House of Commons Hansard #150 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-37.


The House resumed from April 26 consideration of the motion.

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

1:30 p.m.


Massimo Pacetti Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment. This is my first opportunity to do so.

I am pleased to rise in debate on Motion No. 312. I am proud to stand with my opposition colleagues in voting against the motion. Much of the discussion in the House has turned on the issue of debate, namely the Conservative member who introduced the motion insists that it does nothing more than foster debate over the definition of personhood in the Criminal Code.

In reality, this is just a backdoor to reopen the debate over abortion in Canada, a debate that has been closed for many years. This issue has been laid to rest in the minds of so many Canadians and, frankly, I share the astonishment that we are again in the House needing to debate something for which so many women and men fought tirelessly decades ago.

The member for Kitchener Centre, who sponsored this motion, claims that all he wants to do is improve the legal definition of a human being in Canada. His motion would create a special committee directed to review subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code. By moving a motion that uses neutral language to review the current definition of a human being, a motion that does not say whether the proposed committee should amend or maintain the existing subsection 223(1), the member can claim that his primary concern is creating better laws. But that is not the case.

The mover of this motion does not deny that he is anti-abortion, but he framed Motion M-312 as an issue of archaic legislation. Let us be honest: an old act is not necessarily a bad act. The Constitution Act of 1867 is close to 150 years old. But no parliamentarian has tried to abolish the Constitution simply because it is old. Similarly, murder has been illegal for a long time, but I do not think that this government, which says it is tough on crime, will decide to decriminalize murder simply because the laws prohibiting it have been around for a very long time.

If he really thinks that subsection 223(1) is archaic, the member for Kitchener Centre should try to amend that section, rather than place the burden of research and decision making on a special committee. Why use resources funded by taxpayers so that parliamentarians can hold a debate that the vast majority of Canadians find undesirable and even offensive? Why accept these terms of debate when the mover himself has said that he would like the legal definition of a human being to include fetuses, thereby restricting abortion?

It is clear the member has ideas as to how he wants “personhood” defined in the Criminal Code. Why does he not just propose the change? Why does he not put forward for all Canadians to see exactly what he wants to have us legislate, instead of pretending he is neutral and is doing this in the interest of making better laws?

Truly, if the government were interested in better laws, it would not have gutted the Law Commission of Canada. It would not have closed the court challenges program. It would not insist on legislation that is unconstitutional. Just this week, we saw one of its statutes overturned by the Ontario courts.

The Criminal Code is in need of reform and cleaning. Indeed on this whole topic of personhood, the Criminal Code still speaks of therapeutic abortion committees, something the Supreme Court struck down in 1988.

If he wants to make a better Criminal Code, why does he not propose to remove this relic that hearkens back to a time when women did not have a choice?

As a non-lawyer, I cannot profess to be a great legal scholar, but I do understand that extending legal personhood to fetuses, the ultimate goal of Motion No. 312 according to its sponsor, would jeopardize the status of abortion in Canada because it would grant legal protections to fetuses such as the right to personal security. The question, of course, is where would that slippery slope take us?

Would this mean outlawing abortion entirely? Would we also then limit what women can do while pregnant? Think about it. If we start down this path, we can easily see the same member coming back here in a few years to say, “Well, abortion is illegal. Now why don't we make it illegal for women to work in their last trimester?”

Where would this assault on the rights of women end?

Canadian jurisprudence on the issue of fetal personhood is clear. A fetus may not be considered a person under existing law, aside from subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code, which clearly states that a fetus is not a person until the moment of complete birth. A number of Supreme Court decisions have also indicated that a fetus cannot be considered a person in Canadian law.

It is no surprise to anyone paying attention that the government has been attacking our courts, limiting the power of judges through mandatory minimum sentences, reducing options for sentencing alternatives.

However, the law in Canada is settled here. The only suggestion the member opposite can seem to muster up for changing it is that it is old. That simply is not good enough, especially when it comes to the rights of women.

During the 2011 election campaign, the current Prime Minister promised that his party would not change the laws on abortion, saying:

[A]s long as I am prime minister, we will not reopen the debate on abortion. We will leave the law as it stands.

The Prime Minister should hold his party and that member to his promise.

The Liberal Party does not support reopening the abortion debate, in any way.

Frankly, it is a shame that we are wasting time debating this when Canadians are out of work, budget cuts across multiple sectors are putting the health and safety of Canadians at risk, there is a lack of affordable housing and many first nation communities live in circumstances that are downright appalling for a first world nation.

The Chief Government Whip said that he did not want women to return to a bygone era when some women had to resort to illegal and dangerous abortions. That should never happen in a civilized society. However, that is what might happen if abortion is criminalized.

We should not be turning back the clock on women's rights. Instead, we should be making progress together for women, be it on pay equity, reopening the offices of Status of Women Canada that were closed by the government, ensuring that affordable housing and childcare options exist and ensuring women are represented in public life through judicial appointments and the like.

When the member for Kitchener Centre and his colleagues talk about wanting to make better laws, why not solve issues relating to matrimonial real property on reserves for first nations? Why not create a pay equity commission and tribunal, such as has been called for by the Native Women's Association of Canada? Why not reverse the old age security decision that will harm senior women, who live longer than men and because of workplace discrimination may be in particularly precarious financial situations?

I am proud to be part of a party fighting for the rights of women, not turning back the clock through back door attempts to reopen the abortion debate and through retrogressive policies that prejudice the majority of Canadians.

Mr. Speaker, I expect this motion to be defeated and I will oppose it.

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

1:35 p.m.


Stella Ambler Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in favour of Motion No. 312 as proposed by the member for Kitchener Centre.

For the benefit of my colleagues on all sides of the House, I point out that the only thing Motion No. 312 does is to propose a study. Canadians have different views on this important law, which Motion No. 312 proposes to study, and that is even more reason for Parliament and the House to show leadership. Is it good for Canada if members of Parliament are afraid to even hear evidence about any law? This issue already provokes passionate debate among Canadians. I believe this passion can only fester if it continues to be ignored by Parliament. Is it not better to shed some light on a subject rather than to hide it away somewhere or, worse, to pretend it is not even there?

This House is always being asked to update and change many Canadian laws. After all that is what we do here. For example, we were asked to update our gambling laws by the member for Windsor—Tecumseh. Members may know him. Another recent example is the courts' calling for an update to our laws on prostitution. Would it not be strange if Parliament refused to even study an update of our 400-year-old definition of who is a human being in law? Canadians deserve better than that from us. They deserve a little more courage. Canadians expect more commitment to the true facts from us.

Some say the courts have already settled the question of who is a human being in Canada. To be clear, that is simply not true. Court after court has said, again and again, that this issue is so important that it is Parliament's responsibility to deliberate on it and resolve it for Canadians. Those who say the courts have settled this question should read the comments the courts have actually written about it. For example, here is what the late Justice Bertha Wilson said in her 1988 Morgentaler decision that threw out Canada's abortion law. She wrote:

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

The late Justice Wilson was almost certainly not what we might understand as pro-life, yet Justice Wilson suggested almost exactly the study now proposed by the member for Kitchener Centre in Motion No. 312. If a woman like Justice Bertha Wilson, with her impeccable feminist credentials, supported such a parliamentary study, then surely anyone can. Everyone should.

I am informed that in the Tremblay v. Daigle decision, the court discussed the question of whether a fetus is a person and said:

Decisions based upon broad social, political, moral and economic choices are more appropriately left to the legislature.

In the decision on Winnipeg Child and Family Services v. D.F.G., the court said:

The point is that they are major changes attracting an array of consequences that would place the courts at the heart of a web of thorny moral and social issues which are better dealt with by elected legislators than by the courts.

Far from answering this question, the courts have actually suggested that Parliament holds the responsibility to deliberate on this question and to sort it out.

Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada actually says:

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, whether or not (a) it has breathed; (b) it has an independent circulation; or (c) the navel string is severed.

This definition in law was first written down in 1644 and dates from even before that. This 17th century law was incorporated into Canadian law in the 19th century at Confederation. This definition of a human being may have made sense when it was written 400 years ago, when leeches and bloodletting were standard medical treatment. People then knew nothing about a child's development before birth. However, does this definition of a human being make medical and scientific sense in the 21st century?

Our knowledge of a child's development has come a long way in 400 years. Here is what I have learned about a child's development before birth.

The child's heart begins to beat approximately 18 days after conception. At about six weeks, some of the child's brain activity can be detected. The eyes begin to open at eight weeks when all body systems are present. At nine weeks, although the mother cannot feel it, independent movement begins. By week 16, eyelashes form and fingerprints are completely established.

REM sleep has been recorded from a child at age 17 weeks, suggesting that the child is dreaming. By week 19, children have been observed to respond to specific sounds, and by week 20 are observed being startled by loud external noises. Lastly, by the seventh month, if the child is born, his or her lungs have developed enough to provide adequate ventilation without assistance. Other organs are sufficiently formed to support the child's life.

Canadians and this House should hear from experts about facts like these. Based on what I have learned about the development of a child before birth, it seems to me that a child is a human being well before the moment of complete birth. If this is true and accurate, our definition of a human being is wrong. If none of this is true or accurate, Canadians and this House should hear that too.

If the scientific evidence tells us that our legal definition of who is a human being is wrong, is it right for us to ignore it? If the facts of scientifically established evidence show that a child is a human being before the moment of complete birth, then surely Parliament has a responsibility to amend that definition of when a child becomes a human being.

Why would anyone oppose a respectful dialogue to gather evidence on such an important law? That is the objective of Motion No. 312. Motion No. 312 does not propose any legislation on any subject. It merely proposes that a parliamentary committee look at the evidence of the development of a child before the moment of complete birth.

I believe it is always helpful to shed light on an issue. Armed with complete knowledge, Parliament can assess what, if anything, should be done about subsection 223(1) and its definition of a human being. This is a necessary step in reconciling Canadian law with scientific facts.

However, if Parliament, acting on behalf of all Canadians, refuses even to discuss the issue, it will be letting down the vast majority of Canadians who believe in honest and just laws, grounded in reality as we now understand it.

To recap, Motion No. 312 calls for a respectful conversation among Canadians. Who better than Canadians could have that kind of conversation? Let us talk about Motion No. 312 and what it really says.

Need it be said that we live in a representative parliamentary democracy, governed by laws that should be informed by the best of current human knowledge? In 1988, the Supreme Court was clear that this question was not for the court to decide, but for Parliament. That is why this House is elected: to hear informed witnesses, to consider that testimony, to deliberate and to exercise good, informed judgment. This is an important issue that deserves that kind of testimony and deliberation.

Let me remind this House that Motion No. 312 insists that all options be reported and that no decision be made by the committee to which it is referred.

I also remind my colleagues that this is about fundamental, universal human rights and about a 400-year-old law, frozen in time. Should it be immune to scrutiny and our consideration? Surely not. I ask all members of this House to join me in supporting Motion No. 312.

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

1:45 p.m.


Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, the motion being debated in the House today is nothing less than an attempt to reopen the abortion debate in Canada. This is quite literally a slap in the face to women who have fought long and hard for the right to control their own bodies and their ability to determine for themselves when they wish to have children. Motion No. 312 states:

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....

The member for Kitchener Centre's desire to open up this debate has an end goal of changing the legislation to enable the fetus to be declared a human being. We are all very aware that such a change in the definition will place Canada directly on the regressive path to banning abortions.

The member for Kitchener Centre held a press conference earlier this week. In that press conference he quite clearly stated that the current definition of a person is an exclusion of a class of people. These types of statements distort the truth. In reality, over 90% of abortions in Canada are done in the first trimester. Only 2% to 3% are done after 16 weeks and no doctor in this country performs abortions past 20 or 21 weeks, except for compelling health or genetic reasons.

The comments by the member are a blatant attempt to misrepresent the facts. A fertilized egg is not a class of people, and I am offended that the member would shamelessly misrepresent the women's rights movement as an example of why we should open the door to changing abortion rights in Canada.

I would like to highlight several legal precedents that have already dealt with the question that Motion No. 312 raises, in particular Tremblay v. Daigle, Dobson v. Dobson, Winnipeg Child and Family Services v. G., Borowski v. Canada, and R. v. Morgentaler.

These rulings have concluded or noted that the fetus has never been a person nor been included in the meaning of “everyone” in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; that a fetus must be born alive to enjoy rights, the born alive rule; and that the law has always treated a pregnant woman and her fetus as one person under the law.

We need not look far to see the danger of Motion No. 312. In the United States fetuses have legal personhood rights in at least 38 states, most through so-called fetal homicide laws, which are supposedly aimed at third parties who assault pregnant women.

In reality, these laws are used to justify prosecuting pregnant women under child welfare laws, and they function much like the 2008 bill of the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park, Bill C-484, which proposed changes to the Criminal Code that would, if passed, also threaten a woman's right to choose. The intent of that bill was to amend the Criminal Code to have two charges laid against anyone killing a pregnant woman, and it would in effect have given legal rights to a fetus, thereby changing the definition of when a fetus becomes a person under the law. While the stated purpose of the bill was the protection for a woman and her fetus, in practice, like Motion No. 312, these laws are primarily used to justify the prosecution of women.

Motions and bills such as these create obvious dangers for those who counsel or perform abortions. They also turn pregnant women into lesser citizens whose rights are subordinated to those of a fertilized egg.

What is absolutely clear is that Motion No. 312 is taking aim at a woman's right to choose and is a direct attack on jurisprudence. Canada was once a world leader in the promotion and protection of women's rights and gender equality. It was committed to the view that gender equality is not only a human rights issue but also an essential component of sustainable development, social justice, peace and security.

These goals can only be achieved if women are able to participate as equal partners, decision-makers and beneficiaries of the sustainable development of their societies. How can Canada be considered a world leader in women's rights when we have members of Parliament suggesting that we revert to the barbaric days of gender inequality through the restriction of abortion?

When abortions are illegal, women do not stop having them. They only take more risks to access the service and these risks can have deadly consequences. For instance, before abortions were legalized in South Africa in 1997, there were an average of 425 deaths stemming from unsafe abortions every year. Today, the numbers are below 20.

In Latin America, most abortions are considered illegal, yet roughly 3.8 million procedures are performed each year and are directly linked to over 4,000 avoidable deaths.

The same happened here. Before abortion laws in Canada were struck down, there were over 35,000 illegal abortions taking place every year. Between 1926 and 1947, there were an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 deaths as a result of desperate women submitting themselves to clandestine procedures.

Despite assurances from the Prime Minister—known for his tight control over his caucus members—that the government does not plan to reopen the abortion debate, there is a troubling trend in the government's backdoor actions and its support for backbenchers who are continually trying to revive this issue.

In the last Parliament, the member for Winnipeg South tabled Bill C-510, An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort (Roxanne's Law). In 2008, as I mentioned earlier, we saw Bill C-484, a bill that nearly the entire Conservative caucus supported, including the Prime Minister.

In 2010, as part of the maternal health initiative at the G8 summit in Muskoka, the government imposed a moratorium on the funding of safe abortions in 10 developing countries, emphasizing the protection of life yet ignoring the consequences of systemic rape in some of those countries. The statistics from those developing countries are heartbreaking. Approximately 70,000 women die each year due to unsafe abortions and 5 million are hospitalized because of complications resulting from unsafe abortions.

Women's groups in Canada fighting for comprehensive maternal health funding were told by a Conservative senator to shut up about abortion or else there might be a backlash. The senator contended that Canada was still a country with free and accessible abortion and to leave it at that.

This thinly veiled threat points to a greater fallacy, that abortion services are in fact available across Canada. Some provinces have very few hospitals providing services. Prince Edward Island has none. Canadian women living in rural areas and those in jurisdictions without an abortion provider travel long distances, encountering significant costs and additional stress. These constraints have the most impact on young women, those who have little job security, or women with significant family obligations.

Turning back the clock and reopening the debate on when human life begins is a dangerous path to take. The Canadian government should be working to strengthen women's rights instead of heading down a path that exposes women to the dangers of illicit, unsafe procedures.

Women in Canada have the right to choose. That has been established by the Supreme Court of Canada, and we demand that the government ensure this right's continuation and that all equality rights are protected. We need a government that will champion programs and policies that ensure that women's contributions to society, the economy, and leadership in this country are respected and encouraged. Access to safe, legal abortions are integral to these rights.

I want to make it very clear that I do not support this motion. New Democrats do not support this motion. We will actively fight against any motion or bill that will threaten a woman's right to choose. It is both frightening and insulting that the men who have introduced these bills and motions have so little respect for a woman's ability to determine what is best for her, her body and her family. The right rests solely with women who choose. No one has the right to interfere. The Supreme Court has upheld that right and so should the members of this Parliament.

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

1:55 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands


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

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to be here today. I want to point out that I received over 200 emails just last night supporting the position I am taking today. I have had over 1,500 responses encouraging me to support Motion No. 312. I find it interesting that many of them have come from young women. I think that is a rebuke to the opposition members, reminding them that there are young women in this country who believe in what is being proposed in today's motion.

I am pleased to address the matter of Motion No. 312. To do so, it is necessary to refer to subsection 223(1), Canada's 400-year-old definition of “human being”. It 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, whether or not

(a) it has breathed;

(b) it has an independent circulation; or

(c) the navel string is severed.

Many Canadians have questioned the accuracy of this definition. They ask: What is the medical evidence? Does a child become a human being at some point before the moment of complete birth, or is it at the point fixed by subsection 223(1)? Do Canadians believe that a child transforms from a non-human into a human being at the moment of complete birth, as subsection 223(1) dictates? Motion No. 312 attempts to address these questions. The answers to the questions have implications for Canadians and Canada's justice system. Motion No. 312 calls on this country's leaders, parliamentarians, to look at the evidence and ask if that evidence verifies or contradicts subsection 223(1).

We need to recognize that a majority of Canadians believe that human life begins long before a person is born. We can understand that if the evidence establishes that a child does in fact become a human being before the moment of complete birth, then subsection 223(1) has some major problems and it is actually a law that dehumanizes and excludes a whole class of human beings from legal protection. That is why we need to pass Motion No. 312 in order to get the facts about this issue.

This is a very serious matter. If we presently have a law that decrees a certain human being is not a human being, is that an honest and acceptable law? Could such a law ever be considered just or legitimate? If Parliament finds itself in a situation where it allows one law that decrees the dehumanization and exclusion of an entire class of people, what are the safeguards that will prevent us from finding reasons to decree that others are not human beings as well?

This is just not a theoretical and academic question, because many of the letters and petitions that I have received in my office have referenced the past. They point out that several times legislatures and supreme courts have supported other laws, which, like subsection 223(1), have decreed the exclusion of a class of people from legal protection. They mention, for example, in the 1850s the United States Supreme Court issued a decree that African Americans would not be considered human persons under U.S. law. Instead, they would be excluded from recognition even though they were human beings.

Early in the 20th century, our Canadian Supreme Court ruled that women were not to be considered human persons for purposes of all Canadian laws. Instead, they would be dehumanized and excluded from recognition even though they were human beings. In Germany in the 1930s, laws were passed that dehumanized and excluded mentally challenged people from the protection of law even though they were human beings.

Such laws have been opposed more and more over the last 400 years. By the middle of the last century, Canadians and others around the world reached an international consensus, which is that laws that dehumanize people and exclude any human beings are condemned. Instead, the consensus is that every person has an inherent worth and dignity based on who they are as a human being. Governments and laws can never legitimately assign or withhold the value of any human being. Instead, they can only recognize the worth and dignity with which each human being is created.

Subsection 223(1) has been overlooked until now, but the question really is: Does it directly contradict these principles of universal human rights that so many Canadians have fought for and have died to defend? Do we have a consensus in Canada in favour of universal human rights, or are we willing to accept that our government or laws may dehumanize and exclude classes of people with false definitions of what it means to be human? I do not think Canadians have come to that point. They continue to believe strongly in the unique value of each human life from its beginning to its natural conclusion and they would expect that Parliament is able to discuss these issues.

That belief in the value of human life needs to be protected and encouraged. It is not enough that we properly define human life. It is just as important that we continue as a culture to reaffirm the uniqueness and inherent dignity of every human life. That is how we find good and just solutions to the many life issues that we will be facing as legislators and as a country. To change subsection 223(1) and then to say that we do not recognize human life as having value in itself would lead us down some very dangerous paths.

This is not an unreasonable concern. Our culture is in danger of changing its view of the value of human life, and we all know that. There are many illustrations that are readily apparent.

There is an active attempt within the medical community to convince parents that it is necessary to eliminate Down's syndrome children before they are born. Recently, two European academics proposed that newborn infants should not be treated as human persons since newborn infants are essentially no different than children are before birth. I am told they used the Down's syndrome argument for elimination prior to birth in order to justify their afterbirth proposal.

The member for Kitchener Centre has found evidence that in Canada 40 to 50 children every year are born alive but later die of injuries inflicted by what is referred to as a termination of pregnancy. These are injuries that take place before birth when subsection 223(1) has taken human rights protection away from them.

The late Justice Bertha Wilson, who was as much a feminist as any person in this room, agreed that our existing criteria of complete birth were wrong. She believed that the interests and rights of a child before birth should be recognized and protected from some point in the second trimester of the child's development. Justice Wilson quite reasonably suggested that Parliament resolve this by studying evidence from all the relevant disciplines. This is the suggestion which is embodied in Motion No. 312. Justice Wilson did not think that this suggestion contradicted her rejection of Canada's last abortion law. Will abortion become illegal if we study this as Justice Wilson suggested? Absolutely not.

Why would a 400-year-old definition of human being be frozen in time forever? Why would a 400-year-old definition of human being be forever exempt from all democratic review? Why would a 400-year-old definition of human being be severed from advances in our medical understanding?

Why would parliamentarians turn their backs on this important discussion just because we are faced with diverse views on an important topic of human rights? Why would we not search for consensus through informed dialogue?

I ask members in the House to accept Justice Wilson's suggestion for Parliament to inform itself. I ask members to stand up for the Canadian consensus and legacy that every human being has an inherent worth and dignity which all our laws must recognize. I ask members to approve the open-minded, evidence-based study, which is all that Motion No. 312 proposes.

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

2:05 p.m.


Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the House to express my strong opposition for Motion No. 312. I am strongly opposed to this motion based on my own personal convictions, but dozens of my constituents have also asked me to oppose it because they are concerned. While I am honoured to speak today, I am very disappointed that I am addressing the House about an issue that most Canadians thought was completely closed. The hon. member for Kitchener Centre wants to reopen a debate on an issue that we thought had been resolved for many years. It seems that he wants to try to break the social peace that has settled over this country. He brought forward a motion that reads as follows:

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;

The motion also sets out the composition of and powers given to the committee.

I would first like to clarify certain statements that the hon. member for Kitchener Centre made in the speech he gave during the first hour of debate and other speeches.

The definition dates back to 1892 and not to the 17th century, as he led us to believe. Many of our laws were sanctioned in the early years of our federation and they are still in effect and still relevant to the governance of the country. He also said that abortions were done in the third trimester, more specifically that there were no rights to protect the fetus in the third trimester. I would like to remind the hon. member that 90% of abortions are done in the first trimester. Only 0.3% of abortions are done after the 20th week, and most of those are done for quasi-medical reasons or when the mother's health is in jeopardy.

I would also like to mention to my colleague that abortions are down by an average of 1% per year. So, it is not true that fetuses are being aborted during the third trimester. The Conservatives are twisting the facts to justify their ideologies. Canadians have the right to have the real facts rather than twisted ones.

As I said earlier, in the mind of Canadians, this debate has been closed for many years, following many Supreme Court decisions. It is up to Parliament to make legislation, but it is the responsibility of the courts to review the legislation and to make sure that it is consistent with our Constitution and the individual rights that we all enjoy under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It is important to know the political and legal history behind this debate. Let me quickly go over the facts to refresh the memory of the hon. members opposite, in case they may have forgotten them. In 1988, the Morgentaler decision held that the Criminal Code provisions on abortion were unconstitutional. They violate section 7 of the Charter.

After the 1988 Morgentaler decision, a number of provinces tried to restrict access to abortion by using the health care system in terms of reimbursing costs. They prohibited abortions that were not performed in public hospitals by not paying for abortion fees. In the Morgentaler decisions against the provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba and Quebec, courts ruled in all cases that the provinces’ attempts to restrict abortion were contrary to the Charter.

All of these decisions always focused on a woman's inalienable rights concerning her body. However, as my colleague from Gatineau mentioned in a passionate speech, there was a fundamental aspect missing from the speech by the member for Kitchener Centre: a woman's right to control her own body. This right is included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But the member for Kitchener Centre seems to have completely forgotten that, or simply ignored it. The member said that he wants a study in good faith on the issue and that the definition in section 223 of the Criminal Code is dishonest.

Let us talk about honesty in speeches and statements. The member for Kitchener Centre said:

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.

However, the Chief Government Whip said:

...the ultimate intention of this motion is to restrict abortions in Canada at some fetal development stage.

The member for Ktichener Centre also indicated in an interview with Metro Ottawa published on April 26, 2012, that 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. Either the member is contradicting himself, or else the member for Kitchener Centre is hiding his real desire to turn women who have abortions into criminals. So, the member should be careful when he talks about honesty.

The Conservative Party does not have a good record on this issue. The Conservatives have been trying to criminalize abortion for a long time. The Mulroney government introduced Bill C-43 in order to criminalize abortion, but fortunately it was defeated at third reading.

In 2004, the then leader of the opposition, who is now the Prime Minister, said that the first Conservative government would not be interested in reopening the abortion issue.

In 2008, the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park tried to create a loophole for the criminalization of abortion by introducing Bill C-484, which would have made the murder of a pregnant woman a double homicide. Almost every Conservative, including the Prime Minister, voted for the bill.

In 2010, when the Muskoka Initiative for maternal health was launched by the G8, the Prime minister imposed a moratorium on funding for projects involving abortion in the developing world. Still in 2010, the member for Winnipeg South introduced Bill C-510, which would have made it an offence to coerce a woman to have an abortion.

In 2011, the Prime Minister reiterated this promise with the assurance that his party would not reopen the abortion debate. We know what happened: a member moved a motion with the ultimate goal of restricting access to abortion. One cannot help but wonder about the Conservative Party's ability to be consistent. The Prime Minister seems to have difficulty keeping the more extremist elements of his party in line with his position to not reopen the debate. In any case, the Conservative Party cannot be trusted when it comes to protecting women's rights.

How many times will the Conservatives try to reopen this debate? The Conservative ideology believes that the government should be as small as possible and that it should not interfere in the private lives of people, as demonstrated by its position on the firearms registry.

Strangely enough, this does not seem to apply when it comes to defending the rights and equality of women. If such a motion is accepted by the House, it could lead to the criminalization of abortion, which is completely unacceptable. Criminalizing abortions will not stop women from having them, even if that means having them in conditions that could jeopardize their health and life, not to mention the criminal prosecution that could follow.

Let us look at the example of the United States, where abortion is now severely limited. Women have to travel hundreds of kilometres to have access to this procedure. They have to use their rent and food money to pay for it and they have to go to judges to get permission. When they go to the clinic, they have to listen to anti-abortion propaganda and push their way past violent and aggressive anti-choice activists. They sometimes even have to wait for hours in their cars in the clinic parking lot because of a bomb threat, which is a frequent occurrence. All this to say that most women will do whatever it takes to have access to this procedure, regardless of the difficulty or risk involved.

Is this really the type of society that we want? Do we want to take such a big step backward? Women have fought for decades to assert their individual rights and to protect their safety and security.

We must never impose our beliefs and opinions on others. Members of the Conservative Party may never have to resort to abortion, and I fully respect their positions and their beliefs, but they should never judge women who do resort to abortion, nor should they attempt to take that right away.

Members of the New Democratic Party strongly oppose this motion, which is a direct attack on women's right to choose. The Conservative government, which now has a majority, is speaking out of both sides of its mouth on this issue. We want the Prime Minister to keep the promise he made to Canadians during the most recent election campaigns and to put a stop to these regressive debates. Abortion must remain a matter between a consenting woman and her doctor.

In closing, I am confident that the NDP members will unanimously oppose this motion.

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

September 21st, 2012 / 2:15 p.m.


Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to Motion No. 312 that has been tabled by the member for Kitchener Centre calling for a study of Canada's 400-year-old definition of a human being. I am saddened by some of the comments I have heard falsely describing this man of honour. I have had the privilege of working with him in this House since 2008. He is a man of integrity, logic and a man people in this House respect. I think what he has asked for is reasonable.

It is important that we, as members of Parliament, do not exaggerate and turn to rhetoric but that we show one another respect, listen to one another and that we debate and build good laws. If laws need to be changed, that should be based on science and logic, not on rhetoric. We want a better Canada for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren and for coming generations.

As I share my speech, I have questions that go to my heart. Why is Canada out of sync with the rest of the world? Why does Canada have legislation that is on par with North Korea? Why do we have 400-year-old legislation when the rest of the world has moved on? We have heard about going back to the dark ages.

The member for Kitchener Centre is saying that we should move into the future. We need to look at what is happening in the rest of the world and have a study based on science and all the best evidence. We need to protect women's rights but we also must protect everyone's rights, the rights of women, children, adults and all human rights.

I am saddened that the rhetoric is so strong at times and that it is not based on logic. Maybe they are afraid of the truth and what that study would reveal.

It is important to understand that the context of the motion is about Canada's 400-year-old definition of a human being. Remarkably, polls show that almost 80% of Canadians think that Canada's law already protects children in the last trimester before birth. Sadly, that is not true. There is no legislation in Canada protecting children until the point of complete birth. Is that in line with what is reasonable? The rest of the world, other than North Korea and Canada, have said that it is not reasonable and that is not what scientific evidence shows.

Section 223(1) actually strips away all recognition of humanity from children until the point of complete birth. Subsection 223(1) is a law that actually says that some human beings are not human. As parliamentarians, we have an important job to do with informing Canadians that our law does not protect human rights in any way before the moment of complete birth. It reads:

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, whether or not

(a) it has breathed;

(b) it has an independent circulation;

or (c) the navel string is severed.

A child whose little toe is still in the birth canal and has not fully proceeded from its mother's body is, therefore, not human in Canada and can be and is terminated. How can that possibly be right and just in a Canadian society when it is not in the rest of the world other than Canada and North Korea? Why does our law take such an unusual position in spite of all the recent advances in medical science about the development of a child before birth? Canada is a world leader in those sciences. Why does Canadian law say that a child is not a human being until the moment of complete birth when any parent knows that a child is there?

Most parents are able to hear their child's heartbeat and even see their child sucking their little thumb long before the moment of complete birth. Why does Canadians law decree that such children are not human before the moment of complete birth? That is a good question and the study would, hopefully, provide some guidance.

The study that is being requested would have no conclusions. It would be a study to find out the facts. Maybe the committee would make recommendations, maybe not. It would be up to the committee. Why would we be afraid of a study?

Why is it so important that Parliament recognize the fundamental human rights of every human being? The answer can be found in the sweep of history over the past 400 years since our definition of human being was enacted. We can look throughout history with horror. Tragedy after tragedy resulted when powerful people decreed that some people would not be treated as human beings. However, one after another around the world laws which stripped the vulnerable of fundamental human rights have been repealed.

History will look back on this moment when we members were debating this issue in the House. Maybe we will look back on our lives when we breathe our last breath. This summer I said good-bye to my father-in-law. I have said good-bye to my father and my mother. Those times have made me look back on my life. Will I have regrets or will I hold my head high on how I voted this coming Wednesday on this motion? Will I be afraid of the truth, or will I go for it and do the right thing? I hope all of us will do the right thing.

Apart from a diminishing number of states in the U.S., the only other country in the world that shares Canada's complete lack of recognition of human rights before birth is North Korea.

In Canada every year there are 40 to 50 infants who were born alive but died later due to injuries inflicted during pregnancy termination, when no human rights were recognized in Canadian law.

Canadian courts have repeatedly ruled that it is Parliament's duty, we members here in this sacred House, to decide at what point human rights for children should begin.

Should those rights begin at the age of viability? Should they be the same as the standard in Europe, which is approximately 12 weeks? Some governments in Europe identify it as being earlier than 12 weeks. The choice to end a pregnancy can be made a bit earlier than 12 weeks or not at all, but the standard in Europe is 12 weeks. Nothing can be done after 12 weeks; one has the choice up to 12 weeks. In the United States, it is the age of viability, which is about 20 weeks.

Why does Canada have the same policies as North Korea? A study would reveal that.

We need to make decisions and laws in this country that are based on logic, science and truth. I therefore will be supporting this motion.

I want to thank the member for Kitchener Centre for his integrity and his honesty, and for bringing this matter before the House.

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

2:20 p.m.


Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, our great democracy was founded on the promise that two founding nations in conflict could reconcile their differences peaceably. Generations of Canadians have lived and died to defend the dream of universal human rights and honest laws so necessary to fulfill that promise. These ideals created unity out of diversity and made Canada a bright beacon of hope.

The sweep of history for 400 years has brought ever greater recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of every human being. That bedrock foundation anchors Canada's essential character. We are here in Parliament to honour that vision of Canada. We are here to seek out a spirit of compromise amid passionate debate. We are here to embrace advancing knowledge in the service of universal human rights.

Motion No. 312 honours those essential duties. Motion No. 312 seeks merely to shine the light of 21st century knowledge upon our 400-year-old law which decrees the dehumanization and exclusion of a whole class of people, children before the moment of complete birth.

About abortion, I say this: recognizing children as human before the moment of complete birth will not resolve that issue. Even Justice Bertha Wilson, who championed abortion rights in the Morgentaler decision, wrote that Parliament should “inform itself from the relevant disciplines”, the very proposal embodied in Motion No. 312.

Recognizing the reality that children are human beings before complete birth will affirm the hallowed principle that human rights are universal, not a gift of the state that can be cancelled by subsection 223(1).

It would be a triumph of leadership to insist that our definition of human being must not remain frozen in time forever, immune from the light of advancing knowledge, immune from all democratic governance and immune from the spirit of open dialogue.

It would honour our commitment to honest laws to recognize a child's worth and dignity as a human being before the moment of complete birth if the evidence established that as fact.

It would fulfill our shared vision of Canada to allow, despite extreme and intransigent opposition, a mere study about human rights, even if modern evidence might cause some to question our laws. Or will Parliament reject those Canadian ideals? Is that what Parliament has come to?

I thank, and many Canadians thank, the members who stand with me against that dismal view.

Yet we in Parliament cannot allow ourselves sustain, we cannot protect, we cannot without help safeguard, this great vision of Canada. The hope of a Canada governed by honest laws rests in the hearts of every Canadian. The pledge offered by countless Canadians to the high principle of universal human rights will not be overcome by any decision of this Parliament. We may safely place our confidence in the certainty that Canadians will not rest content with the perpetual absence of open dialogue on this issue.

There is no more noble undertaking than to fulfill that essential promise of Canada. Join me in the conversation so necessary to reconcile Canadians.

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

2:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin

The time provided for debate has expired.

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

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

2:30 p.m.

Some hon. members



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

2:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin

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

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

2:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


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

2:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin

All those opposed will please say nay.

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

2:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


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

2:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the division stands deferred until Wednesday, September 26, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

It being 2:32 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:32 p.m.)