Mr. Speaker, let me start out by congratulating the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park on finally managing to get a private member's bill before the House. I should point out just for the record that getting private members' bills into the House is not a question simply of merit. There is a bit of mathematical chance involved so all of us are treated fairly equally, but I am sorry the member had to wait so long to get a bill in front of us.
I should also note that the member for Vegreville—Wainwright had a bill similar to this one but not identical before the House in a previous Parliament.
The member opposite speaks of the grief that accompanies death or serious injury as a result of a criminal act. I have often found it difficult in the House and the justice committee to import that element of grief. It is very real for all of the victims, their families and friends and for Canadians. I often find that the analysis of our laws around here is pretty clinical and academic at times, pretty legalistic, so I thank the member for putting on the record the emotional and the grief components that accompany this area of law.
Bill C-484 attempts to address what is arguably a gap in our criminal law, and it has been a gap for some time. One might ask why it has been a gap or why we have failed to note the protection that should be accorded to a pregnant woman and her child. We certainly afford protection to the woman.
It is perhaps the long national debate over the termination of pregnancies, that whole field, that has obscured this particular piece, and I am pleased that the House now has an opportunity to deal with it.
Having said that, it is important to note that this bill meticulously imports the element of mens rea, the element of intention into the bill. It makes sure that the perpetrator, in order to be charged and convicted, has to know that there is a woman who was pregnant and victimized by a criminal act. That is a very important component linking the perpetrator to the wrongdoing involved. If we were not to do that, there could be a scenario where the perpetrator of a crime might not be aware of the pregnancy, and in our criminal law we almost never convict people in law unless they know the consequence of what they are doing.
There is a section of the Criminal Code that now partially, some will say very partially, protects the unborn child, the fetus. Section 238 makes it an offence to cause death during the act of birth, causing death to the child being born in the act of birth. That is a very narrow window of time. Of course, this bill looks well in advance of the time of birth.
I am advised that according to the National Conference of State Legislatures in the U.S.A., our neighbour to the south, some 37 states have fetal homicide laws, in other words, laws that protect the unborn child, the fetus. Two of those 37 states have developed their law, not by passing laws in their legislatures, but by judicial case decisions, by judicial case law.
Each state in the U.S. develops its own criminal law in this field. In Canada we do it cross-country. We have one Criminal Code. I say that to signal that Canada would not be alone in this. In fact, we are not even near the front of the pack on this, as my friend earlier pointed out.
One other thing I want to mention is that the bill explicitly by its own terms does not deal with the lawful termination of a pregnancy consented to by the mother. It does not deal with that category of action, but it does very much deal with protecting an unborn child during a criminal act directed at the mother knowing that the mother is pregnant.
In layman's terms, I ask myself the question, who could reasonably deny to a child prior to birth during an assault or another criminal attack on the mother, knowing that the mother is pregnant, the protection of the Criminal Code that that child deserves? I could not deny that. It sounds so very reasonable. Admittedly the circumstances where it might occur are not going to be too common but it just takes one instance.
My friend from Edmonton—Sherwood Park has put on record reference to a number of incidents where exactly this kind of thing has happened. In a world of over six billion people and a country of 33 million, there are going to be unfortunate incidents.
I believe that we should act now to pass this law. I could not deny that protection and I do not believe my constituents would either.
My friend has pointed out that according to some polling, 75% of Canadians agree some form of law would be appropriate. I am one of those 75%. I think my constituents would support me in that. I will be supporting this bill.