Madam Speaker, I rise to speak against Motion No. 312.
Motion No. 312 calls for the creation of a special committee that would evaluate subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code, which currently states:
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....
The motion asks for a special committee of parliamentarians to review the legal definition of personhood in Canada.
The definition of fetal personhood, under related Supreme Court jurisprudence, is closely linked to the legal status of abortion. Therefore, the Liberal Party does not support any legislative action that would reopen the debate on abortion or might criminalize abortion. If passed, Motion No. 312 can reverse the hard-earned rights of women by restricting their access to safe and legal abortions. The Liberal Party will oppose this motion.
During the 2011 election campaign, the Prime Minister promised that his party would not change the laws on abortion. He said, and I quote, “As long as I am Prime Minister, we will not reopen the debate on abortion. We will leave the law as it stands.”
The Conservative Party has a troubling history on the issue of election promises. We may recall that in 2004 the leader of the opposition, now the Prime Minister, noted that the death penalty and abortion were not issues for the first Conservative government, yet in November 2007, halfway through the Conservative Party's first term in government, he broke that promise when his party refused to seek clemency for Ronald Allen Smith, a Canadian on death row in the United States. By refusing to seek clemency for Mr. Smith, the Conservative Party reversed the long-standing practice of seeking clemency for Canadians on death row abroad. The Prime Minister and his government were also in contravention of the United Nations convention to abolish the death penalty, to which Canada is a signatory.
With Motion No. 312, the party is now reversing the Prime Minister's promise not to reopen the debate on abortion and to leave the law as it stands. It is clear that the government obviously cannot be trusted to keep its word on any questions of fundamental justice.
By allowing this motion to stand, the Prime Minister can tell Canadians that the neutral stance of this motion on legal personhood does not open up the issue of abortion, that it is merely asking for a clarification on the definition of personhood and whether the law, as defined in subsection 223(1), is outdated. This is shameful. The government is being disingenuous, and so is the Prime Minister, obviously thinking that Canadians are simpletons.
The discrepancy between the opinions of the member for Kitchener Centre and what he said in the House today and the neutral stance of his motion should be noted by the House. Today, on April 26, in the Metro Ottawa, the member for Kitchener said that this motion opens up the abortion question. He said, “If we reach a conclusion on when a child becomes a human being, then all of the other issues that are so complicated about abortion can be discussed with that honest conclusion as a bedrock foundation”.
We are being disingenuous in the House when the hon. member stands up and makes a speech saying that this is being honest and this is about a neutral motion. It is not being honest and it is not about a neutral motion. That is a cause for concern for us in the House, because if the intention of the member for Kitchener Centre had been honest, he had choices. He says that subsection 223(1) is outdated. If he believed the Criminal Code is outdated, he had the choice to directly amend the Criminal Code and propose a bill to do so, but he did not do that. The member said that section 223(1) is unjust because the definition of personhood in that subsection does not include the fetus. If he believed that the section was unjust, then he could have brought forward a bill to redefine personhood directly.
The Prime Minister should not have given the member the back door and the opportunity to waste the time of the House to use Motion No. 312 as a back door to recriminalize abortion. However, again, the history of the Prime Minister and the government is to always use a back door for contentious issues.
One can recall the private member's bill on gun registry from the member for Portage—Lisgar. It was an issue the Prime Minister had said he would not deal with, and there we had a private member. Then we had the private member's bill from Ken Epp, who is no longer in the House, about the unborn victims of crime, which was again about abortion.
We see this backdoor trial balloon by which contentious issues would be floated forward to see what the public would say, and if it became too hot to handle, it would be withdrawn or it would be voted against by the government. We are seeing this same kind of dishonest, disingenuous behaviour in this House in that now we see that the committee will be asked to look at medical evidence of fetal personhood.
In fact, medical evidence speaks to the viability of the fetus and how long the fetus can exist outside the maternal environment. That is defined very clearly. We do not need a committee to see what the viability of the fetus is—how long it can live outside the fetal environmental, the times, the ages, et cetera. It is all very clear, internationally and nationally. It means that if the fetus is born before viability, it will only exist with a great deal of technology to help it to do so.
What is surreptitious about this bill is that the medical definition of “fetal viability” does not define personhood. Nowhere does it and nowhere can it, because the Supreme Court is very clear as it ruled unanimously in the case of Tremblay v. Daigle. It stated:
The task of properly classifying a foetus in law and in science are different pursuits. Ascribing personhood to a foetus in law is a fundamentally normative task. It results in the recognition of rights and duties—a matter which falls outside the concerns of scientific classification.
This is echoed again in the 1999 Supreme Court decision, Dobson (Litigation Guardian of) v. Dobson, in which Justice Cory, writing for the majority, asserted that
the Court should not impose a duty of care upon a pregnant woman toward her foetus or subsequently born child. To do so would result in very extensive and unacceptable intrusions into the bodily integrity, privacy and autonomy rights of women.
I want to draw a couple of scenarios.
Let us imagine that this committee is formed. Let us imagine that this committee redefines “personhood” as it is now said and goes against all of the Supreme Court rulings to date. What is going to happen? The age of medical fetal viability, we now know, is very clearly stated at 20 weeks; after 20 weeks, are the government and the state going to put a woman in jail if she does not wish to maintain that pregnancy within her person? Are they going to put her in jail and force her to keep this child until term? That outcome is not only ludicrous but also goes against every human right we can think of. It is shades of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale all over again. This is absolutely unacceptable to even imagine.
So that is what is going to be proposed. Are we going to force a woman? A child has to be carried and is in the woman's body until it comes out of the woman's body. It is totally dependent on the maternal body to keep it alive. Are we going to do this? Are we going to lock women up and force them to carry a child to term?
The Constitution speaks very clearly on the woman and the security of her person. The Constitution and the Charter are the umbrella under which all laws are written and interpreted in this country. The Supreme Court declared in 1998 the entirety of the country's abortion law to be unconstitutional, noting that
Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction, to carry a foetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations...asserts that the woman's capacity to reproduce is to be subject, not to her own control, but to that of the state.
Essentially, therefore, it is a breach of the woman's rights to security of the person.
We have seen over and over that the Supreme Court has shown that the security of the person is paramount and is above every other piece of law, and because, as it is said, that the woman's capacity to reproduce cannot be subject to anyone's control but her own, it is a breach of the woman's right to security of the person. That kind of idea, as seen Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, would be absolutely ludicrous right now.
However, would we want to look at the issue of whether the government believes it can then tell physicians what they can or cannot do?
Our own government has said recently, on the issue of CCSVI, that the government should not be dictating guidelines to the medical profession, so then what is the use of this debate in the first place, if nothing that comes out of debate is going to be anything but unconstitutional?
Today we see committee budgets cut by 30%, yet we want to waste the government's time and everyone's time and recreate a committee to do something that is, at the end of the day, totally untenable and unconstitutional.