House of Commons Hansard #111 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.


Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will just ask this. The Conservatives constantly stand up and say they received a strong mandate from the Canadian people. They did not receive a mandate from the Canadian people to make changes to old age security because they never campaigned on it. To use it in their favour, they have to take the corollary with it.

I ask my hon. colleague to comment on this. If a demographic boom or bulge was seen coming from decades away, if we all saw it coming, why does she think the Conservatives did not have the courage to tell the Canadian people that they were intending to make them work to the age of 67 to get old age security, if in fact it is truly necessary?

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, we saw the premier of the day in British Columbia, Gordon Campbell, lie to the Canadian people before he implemented the HST. I am not using that word in the House in terms of the government.

However, if the Conservatives saw the demographic bulge coming, they did not talk about their planned change to the age of eligibility for old age security from 65 to 67. Why were they afraid to tell Canadians what they planned on doing? That is hardly a mandate when they actually do not tell people what is on their political agenda.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 5:15 p.m., pursuant to an order made earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the opposition motion are deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Monday, April 30, 2012, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

The hon. Chief Government Whip.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I ask that you see the clock at 5:30.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is that agreed?

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:15 p.m.


Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON


Motion No. 312

That a special committee of the House be appointed and directed to review the declaration in Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code which states that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth and to answer the questions hereinafter set forth;

that the membership of the special committee consist of 12 members which shall include seven members from the government party, four members from the Official Opposition and one member from the Liberal Party, provided that the Chair shall be from the government party; that the members to serve on the said committee be appointed by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the membership report of the special committee be presented to the House no later than 20 sitting days after the adoption of this motion;

that substitutions to the membership of the special committee be allowed, if required, in the manner provided by Standing Order 114(2);

that the special committee have all the powers of a Standing Committee as provided in the Standing Orders; and

that the special committee present its final report to the House of Commons within 10 months after the adoption of this motion with answers to the following questions,

(i) what medical evidence exists to demonstrate that a child is or is not a human being before the moment of complete birth, (ii) is the preponderance of medical evidence consistent with the declaration in Subsection 223(1) that a child is only a human being at the moment of complete birth, (iii) what are the legal impact and consequences of Subsection 223(1) on the fundamental human rights of a child before the moment of complete birth, (iv) what are the options available to Parliament in the exercise of its legislative authority in accordance with the Constitution and decisions of the Supreme Court to affirm, amend, or replace Subsection 223(1).

Mr. Speaker, an oriental proverb says that the beginning of wisdom is to call all things by their right names. It is in the hope of reaching such wisdom that I propose a study of Canada's 400-year-old definition of a human being. Perhaps that ancient definition made sense when leeches and bloodletting were standard medical practices, but does it make medical sense in the 21st century?

Our knowledge has come a long way in 400 years. We now know when a child's organs, from heart to liver, and fingers are fully formed. We can detect when a child's brain functions. Parents watch in real time as their child reacts to stimuli and sucks his or her thumb. None of this was possible 400 years ago when the law struggled to describe who was human.

Why is any law defining a human being so important? Why devote time and attention to this question? Why does it matter that such laws are crafted with great care and with utmost honesty?

It is sad to even ask this question. It is sad that it is not obvious why our law defining a human being must absolutely be an honest law based on cogent evidence and sound principle.

The reason it is so important is that powerful people can strip vulnerable people of all rights by decreeing that they are not human beings. The only way to protect the inalienable rights of all is to protect the inalienable rights of each. As the wise and courageous Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

If basic rights can be denied to even one vulnerable person, they can be denied to anyone. Here is the way the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts it:

...recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world...

That is why we should never accept any law that decrees some human beings are not human beings. No policy justifies it. No ideology justifies it.

Here is what our 400-year-old definition of a human being says:

A child becomes a human being...when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother....

How many Canadians believe that birth is a moment of magical transformation that changes a child from a non-human to a human being? Very few; most Canadians know that our existing definition dishonestly misrepresents the reality of who is a human being.

In the 1850s, nine highly educated, civilized judges of the U.S. Supreme Court decided that African Americans were not persons under U.S. law. If members had been in Congress then, would we not have put up our hands and said that is wrong?

In the early 20th century, nine highly educated, civilized judges of the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that women were not persons under all Canadian laws. If members had been in Parliament then, would we not have put up our hands and said that is wrong?

Now in the 21st century, we discover that we have a 400-year-old law that decrees some children are not human beings. Why not put up our hands and say that is wrong? We should never accept any law that decrees some human beings are not human beings.

If we accept a law that decrees some human beings are not human, the question that must be asked is: Who is next? This question was recently answered for us. Professors Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva told us who they think should be next in an article published in the respected Journal of Medical Ethics online. These are serious academics affiliated with respected universities.

If we accept their premise that it is acceptable to decree that some human beings are not human persons, their logic follows, inevitably. They point out there is no difference between a child before birth and a newborn. Since we have already decreed that a child before birth is not a human person and a newborn is no different, then, they say, we can and should decree that a newborn infant is also not a person. Here are their very own words:

--the same reasons which justify abortion should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is at the stage of a newborn.

This might sound like a spoof, but it is not. It is a serious conclusion from serious academics. It is completely logical if it is acceptable to decree, without regard to biological reality or principles of human rights, that some human beings are not human beings.

The Giubilini-Minerva article shows why it is so important that Parliament reject any law that says some human beings are not human beings.

This is not merely an academic question. In Canada every year, the deaths of 40 to 50 infants who are born alive and later die are classified as “termination of pregnancy”.

The great author, Émile Zola, was once charged with treason for defending the fundamental human rights of a French soldier. What he said expresses my concerns about subsection 223(1). He said, “I denounce to the conscience of honest people this pressure brought to bear upon the justice of our country.”

Motion No. 312 simply calls for a study of the evidence about when a child becomes a human being. It does not propose any answer to that question. In fact, it directs the committee to make no decision and no recommendation but merely to report options.

Now, those who believe that the moment of complete birth does somehow transform a child from a non-human into a human being should have enough confidence in their own belief to expose it to an examination of the evidence. What have they to fear from the full flood of light? Why oppose a mere study?

Zola's words apply again, and I paraphrase them. The reason they oppose a mirror study is “they dread your good sense, they dare not run the risk of letting us tell all and of letting you judge the whole matter”. Again using Zola's words, I have had to “fight step by step against an extraordinarily obstinate desire for darkness. A battle is necessary to obtain every atom of truth.” As Zola said I say, “It is on your behalf alone that I have fought, that this proof might be put before you in its entirety, so that you might give your opinion on your consciences without remorse.”

When we consider a child before birth, do we see a new human life, with a beating heart and 10 human fingers? Or do we see the child as an object and an obstacle, even a parasite? Will we at least consider the evidence?

If the evidence tells us that a child is a human being before the moment of complete birth, will we close our eyes to the truth simply to justify abortion? Do we need to pretend a child is not human until the moment of complete birth in order to justify abortion? We do not. Even if a child is found to be a human being, it is arguable that the mother's rights will outweigh her child's rights.

When the rights of two people conflict, it is never, ever acceptable to deny that one of them is a human being.

Madam Justice Bertha Wilson, in the 1988 Morgentaler case throwing out Canada's abortion law, said the following:

The precise point in the development of the foetus at which the state's interest in its protection becomes “compelling” should be left to the informed judgment of the legislature which is in a position to receive submissions on the subject from all the relevant disciplines. It seems to me, however, that it might fall somewhere in the second trimester.

Those are her words. Clearly, this eminent jurist with impeccable feminist credentials believed that it was wrong to refuse all recognition whatsoever to children before birth. Clearly, she felt it is Parliament's duty to remedy that, a view shared by other courts subsequently.

In fact, almost 80% of Canadians think our law already recognizes the interests and rights of children after the second trimester. They are not aware that our 400-year-old definition of human being actually strips away such rights. When informed, over 70% of Canadians say they believe our law should recognize the rights of children at least during the third trimester of their development.

This consensus is greater than on any other issue today. Canadians across our great country are beginning to know from their own experience and to care about the truth that a child is a human being before the moment of complete birth. In other words, Canadians know that subsection 223(1) is dishonest.

Do we want a Canada where any person or group can arrange a dishonest law to decree that some human beings are not human beings as subsection 223(1) does? That is not the Canada Canadians want. If members search their hearts, that is not the Canada they want either.

If we care about the truth, we will courageously follow the facts wherever they lead. Canadians expect parliamentarians to embody that courage, that strength, that principled quest for the truth. Will we be seen as bold for the sake of truth, or as fearful? We can trust Canadians to embrace the truth with us.

Justice Wilson suggested that Parliament inform itself from the relevant disciplines. Motion No. 312 asks Parliament to do exactly that.

Once the committee delivers its report, Parliament can act on it or take no action. Whatever it chooses, Canadians will at least have the benefit of being informed by 21st century information from all the relevant disciplines as recommended so many years ago by Justice Bertha Wilson. It is Parliament's duty to do that much at least.

A great Canadian once said:

Those who talk the talk of human rights must from time to time be prepared to walk the walk....Heaven forbid that we should fail to do that of which we are capable when the path of duty is clear....Canada is not that kind of nation.

Members should not concern themselves with fearful imaginings but look solely at the dishonesty of subsection 223(1). Members should cast their vote to expose that to the light of scientific evidence. Canadians will thank them for it.

Please, let us bring Canadians together on this—

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. Perhaps the hon. member can close there.

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, since I will have the opportunity to reply to the hon. member, I will simply ask him a question.

The hon. member likes to quote Justice Wilson. There is nothing more extraordinary than hearing lawyers sharing quotes from the same decisions, the same judges.

What the member opposite seems to be forgetting is that Justice Wilson also said, in the context of the 1988 Morgentaler decision, that section 251 of the Criminal Code limits a pregnant woman's access to abortion and violates her right to life, liberty and security of the person within the meaning of section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in a way which does not accord with the principles of fundamental justice.

The impression that I got from listening to the hon. member's entire speech was that, in the beginning, he was trying to make us believe that his motion, Motion M-312, was a serious one and that he really wanted to conduct a comprehensive study. Yet he already has all the answers.

I would like to ask him this question. Is he waiting for answers regarding his motion or does he have them already? Has he already answered his own questions?

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I have enjoyed working with the hon. member on the justice committee. I always enjoy having a respectful dialogue and exchange of views with any Canadian, any parliamentarian and particularly another lawyer.

The only point at which my views have been inserted into the motion is that it is true I have concluded that the point of complete birth is not a rational or a reasonable point at which a child suddenly transforms from a non-human into a human being.

I have some information about what I think will be the evidence that might be heard if and when the committee undertakes this study, but I am quite content to allow the witnesses to come, providing the evidence is heard. The committee can report back to Parliament.

I am not asking the committee to choose what evidence to believe or not to believe, but simply to report the options back to Parliament. Whatever my views are on that, I hope that Canadians, in the end, will overall be informed. What have we to hide from? Why would we be afraid to let the evidence come out?

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Madam Speaker, my conscience tells me that we must respect the social harmony in this country. My conscience also tells me that we must respect women's rights. Finally, my conscience tells me that we must respect the right to be pro-choice.

In this speech, there was a lot of talk of honesty and dishonesty. What I find dishonest about this speech is that, in reality, what the member wants to do is re-criminalize abortion. If he wants to be honest, why does he not just say that that is what he wants to do?

What is more, his own Prime Minister has said that he will vote against this motion. Is the hon. member really just trying to reopen a debate that has already taken place? In this country, we want social harmony and respect for women's rights.

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I honestly want what the motion asks, and that is for a respectful dialogue and an open-minded study of the evidence.

I would like all Canadians to be informed about this. Whatever views one might have about the issue of abortion, it surely must be helpful to know whether or not a child actually is a human being before the moment of complete birth. Knowing that will inform our discussions, make them more fruitful, and help us to reconcile Canadians of differing views on these issues.

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, I find it infinitely unfortunate that we are talking about this subject. That being said, my speech will be very respectful.

In the hon. member's speech, one fundamental element stood out by its absence, and that was women's rights. In fact, I think the word “woman” was used only once in Motion M-312. The word appears only once in the entire text, even though pregnant women are at the heart of this matter; there is no getting around it.

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

We were very respectful during the member's speech, so I would appreciate the same level of respect. We listened carefully to what he said, even though we sometimes found it hard to hear.

What the member is trying to do is involve us in what he calls a “conversation on the fetus”. Wow. When I was elected in 2011, if someone had told me that I would be here on April 26, 2012, having a “conversation on the fetus”, I would have asked what planet this was.

It is all based on a false premise. According to my colleague's basic premise, which is false, this provision is 400 years old. We are starting from certain comments that have been made.

It is like saying “thou shalt not kill” or something like that. Certainly, I could go back to the Old Testament and suggest we re-examine the issue of first degree murder, because that commandment has been around for so long and perhaps it is time we re-examined the concept.

However, it is even more false than that. We need to come back to the basics of his motion, which seeks to review the definition of subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code, which establishes when a child becomes a human being. According to the Criminal Code, which was created in 1892 and not in 1600:

223. (1) 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...

It is clear, within the meaning of the Criminal Code, that the child must be born alive. This has nothing to do with whether one is for or against abortion. It is in the homicide section of the Criminal Code.

At first I was not sure what the member wanted to do. I thought that perhaps he was sincere and that he wanted to form a committee—as though there were not enough of them—to hear from a multitude of leading scientists.

This is the first time that the Conservatives have shown an interest in anything scientific. It had to be something to do with the fetus and abortion or something that goes against women. Congratulations. Nonetheless, the Conservatives have decided that we will hear from a multitude of people working in medical science, who will talk to us about the fetus and show us different things.

The Conservatives pretend to be interested in the answers, in listening and hearing them. A committee usually hears both sides of the argument, but that is not the case here. Let us make no mistake. This is a direct attack on a woman's fundamental right to choose.

Whether you are for or against abortion, one fact remains and it is not 400 years old: the Morgentaler decision, the Daigle decision, in fact all decisions on various aspects of the issue gave a central place to a woman's inalienable rights concerning her body. The Conservatives really have a hard time accepting this concept. It is an aberration for them.

What we have to say is that it is fine if they do not like our views on this matter. But I do not wish to impose my views on anyone. They are mine alone. It is not my place to tell a pregnant woman what to do. Perhaps she was raped, but no matter what the reason is, it is none of our business. Perhaps the Conservative members would never resort to abortion. Good for them. I recognize that they have this right. But who are they, the men sitting opposite, to judge?

I use the word “men” because that is who I see in front of me. I do not mean it in a pejorative or sexist way. They can object as much as they want, but that is what I see before me. Ah, excuse me, I do see one woman, no, two women. That is excellent, lovely.

Having said that, it is not up to us to say what a pregnant woman should do. I would like to remind my colleagues opposite that case law has established that when a woman is pregnant, her fetus is a part of her body. I do not want to start lecturing about medicine and science, but it is part of her body. Often, the rights of one may be in conflict with the other's.

That is why I asked him the question. If my colleague had been smart, he would have said that he intended to wait for the committee's findings, and he would have won me over a little. But no, we know what he thinks. At least he has the courage of his convictions and was not afraid to say that he is categorically against abortion because he believes that a fetus is a fully fledged human being. Which is why he said, “a human being is a human being,” a phrase he trots out constantly at all his press conferences and elsewhere.

That is the definition that my colleague subscribes to. The problem is that section 223 of the Criminal Code stipulates that the fetus is not a human being. This definition makes sense.

Imagine what will happen. We will end up criminalizing abortion again. Think about it. If a child becomes a human being from the moment of its conception or two or three weeks thereafter, will someone in this chamber then turn around and say that we are going to kill a human being? No way. That is the problem. It will mean that we are once again criminalizing abortion, but it will not stop there.

Imagine the pregnant woman for a moment. For a government that claims that the state must be as small as possible, in its simplest form, in all senses of the term, imagine the government now taking an interest in the way in which a pregnant woman experiences motherhood and pregnancy.

If the fetus, a human being according to what the mover of M-312 tells us, is protected, and if we accept his theory, are we going to have to start delving into the lifestyle of a woman who has alcoholism or addiction problems, for example? We have a Charter of Rights. It may gall our friends opposite to no end, but thank heaven that we have this Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Sometimes, when I see this government, with its 39% of the votes cast by 62% of the electorate, telling us that this is what we have to do and trying to interfere in people’s lives, in how they live their lives, in what they believe in their innermost selves, in what affects them personally, it scares me to death.

I have talked with colleagues from every party. The even greater fallacy in their argument is when we come to the question of an abortion at eight or eight and a half months in a pregnancy. For heaven’s sake, the people listening to us have to know that under most of the protocols at all the various hospitals in the provinces, no one is performing great numbers of abortions after the twentieth week of pregnancy. I will say again that this is a decision that must be made by the woman and her doctor. If there are any such abortions, it is often because there may be a medical problem for the pregnant woman, who could possibly die from it.

So let us stop scaring people and abide by the Charter and the decisions, not the ones made 400 years ago, but the ones made in 1988 and 1990 and 2000 and so on. Let us stop these constant attacks on the women of Canada.

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. My colleague referred earlier in her speech to the fact that there were no women on this side of the House. First, I would like to point out that in fact there are. Second, she knows it is inappropriate for anyone to refer to the presence or absence of members in the House. I would ask her to correct the record.

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, that will be the only apology I make today.

It was perhaps not appropriate, but at the same time, I found it rather odd to see a motion that affects women that was mainly...

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. I believe the record has been corrected.

This is a difficult debate with strong disagreements. I would ask for respect on all sides of the House and I will tolerate nothing else.

The hon. member for Vancouver Centre.

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

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.

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Carleton—Mississippi Mills Ontario


Gordon O'Connor ConservativeMinister of State and Chief Government Whip

Madam Speaker, I offer my response to Motion No. 312. The issue before us, in essence, is on what it is to be human. This has been debated as long as man has existed. Scientists, theologians, philosophers and doctors have all offered opinions.

The House of Commons, however, is not a laboratory. It is not a house of faith, an academic setting or a hospital. It is a legislature, and a legislature deals with law, specifically, in this case, subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code.

The purpose of Motion No. 312, which we are considering today, is to open to question the validity of subsection 223(1), which asserts that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth. If the legal definition of when one becomes a human being were to be adjusted so that a fetus is declared to be a legal person at some earlier stage of gestation, then the homicide laws would apply. As a necessary consequence, aborting fetal development anywhere in the potentially new adjusted period would be considered homicide. Thus the ultimate intention of this motion is to restrict abortions in Canada at some fetal development stage.

It should be noted that subsection 223(1) currently states that a child becomes a human being when it has completely proceeded in a living state from the body of its mother, irrespective of whether it has breathed, whether it has circulation separate from its mother, or whether the umbilical cord has been severed.

The effect of subsection 223(1) is to indicate the point in time at which homicide laws would apply. If someone intentionally injures a child before or during its birth such that it dies after becoming a human being, then the criminal law treats that as a homicide. This is set out in subsection 223(2).

According to section 238 of the Criminal Code, when an injury is inflicted on a child in the act of birth and that injury prevents the child from becoming a human being, it is an indictable offence and is punishable by a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

I would note as well that this offence, killing an unborn child in the act of birth, section 238, does not apply if a person acts in good faith to preserve the life of the mother and in so doing causes the death of the unborn child. That is set out in subsection 238(2).

For clarity, I wish to point out that section 223(1) provides a legal test as to when Canada's criminal homicide laws apply to the death of a child. I say again, it is not a medical test, as Motion No. 312 suggests. It has always been part of Canada's criminal law, and it reflects the well-established legal principle that the law does not recognize a fetus or unborn child as a legal person, possessing rights separate from its mother, until it is born alive.

The Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed this interpretation for the purposes of the Criminal Code. The Supreme Court has also declared that the right to liberty guarantees a degree of personal autonomy over important decisions intimately affecting private life. The decision of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is essentially a moral decision, and in a free and democratic society, the conscience of the individual must be paramount and take precedence over that of the state.

This does not mean, however, that abortion is unregulated in Canada. Abortion is regulated through provincial governments' responsibility for the delivery of health care services in conjunction with the medical profession. All provincial and territorial colleges of physicians and surgeons have declared that abortion is a medically necessary procedure, and delivery of this medical service is regulated accordingly.

Abortion is a very serious and long-lasting decision for women, and I want all women to continue to live in a society in which decisions on abortion can be made, one way or the other, with advice from family and a medical doctor and without the threat of legal consequences. I do not want women to go back to the previous era where some were forced to obtain abortions from illegal and medically dangerous sources. This should never happen in a civilized society.

Whether one accepts it or not, abortion is and always will be part of society. There will always be dire situations in which some women may have to choose the option of abortion. No matter how many laws some people may want government to institute against abortion, abortion cannot be eliminated. It is part of the human condition.

I cannot understand why those who are adamantly opposed to abortion want to impose their beliefs on others by way of the Criminal Code. There is no law that says that a woman must have an abortion. No one is forcing those who oppose abortion to have one.

Within the free and democratic society of Canada, if one has a world view based on a personal moral code that is somewhat different from others, then live according to those views as long as they are within the current laws. On the other hand, citizens who are also living within the reasonable limits of our culture and who may not agree with another's particular moral principles should not be compelled to follow them by the force of a new law.

As we know, Motion No. 312 is sponsored by a private member, not the government. I can confirm that as a member of the Conservative caucus for nearly eight years, the Prime Minister has been consistent with his position on abortion. As early as 2005 at the Montreal convention and in every federal election platform since, he has stated that the Conservative government will not support any legislation to regulate abortion. While the issue may continue to be debated by some, as in the private member's motion here tonight, I state again that the government's position is clear: it will not reopen this debate.

I am sure we all recognize that the issue of abortion raises strongly held and divergent views within and outside Parliament. However, I firmly believe that each of us should be able to pursue our lifestyle as long as it is within the boundaries of law and does not interfere with the actions of others. Trying to amend the legal rules governing abortion, as is intended by this motion, will not improve the situation. It will only lead to increased conflict as the attempt is made to turn back the clock.

Society has moved on and I do not believe this proposal should proceed. As well, it is in opposition to our government's position. Accordingly I will not support Motion No. 312. I will vote against it and I recommend that others oppose it.

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

April 26th, 2012 / 6:05 p.m.


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, today I would like to begin by expressing how honoured I am to be newly appointed critic for the Status of Women for the NDP.

It is an honour to follow in the footsteps of my colleagues, such as the member for Gatineau, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, the member for London—Fanshawe, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, dynamic women such as Dawn Black, Alexa McDonough, Audrey McLaughlin, Margaret Mitchell, Rosemary Brown, Grace MacInnis and so many others.

It is an honour to speak out on behalf of our party, the NDP, that has always been at the forefront of fighting for women's rights and gender equality. In that fight for gender equality, as Status of Women critic, I would like to put out a warning for the Prime Minister, that in the House and in fighting for gender equality, I will be using the f-word, yes the f-word, feminism, the approach that sees and understands well that women and men must be equal and that women of my generation will be taking that word back to say that we do not want to go back; we want to move forward.

Since 2006, consecutive Conservative governments have rolled back the clock on gender equality. They removed the word “equality” from the Status of Women mandate. They eliminated the court challenges program and pay equity legislation. They have cut advocacy, services, research and have shown nothing but inaction when it comes to violence against women and, most notably, violence against aboriginal women.

Every step along the way, Conservative governments have sought to silence women's voices and every step along the way, they have sought to destroy the foundations of our work to achieve gender equality.

Perhaps the most pointed attack on women has been in the area of reproductive rights. Here we are again today, debating a Conservative motion that essentially would reopen the debate on a woman's right to choose.

The reality is that the issue of abortion was settled in 1988. In 1988 the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada's abortion law, ruling that it was unconstitutional. The justices found that the law violated Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, because it infringed on a woman's right to life, liberty and security of person. That was 1988, almost 25 years ago, a generation ago.

This decision came about after years of work from women who, from across the country, sent the message that women ought to have the right to choose, that women ought to have the right to decide their future, that women ought to have the ability to define their destiny.

That fight also took place in the House of Commons. Our leader in 1987, Audrey McLaughlin, spoke out clearly, saying:

—limiting the right to the “personal care and control of one’s body” is a violation of a most “basic and fundamental right”, that of “reproductive choice.

As Ms. McLaughlin and others have pointed out, abortions, if they are not performed legally in medical facilities under the direction of a physician, will happen in much less favourable circumstances. As ugly as it may seem, women must not be forced to return to those ugly circumstances of using coat hangers, vacuum cleaners or putting themselves in the hands of quacks. “It is an ugly reality”, Ms. McLaughlin said, “but it is a reality.”

There were caravans, protests, lobby meetings, speeches and debates, and the issue was settled in 1988. When Canadians have been asked, time and time again a majority have supported a woman's right to choose. Here we are in 2012, seeing the government reopen the debate on abortion. It has not been truthful about it either. Time and time again the Prime Minister and members of his party have said that they will not reopen the abortion debate. The Prime Minister declared:

As long as I am prime minister we are not opening the abortion debate...The government will not bring forward any such legislation and any such legislation that is brought forward will be defeated as long as I am prime minister.

That comes from an article in the Globe and Mail, from Wednesday, December 21, 2011.

An article written around that same time quoted the Prime Minister as saying, “As long as I’m prime minister we are not reopening the abortion debate”.

This is the Conservative Party's Trojan horse agenda. During an election, and even here in the House of Commons, the Conservatives tell Canadians one thing. Then, as a minority government and now as a majority government, we see what they truly mean.

If the Prime Minister did not want a woman's right to choose to be debated, we would not be here tonight. What is interesting is the Conservatives felt the need to tell Canadians something else so those same Canadians would vote for them. They waited until they won a majority to then uncover their hidden agenda.

I believe the Conservatives have some lessons to learn from their sister party in Alberta, the Wild Rose Party, which despite predictions that it would win a majority government, ended up with no more than a few seats. Why? Because it scared people. Its members talked about conscience rights and turning the clock back on the rights of women, same sex rights and so on. The more people heard from the party, the more they turned away.

Interestingly, a number of Conservative MPs very openly showed serious support for the Wild Rose Party. Maybe they can watch closely enough to learn a lesson. Canadians will not stand for a failed attempt to have our rights turned back. Women will not stand for the rolling back of the clock on women's rights. My generation will not stand for going backward.

Yesterday I was inspired by the many young women who organized and came together in front of Parliament to stand up and speak out for our right to choose. Like me, many of these young women, some of whom were not around in 1988, were very young when this decision was made. We know from history books of the women and men who fought hard to have a woman's right to choose respected. We have read in our history books how Canada slowly, through the work of so many people outside and inside Parliament, became a model for the world with respect to gender equality.

We have all known that we have to go much further, but the reality is we are only going backward under the government.

That is my message as a young woman, a woman who belongs to a generation that has to fight to protect its rights and make sure that the situation in Canada is what it should be, now and in the future.

With its approach to Canada, the government is turning back the clock on the rights of women, minorities and aboriginal peoples. In this evening's debate, we have to say that we oppose an agenda that would take Canadians backwards.

Nevertheless, I am hopeful, and I am glad to belong to a party—the New Democratic Party—that is united in its opposition to Motion M-312 and to reopening the abortion debate, a party that stands for moving forward on women's rights and gender equality.

I have a message for the Prime Minister and his party on behalf of our caucus and on behalf of women and men from across the country. My message is that this issue has been decided. A woman's right to reproductive choice is a human right. In Canada, in 2012, a woman's right to choose is not up for negotiation.

Special Committee on Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:15 p.m.


Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise here in the House to come revisit a question I asked the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development on February 6. I will be coming back to this question frequently over the next few weeks during our adjournment proceedings, because my question deserves an answer. Yet I have received none from either the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development or the Minister of Industry on the situation regarding the consolidation of EI processing sites, and particularly the relocation of the EI processing centre from Rimouski to Thetford Mines.

I will begin by giving a brief history. The consolidation itself was announced five years ago. So, people have known for five years that there would be some kind of consolidation of EI processing services across the country. It was not necessarily a very wise decision, but that is what the government decided. That is the direction it has chosen to take.

In 2009, we found documents, including internal memos, that showed that the decision regarding Quebec had already been made. Only 6 out of 25 EI processing centres would remain, including the EI processing centre in Rimouski.

That decision was confirmed by a number of other documents. The matter was settled. However, in August 2011, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development mentioned in a press release that there would indeed be a consolidation and that the number of employment insurance processing centres would be reduced to six. We already knew that, but of the six remaining centres, Rimouski was out and Thetford Mines was in. This is particularly troubling because Thetford Mines happens to be in the riding of the Minister of Industry, the hon. member for Mégantic—L'Érable.

A few days later, in the local papers in the riding of the Minister of Industry and hon. member for Mégantic—L'Érable, the minister himself made a statement indicating that this was very good news for his riding and his municipality. According to the minister, this good news came as a result of his presentations to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and the fact that the centre was located in a nice building with qualified people. I do not doubt that, but the decision had already been made in 2009 and had been announced many times.

We have a situation here where we have a Minister of Industry and a Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development who, without any process, any opening, or opportunity for anyone to be able to intervene in the matter, decided behind closed doors to change the location of an employment insurance processing centre. And we have a minister who brags about his role in the transaction.

As the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, I too could have made presentations to the minister if the process had been open, if there had been a fair process for such a transfer, but there was not.

What we have here is an arbitrary, unilateral decision by the minister, with a suggestion by the Minister of Industry, to change the location of the employment insurance processing centre and ask the 37 people who work there to move to Thetford Mines.

There are people who left Saguenay, Rivière-du-Loup and other parts of Quebec to go and work in the employment insurance processing centre in Rimouski because they were told that it was going to remain there. They have thus already had to move once to go to Rimouski. They were happy in the riding, in Rimouski, which is a very beautiful city. Now, they are being asked to move to Thetford Mines. Why? It is just because the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and the Minister of Industry decided that is how it should be.

On February 6, in the House, I asked how the process was done, why the decision was actually made and why the government, which is currently so set on trying to reduce spending—as we saw in budget 2012—was going to now close the employment insurance processing centre in Rimouski. The closure of this centre will result in the loss of 37 jobs for the region and the government will have to pay, among other costs, over $1.2 million in rent for a building in the riding that it will no longer be using. All this at a time when there are major delays in the processing of employment insurance claims.

I would therefore like an answer. Why did the minister make this decision without a competitive process behind closed doors?