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House of Commons Hansard #116 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was haitian.

Topics

The House resumed from November 1 consideration of the motion that Bill C-510, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (coercion), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When this matter was last before the House, the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar had the floor, and there are five minutes remaining in the time allotted for her remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, since I stood in the House last month to speak in support of Roxanne's Law, I have heard from countless Canadians across the country, especially women, expressing their strong support for the bill, which would give Canadian women much needed protection against unwanted abortions.

The evidence completely dispels the notion expressed last month in this chamber that women do not want this protection. Nothing I have seen, heard or read could be further from the truth.

The sad reality is that abortion coercion does take place in Canada. We all know about Roxanne Fernando who was murdered by the father of her unborn child after refusing to end her pregnancy. A recent case involving abortion coercion in Calgary also had a fatal outcome. Melinda Morin was convicted of manslaughter for killing her boyfriend in a fit of rage after he attacked her during an argument about her pregnancy. He wanted her to have an abortion but she refused.

Those two examples tell us that if a women is feeling threatened into an unwanted abortion, she may be either the victim or the perpetrator of violence. Both are extreme and tragic examples of what can happen when others try to impose unwanted abortions on pregnant women. I am certainly not saying that all cases involving abortion coercion will end in violence but those stories do illustrate this tragic and deadly outcome that can result when we, as a society, do not take abortion coercion seriously and when we do not condemn it loudly and clearly, as Roxanne's Law would surely do.

While most cases of abortion coercion do not end in the death of either the pregnant women or the person who is pressuring them to terminate their pregnancy, any successful attempt at abortion coercion will always result in the death of that woman's wanted unborn child. Turning a blind eye to this reality violates Canadians' high standards of justice and human rights. It is no wonder our own refugee board has called forced and coerced abortion a crime against humanity.

Some women in Canada are forced to abort when the fetus is female. The practice of aborting baby girls has been strongly condemned by UNICEF and various medical organizations, including the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada. A UN rep in 2005 said about this practice:

It is fundamentally wrong, morally wrong, socially wrong and developmentally wrong to tolerate, stand and watch such acts of sex selection and violence against girls.

It was also strongly denounced by the member for Vancouver South, a former Liberal health minister, who wrote in April 2008 in the Ottawa Citizen:

Sex selection for the purpose of committing female feticide is one of the most heinous acts of violence and hatred inflicted on women.

A report in October 2009 in the Toronto Star, highlighted the case of one pregnant woman who sought help from a community health centre that serves the community that has a preference for male children. The woman was pregnant for the third time with a female child. Her family forced her to abort her two previous pregnancies because they did not want girl babies. She was hoping to save the third female child. However, the centre lost contact with the woman for a period of time and, when they did manage to contact her again, the woman said that she had a miscarriage.

We need to send the message loudly and clearly that forcing and coercing women to abort their children is not acceptable behaviour. We need to promote a culture of respect for women who make the choice to be mothers. We need to give Canadian women the assurance that the law will be there to protect them when they take on the monumental responsibility of bringing children into the world.

There is no question that Roxanne's Law would do all those things. A vote against Roxanne's Law, on the other hand, will appear as a vote in favour of continuing the oppression and degradation of women and girls, including those still in the womb.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, on this side of the House, we have a tendency to recite the long list of the Conservative government's faults. But upon reading Bill C-510, I finally found something positive: this government is inventive.

Its dedication to limiting a woman's right to choose regarding abortion fascinates me. We thought it had tried everything, particularly with Bill C-484 on unborn children and its regressive international policy on maternal health. The cuts to Status of Women Canada, the court challenges program and the women's program are just more examples.

Although their actions show that they want to criminalize abortion and set back women's rights, the Conservatives keep repeating that they do not want to reopen the debate. But they are the ones who keep bringing this issue back to the House.

This time, with Bill C-510, An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort, the government wants to impose five-year prison sentences for anyone who coerces a woman to have an abortion and two-year prison sentences for anyone who attempts to coerce a woman to have an abortion.

The Conservatives are using the case of Roxanne Fernando, who was killed by three men, to misrepresent things. The crown prosecutor, one of the murderers and his lawyer have all stated that the murder had nothing whatsoever to do with the woman's refusal to have an abortion. The Conservatives are using this barbaric act to threaten the right to abortion, even if this right was not the issue. This was a case of domestic violence.

With Bill C-510, the Conservatives are moving forward with their right-wing political agenda instead of attacking the real problem, which is violence against women. The real solutions are based on achieving equality between men and women. This has to do with better access to the justice system through legal aid, financial assistance for victims of crime and their loved ones, pay equity and other improvements to social programs.

In addition to being so creative, the Conservatives also have a talent for bringing women's rights groups together. The Fédération des femmes du Québec is opposed to passing Bill C-510. It has declared that since the Conservatives took power, “abortion has never been so threatened”.

The Fédération du Québec pour le planning des naissances has also spoken out against Bill C-510. The federation expects the bill to have a number of negative consequences, one of which is that it will open the door to the criminalization of abortion. The federation also fears, with good reason, that workers in this area could be prosecuted if the bill is passed. The very vague concept of “coercion” would give the unborn child certain rights to the woman's detriment.

For these same reasons, a number of other organizations, including Canadians for Choice, are strongly opposed to the initiative of the hon. member for Winnipeg South.

At the very least, it can be said that the Conservatives do not give up. Since coming to power, they have tried every sly tactic they can think of to reopen the debate on abortion, but have been unsuccessful. On September 2, 2010, the infamous Dimitri Soudas stated that his party did not want to reopen the debate on this issue. Since that time, several members have made similar statements. Nevertheless, last May, the hon. member for Winnipeg South said that it is “always important to take steps, small steps, to acknowledge the value of the unborn”. Finally, a Conservative member who is willing to tell the truth about his intentions.

Twenty-two years ago, the Supreme Court invalidated the anti-abortion provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada. Since that time, there has been a strong consensus in our society that the debate on this issue should be over. However, from time to time, the Conservative Prime Minister agrees to reward the most well-behaved radicals in his party by letting them introduce regressive bills. Each time, the members of the House oppose these bills, with the exception of the Conservatives and a few misguided Liberals.

But that does not matter. Listening to the peoples' representatives in Parliament is not an option for this government. Not only is Bill C-510 downright disgraceful, it is also useless.

Counsellors at abortion clinics already screen women to ensure that they have not been coerced into abortion. Clinics refuse to perform abortions on women who are not sure of their decision or who are being coerced by a third party. In addition, the Criminal Code prohibits threats and assaults against women. That is why the criminals who murdered Roxanne Fernando are in prison. Nathanael Plourde was sentenced to 25 years in prison, and Manuel Toruno was sentenced to at least 10 years in prison. Their 17-year-old accomplice was given the maximum sentence for a minor: six years in prison and four years of probation. The maximum prison sentences proposed by this bill, five years and two years, are totally absurd and useless.

A woman's decision to abort is rarely made alone, although it is a decision that must clearly be made without any persuasion. As I just said, such coercion is already prohibited by the Criminal Code. However, it is normal for an adolescent or a woman to seek advice from those close to her. If this person's mother, father, brother, sister or partner counsels her not to keep the baby, the bill is so vague that the pregnant woman's family could be subject to jail time. That is completely unacceptable.

Bill C-510 is also condescending towards women. It suggests that they are often coerced into abortion and that they cannot make the decision on their own. But women are free to make that choice and they must continue to be free.

To conclude, I would like to emphasize that my political party and I are fiercely opposed to this bill. As a woman and a mother, I am personally insulted by these dangerous measures that restrict freedom of choice regarding abortion. In the name of women's right and freedoms, I ask all members to oppose it.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak in this important debate today.

As the youngest woman in the House of Commons, I do not believe we would be discussing a bill in 2010 that would seek to take away the rights for which women before me have fought so hard. While the bill claims to react to a tragic situation around coercion and the discussion of abortion, it is an attack on a woman's right to choose.

The bill is mostly redundant because threats and illegal acts are already covered under the Criminal Code. In fact, this part of the debate is so critical to the discussion. It is certainly not a discussion about the facts. Unfortunately what is in the Criminal Code is not being discussed in the House. Bill C-510 is unnecessary and it is redundant. Threats and illegal acts are already covered under the Criminal Code. Counsellors at abortion clinics already screen for possible coercion in women seeking abortions.

The anti-choice movement has noted claims that women are coerced. However, when we walk by abortion clinics across our country, and certainly even the one close to Parliament Hill, we see a much greater movement to coerce women not to get an abortion, often with very aggressive tactics, taking advantage of women who are already in a vulnerable situation, who are already having to make a very difficult decision, often a very conflicted decision.

This debate is also one that is so critical because it identifies the notion of fetal rights that challenges the discussion and the way abortion and a woman's right to choose are legally framed, noting that women have the control over their bodies. The discussion is about the fetus, not the child. As we enter into this discussion, many of us fear that this will open the door to making abortions in our country illegal. The bill attempts to reintroduce the notion of fetal rights through indirect means, by presenting abortion as a social harm to be criminalized.

I noted earlier that while the foundation of the bill is based on a tragic experience, one that took place in my home province, it is important to recognize that much of what has come out has been misrepresented. We note that in this legal case, the murderer, the lawyer and the crown prosecutor all agreed that coercion to have an abortion was not the motive. The bill claims that it would prevent what happened Ms. Roxanne Fernando from Winnipeg. However, when we look at it more closely, it attacks the rights of women to choose, it challenges the work of abortion providers and it rolls back the rights of women in our country by decades.

Unfortunately this is not a new development. The Conservative government and members of it have promoted an anti-choice agenda since they were elected into government. Ironically, in past elections it was stated that a Conservative government would not support any legislation to regulate abortion. Yet the bill deals entirely with that issue. It strives to take a major step in challenging that right of women to choose.

Unfortunately, the bill and the words used to present it have been framed in such a way as to claim to deal with the violence that women face, not only in the discussion around a woman's right to choose, but generally violence that women face. We all know that women face levels of violence, domestic violence, physical, sexual and mental violence in a way that we do not see it with men.

Unfortunately, the bill would do nothing to deal with those levels of violence. Not only would the bill not do anything, the government has done nothing. Not only has it failed to reinvest in and continue programs that are critical, it has sought to take away gains that have been made in policy, governing structure and the supports that women look to in order to seek equality.

How many signs do we need to know how much further we have to go forward, not just in the levels of violence that women face. We also need to look at the absence of women in power structures and positions of decision making? It is shameful that in the year 2010 only 21% of the members in the House of Commons are women.

Young people ask me why that is the case. I believe we can look, unfortunately, at very recent policies that seek to strip away the voice of women, as well as men, to speak out as to what is needed for us to eradicate gender-based violence and for women to truly achieve equality.

Let us look at some of the Conservative government's work, not only in the discussion around attacking women's right to choose, but the overall attack on women to achieve equality.

From 2006 onward, we have seen the elimination of equality as an objective in the Status of Women Canada's mission statement. We have seen a 100% cut in funding for advocacy, lobbying and independent research projects funded by the Status of Women Canada.

Dozens of feminist organizations have had their funding severed and have had to close their doors. In the past year, nine groups have lost their funding, including the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, the New Brunswick Pay Equity Coalition and Réseau des tables régionales de groupes de femmes du Québec.

We have shamefully seen the lose of funding for the Sisters in Spirit initiative that has sought to counteract the tragic and historically perpetuated levels of violence against aboriginal women. While the government promoted the work of Sisters in Spirit for years in the House, it did not renew the funding for an organization that clearly made known the barriers that aboriginal women faced.

We also saw the loss of funds for over 130 projects in the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, the cancellation of the pan-Canadian child care program and the elimination of the court challenges program.

We need to look at ensuring women have economic support. In my home community in the province of Manitoba, women are going to be losing their jobs in the smelter and the refinery, only to be made more vulnerable in an economy facing a recession.

These are the messages, the actions we need to support women in their work to achieve equality, in our work as Canadians to achieve equality. We need to leave alone the battles for which women, along with men, have fought, which are the right to choose, the right to shape our futures and the right to be equal in our country, Canada.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-510, an act to prevent coercion of pregnant women to abort, which was first introduced in the House by the member for Winnipeg South in April.

In his press release dated April 15 of this year, the bill's sponsor stated:

This bill would help protect a pregnant woman who does not want to terminate her pregnancy...No woman should ever feel intimidated to have an unwanted abortion. Anyone who attempts to force a woman to abort her wanted fetus should face consequences.

At the outset, I certainly agree with that sentiment and I have great respect for the sponsor, my friend from Winnipeg South. However, I am troubled by the legislation before the House.

I am sure we all agree that the safety of all Canadians is paramount, in particular protecting the most vulnerable in our society from violence. It is clear that violence against all women, pregnant or not, is a serious issue, with far-reaching effects and consequences.

Violence against women is a persistent and ongoing problem in Canada and around the world, affecting women's personal safety and their ability to contribute to society. It also affects their children, who witness this violence and experience its aftermath, therefore contributing to intergenerational cycles of violence. Although Canadian women fare better than women in most parts of the world, violence against women, sadly, persists in Canada.

However, Canada's criminal law provides a broad range of measures designed to protect persons from violence, including provisions prohibiting all of the following: assault and sexual assault, murder and manslaughter, kidnapping, forcible confinement, trafficking in persons, criminal harassment, uttering threats and intimidation. This government has taken concrete steps to build on these protections through further recent criminal law reforms to ensure that everyone, particularly the most vulnerable members of our society, feel safe and secure in their homes and communities.

The government is proud of its accomplishments in promoting safe streets and communities. For example, the Tackling Violent Crime Act, enacted in 2008, includes enhanced mandatory minimum penalties for firearms offences and strengthens the danger offender provisions. Bill C-48, which is recently before the justice committee on which I proudly serve as a member, would protect Canadians by ending sentence discounts for multiple murders act. It will return to the House in short order.

The Criminal Code also takes violence against women into account in its sentencing provisions, which requires that spousal abuse and abuse of positions of trust or authority must be considered as aggravating circumstances for the purposes of sentencing. In other words, this fact should increase the sentence imposed against the perpetrator.

It is evident that Canadian criminal law aims to protect all women, indeed all Canadians, from violence in its many forms.

As I understand it, Bill C-510, also known as Roxanne's law, was introduced in response to the tragic murder of Roxanne Fernando because of her unexpected pregnancy in a volatile relationship. She was tragically murdered by her boyfriend and two of his friends. One of the reported motives was that Ms. Fernando was murdered because she would not have an abortion.

It is important to point out that all three offenders involved in this murder are currently serving prison sentences for that murder. There is no question that this is a tragic case, but appears to be one where the criminal justice system has been used to its fullest extent.

Since the case of Ms. Fernando was the inspiration for Bill C-510, let me now discuss the legal effects of the bill. I apologize in advance that some of it is technical and legal, but it is important that members understand the legal ramifications of the bill.

Bill C-510 would create two new hybrid Criminal Code offences. The first would be the offence of coercing a woman to procure an abortion she did not want. This would be punishable by a maximum sentence of five years on indictment and 18 months on summary conviction. The second proposed offence would be the offence of attempting to coerce a woman to procure an abortion she did not want. This would be punishable by a maximum of two years imprisonment on indictment and six months on summary conviction.

The bill proposes a number of definitions to help bring clarity to these offences. Most notably, the bill defines “coercion” and explains where coercive behaviour would reach the level of attracting criminal liability.

The bill states that a person coerces an abortion when he or she engages in conduct that directly or indirectly causes a pregnant woman to consent to an abortion that she would otherwise have refused. The bill goes further to include anyone who conspires with another person to engage in coercive conduct.

Also in the definition of coercion is a list of conduct that could amount to coercion if it were undertaken for the purpose of causing a pregnant woman to have an unwanted abortion. The conduct includes, but is not limited to, violent and threatening behaviour directed either at the woman, her fetus or a third party. Also included is removing, or threatening to remove, financial support or housing from the pregnant woman in attempting to compel by pressure or intimidation including “argumentative and rancorous badgering and importunity”.

While most would agree, and I certainly would, that we would not want to encourage such conduct, it is not conduct that normally attracts criminal sanction.

The bill states that the conduct outlined in the proposed definition of coercion is not exhaustive. Therefore, it could encompass much more conduct than is currently outlined in the bill, or for that matter, that the author of the bill foresaw, but it leaves this open to be determined be a court.

A final part of the definition of coercion is what I call the charter exemption. It is a novel approach in crafting a criminal offence. The bill states that speech, which we all know is protected by section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, would not be captured by the definition of coercion and therefore would not attract criminal liability.

There are two other sections of the bill that are worth noting.

First is the limited exemption for a physician who attempts to convince a pregnant woman to have a medical intervention, which may result in the death of the fetus, when the woman's physical health is endangered.

Second is the unique severability provision, which states that if any provisions of this bill are found to be invalid or unenforceable they are to be severed from the bill and shall not affect the application of the other provisions.

In summary, the impacts of this bill would be to criminalize conduct that is already captured by several Criminal Code offences.

For example, conduct such as committing, attempting to commit or threatening to commit physical harm is captured by the offence of uttering threats in section 264.1, assault in section 265 and the general attempt provisions contained in section 24 of the Criminal Code.

Other types of conduct, such as compelling by pressure and rancorous badgering and importunity, are not defined in the bill and would most likely lead to interpretative difficulties and subsequent charter challenges.

Further, interpretive difficulties would most certainly arise because of the charter exemption, which attempts to insulate certain types of conduct from criminal liability if the conduct is protected by section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This exemption would require individuals, police and prosecutors to determine whether the conduct in question is protected by the charter, though ultimately it would be the courts that would have to pronounce and be determinative on this issue.

Finally, the novel severability provision, which aims to sever any provision of the bill that a court finds unenforceable, could be interpreted as fettering the discretion of the court to determine the appropriate remedy in the event of a charter breach.

In short and to conclude, I certainly appreciate the objective of the bill and support its author in bringing this matter forward to this House for debate. I believe all members of this House support better protection of pregnant women against any specific form of violence and, in fact, protection for all members of society against all forms of violence. However, I strongly believe that the existing Criminal Code protections adequately protect women, as evidenced by the convictions and significant penalties imposed in the Roxanne Fernando case.

With all due respect and for those reasons, I will be voting against Bill C-510.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

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.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I do not have a full 10 minute speech, but there are a couple of things that have come to the discussion today that need to be addressed. I am not sure if the members opposite, particularly the member for Churchill, were uninformed or deliberately trying to give the wrong impression about the bill, but I got the sense that the member for Churchill seemed to be implying that Roxanne Fernando's death did not come about as a result of her refusal to have an abortion.

It is important to point out that the crown prosecutor at the sentencing hearing was very clear when he talked about the fact that this was specifically a motive by these young men who took her life.

We need to remember that a young lady lost her life over this issue. We have heard people this morning say this is all covered in the Criminal Code. Her murder was covered in the Criminal Code and these young men are serving their time for that, which they rightly should be doing, but the issue of coercion was not covered in the Criminal Code. Those men were not charged with that.

We need to refocus the debate today back on the element of coercion and the fact that women should not be coerced in their dealings with their children. It is not in the interest of women or children to pretend otherwise.

We need to be clear this morning that the debate has been about the issue of coerced abortion. This is not a bill about abortion and restricting abortion rights. I think those folks who have indicated that either do not understand the bill clearly or are trying to perform some mischief.

As we heard just a few minutes ago, other countries have felt it is important to bring this level of protection. I heard the member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex talk about the fact that Germany has brought in protection on this issue; that Italy has felt it is important that women be protected in this area; and that France also has seen that this is an important issue in terms of protecting women and children.

In this country we need to have a better and more honest debate than we have had on this.

There are states in the U.S. that have taken this up as something they feel is important to protect women's rights.

I will wrap up by encouraging my colleagues to support the bill. It is an important bill. When my colleague presented the bill I said during questions and comments that this is a necessary bill. I thought it was necessary then and I think it is necessary now.

I encourage my colleagues in the House to stand and support the bill and see it pass second reading.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

With his five minute right of reply, the hon. member for Winnipeg South.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, as a father, I love my children and I know their mother perhaps loves them even more than I do, if that is possible. Some mothers fall in love with their children even before birth in a way that few of us can understand. These mothers should never have to make a choice between protecting themselves or the child they love.

Forced abortion should be made illegal in Canada. Roxanne's law would accomplish this. The main argument used against Roxanne's law is that the bill is totally redundant because, so opponents claim, abortion coercion is already covered in the Criminal Code under existing provisions for assaults, uttering threats or intimidation. If I wanted to oppose a bill whose sole purpose was to protect women from abortion coercion, I too would want to find some excuse that made it sound like I was in favour of forced abortion. Saying it is already illegal gives me that cover. It allows me to oppose the bill for what sounds to be a legitimate reason while still professing how terrible it is to coerce a woman into having an abortion. After all, who wants to be known as someone who supports what the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada called a crime against humanity? The problem is that the argument that it is already illegal falls apart upon analysis.

Although some of the conduct described in Bill C-510 could fall under existing provisions in the Criminal Code, depending on the circumstances, not all behaviour that could fall under the definition of coercion in Bill C-510 would be captured under existing provisions. It is important to note that the list of examples of coercion in Bill C-510 is not exhaustive. This allows the court some discretion in deciding what constitutes abortion coercion given how it is defined in the bill. Above all though, the fact that no one has ever been charged with coercing an abortion in Canada is absolute proof that clarification of the law is desperately needed, a law Roxanne Fernando could have used to protect herself.

Even in cases where a more general provision would suffice, there is tremendous value in having a new Criminal Code provision specific to abortion coercion. Criminal law scholars say we use the criminal law as a way of indicating a serious condemnation of an activity or action not only to punish people but also to state our most important social values and to send a clear message expressing society's rejection and intolerance of a specific act. When we single out coerced abortion as a separate offence, it is a signal that such behaviour should be denounced as a serious offence. It reflects a social value about the unacceptability of forcing a pregnant woman into ending a pregnancy she wants to continue.

Creating specific provisions when a more general provision already exists in the Criminal Code is not a new idea. There are three such bills currently before Parliament which have passed at least one parliamentary vote. Bill S-9 makes it an offence to steal a motor vehicle even though theft is already an offence. It received royal assent last month. Bill S-215 and Bill C-464 also bring important clarifications to laws that perhaps already capture the crimes contemplated. These are excellent ideas and important clarifications, just as Roxanne's law is.

Thus, it is clear that as legislators we often create offences and provisions even when a more general provision would suffice. We do this in order to send a strong message of denunciation to affirm society's deeply held values and to educate the public. Should one choose to vote against Bill C-510, it will be seen as a choice to turn a blind eye to a horrible injustice.

Roxanne Fernando's story has now been heard across the country and if not now, someday soon she will be considered a Canadian hero. In this Christmas season, I ask members to consider bringing additional protection to mothers with child who are facing dangerous circumstances.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, December 15, 2010, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Suspension of SittingCriminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The House will now suspend until 12 o'clock.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:55 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12:00)

The House resumed from December 10 consideration of Bill S-6, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and another Act, as reported (with amendments) from the committee; and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2010 / noon

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, since I have only 10 minutes and we are at the amendment stage, I will address that particular topic right away. The government proposed three amendments and I would like to set the record straight once and for all: we will be voting against those amendments, which would reinstate the short title. The government has a tendency to politicize things in these matters. The title of Bill S-6 begins with “An Act to amend the Criminal Code”. We have no problem with that. Where we do have a problem is with the short title: “Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act”. Clearly, we will vote against these amendments. Clearly, we will vote against Bill S-6. Clearly, this government has no direction and is using this bill to try to appeal to the public.

Bill S-6 pertains to the faint hope clause. I would remind those watching us that in 1976, Canada abolished the death penalty for those who commit the most appalling, most serious crime in the Criminal Code: murder. Under the Liberals, the bill that abolished the death penalty also introduced what is known as the faint hope clause. Here is what it is all about. After a certain amount of time, after serving between 15 and 17 years in prison, offenders have the right—I hope they will still have this right—to apply to the Superior Court for the district in which the original sentence was handed down to be granted the opportunity to appear before the parole board. I am saying all this because Bill S-6, a bill from the Senate, is just not right. It makes absolutely no sense.

The bill does not make sense and I hope the Liberals will wake up. I hope the Liberals will hear the truth and hear what is being said today and what will be said on this bill in the coming weeks, or months if necessary. In any event, this bill absolutely must not be passed. The faint hope clause, and I am quoting from the Library of Parliament:

...was added to the Criminal Code in the hope that it would provide an incentive for long-term offenders to rehabilitate themselves and, therefore, afford more protection to prison guards.

I can understand where the Conservatives are coming from. They say they are in favour of protecting victims and that we absolutely must protect victims. They keep saying over and over again that we absolutely must protect victims.

Therein lies the problem because the faint hope clause is working quite well. I hope my Conservative friends will listen, I cannot help it if they do not, but we will repeat this ad nauseam in the coming months: as of October 10, 2010, because the death penalty was abolished, there were 4,774 inmates serving life sentences in Canada. Contrary to what our Conservative friends think, and I hope the Liberals will finally hear the truth, those convicted of and serving time for murder are not sentenced to 25 years in prison. That is not true. They are sentenced to life imprisonment—for the rest of their days. I know that the Conservatives will never listen and never understand that.

These individuals will remain in the custody of the Correctional Service of Canada for the rest of their days. I repeat: it goes without saying that, for the rest of their days, these individuals will remain in the custody of the Correctional Service of Canada and the National Parole Board

I only have five minutes for my speech and then there will be a five-minute period for questions, which I will be pleased to answer. I would like to provide some statistics. I did not make them up; they are from the Correctional Service of Canada. I asked the Conservatives to provide statistics to rebut the CSC data, but no one came up with any.

In Canada, there are 4,774 inmates serving life sentences. Of these, 1,508 were eligible for judicial review. The death penalty was abolished in 1976, and therefore we had to wait 15 to 17 years before the first hearing was held in 1987. Since then, 181 decisions have been made: 146 resulted in a reduction of the ineligibility period for parole, and 35 were refused. Proof that the system works lies in the fact that it protects the public and therefore the victims.

I will continue with the Correctional Service of Canada statistics: 144 inmates have now reached their revised eligibility dates and 135 have been released. Half of those released, or 68 inmates, have not posed a problem; they have reintegrated into society and been rehabilitated. Thirty-five had their parole suspended, but not revoked. They had minor breaches of conditions, such as returning home at midnight instead of 10 p.m. The rules are very strict and the National Parole Board monitors them very closely. Thus, 23 had their parole suspended, but afterwards things went smoothly. Only 23 of the possible 4,000 inmates had their parole revoked. Only 2 of those 23 out of the 4,000 were convicted of other violent crimes, such as aggravated assault or assault with a weapon, but not murder.

So the system is working well. I do not understand the decision of this side of the House, the Liberal side. The Liberals are the ones who introduced the faint hope clause in 1976 after they abolished the death penalty. And it has been working so well that even the farthest-right, right-wing Conservatives are unable to provide us with any statistics to show that murders have been committed by parolees. This has not happened since 1987. The murderers who have been released from prison have all respected the conditions of their parole.

I know that we are at the report and amendments stage, but I will come back to this later. I will certainly have the opportunity to rise in the House again and speak out against the cheap populist approach that the Conservatives are taking with this bill. It is a cheap populist approach to say that anyone can be released on parole when such is not the case. The organizations that are currently taking very good care of the public and victims are the National Parole Board and the Correctional Service of Canada. They manage to keep criminals who are not ready to return to society from doing so.

I will gladly answer any questions.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would say to my colleague from the Bloc that as we took the evidence at the justice committee it seemed to me very clear. I do not think that anybody who is objective about the evidence we heard could deny that the faint hope clause and the system we built up under it, in terms of how one is able to apply for and get that result, has been as successful as any program in our correction services, bar none. The rate of recidivism is the lowest of any program we have.

I know my colleague from the Bloc has practised criminal law for an extended period of time before being elected selected to this House.

Does he feel there is a better system than the faint hope system?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh for his comments and question, as well as for the work he does on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. In my opinion, there is no better system. It is the best system.

Even though this system works well, the Conservatives are getting ready to increase violence in prisons and take all hope away from inmates with this bill. They are going to take away all hope of returning to society. There are 135 former inmates who have been released under this system and today are functioning members of society. I even know some who are doctors. I argued such cases. These people returned to society and are now doctors. Yes, they committed murder, the worst crime a person can commit, but they came back into society after spending 17 years in prison.

With the Liberals' support, the Conservatives are getting ready to destroy a system that works very well. I hope the Liberals will think again.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am beginning to wonder how much the public really knows or understands about this whole issue about the faint hope clause. Does the public really understand that in 1997 the Liberal government changed the law to eliminate faint hope clause applications for multiple murderers so that it would never apply to multiple murderers like Clifford Olson, who are in prison right now?

Does the member think the public also understands that the changes the government is bringing in, in this bill, would not take effect for 15 years?

In actual fact, there is a lot of smoke and mirrors here. The government is trying to present to the public that it is tough on crime, that it has eliminated the faint hope clause, which, as I said, had already been eliminated for multiple murderers in 1997, and the faint hope clause elimination for individual murderers would not actually be applied in Canada for 15 years, long after most of us would be gone from this House.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is quite right. This bill will not prevent Clifford Olson from applying and saying that he has the right to do so. It will not change anything. With this bill, the government would have us believe that it is being tough on crime, but the bill solves nothing.

If only this bill at least addressed some issues. I can understand the minimum sentences the Conservatives are calling for. They are playing politics. But Bill S-6 not only fixes nothing; it will create problems in our prisons.

If the member for Beauce listened carefully—God knows he should listen so he can talk to his colleagues, instead of plugging his ears—he would understand. I hope he will be able to tell his colleagues that Bill S-6 solves nothing. The Conservatives are going to create problems in very short order, because when an inmate realizes that he has no more hope and no chance of returning to society, he is going to go to work for the worst of the worst in prison. So there will be big trouble in the coming years.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate on the government's Bill S-6 at report stage.

The government, through its Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, was all over the media yesterday denouncing the three opposition parties and claiming that the opposition was delaying government bills in general, and Bill S-6 in particular.

I would like to put certain facts before the House. Bill S-6 in the previous session of the 40th Parliament was Bill C-36. The government tabled it in the House. The bill went through the three stages in the House, was adopted and sent over to the Senate. The government, in its wisdom, did not move second reading in the Senate. Instead, the Prime Minister decided to prorogue the House in December 2009. The House was prorogued for close to two and a half months.

When the second session of the 40th Parliament began on March 3, there was a throne speech. Did the government at its first opportunity reintroduce Bill C-36? No, it did not. It waited 48 days after the throne speech before tabling its legislation again. Then after tabling it 48 days after the throne speech, it let the bill sit, collecting dust, for 99 days before it moved second reading debate. If anyone has held up this bill it is not the opposition, definitely not the official opposition, but the government itself.

The government counts on the fact that most Canadians are not paying enough attention to what is actually happening in the House and what the procedures are to realize that it is their own government that is holding up its own justice legislation.

One could speculate on the reasons the Conservative government has for doing do that. I speculate, given that every end of session in December and June for close to the last five years, the minister of justice, whoever he or she has been under the Conservative government, has gone to the media to claim that the opposition is holding up the government's justice bills and if the opposition would be conciliatory and work with the government, the justice bills would get through.

When we look at each of the bills the government identifies at each one of those periods, June and December of 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and now 2010, those are the very bills that the government itself has held up, either by letting them sit at first reading and not moving second reading debate, or by not even introducing them initially.

With those facts on the record, I would like now to speak to the content of Bill S-6.

We know that victims and their families want the faint hope clause to be abolished. No one wants those found guilty of serious crimes to get out of jail without serving a long enough sentence. It is for that reason that when we, the Liberals, were in government, we placed restrictions on the faint hope clause so that anyone found guilty of multiple murders would not be eligible. Contrary to the claims of the Conservative government, the amendments it is proposing to make to the law will not apply to dangerous criminals such as Clifford Olson. Russell Williams also will not be able to avail himself of the faint hope clause to obtain a judicial review because of the changes made by the previous Liberal government.

The faint hope clause, also known as judicial review, gives inmates who are serving a life sentence the opportunity to request a judicial review after 15 years of incarceration in order to determine whether or not they may apply for parole. Parole is not automatically granted. The application must first be heard by a jury selected from members of the community where the crime took place. If the 12 jurors unanimously agree, the inmate may apply to the National Parole Board. If the inmate proceeds, the National Parole Board determines whether the inmate, once released, may pose a risk to society or if release will contribute to his or her rehabilitation.

The Liberals believe that a balance must be struck between punishment and rehabilitation in our correctional system. We would like the government to invest more in crime prevention and programs for the victims of crime. Although the faint hope clause helps make our prisons safer and contributes to the rehabilitation of offenders, we believe that access to it must be limited.

The government is not taking into consideration the facts around the faint hope clause. Despite this clause, someone convicted of premeditated murder in Canada serves 28 years in prison on average. That is longer than in any other country that imposes life sentences with possibility of parole, including the United States. Prison guards feel that the faint hope clause helps keep them safe. The Correctional Investigator of Canada believes that the current faint hope clause serves the purpose for which it was conceived.

The Liberals proposed amendments to the Conservative bill in response to calls from various victims' groups. These groups told us that they live in a constant state of anxiety because of the faint hope clause, so we amended the bill to require that the Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada notify victims when an inmate applies for judicial review of his case. The commissioner already notifies victims' families when an inmate applies for judicial review. But under the current law, the commissioner is not required to notify victims' families when an inmate does not apply. Under the bill, once the inmate's opportunity to apply has passed, he must wait five years before reapplying.

The Liberal amendment moved and passed with the support of the Bloc and the NDP was as follows.

When an inmate does not exercise his right to apply for a judicial review under the faint hope clause, the commissioner should notify the families and indicate the next date on which the inmate will be eligible to apply. Unfortunately, the Conservatives on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights voted against this amendment. I am puzzled by that.

We also proposed a second amendment that would extend the 90-day period for applying for a judicial review to a maximum of 180 days when the judge feels that extraordinary circumstances beyond the inmate's control prevented him from applying within the 90-day period.

I will stop here, because I see that my time is up. I invite hon. members to ask me questions.