moved that Bill C-311, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (violence against pregnant women), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to open what I seek to be a respectful debate on a private member's bill, Bill C-311, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding violence against pregnant women.
I stand this evening on behalf of pregnant women who have been and are facing violence while living in fear of injury or loss of their child. I stand humbly advocating on behalf of those who no longer breathe or have their voice and on behalf of their families, who have lost loved ones whose lives were taken in targeted violent crimes.
There are more than 80 cases in recent Canadian history of women who have been killed while pregnant. Each of these women was killed by men who knew they were pregnant. The killers intentionally sought to do harm to the pregnant women and, in many cases, end their pregnancies. As it stands at this moment, we in this place have failed them by not requiring sentencing judges to take these actions into account.
The violence against pregnant women act is simple. It would amend the Criminal Code to ensure that the act of knowingly assaulting a pregnant woman and causing physical or emotional harm to a pregnant woman are factored in as aggravating circumstances for sentencing purposes. For a perpetrator who has been identified and found guilty, the sentence must be required to match the crime.
Every one of us in this place carries the responsibility as legislators to do everything that we can in our roles to denounce and deter gender-based violence in all of its forms. Canada is failing its pregnant women and the children they have chosen to carry to term. Bill C-311, the violence against pregnant women act, reflects our ability to fill this gap in the Criminal Code of Canada. The first question each of us in this place must answer to determine whether we seek to denounce and deter violence against pregnant women is this: Do we truly value women and their choice to be pregnant?
Jeff Durham and Sherry Goberdhan, who spoke to reporters this morning and were with us today, represent families who have been discouraged by the lack of will in this place to champion the choices of Cassie and Arianna to be pregnant and to raise Molly and Asaara.
Jeff said, “Part of what's been lost in this debate is viability of a woman's choice. Two sides of an option make up a choice. You can't protect only one and still call it a choice. It's crazy to me that the argument on one side is against the choice of a woman. I've been thinking about it a lot in terms of reproductive rights. Like, how can we call them reproductive rights and then not extend them to the ones that chose to reproduce. It is so absurd. Someone who believes that such a choice belongs to a woman should be the strongest advocate for something like this.
“The pro-choice community has become disillusioned. They are seeing themselves used as fodder for political gain by politicians, advocacy groups, media and the Prime Minister—all who refuse to value specifically protecting a woman's choice to be pregnant, to carry her child to term, to be protected from intimate partner violence, gender-based violence within Canada's Criminal Code.”
Jeff is not alone. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of Canadians agree.
A position paper outlining six reasons to oppose this bill was sent to all parliamentarians, except me. The author, Joyce Arthur, executive director of Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, who supported this bill when it was part of Cassie and Molly’s law, has changed her mind and validates that change of heart with the following reasons.
First, she says the bill is redundant, as other clauses in the Criminal Code section can cover pregnant victims. In researching through many references of previous cases, I saw that a judge's discretion in using other clauses or choosing to see pregnancy as an aggravating circumstance is truly wanting.
I will give only two of many examples. The first if R v. Cunningham, 2023. It is another tragic case of someone attempting to end the life of a pregnant woman. The appeal seems to hinge on the unfairness of the sentence, but what is interesting is that there are no indications that the fact she was pregnant factored into the sentencing whatsoever.
There is also R v. Kormendy, 2019. The judge there said, “The trial judge did not address the significance of domestic violence, including the fact that the victim was pregnant with the respondent's child, as well as that the attack represented an obvious desire to kill her to solve his own problem of unexpected parenthood.”
Joyce Arthur also said that more effective measures are needed to address gender-based violence. I agree. I could not agree more. Any and every measure we can implement to better protect women when pregnant should be taken.
Last week, I had a call from a young woman who, while pregnant, feared for her life and the life of her child. With the challenges she is facing now, a limited income when food prices are skyrocketing, the inability to work because she wants to take care of her newborn, waiting for room in a shelter, finding a home she can afford, having all of her belongings, credit card and bank account stolen by her abusive and threatening husband, she is nothing short of a strong, determined and very brave woman.
Every measure we can implement to better facilitate pregnant women who are facing violence must be taken. This remarkable woman called me and thanked me for bringing forward the violence against pregnant women act.
And yet, what does Joyce Arthur say? She said that such protections could hypothetically include a degree of legal protection, but only if that would meet a real need according to the anti-gender based violence community, and only if the focus was on the pregnant person and their needs, and not on the pregnancy itself or the fetus.
Partner Jeff Durham, mother Sherry Goberdhan and this young woman who was assaulted and abused are clearly members of the anti-gender based violence community, and their extended families are clearly members of the anti-gender based violence community, yet their voices are being denied by what is truly an extreme claim that only one choice matters.
I encourage those who vote in this place to be brave enough to go to mollymatters.org to see and hear of the many more victims of gender-based violence who are shunned by this statement, which has further traumatized those being told they and their loved ones have no place within the anti-gender based violence community. They are the ones who have faced all this violence.
Joyce Arthur says that no anti-violence group is known to support this bill, and then she goes on to list organizations she is aware of that support the violence against pregnant women act. She defines them as anti-choice groups and implies that because they support this bill they are not anti-violence groups.
Merriam-Webster defines anti-violence as “acting against or opposing violence”, where violence is defined as “the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy” or “an instance of violent [harmful or destructive] treatment or procedure”.
Just as the majority of the pro-choice community is being misrepresented in these reasons not to support Bill C-311, the same can be said of the pro-life community, yet the desire to see pregnancy as an aggravating circumstance is supported by the vast majority of Canadians across the entire spectrum.
The bill has received and is receiving endorsements from other cultural and faith-based groups that support its intent to denounce and deter violence, such as the Overseas Friends of India Canada and the Pakistani Canadian Cultural Association. Pregnancy counselling centres, safe spaces for women who are facing violence during pregnancy, support denouncing and deterring that violence by seeing the violence against pregnant women act supported unanimously in this place, but what is the current government doing? It wants to revoke their charitable status.
On its website, Pregnancy Care Canada states, “for a woman to truly have a choice regarding her unexpected pregnancy, she must have authentic options to choose from—including the option to continue her pregnancy.”
I encourage those who will vote on this bill to review the findings in the 2016 Nanos poll “Canadians’ opinions on crimes against pregnant women”. Nick was surprised that it clearly indicated that 70% of all Canadians and 73% of all Canadian women want to see pregnancy as an aggravating circumstance in Canada’s Criminal Code. They believe in it and want it to happen.
Joyce Arthur says that the motivation behind this bill is suspect. Where have I heard that before? Where are we hearing it today? It is on all kinds of social media, painting the bill as dangerous. When she says that the motivation behind the bill is suspect, what she is really saying is that the bill is suspect because it was put forward by me. What a demeaning attitude toward an issue that is so important to women in this country, yet she supported this very bill herself when it was part of my previous bill that called for protections for pregnant women in the Criminal Code. She saw that unity among most Canadians existed then for what has now been written as the violence against pregnant women act, period.
Joyce Arthur expressed support for my previous bill, but only if the aggravating circumstances portion was kept. That is what Bill C-311 is. At this point, she was onside with most Canadians. She stated, “Because pregnant women are more vulnerable to violence and abuse than non-pregnant women, they fit into the reasoning for aggravating factors.... ARCC would be willing to support it, especially if it might help give some redress and comfort to victims and their families.”
I can tell the House that victims and families across this nation have sensed anything but support from the Liberal government, when they have chosen to carry their children and face these kinds of violent circumstances that were no choice of theirs. It is deplorable. Yet, she did not stand in the gap and challenge the government of the day to support the bill going to committee to consider this amendment. I wonder why.
Unfortunately, and we will witness to what extent in further debate today, current members of Parliament either support or fail to represent the view of the majority of Canadians on the violence against pregnant women act.
Why do supposed anti-gender based violence organizations and politicians refuse to prioritize the safety and security of women when they are pregnant? What is going on there? Why do they choose to turn a deaf ear to the vast majority of Canadians, who want to see this bill passed? What is the motivation for that? Canadians have woken up to what some of that motivation is.
What I find most incomprehensible is when women fail women. There is no justification, for any reason, for any woman, including in this place, to sacrifice the choice of another woman to carry her child to term, to deny their value, to deny what we could do in this place to bring further protections to those women who are attacked, who are killed, who face all kinds of violence. We are ignoring them in this place for another agenda.
Joyce Arthur then says that the bill is already being used to promote fetal rights. I have something to say to that. It is also being used by those who deny fetal rights, and that is wrong on all levels. The majority of Canadians support this, which means that, across the entire spectrum of Canadians, whatever their views are, they see this as something that is absolutely crucial when a woman is pregnant, when she is carrying a child. I do not know about others, but with all these gender reveals, what do they do? They say, “I am having a baby, and I am calling him or her this.” Arianna named Asaara. Jeff and Cassie named Molly. This is normal behaviour, and we are acting as though it is something we do not want to see happen, that we protect these women.
Again, along with other significant findings, the 2016 Nanos poll “Canadians' opinions on crimes against pregnant women”, which members can look up, indicates that 70% of all Canadians and 73% of women in Canada want to see pregnancy as an aggravating circumstance in Canada's Criminal Code.
We, as legislators, must respond to the clear consensus of Canadians. It is fully within Parliament's role to amend Canada's Criminal Code to ensure that the act of knowingly assaulting a pregnant woman and causing physical or emotional harm to a pregnant woman is factored in as an aggravating circumstance for sentencing purposes.
I have a couple more thoughts.
Joyce Arthur ends with this final point of her six points, that two Liberal MPs immediately saw through the bill. Really? They saw through the bill. Apparently, today, a whole bunch more saw through the bill. At a press conference this morning, while mine was on, they were seeing through the bill. These two female Liberal MPs and others who are taking that stand, turning a blind eye to this—