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.


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

September 21st, 2012 / 2:05 p.m.


Sylvain Chicoine NDP 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.


Mark Warawa Conservative 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.


Stephen Woodworth Conservative 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

2:30 p.m.

Some hon. members



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

2:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

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

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

2:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


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

2:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

All those opposed will please say nay.

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

2:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


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

2:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP 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.)