This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-31.

Topics

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-484, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (injuring or causing the death of an unborn child while committing an offence), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Unborn Victims of Crime ActPrivate Members' Business

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-484. I will start by saying that, as a woman, I would have never believed that I would still be here fighting for the rights of women. It has been a fierce battle, waged by so many women before me.

The Conservatives, with this bill, are implicitly trying to achieve an objective, that is, restrict the right to abortion. I will explain.

With this bill, the Conservatives hope to add a new offence to the Criminal Code. This bill proposes that an individual who directly or indirectly, causes the death of a child during birth or at any stage of development before birth while committing or attempting to commit an offence against the mother of the child, who the person knows or ought to know is pregnant—is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for life and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of 10 years if the person means to cause the child’s death...

Basically, a person who assaults a pregnant woman and causes the death of the fetus could be charged with murder. As the member said, this bill would introduce a new offence. The text of the bill provides that the pregnant woman herself can be charged with causing the death of the fetus inside her. Clearly, the battle for women's rights is not yet won. The bill clearly states that in cases of a crime committed against an unborn child, a fetus, a person cannot use the defence that the child was not a human being.

Gestation of the unborn child begins with conception and ends with birth. Case law has confirmed that an unborn child is not a legal person. I understand that such a clause can apply at the moment of birth, when the fetus becomes a human being. It is something else entirely to grant these rights to an unborn child, a fetus, when it is not a separate entity from its mother.

The Conservatives are trying to make substantial changes to the Criminal Code's definition of a child, which is quite specific. Section 223 of the Criminal Code states that:

223.(1) A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother, whether or not

(a) it has breathed;

(b) it has an independent circulation; or

(c) the navel string is severed.

I am sure you will agree that the government is making a surreptitious attempt to deprive women of their freedom of choice regarding abortion.

After attacking the right to abortion by questioning the medical necessity of that procedure, the government is now attacking that right by attempting to recognize the rights of the fetus. It seems that this bill was devised to set a precedent for recognizing the fetus' right to life and thereby restrict the right to abortion and perhaps even abolish it completely.

It is up to women to decide. They have their own reasons for their choices. This is a pro-life bill that is trying to hide behind the concept of the unborn child. This bill opens the door to limiting women's power to be free and to make the choices they have the right to make.

I was recently reading some surveys and responses to surveys. We learned that the Conservative member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park, who describes himself as pro-life, had said in response to a survey conducted by the Campaign Life Coalition for the 2006 federal election that he considered that human life began at conception. In 1997, he responded that if he was elected, he would work to remove abortion from the services covered by the Canada Health Act. He is not the first Conservative member to have said that. There are also rumours going around about a committee being formed here in the House with both Conservative and Liberal members.

The previous bill the Conservatives introduced was similar, but was deemed unconstitutional. A few changes have been made to it, but the objective is the same. The Conservatives' determination is an indirect threat to women's rights, and that threat is evident in the member's remarks.

He is trying to do indirectly what he would like to do directly.

No one is happy about an abortion. It is not something anyone wishes for. But women must be able to make that choice, for any number of reasons. Women are entitled to have their decision honoured. It is a difficult decision they do not take lightly. Women fought long and hard to win the right to abortion.

With this bill, the Conservatives are trying, in a roundabout way, to attack those rights by making dangerous statements or by attempting to give legal personality to the fetus. They are separating the fetus from the mother and rewriting the legal definition of the child. That is what they are trying to do with this bill.

Women have a fundamental right to interrupt a pregnancy. It is a way of exerting control over their lives and their living conditions. This bill challenges women's rights. The courts have repeatedly had to rule on the right of the fetus and the possibility of restraining the conduct of the mother in order to protect the child's right to be born. In every case, the Supreme Court has refused to invade the privacy of pregnant women and limit their right to freedom and independence.

This was the case in Tremblay v. Daigle, in which a father sought an injunction to prevent the mother from having an abortion, claiming that the fetus had a right to life. The Supreme Court once again ruled that only human beings have constitutional rights and that these rights start at the time of live birth. The Court also rejected the father's claim that he had rights over the fetus as a father. The Court determined that the father could not obtain an injunction to prevent the pregnant mother from exercising her constitutional right to choose to have an abortion.

With all due respect to the members, the consensus in society is clear and was evident during the last election campaign. The Leader of the Conservative Party himself made a commitment not to reopen the abortion debate. The measure proposed in Bill C-484 goes against that commitment. The House will obviously have to look at this issue and women will have a decision to make come election time. It is clear that the lobbies who subscribe to moral and social conservatism are hard at work in the back rooms of Ottawa. We need to be vigilant. Putting an initial restriction on abortion opens the door to a whole series of other restrictions.

With respect to the rights of the fetus, there is already a large body of case law arguing that the fetus is not a human being. I think that the mistake in this bill is to try to change the definition of a child. The law is clear on the definition of a human being.

I urge the House not to support this bill, which opens the door to the criminalization of abortion. There is a hidden objective in this bill to prevent a woman from choosing whether or not to have a child.

Unborn Victims of Crime ActPrivate Members' Business

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity this afternoon, in the dying moments of this fall session, to speak to Bill C-484, a bill that its sponsor has chosen to entitle the unborn victims of crime bill.

Having reviewed this private member's bill, and even before hearing the speech of the member who has introduced it, I came to the conclusion that there were some major concerns about it. They have lead me to indicate that I am unable to support such a bill.

It is a private member's bill and it is important to remember that. Every member has the opportunity to consider where he or she stands on the bill. However, a brief discussion among my colleagues does not lead to the conclusion that there is a great deal of support or enthusiasm for the bill.

At the outset, I do not doubt for a moment the sincerity of the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park. I listened to his comments, which came after my having read the bill. Therefore, I was even more intent on listening to what he would say in introducing the bill, to determine whether he would dispel some of the very uncomfortable concerns I had about the possible implications of the bill.

He devoted a considerable part of his speech in the House this afternoon to the victims of families that have lost a wanted child, the successful outcome of a pregnancy through a violent attack on a pregnant women.

I do not think there is a single member here, regardless of where they stand on this bill, who cannot empathize 100% with the grief that such a loss would cause an individual and their loved ones. However, it has reminded me that there is a good reason why we do not turn over the drafting, or the crafting or the adoption of laws in a democratic and diverse society to people who are singled out for being grief-stricken by personal tragedy.

I did not expect to say this until I listened to the amount of focus on the issue of grief, but I returned briefly in my own life experience to my period of time as a psychiatric social worker. Grief is a very normal human emotion, and it is something around which we comfort people and support them. However, we also know that grief is almost always accompanied by feelings of anger, despair, rage and quite often revenge.

In our democratic society, we have long decided that revenge is not a proper basis for drafting or adopting our laws. A great deal of psychiatric evidence indicates that if there is a great deal of reinforcement for the notion of revenge, when someone has suffered a loss through a violent, unacceptable act, it impairs the emotional healing process.

I do not want to go further down that road, but my discomfort with the bill, before hearing the comments of the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park, has been deepened and intensified by the amount of emphasis he placed on the issue of grief, anger and rage. I do not question his sincerity about identifying and empathizing with the grief, but I think it is a very questionable basis for introducing such a law.

Let me say that I also heard many comments about how this is something that women very much want and need, and he even referred to some polling. I have to say I would need to be convinced based on a great deal more information than he shared, but if he wanted to share the basis for a claim that there is a very high percentage of women who are really looking for this, I would give it my consideration.

However, I would find it extremely surprising, because I have to say that in my almost 40 years of involvement in the women's movement, and my 28 years in public life, where it has been well known that I very much see the responsibility of myself and every other woman in public life to be responsive to women's concerns, I have never had a single woman, a single advocate, a single representative of a single organization, or an individual family member come to me and say that this is a law they would like to see implemented.

That does not mean it is not worthy of introduction and consideration, I want to say that, but to cite it as something that large numbers of women want and need, I find surprising. Maybe I am a little bit suspicious about that, when I would think that if this was something widely felt and wanted by women there might be some indication in the House and there would be a good number of women here for this debate and wanting to put forward their views.

Maybe I am a little unfair in saying this, but in regard to coming from the caucus with by far the least number of women in the House, then one wonders whether it is really an authoritative basis for the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park to talk about how much women want and need this.

I will speak from my own personal experience. In my region of Atlantic, the government party has run 32 men for Parliament in the 32 seats in Atlantic Canada, so I am not sure about the authoritativeness of speaking on behalf of women's pressing needs.

Let me say, however, that there are a lot of things women desperately need that have been ignored by the government. Not one of them that has ever come to my attention is a call for this kind of bill. Women certainly need a lot more protection against domestic violence and violence that is visited on them in far too many communities.

I would say that at the heart of my concern about the bill is that it does indeed arouse considerable concern, real apprehension, about whether it is in fact a thinly veiled step in the direction of recriminalizing abortion in our country. I am sure there are going to be protestations, with people saying, no, no, that was made clear, the language was made clear and all the rest of it, but let me say that it further made me uncomfortable to hear several references, both from the Conservative sponsor of the bill and from the Liberal who spoke in support of it, to a number of American states, mostly southern U.S. states, and in particular, South Carolina, as one of the states that has had considerable experience with this bill.

Let me say the evidence is very clear that the bill not only could become a thin edge of the wedge in the direction of recriminalizing abortion, but actually identified as one of the benefits of the bill is that to adopt such a bill could in fact accomplish that very objective that sponsors of the bill in South Carolina have cited as the reason for their introduction of the bill.

There are many more things I could say, but I think that in the final analysis the point is that women need to be protected far more effectively and aggressively against violence, and that is the best way to protect vulnerable fetuses. If that were the objective, then we would be very much wanting to support such a bill.

We do not, however, feel persuaded. As I say, it is a private member's bill. I do not want to speak for others in my caucus, but I, for one, am very uncomfortable with where the bill is intended to go and what its real purpose is. I want to say that those concerns have already been expressed by a good many of my colleagues, so I think members have gotten the impression: I will not be supporting this private member's bill.

Unborn Victims of Crime ActPrivate Members' Business

4 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to private member's bill, Bill C-484, which aims to amend the Criminal Code with respect to the injury or causing the death of an unborn child. I commend my colleague, the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park, who proposes the creation of new offences and penalties where an unborn child is injured or killed when an offence is committed against the mother.

I believe the majority of the members in the House agree with the intent of my colleague's bill.

On a personal note, his heartfelt passion to ensure that violence against women and children does not occur is very compelling. I have looked at all his notes and the bill very carefully I support 100% the intent of the bill.

Surely a criminal assault that seeks to involve or harm an expected child is deserving of a sanction. However, I am not yet convinced that the private member's bill in this form is the best way to proceed without a bit of further examination. I have some concerns that the bill may reduce rather than increase the actual penalty for causing harm or death to an unborn child, and I will tell members why.

Subsection 223(2) and section 238 of the Criminal Code currently provides some protection to the unborn child by stating that a person commits homicide by killing an unborn child in the act of birth, under certain conditions. Both offences carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The Criminal Code also contains comprehensive assault and homicide offences, which apply to violent acts against pregnant women. Under the accumulated common law, resulting harm to unborn children is considered an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes and the offender is punished severely.

Should the code permit two charges to be laid in such cases, as proposed by Bill C-484, it is likely that the two sentences would be served concurrently. Pregnancy, as an aggravating factor, could no longer be taken into account and, therefore, the end result ultimately could be a shorter sentence than is currently provided for in the law.

I do not believe this is the intent of this important bill, but we have to realize that it could be the result and we have to guard against that.

I would respectfully suggest that perhaps what is most needed is a Criminal Code amendment to allow for consecutive sentences for offences of this nature, as well as other serious personal injury offences.

During the last election campaign, our government proposed that sentences for multiple convictions be served consecutively. I have spoken with the justice minister and I am confident he will introduce legislation early in the new year to address this deficiency in the law.

The justice minister has been extremely busy over the course of the year. Our government's efforts and our aggressive law and order agenda, including Bill C-2, the tacking violent crime act, are very much appreciated by women all across the nation.

Bill C-2, which is currently before the Senate, merges most of the criminal laws from the last session of Parliament into one comprehensive bill, and we know what that bill includes. It includes mandatory minimum penalties for firearm offences, age of protection, dangerous offenders, impaired driving and reverse onus on bail for firearm offence.

The proposed reforms to deal with dangerous and repeat violent offenders are of particular importance to this dialogue today to address a concern that I believe needs to be looked at today in the context of this very important debate, which is violence against women and children in general.

The dangerous offender proposals are designed to address concerns with respect to the ability of police, crown prosecutors and the courts to sentence and manage the threat posed to the general public by individuals who are at very high risk to reoffend sexually and violently. The victims of sexual and violent assaults are all too often women.

Under Bill C-2, where offenders are convicted of a third sufficiently serious offence, the Crown must formally advise the court that it has considered whether to bring a dangerous offender application forward. The declaration requirement is intended to ensure more consistent use of the dangerous offender sentence by Crowns in all jurisdictions.

Where the Crown decides to bring such an application, an offender convicted of a third primary designated offence, a narrow and proportionate list of the 12 most serious and violent sexual offences that commonly trigger a dangerous offender designation, and often that is involved in this kind of a crime that we are speaking of today, will be presumed to be a dangerous offender unless he or she could prove otherwise.

Bill C-2 also proposes reforms to ensure that persons who are designated as dangerous offenders are appropriately sentenced.

I do not want to go over my time and I want to make sure that I get everything that I wanted to say said. The approach our government has taken has been a step in the right direction to bring law and order to our country. We are all familiar with Bill C-2.

Early last month the Minister of Canadian Heritage acknowledged woman abuse prevention month in Ontario. Members were talking about combating violence against women and women abuse, and these are common threads in legislation here in Parliament. In Winnipeg several projects were announced recently, one of which is to combat violence against women with intellectual disabilities.

I want to applaud our government for its efforts to recognize and prevent violence against women. I want to particularly applaud the member for bringing this bill forward. I reiterate my support for the intent of this private member's bill.

I do question its effectiveness in its present form in actually providing lengthier jail terms for the offence of injuring or causing the death of an unborn child while committing an assault against the mother. This type of horrendous, abhorrent crime must be addressed. Having said that, all these issues should be taken into consideration so that this bill achieves its intended objective.

Unborn Victims of Crime ActPrivate Members' Business

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat uncomfortable with this bill. I was listening before to the speech by the NDP member for Halifax and I agree with what she said.

As a Catholic priest, I find it somewhat difficult to relate to this bill quite simply because the member who tabled it belongs to a pro-life group, the Campaign Life Coalition, which, in my humble opinion, is a fairly extremist and fanatical group. I am pro-life, but I do not belong to that group.

In my opinion, this bill will open the door to recriminalizing women who have an abortion, and that is not a good thing. I am against abortion, but I do not believe that is how we will deal with the problem of abortion. I have always stated that we need education, support and assistance for women dealing with unwanted pregnancy. In my opinion, the problem of abortion will be solved with these types of measures and not by recriminalizing abortion. I absolutely do not want that.

When a pregnant woman is assaulted or killed and her fetus is killed at the same time, I agree completely that it is an abominable crime. It is revolting, but at the same time I believe that when the fetus is in its mother's womb, they are one being. Only when it leaves her womb does it become a child. I believe that is the Supreme Court definition of 1969.

I know that killing a pregnant woman, like any murder, is a serious matter. However, I believe it is dangerous to establish a new law that would treat the murder of the fetus and of the mother as a double murder. I believe that it is dangerous and that is not how we will put an end to abortion. Not in this way.

As I just said, it is more through education, support, love and understanding. There are any numbers of things we can do to reduce the abortion rate in this country. As long as we fail to take control of the situation and we fail to be there to help these pregnant women, who are often facing financial difficulties or problems in their relationship, until we resolve those problems, there will always be abortions. That is what is needed, rather than—through new legislation, that is Bill C-484—recriminalizing the murder of a pregnant woman.

I also mentioned that pro-life group, Campaign Life Coalition. I know that the president of the Quebec group is Luc Gagnon. That group's journal is always full of condemnations and rejections, and there is never any love or compassion in their journal. In my view, what is needed is compassion when a woman is dealing with a pregnancy caused by rape or any unwanted pregnancy. I do not feel there is any compassion within that group. I therefore oppose that pro-life group, just I oppose the pro-choice group, whose views are, in my opinion, too exaggerated, too unrealistic.

As I was saying, I think a moderate approach is needed. It is not by creating new legislation that we will successfully reduce the number of abortions and creating new committees, if we can say—

Unborn Victims of Crime ActPrivate Members' Business

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I am sorry to have to interrupt the hon. member, but the time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 4:12 p.m., pursuant to order made earlier today, the House stands adjourned until Monday, January 28, 2008 at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Orders 28 and 24(1).

I hope all my colleagues have a merry Christmas and a safe and happy holiday season.

(The House adjourned at 4:12 p.m.)