Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak in support of this great bill.
It is important for all members to be fully informed before they vote on Bill C-510, so I want to address several misconceptions about this bill that were revealed during the first hour of debate.
First, the bill was criticized for using language that was vague and would therefore be subject to a charter challenge. The member who made these comments referred to phrases used in the bill, such as “compel by pressure”, which he said was quite new, and “rancorous badgering”, which he said was extremely new.
Quite honestly, in fact, while the language may seem unusual, the member for Winnipeg South has been assured by legal experts that it comes from long, settled legal jurisprudence.
I also understand from legal experts that the threshold for deeming a law vague is high, and in their opinion the wording used in Bill C-510 gives clear direction as to what is prohibited and how the section should be enforced.
Terms used, such as rancorous badgering, as previously mentioned, and coercion have been considered and upheld by various courts in both criminal and labour law cases. These terms, along with others found in the bill, therefore provide sufficient guidance to avoid allegations of vagueness.
Second, during the debate, one member claimed that this bill would restrict access to freedom of choice. The truth is that the bill actually expands the pregnant woman's choice and freedom to protect her against anyone who uses coercive means to take away her freedom to continue her pregnancy.
The only choice restricted by this bill is the choice of a third party who wants to impose an abortion on a woman against her will.
Should this bill be enacted into law, full legal access to abortion will still be available to women who freely choose that option. It would be no different, the same as today.
Third, a very serious misreading of the existing Criminal Code is obviously behind the statement made by a member who said, “This bill recognizes the fetus as a child and therefore a person with legal status”.
If the member's comments were actually true, that is, if recognizing the fetus as a child in the Criminal Code implies that the fetus is a person with legal status, then that would mean that the fetus is a person with legal status right now, that is today, because the Criminal Code as it exists today also refers to the fetus as a child. Obviously that would have a legal impact on abortion today without Bill C-510.
The member was incorrect in stating that the use of the word “child” implies anything about personhood. The Criminal Code currently uses the term “child” and only that term when referring to the fetus. The Criminal Code, much to the disappointment of pro-life people, quite honestly defines human beings in section 223(1) as follows:
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.
Fourth, the same member was also incorrect when she stated that Bill C-510 contradicts the election promises of the Conservative Party. During the last election, its platform stated, “A Conservative Government will not support any legislation to regulate abortion”.
Of course there are two problems with this statement. First, Bill C-510 has nothing to do with the Conservative government. It is a private member's bill, not a government bill. Second, while it is true that the Conservative government does have a policy as described by the member, Bill C-510 does not go against that policy.
As I said before, and it bears repeating because people do not seem to understand this point, this bill does not regulate abortion in any way.
Bill C-510 does not prohibit a single abortion and it does not regulate a single abortion. It deals only with behaviour that aims to impose an abortion on a woman who does not want it.
Not only does Bill C-510 not go against existing Conservative policy; it actually is supported by another Conservative policy adopted in 2008, which recognizes the need for additional protection for pregnant women.
Fifth, another member criticized the bill for being totally redundant. She claimed it was entirely covered already by existing Criminal Code offences. Whether every single behaviour that could conceivably be captured by Bill C-510 is already sprinkled throughout various existing provisions in the Criminal Code is not at all clear. While there is certainly some overlap, it is almost certain that some of what constitutes abortion coercion in Bill C-510 would not be a crime today.
What is clear is that, while coercion clearly occurs, we are all well aware from various reports, as well as from personal testimonies, that no one has been charged with this offence. This means that our current laws are not doing their job.
It hardly matters if something is already illegal if no one, including the victim, the perpetrator or the police, actually knows it is illegal. Bill C-510 would clarify the law. With a clear law on the books, a law that defines abortion coercion explicitly, which no law currently does, pregnant women would be more aware of their rights and would be empowered to take action before it is too late, not after.
The general public would also become more aware and this would help curb coercive behaviour against pregnant women in the first place. I believe Bill C-510 would raise the public conscience to a new level of respect for pregnant women, which would have a positive impact not only on the lives of women but the whole of Canadian society.
We already have offences that one could argue are not necessary because more general provisions would cover them. For example, let us use the definition of assault. It is intentionally very broad, intended to encompass all sorts and forms of assault, but Parliament chose to add sections specifying assault with a weapon, aggravated assault, sexual assault and assault causing bodily harm. These crimes were specified because they were deemed unambiguously worthy of condemnation. I hope the critics of Bill C-510 are not implying that coercing a woman to abort a wanted pregnancy is not especially worthy of condemnation.
It is significant to note that this type of law also exists in other free democratic societies. For example, translation of a German law states, “whosever unlawfully with force or threat of serious harm causes a person to commit, suffer or omit an act shall be liable to imprisonment...”. An especially serious case typically occurs if the offender causes a pregnant woman to terminate a pregnancy.
In Italy, any person inducing a pregnancy termination without the consent of the woman shall be liable to four to eight years imprisonment. Consent extracted by violence or threats or under false pretenses shall be deemed not to be granted.
Laws also exist in France and some U.S. states.
Bill C-510 has the potential to do much good. The criticisms made against it are based on misunderstandings of the bill and misunderstandings about laws that exist today. Numerous other jurisdictions worldwide have similar laws. Women today, especially those who are in vulnerable situations, can only be helped by such a law. It would have no impact on the current legal status of abortion in this country.
I support this bill, and I see no reason to prevent it from getting a fair hearing at committee.