion debate. It boggles the mind. Let us just say what this bill really is. Bill C-233 is an anti-abortion bill. My colleagues will say that opinion is divided within the Conservative Party, but each Conservative member chose to join a party with common values.

When I went into politics, I joined a party that shared my values. I can say without hesitation that the Bloc Québécois and I unequivocally defend women's right to control their own bodies, women's right to choose, and the right to free, accessible abortion services.

I have a serious problem with the fact that these rights are being called into question. I have a serious problem with the fact that a woman is trying to tell other women what to do with their bodies. That is what the member for Yorkton—Melville is doing with her bill. She is reopening a debate that was thought to be closed for good, on an issue that women have already fought too long to settle.

I want to remind the House that women did not obtain the legal right to seek an abortion until 1988. In Quebec, the consensus is that the abortion debate must not be reopened. That consensus has been in place ever since the 1988 Supreme Court ruling that struck down the provisions criminalizing abortion.

The decision to have an abortion is one of the most delicate decisions a woman can face. Such a serious decision must be left up to women, and only women. A woman's body belongs to her alone. No one can make that decision but her. “My body, my choice”, as the slogan goes.

As we can see, this is a fragile right that continues to be threatened by opponents who are using backdoor tactics to reopen this debate and limit women's right to make free choices about abortion.

I was worried about the rise of Donald Trump in the United States, as well as the appointment of certain conservatives to the U.S. Supreme Court and their interest in reopening this debate. I never thought it would happen here, in a free and democratic society that generally promotes women's rights.

As a woman, I am disappointed to once again be fighting for rights that should already be a given. It is disappointing to hear the Conservatives say that they do not want to reopen the abortion debate, even though they keep bringing it up. This time, they are going about it in a roundabout way by raising the issue of sex-selective abortion. This issue adds all kinds of nuance to the debate, and the Conservatives are using it as a flimsy pretext to find new legal grounds to criminalize abortion.

I must say that it is hard for the feminist in me to avoid qualifying my comments in this debate. As a woman and as a feminist, I do not approve of sex-selective abortion. However, I am firmly opposed to allowing the government to interfere in women's bodily autonomy. That is not the role of the government or elected officials. Women are free to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy. They are the only ones who can make that decision.

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 do not agree with this bill, and I will go even further by saying that rhetorical manipulation and the hijacking of the discourse on human rights and the fight against discrimination are outdated, worn-out stratagems that do not show the manipulators in a good light and that undermine public confidence in democratic institutions.

Hijacking the discourse on human rights undermines the fight for human rights. Parliamentarians have a moral responsibility to state their real intentions when they open a dialogue on behalf of the citizens they represent. That is what determines the quality of the democratic conversation.

Obfuscating the debate on abortion rights reduces the quality of the democratic conversation. These tactics must be recognized, called out and stopped. I sincerely hope that the leader of the Conservative Party will publicly acknowledge that Bill C-233 is just a strategy to attack the right to abortion and that he will call on his members to oppose it out of respect for all women.

The Conservative member's initiative is part of a series of tactics used by anti-abortionists to challenge the status quo in Canada. Sex selection is one avenue that pro-lifers and Canadian and U.S. evangelical groups enthusiastically pursue to make things tricky for the pro-choice side at every turn.

For those who might not be familiar with the concept, sex-selective abortion is selective abortion based solely on the sex of the fetus. Unfortunately, the practice is typically carried out on female fetuses in countries where cultural norms place a higher value on boys than on girls.

For cultural reasons, there is apparently a certain segment of the population in Canada that uses abortion to favour the birth of boys, which is absolutely deplorable. The idea that it is legitimate to selectively terminate female fetuses on the grounds that girls are inferior human beings is absolutely unacceptable. I feel sick just thinking about it.

I do not want my comments to be taken out of context. There is a huge difference between opposing a practice and supporting its statutory prohibition. It should be noted that this is an extremely marginal phenomenon in the country and the numbers show that it has no impact on the ratio of male to female births. It would be wrong to believe that this is common practice within cultural communities in Quebec and Canada, because the vast majority of communities do not practice sex-selective abortion.

Fortunately this practice is fading away and will hopefully soon disappear entirely. This change happens precisely because of the influence of culture and the value placed on gender equality, and not because of any prohibition. It reminds us that we must counter instances of discrimination by emphasizing the importance of valuing equality and promoting human rights, not by relying on coercion and control.

As a young woman and a parliamentarian, I want to promote the values of equality and the advancement of rights. Women do not need to justify their decision to terminate a pregnancy. The only concern of health care professionals 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 introducing fear and mistrust into the patient-doctor relationship. Clause 2 of the bill would make it an offence, liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years, for a medical practitioner to perform an abortion knowing that the abortion is sought on the grounds of the fetus's genetic sex.

I think it is extremely problematic for the state to interfere in the patient-doctor relationship. That is why I am vigorously opposed to this bill. I am opposed to this bill because I do not want to reopen the abortion debate in any way. I am opposed to this bill because women and only women can decide whether to have an abortion. I am opposed to this bill because I want to protect the health and safety of women.

Today it is sex-selective abortion, but what will it be tomorrow? We do not want to reopen the debate. The selective abortion of female fetuses is merely a symptom; it is not the problem. The root of the problem is misogyny and the undervaluing of girls and women.

A law banning sex-selective abortion would simply sweep the problem under the rug. We must work to raise the status of girls and women over the long term by actively preventing discrimination and by promoting equity and equality.

The symptom of selective abortion of female fetuses will end when families feel that their daughters have equal opportunities and are valued just as much as a son would be. We have much work to do to continue to advance women's rights. Now is not the time to roll back those rights. We owe it to our mothers, our daughters, our wives, our friends and our sisters. We owe it to ourselves.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2021 / 2:15 p.m.
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Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario


Anita Vandenbeld LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Madam Speaker, I am here today to speak to private member's bill, Bill C-233, an act to amend the Criminal Code, sex-selective abortion, at second reading.

I really wish I did not have to do this. I am, quite frankly, disappointed that I have to spend time in the year 2021 on the abortion debate in Canada, when a woman's right to choose has been law for over 30 years. It really is unfortunate that members of Parliament are still seeking to restrict that right.

The sponsor claims that this bill is to address sex-based discrimination. To achieve that goal, this bill would create a new Criminal Code offence prohibiting doctors from performing an abortion when they know it is being sought solely on the grounds of the genetic sex of the fetus.

While I note that the offence is ostensibly aimed at doctors, I must point out that it would also criminalize women as parties to the offence. Make no mistake, Bill C-233 will limit a woman's right to choose by doing this. Criminalizing a woman for seeking an abortion is a violation of the fundamental rights of women in Canada, and it is just plain wrong.

I would like to speak to what we know about the impact of using criminal law to regulate abortion. We need not look further than Canada's own legal history of abortion regulation and its impact on Canadian women. That history reflects what the international evidence tells us. Criminal restrictions on abortion result in women having less access to them, and having less access negatively impacts women's equality rights.

Let us take a look at how we got to where we are today. Currently, no criminal offences apply to abortion, and the provinces and territories are responsible for providing safe abortion services to Canadian women. However, we must not forget that, until 1969, abortion was absolutely prohibited in Canada. That meant that very few, if any, safe options were available to women. Women were forced to either bring an unwanted pregnancy to term or access unsafe and unregulated methods such as back alley abortions, which often led to infection and death.

Women who sought abortions also risked criminal sanctions, and doctors who provided safe abortions risked punishment. Many of us will remember Dr. Morgentaler. He was incarcerated for saving women's lives. He risked his own safety to champion women's rights and for that he was awarded the Order of Canada in 2008.

I cannot emphasize enough how much we do not want to return to that era. I am proud to live in a country where women have safe access to abortion and do not need to worry about criminal reprisals. Again, I am very disappointed to be here today having to fight against an attempt to limit these hard-earned and important rights.

The evidence before the court in the Morgentaler case highlighted the medical risks and psychological trauma restricting access to abortion caused women seeking abortion services in Canada, and the importance of affording women autonomy to make decisions about their own bodies. The provisions were found to violate women's security of the person rights.

This is because, and I quote Justice Bertha Wilson, the first woman justice of the Supreme Court, who said that those provisions asserted that, “the woman's capacity to reproduce is to be subject, not to her own control, but to that of the state.”

The court found the violation of women's rights by limiting access to abortion to be completely unacceptable, and so do I. The court has been very clear on this front, and I think that a court could also find this legislation unconstitutional for the same reasons, should it pass.

The 1969 provisions remained in the Criminal Code, but were unenforceable until they were repealed in 2019 by our government in the former Bill C-75. Other related abortion offences were repealed by our government in 2018 in former Bill C-51. Even though they were inoperable, I am proud that our government took the important step to remove these discriminatory provisions.

It took more than 100 years to remove abortion-related criminal offences from our Criminal Code, which is, frankly, a shameful mark. However, again, I am quite proud to be part of the government that finally removed them from the books, and I have no intention of supporting any attempt to add them back.

Consistent with the Canadian experience, international research has shown that using the criminal law to regulate any aspect of abortion results in barriers to accessing abortion services, which contributes to gender inequality. For example, international research indicates that laws restricting the use of technology for sex selection purposes, as well as sex-selective abortions, are likely to have harmful impacts on women. These impacts include women seeking unsafe procedures that fall outside regulations, protocols and monitoring.

I fail to see how criminalizing women who choose sex-selection abortion, perhaps because of familial pressure to do so, protects them, or other women for that matter, from discrimination. Rather, a criminal law response is more likely to detract from women's equality rights by creating barriers to accessing abortion.

The United Nations recommends combatting this form of discrimination by addressing the root causes of gender inequality. This includes focusing on advancing access to education, health services and economic resources for women and girls. I am pleased to note that our government has made significant investments to advance gender equality, guided by women and the framework for assessing gender equality results, introduced in budget 2018.

Criminalizing women seeking abortion is not the solution to this problem and would be a massive step backwards for this country. I cannot emphasize enough how disappointed I am to see that there is yet another attempt in this bill to limit a woman's right to choose.

In Canada, I am proud to say that abortion is treated like the medical service that it is and falls within the responsibility of the provincial and territorial health sector. All medical procedures are subject to medical professional standards.

Ultimately, what could happen if we were to enact an offence such as this? Perhaps doctors would refuse to provide abortion services out of fear of criminalization, because they believe their patient may be choosing abortion for the wrong reasons. Perhaps a woman who needs access to an abortion would be afraid to seek it out in case she is reported and charged for having done so. Perhaps women from certain communities would be denied access to abortion based on discriminatory views about their reason for seeking it. In short, I fear that this bill could undo decades of arduous work to ensure that women never face these barriers again.

I was really disappointed to see the Leader of the Opposition indicate that his caucus will be allowed a free vote on such a fundamental issue as protecting women's right to choose.

I hope that members of the Conservative Party who are currently heckling me will recognize, as all other members of this House do, how important it is to protect equality rights for women in Canada and join me and the government in voting against this proposed legislation.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2021 / 2 p.m.
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Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak against Bill C-233, which is nothing more than a backdoor attempt to criminalize abortion and attack our reproductive rights. I want to acknowledge the critical work of so many advocates of Abortion Rights Coalition, who have made clear that Bill C-233 is not actually about protecting girls and women, or supporting vulnerable women, but rather, a veiled attempt to criminalize abortion in our country.

It is a bill that opens the door to racism, misogyny and abuse. Today, I acknowledge that, as I stand again in this House, in support of a woman's fundamental right to choose, that we stand on the shoulders of giants, giants like the women of the abortion caravan, trailblazers like Henry Morgentaler; feminist leaders like Judy Rebick, Carolyn Eagen, Joyce Arthur; the women of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, and many more.

I think of the women and two-spirited activists who created the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and the fierce feminist activists of the Radical Handmaids.

I think of the women in my own community and in our own region who fight to make sure that women and transgender people have access to reproductive rights.

Let us get to the core of the issue. This bill is also a key part of the Conservative Party of Canada's not-so-hidden agenda. Its members tell us they have rebranded. They tell us they are pro-choice. They tell us they are pro-LGBTQ rights. They slap an emoji on it, a hashtag on it, and they are good to go. Then its members put forward bills like this one. It is not by accident and it is also not the first time.

Almost 10 years ago, in 2012, and feminist activists will remember, Motions Nos. 312 and 408 were put forward by Conservative members at that time that again, were backdoor attempts to criminalize abortion in Canada. I spoke to those motions as a member of Parliament almost 10 years ago. These motions, yes, were overwhelmingly opposed, but they were not meant to pass. They were meant to send a signal at that time, like they are today, that the Conservative Party also holds the belief that women and some transgender people should not have the choice to do what they want with their bodies. These motions were meant to send a signal that the state ought to have the final say and criminalize those who choose abortion. These motions stoke the fire of possibility of a reactionary, patriarchal view of our world where women are subservient.

If the Conservatives truly cared about gender equality and the rights of girls and women so much, what else could they do to spend their time fighting for us? My answer is: so much more. First of all, they could start by recognizing that indigenous women in this country have been and continue to be subjected to genocide. They could support the findings of the historic National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, an inquiry that they opposed and pour their energy into action on its recommendations, but instead, the Conservatives are not doing that.

It is May 2021. We are a year and some into a global pandemic. Women have borne the brunt of care work in this pandemic, in our care homes, hospitals, homes and schools as essential workers. The Conservatives could fight for them for paid sick days; for desperately needed protection; for targeted shutdowns of dangerous workplaces; for immigration status for women migrant workers and all migrant workers, but the Conservatives are not doing that. They could speak up for the thousands of Canadian women who have lost their jobs, had to leave their work, had to scale back their employment because of a lack of child care, a lack of elder care; a lack of supports. They could speak up of the she-session and the clear recognition that women in Canada have lost significant ground during this crisis. They could fight for them, for universal child care, for cancelling student debt, for free education, for affordable housing; for publicly owned compassionate models of care that value the women who need that care and the women who provide it, but the Conservatives are not doing that either. Instead, we have Bill C-233 that will set the clock back on our reproductive rights.

I am here to say that Canadian women and transgender people are not having it. Many, including in my own province, have been on the front lines of fighting for greater access to abortion, particularly the availability of Mifegymiso. Thanks to the immense public pressure from advocates of the grassroots, Mifegymiso became universally covered by the provincial government here in Manitoba.

However, the struggle continues. Many women and some transgender people still do not have access to medical or surgical abortions in real terms when they need them. Here I also want to highlight the hypocrisy of the Liberals, who aim to score points on being pro-choice but do next to nothing to make abortion services available to women across our country, particularly in northern and rural areas.

Many are fighting back. I want to acknowledge the leadership of Emily Pruder, an abortion doula and advocate for reproductive justice here in our north, who said, “Northern and rural people already face incredible barriers just to access abortion. People are often forced to travel long distances, pay for travel out of pocket and wait weeks before they can have an abortion. We don't need more barriers. This paternalistic bill is an attack on reproductive justice.”

The struggle is ongoing: for access to abortion, for control over our own bodies, for reproductive justice, for gender justice, for liberation. The struggle is not over. Women in the United States are taking on struggles in defence of reproductive rights in their home states and across their country. Women around the world, from Ireland to Argentina, have made it clear: our bodies, our choice.

Bills like Bill C-233 are not fooling women across Canada. The not-so-veiled agenda of the Conservative Party of Canada is on full display.

It is 2021. Women deserve leadership, leadership that will fight to make our lives better. Bill C-233 not only would not do that, but it would make our lives worse. That leadership starts with the fundamental respect of our right to control our own bodies, to allow us to make the choices that we know are best for who we are: when we want to get pregnant, whether we want to have kids and when we want an abortion.

Today I stand, along with so many women and so many people across our country, including my colleagues in the NDP, to state our clear and unequivocal opposition to Bill C-233, which is nothing but a not-so-veiled attack on a woman's fundamental right to choose.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2021 / 1:50 p.m.
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Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I would really like to say that I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-233, which was introduced by the member for Yorkton—Melville, but that would be a lie.

Unlike what some would have us believe, Bill C-233 does not seek to restore the balance between the situation of young girls and young boys. It is not a bill to combat sexism. It is anti-abortion legislation, period. It is a pretext, a roundabout way for the member to achieve her purpose, an attempt to reopen a debate that we hoped had been closed for several decades now. The member is shamefully using and hijacking the discourse on human rights to hide other intentions. I am not trying to freely impute motives, unlike what some of my colleagues might try to accuse me of following my speech.

This is a fairly well documented situation, which was the subject of at least two CBC reports just before the last election in which the journalists talked about new pro-life lobbying methods. As an aside, I want to mention that, in my opinion, the term “pro-life” is a term that has been overused so that people do not have to say anti-abortion, even though that is what it means.

The groups featured in these reports have abandoned certain strategies in recent years and have adopted new ones. Their stated purpose is to get dozens of anti-abortion members elected. Alissa Golob, one of the cofounders of the group RightNow, explained on camera that if, instead of spending two hours holding a sign on the sidewalk, they were to spend that time knocking on doors for a candidate, it would probably be a much more effective use of their time.

In the report that was recorded in June 2019, RightNow explained that it was employing several tactics. First, the group encourages pro-life activists to run for office. Then, during the nomination races in various ridings, it suggests to its supporters that they become members of a party that is running a pro-life candidate and that they vote for that candidate, obviously. Finally, RightNow's volunteers go door to door to find voters who would be willing to support anti-abortion politicians. The day of the election, the group encourages voters to go vote. Without specifically naming them, the lobby admitted to targeting some fifty-odd ridings during the 2019 election.

Scott Hayward, another co-founder of RightNow, explained in the same report that the group's objective was to get into the corridors of power to pass legislation that will reduce the number of abortions in Canada as much as possible. He conceded that the strategy to have a total ban on abortion was doomed to failure. This group's new strategy is to take incremental steps.

Another news report from September 2019 revealed the communications strategy of lobby groups. Their strategy is to attack the consensus that the issue of women's right to control their own bodies is a debate that should be considered to have been closed for decades.

Although the leader of the Conservative Party at the time, the current member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, who has openly stated that he is pro-life, said in the last election campaign that the debate would not be reopened, the same story reported otherwise. The report reminded readers that backbenchers would nevertheless have the right to introduce private members' bills seeking to restrict the right to abortion.

The group We Need a Law is another anti-abortion group. The same news report explained that its approach is to lobby the public and politicians to convince them that Canada needs an abortion law.

It is important to remember that the general situation in Canada is that we trust women to make their own decision, and we trust doctors, who receive guidelines from their associations that cover the stage of pregnancy starting at which specific criteria must be taken into consideration before they can sign off on termination. According to We Need a Law, in order to change the law, we must first change the way people think. For both We Need a Law and Right Now, that means the discourse must be refreshed, but also softened.

These days, anti-abortion groups are deliberately softening their approach. They are moving away from the all-or-nothing route and focusing more on a middle-of-the-road approach, and guess what? One of their strategies involves creating a precedent with abortion-related legislation, particularly by trying to get laws passed that seek to criminalize sex-selective abortion or to ban abortions after a certain point in the pregnancy.

Bill C-233, the bill before us today, fits that pattern exactly. It seeks to chip away at abortion rights with the stated long-term goal of making it harder and harder to access abortion. That is the frame of mind we need to put ourselves in as we examine this bill.

After all that, I have not even talked about the many other problems with Bill C-233, such as the potential interference in areas under Quebec's jurisdiction.

The member for Yorkton—Melville is clearly trying to use the Criminal Code to regulate medical practice, which is not something that falls under federal jurisdiction. However, we have become accustomed to this tactic. It is something that we debated in the House just yesterday during the study of Bill C-268, which seeks to criminalize certain aspects of medical assistance in dying as a way to indirectly sabotage something for which there is a consensus, particularly in Quebec.

I am not even talking about the difficulties associated with implementing Bill C-233, which would involve a major violation of doctor-patient confidentiality for charges to be laid under the Criminal Code provisions Bill C-233 proposes.

Nor am I talking about the possible consequences of this bill for racialized people. If Bill C-233 passes, doctors could engage in profiling by only asking pregnant women of Asian or Indian origin, communities in which sex-selective abortion seems statistically more prevalent.

No, I am going to talk about what is behind Bill C-233.

I am talking about the red herring and the tactic that some members use when they say they do not want to reopen the abortion debate but then turn around and introduce bills like Bill C-233 to do just that. I urge the bill's sponsor and her leader to at least have the decency and transparency to acknowledge the real purpose of the legislation they put forward.

I was born in 1984, only four years before the Supreme Court ruled in the Morgentaler case. From that moment on, logically, my adult life should not have been punctuated by attempts to ensure that others could decide in my stead what is good for me or dictate what I should be doing with my own body. What is being proposed is a step backwards and a disservice to the progress that women's rights have supposedly made since then. That is why I believe it is still relevant to quote Simone de Beauvoir, who said, “Never forget that it only takes one political, economic or religious crisis for women's rights to be put in jeopardy. Those rights can never be taken for granted. You will have to remain vigilant your whole life”.

Let us not be fooled. Let us stay vigilant, as she said. This bill is nothing more than the umpteenth iteration of a form of antiquated bigotry temporarily clad in the guise of feminism, which is suddenly so timely. No matter how sugar-coated the pill is or how polished Bill C-233 looks, we must not lose sight of the fact that, deep down, it is motivated by values that have no place in a democratic institution.

Because I am a woman, because I am a feminist and because I am progressive, I simply cannot support Bill C-233.

The House resumed from April 14 consideration of the motion that Bill C-233, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sex-selective abortion), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Sex SelectionPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

May 7th, 2021 / 12:20 p.m.
See context


Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, the second petition calls upon the House of Commons to pass a Criminal Code prohibition of sex-selective abortion. It is in response to Bill C-233. This is legal in Canada. It is antithetical to our commitment to human rights and equality between men and women. Many polls show that the vast majority of Canadians want to see this in our laws, and Canadian health care professionals are recognizing as well that this is a problem in Canada.

Sex SelectionPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

April 23rd, 2021 / 12:15 p.m.
See context


Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Madam Speaker, my second petition is in regard to Bill C-233, the sex-selective abortion act, calling on the Parliament of Canada to pass an amendment to the Criminal Code prohibiting sex-selective abortion, on the basis that the majority of Canadians believe that it should be illegal to have an abortion if the family does not want the child to be a certain sex: i.e., 16% of Canadians would not agree with this bill. Canada has no legal restrictions, so it is antithetical to our commitment to equality between men and women not to do so.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

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


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.