moved that Bill C-510, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (coercion), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to stand in the House today to speak in support of Bill C-510, known as Roxanne's Law, and I do so on behalf of Roxanne's family, including her sister, Ana Maria.
This legislation would give much needed protection to pregnant women, empowering them to press charges should someone coerce them into ending their pregnancy.
The day Roxanne Fernando arrived in Canada from the Philippines was one of the best days of her life. She had been waiting a long time to see her sister again. Roxanne's life in Canada started off so well as she easily made friends. After her friend Sandy got her a job as a server at the Radisson Hotel in Winnipeg, Roxanne quickly became everyone's favourite. Sandy recalls the time when Roxanne was out with about eight co-workers after their shift and, when no one was noticing, Roxanne paid for everyone's dinner. They all pleaded with her to take their money knowing the humble means that she had but she would not take their money. Her friends meant a lot to her.
Roxanne was also excited about her new boyfriend. She met her boyfriend at a restaurant where they both worked. What started as a normal relationship, changed quickly when Roxanne became pregnant in early 2007. Roxanne's excitement at being pregnant was not shared by her boyfriend. Her boyfriend immediately began threatening and coercing Roxanne into having an abortion. After being rejected the first time, her boyfriend returned to continue the pressure and threats but in the end Roxanne would not change her mind. Roxanne was choosing to have her baby.
Unfortunately, her boyfriend would decide to take his coercive threats a terrible step further and devised a plan to kill her. Her boyfriend and some friends he hired beat Roxanne to the edge of death with a hockey stick and left her in a snowbank to die.
Roxanne's final moments are very disturbing. Roxanne likely cried out for help in that field and she died thinking no one could hear her. Today, however, in the House of Commons her voice is being heard.
This bill might be based on Roxanne Fernando but there are many Roxannes across this country and, sadly, many of these vulnerable women are often targeted for violence. When women find themselves in dangerous situations and without specific legal protection, they may feel that an unwanted abortion is their only option. Roxanne's law would empower pregnant women to take legal action should they be intimidated and pressured into ending their pregnancy. Had this bill been in place in 2007, it would have been much easier for Roxanne to press charges against her boyfriend when he was coercing her to end her pregnancy.
Bill C-510 would communicate to all Canadians that coercing a woman to end her pregnancy against her will is wrong and unacceptable in a nation that values compassion, justice and human rights.
Roxanne's Law would not affect women's access to abortion in any way. With this law in place, Canada will continue to have no legal restrictions on the procedure permitted in all nine months of pregnancy. However, t for those women who choose to have their baby, this law would give them added protection to fulfill their hopes and dreams of having a family.
Pregnant women are not adequately protected by our current laws. Our current laws against coercion and uttering threats do not specifically address the issue of abortion coercion. Roxanne's story demonstrates that this type of coercion takes place but I am not aware of any cases where a person has been charged under our existing laws. This is proof that clarity in our law is necessary.
Roxanne's Law, Bill C-510, would clarify the law by defining what exactly constitutes coercive behaviour in the context of an unwanted abortion, making such behaviour a criminal offence and liable to imprisonment for a period ranging from 18 months to 5 years, depending on the circumstances. This would send a clear message to everyone in Canada that coercing a woman into ending her pregnancy when she has chosen to remain pregnant will not be tolerated. Knowledge is power and such clarity will empower women with the knowledge of their rights.
As a result, coercive behaviour toward pregnant women should decrease in the future and, hopefully, tragedies, similar to what happened to Roxanne, will be averted. When coercive behaviour does occur, women will be empowered to take legal action before the coercion escalates to more serious forms of violence.
Opponents of this bill have said that it would criminalize those who provide counselling to pregnant women. This is entirely false. Any discussion of the various pregnancy options in a non-threatening manner is perfectly legitimate. For added clarity, there is an exemption in clause 3 of the bill for speech related to lawful pregnancy options in any speech that is protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Opponents have also indicated concern about the use of the word “child” in clause 3 as it pertains to the unborn. However, the Criminal Code's language concerning a pre-born baby currently uses only the word “child” and, in the interests of simplicity, there is no reason to add a new word.
The member for Halifax has suggested that she would prefer using the word “fetus”. Although that term is currently not used in the Criminal Code, an amendment to introduce that term and use it instead of “child” could easily be made at committee. This change would not alter the intent of Roxanne's law and would likely be accepted as a friendly amendment.
What do the international and legal communities say about coerced abortion?
At the International Conference on Population and Development, the international community agreed, in paragraph 8.25 of the ICPD program of action that:
Coerced abortion is explicitly recognized as a violation of basic human rights and principles.
Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board has strongly condemned coerced abortion.
In a 2004 case, a Chinese woman, who had been involved in carrying out China's so-called family planning policies, was claiming refugee status in Canada. Thomas H. Kemsly, who wrote the decision, referred to forced or coerced abortion as “a crime against humanity”, ”an act of barbarous cruelty that shocks the conscience”, and “contrary to human dignity”. “Forced” abortion was considered “to include situations when a woman 'agrees' to an abortion after extreme, unrelenting psychological pressure and threats”. Because of her involvement in forcing and coercing women in China to end their pregnancies, this woman was found to have committed crimes against humanity and her claim for refugee status in Canada was thus denied.
Not only do we deny refugee status to those who have committed forced or coerced abortions abroad, but we also protect refugee claimants who are targets of such coercive policies. The Refugee Protection Division of Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board has granted protection to women who fear being victims of China's one-child policy.
For example, one claimant who had become pregnant a second time in violation of that country's one-child policy was arrested when she was eight months' pregnant and forced to end her pregnancy. The refugee division found that she had been persecuted by being forced to have an abortion and that there was more than a mere possibility that she would suffer either another procedure, forced sterilization or both if she returned to China.
Clearly, then, we know that when justice and compassion demands this, it is given to our refugee claimants.
It is now time we act justly and compassionately when it comes to women who face coerced abortion right here in Canada. It is now time to give Canadian women legal protection against the same coercive behaviour we condemn at refugee hearings and use as a basis for granting or denying refugee status. It is now time for Roxanne's law.
Roxanne's law would help vulnerable women to safety continue a wanted pregnancy by acting as a deterrent to coercive behaviour. Roxanne's law would empower to press charges should someone attempt to coerce them into ending their pregnancy. Bill C-510 would become a new tool in the fight against domestic abuse.
We cannot continue to ignore the dangerous situations many pregnant women find themselves in when they choose to continue a pregnancy. When a pregnant woman is faced with intense and repeated pressure to have an abortion against her will, her ability to bring her wanted child safely to term is threatened. No one has a right to threaten, intimidate or badger a woman into ending her pregnancy just because that person thinks her child is an unwanted burden. No pregnant woman should ever have to choose between protecting herself and protecting her baby.
I repeat that no pregnant woman should ever have to choose between protecting herself and protecting her baby. A compassionate society such as Canada cannot abandon a woman who is already dealing with the many challenges of pregnancy when she is facing such intense threats and coercion. Surely we have an obligation to give a woman the best chance possible to bring her wanted child safely to term. Bill C-510 would provide explicit protection so that a mother could make it safely through the pregnancy and fulfill every parent's greatest wish to have a healthy child.
Our own Supreme Court of Canada emphasized this obligation and recognized the value of pregnancy in Dobson v. Dobson:
Pregnancy represents not only the hope of future generations but also the continuation of the species. It is difficult to imagine a human condition that is more important to society.
Abortion is obviously a very emotional issue that divides Canadians. There are intelligent and passionate women and men on each side and this bill does not judge either side. I hope that no matter how each of us feels about this issue, we can join together to protect women who are being threatened and intimidated into having abortions they do not want. For Roxanne's sake and for the many women who suffer from this form of abuse, I hope we can look past the rhetoric and provide them with some much needed protection.
A few weeks ago I spoke at a banquet at the Radisson Hotel in Winnipeg. As I often do these days, I told the story of Roxanne Fernando. All of the staff in the room were welling up with emotion. After I sat back down in my seat, a few of them came over and told me that Roxanne had been serving in that very room just a few years ago. They were her co-workers and friends. It was a stark reminder of how connected this person was to my home community and how important it is to remember Roxanne for her bravery.
I ask my fellow members of Parliament to honour the memory of Roxanne Fernando, to stand up for pregnant women and to vote in favour of Bill C-510 at second reading. Roxanne Fernando is a Canadian hero.