House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was palliative.


Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Preborn Children Act (Cassie and Molly's Law)Private Members' Business

May 2nd, 2016 / 11:05 a.m.


Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

moved that Bill C-225, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (injuring or causing the death of a preborn child while committing an offence), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to stand today in support of my private member's bill, Bill C-225, the protection of pregnant women and their preborn children act, which I will refer to as Cassie and Molly's law.

I was motivated to bring forward this bill after learning about the very tragic story of Cassie and Molly Kaake from Windsor, Ontario. Cassie was seven months pregnant with Molly when she was brutally attacked and killed in her home in December 2014. Molly's father, Jeff Durham, has been working tirelessly to bring some good out of this horrific tragedy.

I would like to quote a statement that Jeff Durham made on the day I introduced this bill in the House. He said:

Without a shadow of a doubt in my mind, neither Cassie nor any pregnant victim of homicide or violence would want their choice, their babies, to go ignored. Just because they're not here to say this law is needed, for anyone with a conscience and the power to do something about it, I say for them that this bill is needed.

I would like to explain now exactly what Bill C-225 would do and, just as importantly, what it would not.

This bill would create new offences for injuring or causing the death of a pregnant woman's preborn child while committing or attempting to commit a criminal offence against the woman—for example, while assaulting or killing a pregnant woman—with the knowledge that she is pregnant. These offences are not stand-alone offences. They would only apply when a person is, which I stress, committing or attempting to commit a criminal offence against a pregnant woman. In addition, it would only be when the offender has the knowledge that she is pregnant. The new offences are called “causing the death of a preborn child while committing an offence” and “injuring a preborn child while committing an offence”.

With this law in effect, two charges can be laid in crimes involving attacks on pregnant women that result in harm or death to their preborn children. One charge would be in relation to the criminal offence against the woman, and the second charge would be in relation to one of the new offences created by the bill, which would be either causing the death of the preborn child or causing injury to her preborn child.

This bill would also add pregnancy to the list of aggravating factors for sentencing purposes. Although judges can already treat pregnancy as an aggravating factor, codifying it in the criminal law is a way to more clearly and strongly denounce violence against pregnant women. We know from researching the case law that it is often unclear to what extent a woman's pregnancy is considered in sentencing. This bill would send a strong message to the courts that pregnancy must now be considered in the sentencing hearing.

Pregnancy should be a joyful and exciting time, the building of a family and a new generation. Unfortunately, the tragedy of Cassie and Molly, along with too many other Canadian women who were targeted and harmed because of their choice to carry their children to term, reminds us that the safety of women remains threatened.

According to the Canadian perinatal surveillance system, women abused during pregnancy were four times as likely as other abused women to report having experienced very serious violence, including being beaten, choked, threatened with a gun or knife, or sexually assaulted. Cassie and Molly's law would be a strong deterrent to committing violence against pregnant women because of the severe penalties it would carry for intentionally causing the death of a preborn child.

In existing criminal law, if a pregnant woman is assaulted, not killed, and her child dies, the offender is charged only with assault on the woman, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years for aggravated assault. Under Cassie and Molly's law, the offender would be charged not only with the assault on the woman but also with the new offence for causing the death of her fetus. If her attacker's intention was to kill her preborn child, then that person would be liable to imprisonment for life, with a minimum punishment of 10 years. This is a far stiffer penalty than the offender would get under the simple charge of assaulting the woman.

Not only that, a judge has discretion on whether to impose consecutive or concurrent sentences. Therefore, in cases where this new law is applied, judges may very well require the offender to serve the sentence for each offence consecutively. In the most tragic case, both the woman and her preborn child die, as was the case with Cassie and Molly. It was also the case with Olivia and Lane Jr., the assailant confessing that his intention was to kill the child, shooting Olivia three times in the abdomen before shooting her twice in the head. In these cases, the judge may impose two life sentences and, at the judge's discretion, these could be served consecutively.

I want to be very clear about the intent of this bill so that there is no misunderstanding of what it is attempting to do. Cassie and Molly's law is about protecting pregnant women and their preborn children from the actions of third parties who want to do them harm. It would protect a pregnant woman's choice to bring her child safely to term.

I have been assured by legal experts that this bill cannot in any way be used to impact a woman's choice to terminate her pregnancy. Abortion is by definition excluded from the bill, because of the clear wording that makes causing injury or death to the preborn child an offence only if the person does so, and I am quoting from the bill,

while committing or attempting to commit an offence under this Act against a female person that the person knows is pregnant,

I want to reinforce that these new offences are not stand-alone offences. The new offences in Cassie and Molly's law address only the situations where a third party harms or kills a woman's preborn child while committing or attempting to commit a criminal offence against the woman, action which she is clearly not consenting to.

This legislation honours and protects a woman's right to choose to give birth to her baby free from harm committed by others against her will.

Cassie had chosen to have Molly, and was so looking forward to mothering her. As Molly's father, Jeff, stated:

Before they were killed, Cassie was the happiest anyone had ever seen her. She was happy to have chosen to be having our baby girl. She beamed with excitement and anticipation that was impossible for anyone who knew her not to see.

As the title of Bill C-225 makes clear, this law would protect pregnant women and their preborn children. With respect to preborn children, our health care system already offers them substantial protection, so why not our criminal justice system? In the area of fetal medicine, surgeons are able to perform delicate surgeries while babies are still in the womb, such as treatments for fetuses with spina bifida and life-saving heart interventions.

In the case of a pregnant woman who is rushed to the hospital after sustaining serious injuries in a car accident, physicians will do everything in their power to save the lives of both the woman and her unborn child. Even if the mother tragically dies, the doctors will not give up hope on saving her baby's life. No one questions these policy decisions because they are common sense. It makes perfect sense to save the baby in utero who is struggling to survive after its mother was harmed or killed in a car accident.

However, in the house across the street, there is another pregnant woman, and she is being beaten and kicked in the abdomen and loses her baby as a result. What does not make sense is that this woman's child does not matter in the eyes of our justice system, just like Molly, just like Lane Jr. Our justice system says it does not matter that their lives were brutally taken when their mothers were brutally attacked.

Why should women at their most vulnerable not have the backing of our criminal law to help them to protect what is most precious to them? It is simply wrong, and completely incoherent, when compared to the efforts and resources that our health care system puts into improving and saving prenatal life.

No one makes the argument that in order to protect abortion, we should not be performing life-saving surgeries on babies in utero. We allow both types of surgeries to take place in our hospitals, based on a woman's choice.

Our criminal justice system should do the same. If we can allow abortion to coexist with life-saving fetal surgeries in our health care system, then we can allow legal abortions to coexist with the law in our justice system that makes it a crime for a third party to harm or kill a woman's preborn child against her will. To do otherwise not only lacks coherence, it lacks compassion.

I turn now to concerns that have been expressed in the past by the medical profession. I understand that several physicians groups feared that a similar bill, Bill C-484, which was debated in Parliament in 2008, could criminalize doctors for performing abortions. I want to assure Canada's physicians that I have paid close attention to those concerns in the drafting of Cassie and Molly's law. Provisions in the earlier Bill C-484 explicitly excluded consensual abortion under a “for greater certainty” clause. However, that provision was causing concern amongst some physicians, who thought it would criminalize them for performing abortions. It was not a necessary provision and was only included for greater certainty.

Given that it did not have its intended effect, what was to make it clear that abortion would not be criminalized, and on the advice of my legal drafter, I decided not to include that provision in my bill. I have been assured by legal experts that this law cannot be used to criminalize doctors for performing abortions. I am confident this new approach will assuage any concerns that Canadian physicians had with the earlier bill.

The reason the bill does not interfere with the duties of physicians is that a person could only be charged with one of the new offences created in the bill if that person commits or attempts to commit a criminal offence against the pregnant woman. A doctor performing an abortion on a consenting woman is not committing any criminal offence against the woman, since abortion is not regulated by criminal law in Canada, and has not been since 1988.

Therefore, these new offences would not apply. They are not stand-alone offences, meaning that they can only apply while committing or attempting to commit a criminal offence against the woman.

I have also been assured by legal experts that Cassie and Molly's law cannot be used to prosecute a pregnant woman in Canada for any harm she may cause to her own preborn child. This is because, by definition, the new offences only apply when a person knowingly commits a criminal act against a pregnant woman and thereby harms or kills her preborn child. Simply put, the bill is strictly aimed at third parties who knowingly commit a crime against a pregnant woman and in the process harm or kill her preborn child.

Importantly, Bill C-225 could never act as a precedent for the courts to criminalize the behaviour of pregnant women, because Canada's criminal justice system does not allow courts to create criminal offences. That is the exclusive jurisdiction of Parliament. There is absolutely no way that Cassie and Molly's law could now or ever be used to criminalize any act or omission by a pregnant woman with respect to her own pregnancy.

Another point that must be stated clearly to negate any confusion about the bill relates to the definition of “human being” in the Criminal Code. The bill does not change the legal definition of human being or create fetal personhood, as some critics have tried to claim. Because the Criminal Code definition of human being precludes preborn children, the existing criminal offences against human beings, for example, murder, manslaughter, and assault, do not apply when the preborn child is harmed or killed during attacks against the pregnant woman. Instead, the bill creates brand new offences to cover the very narrow circumstances whereby a preborn child is harmed or killed during the commission of an offence against the mother, in spite of the fact that these children are not considered human beings in our criminal law.

The criminal law can be used to protect entities other than what is covered under the Criminal Code's definition of a human being. For example, the Criminal Code, in section 238, already protects a child during “the act of birth". It makes it an offence to cause that child's death in such as way that if the child were a human being it would be murder, even though that child during the act of birth is not a human being under the Criminal Code's definition.

We have criminal laws to protect animals from cruelty, and against the unlawful killing or injury of animals. There are also criminal law protections against the destruction of private property.

Families are the foundation of our country. The Criminal Code is missing a crucial component to protect Canadian women and their families. The increased penalties under Cassie and Molly's law create a legal mechanism that will enhance the safety of Canadian women and recognize the safety of their families. This approach is specific and robust. It is a common-sense approach designed to fill a gap in the Criminal Code that renders women and their preborn children vulnerable.

I truly believe that all of my colleagues want to do what they believe is compassionate and just. We should not turn a blind eye to the brutal violation of Cassie's choice to continue her pregnancy. We should not turn a blind eye to Molly's death.

We as parliamentarians have the long overdue opportunity to bring something good out of a horrific tragedy that is actually only one of many.

It is my sincere hope that we can put partisanship aside. I am asking all my colleagues to listen to their conscience. I am asking them to listen to everyday Canadians who instinctively know that it is wrong to violate a woman's pregnancy and cause the death of her yet to be born child against her will.

As legislators, we must hold to our responsibility to protect the innocent, with sound reasoning combined with compassionate and caring instincts.

Let us protect pregnant women. Let us work together to increase the chances that a pregnant woman will be able to continue her pregnancy free from violence. Let us protect the child she longs to bring into her family.

One of the tools we as federal parliamentarians have at our disposal to offer this much-needed protection is the criminal law. It is the 21st century, and the time is right.

Protect pregnant women and their preborn children. Vote for the passage of Cassie and Molly's law.

Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Preborn Children Act (Cassie and Molly's Law)Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member on her work on this file, which is clearly deeply important to her. Nobody here believes that life is unimportant. However, this bill is clearly designed to reopen the abortion debate. The law already protects mothers. Pregnancy is already a factor that our justice system takes into account in sentencing.

This bill could end up reducing the total time served because sentences would be served concurrently instead of consecutively.

In my colleague's opinion, how would this bill really change the behaviour of those who commit violent acts against women?

Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Preborn Children Act (Cassie and Molly's Law)Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is pretty clear to me that the member's question was formulated before my speech or, possibly, the member did not listen to my speech.

The law is very clear. It would not in any way change the definition of a “human being”. We are not dealing with circumstance where a woman would be in any kind of danger or positioned in any kind of danger of being charged. This deals with a third party committing a criminal offence against a women who he or she knows is pregnant and causing harm or the death of the pre-born child.

There are women all over our country to whom this law would apply. Women are women are women. We want to carry our children to term. We want the right to choose to have our children and to have this law in place.

One individual wrote to me and said that she was a young woman. She had a miscarriage, which was devastating. She got pregnant again and was not ready to have my family, so she chose to have an abortion. Now that she was having children, she wanted this law in place.

Today I am not just speaking on my own behalf, but I am speaking on behalf of women across the country. Having this bill in place to protect them and their pre-born children is long overdue.

Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Preborn Children Act (Cassie and Molly's Law)Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are cognizant in Canada that the vast majority of women who are victims of murder are killed by someone they know. Almost nine in ten women are killed by an acquaintance or, even worse, by a spouse or intimate partner.

I am interested to hear the member's view on the great need for Canada to adopt a national domestic violence strategy to combat violence against women. I hope this will have an increased priority, which will affect most women and will have the greatest impact on women and their families.

Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Preborn Children Act (Cassie and Molly's Law)Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, we are concerned about any kind of any violence, in any circumstance, against women, men, and children.

The truth is that this is a specific law that needs to be put in place because of the extra vulnerability women face when they want to carry their children to term and end up in a situation such as Cassie's. An intruder came into her home when she was seven months' pregnant and ready to deliver to this child. She was attacked in ways that I do not even want to talk about, but clearly it was an attack as well on her child who was fully expected.

There are situations everywhere in which we, as Canadians, need to stand up and intervene on behalf of the vulnerable. In this circumstance, vulnerable women who want to carry their children to term are being attacked. We need to put this law into place.

Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Preborn Children Act (Cassie and Molly's Law)Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Scarborough Southwest Ontario


Bill Blair LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to join in the second reading debate of the private member's bill, Bill C-225, an act to amend the Criminal Code, injuring or causing the death of a pre-born child while committing an offence.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the member for Yorkton—Melville for her compassion and sincerity in bringing the bill forward. I also want to assure her that I have listened very carefully to her speech. In addition, I have read her bill very carefully and I have also examined some of the case law and some of the preceding matters brought before the House.

Bill C-225 would make it a separate offence to cause injury or death to a fetus during the commission of an offence against the fetus' mother. Similar reforms, but not identical, have been proposed by two former private members' bills before the House: Bill C-484, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (injuring or causing the death of an unborn child while committing an offence); and Bill C-291, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (injuring or causing the death of a child before or during its birth while committing an offence). Bill C-484 died on the Order Paper in 2008, and Bill C-291 was designated a non-votable item in 2006 because it was deemed not charter compliant.

Unlike these previous private members bills, Bill C-225 seeks to codify abuse of a pregnant woman as an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes. We can all agree that protecting women from violence, including pregnant women, is a pressing objective. I, quite frankly, have spent much of my adult life in attempting to deal with issues of domestic violence and the protection of the most vulnerable citizens in our society, in particular women and pregnant women.

However, I am concerned that most of the proposals in Bill C-225 will not ultimately meet this objective. In order to reach this objective, the focus must be placed upon violence against women and not on the fetus. In fact, by focusing on the fetus, we may have the unintended effect of negatively impacting women, in particular women's right to choose. Please allow me to explain.

First, providing protection from violence to pregnant women would likely involve ensuring longer sentences in these types of cases. However, sentencing an offender for two separate offences in cases involving abuse of a pregnant woman, one for the harm caused to the fetus and the other for harm caused to its mother, will very likely result in not a longer sentence since sentences are generally served concurrently in cases involving two convictions arising out of the same set of facts or series of events. In other words, it is unlikely the convictions for two offences would result in a lengthier sentence than a conviction for one offence under these aggravating circumstances.

Second, the law already protects pregnant women from violence. First and foremost, case law shows that abusing pregnant women in committing an offence is already considered an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes and is punished severely. As an example, in 2015, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in R. v. Grandine, a 15-year sentence was imposed and the offender convicted of manslaughter in the killing of his 20-week pregnant wife. In that case, the judge very specifically stated, “...I consider the fact that the deceased was pregnant to be an aggravating factor”.

Acts of violence against pregnant women are already addressed by existing criminal law in several ways.

Subsection 223(2) and section 238 of the Criminal Code, which carry a maximum penalty of life in prison, prohibit causing the death of a child, who has not become a human being, in the act of birth under certain circumstances. Subsection 223(1) of that section provides that a child becomes a human being when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother...”.

The Criminal Code contains comprehensive assault and homicide offences which apply to violent acts against pregnant women, and case law shows that abusing a pregnant woman in committing an offence is considered an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes and is punished severely.

I realize that Bill C-225 would not directly impact a woman's right to choose. However, because its proposed offences apply to a fetus at any stage of its development before birth, which means they could apply from the moment of conception, they give the fetus a status that is not currently recognized in law.

Moreover, unlike Bill C-484, Bill C-225, as the member for Yorkton—Melville has mentioned, does not specify that its proposed offences do not apply to cases involving lawful termination of pregnancy, persons acting in good faith to take steps to preserve the life of the mother or the fetus, or any act of omission by the mother.

The fact that the bill's proposed reforms indirectly implicate women's rights issues is deeply problematic in my view. The possibility of restricting a woman's right to choose was decided by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1988 in the Morgentaler decision, and we have known for quite some time now that any kind of limit on access to abortion implicates women's section 7 charter rights.

A woman is indivisible from her fetus. Protecting her necessarily means protecting her fetus. We must therefore focus on protecting pregnant women from the violence that they experience, and supporting legislative changes that may lead to a loss of a woman's section 7 charter rights is not the answer to the serious problem of violence against pregnant women. Simply put, gender-based violence has no placed in our society.

Our government has committed to addressing violence against women in all of its forms. A federal gender violence strategy and action plan is being developed which will include measures to better protect victims of domestic violence. This approach will include prevention, support for victims and appropriate criminal justice responses. Examining this issue through the violence against women lens is the best way to ensure the protection of pregnant women.

The criminal law already treats abuse of pregnant women very seriously. Judges routinely consider abuse of pregnant women as an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes. While there may be some merit in ensuring that this is clearly stated in the Criminal Code, I am not convinced that Bill C-225 is the right legislative vehicle to effect that, since the bill's main purpose is to protect the fetus by creating separate offences for those who would cause it harm, not to protect pregnant women by codifying a principle already routinely applied by sentencing judges.

I acknowledge the very good intentions of Bill C-225. I acknowledge the compassion and sincerity that the member has demonstrated in bringing this matter forward. However, with great respect, I do not think it would achieve the important objective of protecting pregnant women. Therefore, I will be opposing it for the following reasons.

The criminal law already takes violence against women, including pregnant women, very seriously. The bill fails to address the broader issues of violence against women. In addition, it is very likely in my opinion that the bill would be challenged under the charter.

I would like to thank the sponsor for bringing this important issue forward for debate. Violence against women is a terrible crime and impacts us all. It has no place in our society and I join with the member in condemning it.

Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Preborn Children Act (Cassie and Molly's Law)Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, let me first say a few words to the people who I am sure are following this debate closely.

To Jeff Durham, his friends, family, and the people of Windsor, Ontario, who have stood with him since December 2014, and all of those who have lost loved ones to violence, I would say that every member of this House stands with them. I cannot fathom the depth of grief that they must feel. However, we can all see their strength and determination to fight to save other Canadians from experiencing a similar grief.

I want to begin by acknowledging the passionate speech by my colleague, the member for Yorkton—Melville. I hope that all members, wherever they stand on this particular measure before us, will take this opportunity to rededicate themselves to the task of not just reducing but ending violence against women.

Let me say at the outset that although I understand and sympathize with the important objective of the bill, I have serious concerns about the legal implications of some of the provisions within it. Whether intentional or incidental, some of the provisions in the bill would have effects far beyond the principle and scope of this bill. After careful review, we have decided that these flaws are so fundamental and potentially harmful that they would undermine the very objective of the bill. For those reasons, we will not be supporting the bill at second reading.

The bill would, for the first time and in defiance of multiple rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada, legally separate a fetus from its mother. The inescapable effect of that separation would be to reopen the debate on the reproductive rights of women, which has rightly and definitively been resolved by Canadians. It has been the object of more than 40 bills or motions in this House since 1987.

The member for Yorkton—Melville has said that it will not reopen the debate on the reproductive rights of women. She has said that abortion is explicitly excluded from the ambit of this bill. However, even if that is not the intention of the bill, its effect would be to lay the groundwork for the reopening of this contentious debate on the reproductive rights of women.

If these particular provisions seem familiar to members, it is because they are nearly a carbon copy of a measure previously proposed in the House in Bill C-484, the so-called unborn victims of crime act. The member does not seem to grasp that by enshrining the term “preborn child” it will have a significant ripple effect on the law in this context. It is defined as “a child at any stage of development that has not yet become a human being”.

First, I would note that under existing laws the victim's pregnancy is already used by judges as an aggravating factor in sentencing, despite the absence of any specific statutory requirement to do so in the Criminal Code. Second, I would note that Cassandra's killer already faces the most severe punishment available since the abolition of the death penalty, namely, a life sentence without parole for at least 25 years. Third, the victim's family members will have the opportunity to express their views in court by means of a victim impact statement. Fourth, even if separate charges were laid in the death of the fetus, they would most likely be served concurrently, that is, subsumed within the life sentence for first degree murder of the mother, leaving the number of years to be served unchanged.

The bill I mentioned earlier was debated in 2007. It did not proceed at that time in part because of the opposition of more than 100 organizations across Canada, many of which are dedicated full time to ending violence against women and upholding the rights of all. We cannot proceed with a flawed bill that fails to provide effective relief to those it seeks to protect and that may well jeopardize the constitutional rights of Canadian women.

Indeed, the experience of jurisdictions that have adopted such laws, including many in the United States, failed to reduce violence against women, and despite the best intentions of their sponsors, have been used to launch legal actions against mothers.

What is to be done?

The best way to protect fetuses is, of course, to protect mothers, which means directly protecting pregnant women by providing all the necessary resources to ensure good pregnancy outcomes, and by upholding women's constitutional rights. What is required then is a holistic approach to ending violence against women through both the protection of the constitutional rights of women and the prevention of violence, including intimate-partner violence.

The present government made a number of platform promises in the most recent election with relevance to this debate. They include the following: Criminal Code amendments to tackle intimate-partner violence, including listing it as an aggravating factor in sentencing; increased investment in shelters and transition houses; and a comprehensive federal gender-violence strategy and action plan.

The NDP supports these goals and other measures, such as restarting the police officer recruitment fund to ensure that communities have the officers they need to keep every family safe, yet no action has been taken to update the Criminal Code. Resources for shelters and transition houses remain woefully inadequate. Also, there has been no discernible progress on the development and implementation of a comprehensive federal gender-violence strategy and action plan.

Just last week, The Globe and Mail reported that the majority of women and children seeking shelter from violence, 73%, are turned away because of a lack of resources, and nearly half of the shelters that were studied had received clients from other provinces. This is truly a national problem. It is a crisis, from my home on the west coast in Victoria, to small towns, big cities, and remote communities all across Canada. The government must do more to ensure that no woman in Canada is denied the help she needs to escape violence and abuse.

In a previous session, the NDP member for Churchill—Keewatinook Aski tabled a motion to develop a national action plan to end violence against women. I salute the ongoing work to that end by the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith who has taken up this initiative. This is the kind of holistic approach that will be required to eradicate violence, including intimate-partner violence, but also to take positive steps to achieve equality in our society and our economy.

This is not the time for tinkering. This is the time for bold national action. Sadly, the bill before us is neither the solution we need nor is it free of further problems. For those reasons, we cannot support proceeding with further consideration of the bill.

I hope all members will join us in not only ensuring the government delivers on its platform promises to address intimate-partner violence, funding for shelters, and public safety, but also in bringing forward proposals of its own to ensure we are doing everything in our power to end violence against women in Canada.

Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Preborn Children Act (Cassie and Molly's Law)Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise today to speak in support of Bill C-225. At the outset, I want to congratulate my colleague, the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville for bringing forward this important and much-needed legislation to protect women and close a glaring void in justice under the Criminal Code.

The legislation is appropriately named after Cassie Durham and her preborn daughter, Molly. Just 10 weeks away from giving birth to Molly, Cassie was brutally murdered. Cassie's killer was appropriately charged with first degree murder. However, what charges did Cassie's killer face for targeting Cassie as a pregnant woman and terminating a perfectly viable pregnancy against the wishes of Cassie? The answer is that no charges were laid, because there were no charges to be laid under the Criminal Code.

In 2005, Olivia Talbot was pregnant with her preborn son, Lane Jr. Like Cassie Durham, Olivia Talbot was brutally murdered. Her killer shot at Olivia three times and by his own admission he specifically targeted Lane Jr., yet no charges could be laid for those crimes.

The victims' families, Olivia Talbot's, Cassie Durham's, and other families, ask where the justice is. Where is the justice when there is no provision in the Criminal Code that would hold criminals who target pregnant women accountable? Where is the justice when there is no provision in the Criminal Code to hold accountable those persons who violently terminate a woman's pregnancy against that woman's choice? The answer to those families who ask, “Where is the justice?” is that there is no justice.

The stories of Cassie Durham and Olivia Talbot are not isolated stories. Indeed, over the last 15 years some 24 reported cases have involved women being attacked or murdered while pregnant.

There are some who say this legislation is not necessary. They say, simply provide that, for those who target pregnant women, that can be an aggravating factor in sentencing. It already is an aggravating factor in sentencing in common law. Bill C-225 would codify the common law and that is a step in the right direction. However, simply providing that targeting a pregnant woman is an aggravating factor at sentencing is not sufficient for justice to be truly done.

An important component of our criminal justice system is that criminals are held accountable for all of the crimes they commit against their victims and not just some of the crimes. However, clearly in the cases of Cassie Durham and Olivia Talbot their killers were only charged and held accountable for some of the crimes, not all of the crimes. That is unjust.

With respect to sentencing, we can take for example someone who knowingly targets a pregnant woman, assaults her, and in the process of the assault terminates her viable pregnancy. What would happen to that individual if targeting a pregnant woman were merely an aggravating factor? It is likely that the individual would be charged with aggravated assault. The maximum penalty for aggravated assault is 14 years, and because it is an aggravating factor, it is more likely that the perpetrator would be sentenced closer to 14 years than less, which is a positive thing.

Let us face the reality that what would have occurred in that situation is something more than aggravated assault. A woman's viable pregnancy would have been terminated against her will, her bodily integrity infringed upon, and her choice as a woman violated.

Bill C-225 recognizes that reality and would give judges the tools they need to hold criminals who commit those kinds of crimes truly accountable by potentially putting those types of criminals away a lot longer than 14 years.

There are some who say, and we have heard it today from several hon. members who spoke, that this is really about reopening the abortion debate. The fact is that, in Canada, abortion is available and lawful for the full nine months of a woman's pregnancy, and Bill C-225 does absolutely nothing to change that fact.

Not only does Bill C-225 do nothing to change that fact, but Bill C-225 expressly provides that a preborn child is not a human being in law, to leave no ambiguity and no confusion: Bill C-225 has absolutely nothing to do with abortion.

What Bill C-225 has a lot to do with, however, is justice. It is justice for women who are targeted because they are pregnant; justice for women who are injured because they are pregnant; justice for women whose rights are violated; and justice for women by ensuring that those who violate the rights of women are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

Let us, as a House of Commons, do what is right, what is fair, and what is just. Let us close this glaring loophole in justice under the Criminal Code, and pass Bill C-225.

Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Preborn Children Act (Cassie and Molly's Law)Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I very much want to address the private member's bill, Bill C-225, an act to amend the Criminal Code, injuring or causing the death of a preborn child while committing an offence, at second reading.

The sponsor introduced the bill in response to the murder of Cassandra Kaake, who was seven months pregnant with a girl she intended to name Molly.

First, I would like to offer my deepest sympathies to Ms. Kaake's family. Such an incredible loss must cause the deepest of suffering.

Sadly, statistics show that pregnant women often experience violence. According to the Statistics Canada 2009 general social survey, 11% of female spousal violence victims were pregnant during the violent incident, which amounts to about 63,300 pregnant women who were violently victimized by their spouses in the five years preceding 2009.

Police-reported data from the homicide survey also show that pregnancy is not a protective factor in intimate partner homicide. From 2005, the year data first became available on whether a homicide victim was pregnant, to 2010, 12 intimate partner victims were pregnant at the time of their death.

However, as the case of Ms. Kaake shows us, homicide during pregnancy is not limited to intimate partners, as eight pregnant women were killed by someone other than their intimate partner—the source being “Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile, 2010”, a Statistics Canada Juristat article. These numbers are a serious cause for concern.

Bill C-225's objective is to protect pregnant women and their fetuses by making it a separate offence to cause injury or death to the pregnant woman's fetus. The penalties vary, depending upon the mental state of the accused, but range from 18 months' imprisonment to life imprisonment; and where the accused intends to cause injury or a death, a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years would be imposed.

Other elements of the bill would include non-application of the mandatory minimum if the accused were provoked in committing the offence, within the meaning of the defence of provocation under section 232 of the Criminal Code, and codifying abuse of a pregnant woman as an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.

Although I appreciate the bill's objectives, I have a number of concerns with its proposed reforms.

First, it does not make sense to make the same conduct both an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes and the subject matter of a separate offence. It should be one or the other. Sentencing judges already consider abuse of a pregnant woman as an aggravating factor, resulting in lengthier sentences for offenders.

In particular, I am concerned that making harm to a fetus the subject matter of a separate offence could actually result in shorter jail time, since a sentence for harm done to the mother and a sentence for harm done to the fetus are likely to be served concurrently, given that they necessarily arise from the same event.

In contrast, if an offender is charged with one offence against the mother and her pregnancy is considered as an aggravating factor, the sentence is likely to be longer than a sentence served concurrently for two separate offences. Serving shorter sentences than are currently imposed under existing law could not be the bill's intended effect, as this would mean less protection for pregnant women.

I am also concerned about the bill's mandatory minimums. Except for the mandatory minimum for murder, 10 years would be the longest mandatory minimum in the Criminal Code.

We are all well aware of the Supreme Court of Canada's 2015 Nur decision, which struck down a three-year mandatory minimum for gun crimes. More recently, the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in the Lloyd case struck down a one-year mandatory minimum for drug trafficking involving repeat offenders.

Indeed, there has been a proliferation of litigation challenging mandatory minimums, with lengthier mandatory minimums and mandatory minimums that apply to a broad range of conduct attracting a higher level of scrutiny.

I wonder whether imposing a mandatory minimum is the most effective way to address the severity of harming pregnant women, especially when judges are already factoring in the severity of that conduct when imposing sentences on offenders.

Another concern is the bill's reference to the provocation defence. Normally, this defence reduces murder to manslaughter where the victim provoked the accused into killing, to allow greater discretion in sentencing. However, the bill proposes to make the defence applicable to an offence that is not murder.

Obviously, a fetus—the proposed victim of the offence—cannot provoke a person; so the intent of the proposed reform must be to remove the application of the 10-year mandatory minimum where the accused's conduct is provoked by the fetus' mother.

In creating a new offence for harm done to the fetus, the bill would treat the fetus as a victim separate from its mother but then, through its provocation defence proposal, the bill would provide less protection to the fetus due to the conduct of its mother. Such an approach seems internally inconsistent.

Moreover, the provocation defence has only ever applied to murder. Expanding the application of the defence to other offences could set an unfortunate precedent, especially since the defence has been invoked by men who killed their current or former female partners after alleging that they were provoked by conduct they perceived as insulting or offensive. Although the defence was recently narrowed, it may still raise some of these same issues.

However, my overarching concern is that the bill treats the fetus as a separate entity from its mother, when in fact the two are indivisible. This creates multiple legal problems, such as the one I described earlier regarding the provocation defence. Also, creating a separate offence for harm done to the fetus gives the fetus a status not currently recognized in law and detracts from the real issue: violence against pregnant women.

The long-standing legal principle that fetuses do not possess rights independent from their mothers until born alive requires the law to focus on this very real and pressing issue. Significantly, this principle is also at the root of a woman's right to choose.

Ever since the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the Criminal Code's abortion provision in 1988, abortion services have been a health care matter because the Supreme Court of Canada found that restricting access to a woman's right to choose implicates women's section 7 charter rights. I would not want us to develop laws or policies that could in any way erode these rights.

Although Bill C-225 does not directly address a woman's right to choose, its provisions would give fetuses a status in law that is separate from their mothers, despite the fact that, in reality, the two cannot be separated. In my opinion, the best way to protect fetuses is to protect their mothers, and that is what existing law already does.

I am pleased that the government has committed to strengthening Canada's approach to the main issue here, violence against women, including pregnant women. I look forward to the results of the government's criminal justice system review and its implementation of the federal gender violence strategy and action plan, which should provide greater support and protection to women subjected to violence.

Although Bill C-225 raises many concerns, I cannot support this bill given its real-world effects beyond the bill's intended scope. I want to thank the sponsor for giving me the opportunity to speak today and discuss the critical issue of women's safety and well-being. These are pressing issues that require ongoing examination and analysis.

Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Preborn Children Act (Cassie and Molly's Law)Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, I first want to acknowledge the terrible tragedy that gave rise to this bill. Our hearts go out to Jeff Durham, his family, and his community for such a terrible loss.

Despite the good intentions of the bill's sponsor, this bill has the unintended consequence of reopening Canada's debate on abortion, and New Democrats will not risk jeopardizing a woman's right to choose. There are 36 pro-choice groups across Canada—and if I had time, I would read the really long list—all opposing the passage of this bill, describing it as an interference with a woman's constitutional right to choose.

To make the most women and children safe, my proposal is that the kind of legislation Canada needs is much more broad. The best way to protect the most women and children is to take action on gender-based domestic violence against women. Cassie was killed by a stranger, and she is an exception. Nine in 10 women victims are murdered by someone they knew. Therefore, to have the most impact, let us take action to prevent women from being killed by their partners and acquaintances.

First, Canada needs a national plan to end violence against women. Most other western countries have this. Canada is falling behind. New Democrats have led on this issue over the past sessions of Parliament. NGOs and labour organizations have developed a very strong blueprint that charts the way forward. We urge the government across the aisle to take action early on this, and we will stand together on that.

Second, Canada needs more investment in domestic violence shelters. Imagine a woman making a decision to take her children and leave a violent marriage or relationship and then, when arriving at a domestic violence shelter, being told there is no room for her. This is what last week's release of the “Shelter Voices” survey said. Almost three out of four women are turned away due to lack of capacity. With stable, predictable, multi-year funding, both for building and operating, we could prevent women from having to stay in a violent situation.

Because of the strong actions that Parliament can take to truly make women and their children safer without inadvertently jeopardizing a woman's constitutional right to choose, I will not support this bill, and I urge parliamentarians to work together on what will truly make a difference on the ground in women's safety every day.

Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Preborn Children Act (Cassie and Molly's Law)Private Members' Business



Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to address this very important issue and to distill out what is some confusion on the other side of the House. We hear constant efforts by the other side to conflate this very important issue of criminal justice, as the member for St. Albert—Edmonton and the sponsoring member said very ably, with something else, which is the issue of abortion which we know is very contentious and very difficult in this country.

We should be able to have a rational conversation about issues that are different, that are unrelated to abortion, that still touch on justice and still touch on preventing violence against women. It is important that we be able to make these distinctions because when it comes down to these issues, there are two separate questions we can talk about. There is the question about the basic rights of individuals, in this case of preborn children, and then there is the separate question of whether or not the rights of the mother exceed or supersede the rights of that preborn child. What is maybe missed by other hon. members is that these are very clearly two separate questions.

One could come to the conclusion that preborn children should have no rights, should have no acknowledged status as persons, but one could also come to the conclusion that there is clearly some genuine humanity to that preborn child, even if one further concluded that the rights of the mother ought to supersede the rights of the unborn child in that case.

The importance of understanding that these are two separate questions really has been missed by the other side. Members instead infer from the fact that one philosophical conclusion might be drawn in the case of preborn children, that therefore we cannot take this action because it might be inferred to mean something else later on down the road.

The members on our side who have spoken to this issue have already been very clear on that point. They have underlined that we are talking about a particular issue which is addressing violence against women and also recognizing that there is a loss of life involved and that there is a loss of women's choice involved as well.

It is a little disappointing to see members of other parties wanting to stir up these hot button debates when this really should be something on which there is a consensus. I do not think that any member would disagree with the basic philosophical proposition that an unborn human child is in some sense human and can be recognized to be as such without opening up a separate and distinct philosophical question around the rights of women.

The lack of acknowledgement of these separate questions is a problem, and let us be clear that it is a problem with some real practical consequences, with some real implications. Those implications have been laid out well, not only by my colleagues, but by members from other parties who understand the problem of violence against women, who understand the pressing need to address it, to overcome long-standing perhaps cultural ideas that have not addressed this properly in the past. There should be consensus. I look forward to working with members from all sides on this issue.

Before getting elected, I served on the board of an organization called Saffron in my riding which is working to address bullying and violence against women and sexual violence. It is great to see in my community and other communities that this obviously is an issue where there is a consensus across parties and across different political philosophies and perspectives.

From what some other members are saying, it is disappointing because if we do not pass the bill, then we will have missed a very good opportunity. We will have missed an opportunity to do something good. We will have missed an opportunity to make a difference for families who are victims and a difference for potential victims as well. We will have missed this opportunity because instead of confronting an important issue in a concrete, effective way, and members are welcome to propose amendments on some of the specific details that have been mentioned at the committee stage, but by simply rejecting it out of hand, an opportunity will have been missed to make a real positive difference when it comes to something that we should all agree is very important.

Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Preborn Children Act (Cassie and Molly's Law)Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

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.

The House resumed from April 22, consideration of the motion that Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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12:05 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, this legislation contains no meaningful safeguards. Even its exceptions are full of holes. The written consent provision excludes those who cannot sign. The waiting period can be routinely waived. Mental illness is not excluded. The requirement that death be reasonably foreseeable would exclude no one, and the requirement that two doctors sign off merely encourages doctor shopping. Even if the already ambiguous criteria are not followed, someone who kills an unwilling patient can be let off the hook if he or she claims a reasonable but mistaken belief that the criteria applied.

Clearly, we have a perfect storm of ambiguous criteria and a reasonable but mistaken belief clause which means that it would be nearly impossible to prosecute anyone who kills a patient, even without consent.

Today I want to make three additional points: the decline of moral language, the need for advance review, and the way in which an absence of conscience protection is further undermining an already inadequate system of palliative care.

This debate has been characterized by a decline of language. Terms like “suicide”, “euthanasia”, and “killing” are rejected and replaced by fundamentally inaccurate phrases like “medical assistance in dying”. Every day physicians assist their patients in the context of dying without killing them.

The decline of language is also evident in the euphemistic use of terms like “dignity” and “compassion”. The phrase “dying with dignity” implies that suffering or disabled people do not have dignity, and this reflects a very dangerous world view. For a long time we have understood that dignity is immutable; it is an intrinsic characteristic of all human beings. Our immutable dignity is the reason we put down suffering dogs, but we do not put down suffering humans.

This human exceptionalism, this idea of universal and immutable human dignity is the basis of our conception of human rights. Human rights, the ostensible basis on which this legislation is advanced, stand on a moral foundation of universal immutable human dignity, and those who wish to redefine dignity so dramatically should at least provide us with their alternative definition.

I have encouraged the government to amend this legislation to include a system of advance review by competent legal authority. This could take many forms. It could involve review by a provincial consent and capacity board. It could involve a requirement for review by a judge. It could involve the simple requirement in this legislation that the provinces set up their own systems of advance legal review or that an independent lawyer certified and retained for this purpose replace the role of one of the witnesses.

There are multiple options here, some better than others. The criteria are not worth the paper they are written on if someone with competent legal authority is not making a determination in advance to ensure the legal criteria are met.

The government, though, wants to force doctors into this role. However, doctors do not constitute competent legal authority. Doctors do not make these types of decisions in other parts of their work, given how aberrant the taking of life is from the normal medical process of protecting life, and the proposed legislation's allowance for doctor shopping does not actually mean that the doctor providing the prior care would provide advance review, since the patient, or worse, someone else, could simply go on the Internet to find a doctor with a more liberal interpretation of the criteria.

A simple system of advance legal review by competent authority would eliminate doctor shopping and achieve the central objective: it would ensure that people who have not consented or do not meet the criteria are not killed, without any effective means to investigate that after the fact. Data from Benelux countries show alarmingly high rates of euthanasia for patients who have not consented; however, prosecution of those who take life without consent in a medical environment is almost non-existent.

Finally, a lack of conscience protection pushes people out of the provision of palliative care when already far too few Canadians have access to it. Dr. Nancy Naylor, a family and palliative care physician with 40 years of experience, is now leaving the profession. She said, "I have no wish to stop. but I will not be told that I must go against my moral conscience." She is speaking out because her patients who will be left without access to palliative care cannot. What good does it do anyone to leave conscience protection out of this legislation, and chase good principled palliative care physicians out of the profession at a time when we need them most?

Many doctors say that this is not medical care at all, and we should let them focus on what they do best.

The Supreme Court decision punched a hole in the previous law, and this legislature cannot change that, but the government appears to be taking advantage of these events to widen the hole still further. No law would be a bad situation, but this law could make a bad situation worse. It would leave vulnerable seniors and sick and disabled persons at risk with no meaningful restrictions.

We should stop the madness and fix the bill.

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12:10 p.m.


Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a very simple and direct question for the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan.

Does the member support the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court judges in honouring the request of Ms. Taylor and Ms. Carter to have assistance in dying?

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12:10 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was actually very clear about that point in my speech.

Regardless of the private opinions of members with respect to this issue more generally, we know that the government is not addressing at all the task that the court put in front of it. The task that the court gave the government was to develop a system that would make this happen while also protecting the vulnerable. The government replaced some criteria in the court decision with equally, if not more, ambiguous criteria in its response. We are not seeing any development in this regard from the government at all.

I do have to underline, and again we see it in the question that the member asked, the euphemistic language here. Doctors provide medical assistance in dying every day that does not involve killing their patients. If members defend it, good for them, but they should have the honesty to describe the issue properly, because calling something “medical assistance in dying” is clearly misleading. It distracts from the central question we are supposed to be debating.

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12:10 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague.

The reason Parliament has been put in this position by the Supreme Court is the complete lack of action by the Conservatives in dealing with this issue over a period of 10 years. The Conservatives cut the palliative care initiatives that were in place, took no movement on the issue of palliative care, and refused to deal with the fact that they knew the Supreme Court decision was coming.

The Supreme Court has now stepped into that vacuum and has put this Parliament and, I feel, all Canadians in a very difficult position, because if we do not have a law by June, we will have another legal vacuum in which this door could actually be blown open much wider.

The question is, is the role of this Parliament to do something positive, where we can assure that those who are sick and dying are able to access quality palliative care? We had pushed a motion through the House of Commons last session, and there was no money. The Conservatives and the former prime minister took no steps to put that into action.

We now have Motion No. 46 which talks about the need to establish palliative norms, working with the provinces, working to change the EI provisions so that families can get the support they need to take the pressure off them.

Is my colleague willing to accept a legal vacuum in June if this House does not move? Is he willing to work in a proactive manner with our party in establishing palliative care access so that we can actually present Canadians with more of a balance than simply the law on euthanasia?

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12:10 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his work on this. I want to address a few of the points the member made.

It is a strange definition of lack of action to say that the repeated express will of the House on the issue of euthanasia somehow constitutes a lack of action. Of course we had proposals that came forward before the court decision, and those were rejected by an overwhelming majority of this House, which included the majority of Liberal and, I believe, New Democrat members at the time, as well.

With respect to the issue of a legal vacuum, I would like to see better legislation come forward which clarifies the situation. I would support this bill if it were amended in a number of key ways. However, the existing legislation does not in any way address the task that the court asked us to do, which is to actually describe and define what the situation would look like in terms of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada.

The government has replaced some ambiguity in the court decision with greater ambiguity in the legislation. Legislation is only worth proposing if it improves on the absence of legislation.

In terms of investment in palliative care, I agree with the hon. member that there is more work to do. I would not accept his characterization of the previous government as doing nothing on that issue, but I would certainly agree that more investment is needed.

The problem with this legislation is it moves in the opposite direction. Allowing euthanasia and assisted suicide without conscience protection has the effect of pulling doctors who would otherwise want to be involved in palliative care out of palliative care if they do not want to participate in euthanasia. At the very least, conscience protection should be added. That would preserve the existing system of palliative care that we have, and then we could build on that by working to do more.

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12:15 p.m.


Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have had the honour of serving the people of Kitchener—Conestoga and being part of many important discussions and debates here in this chamber over the past 10 years. As members of Parliament, we are given the solemn obligation to chart the way forward for our great nation of Canada. The motions we table, the amendments we consider, the legislation we adopt will always impact, positively or negatively, the very people who elected us to represent them in the capital city of our nation, and they will also impact generations of Canadians to follow.

The impact of our deliberations and decisions we make on this critical life and death issue will impact the very fabric of our country. If I may say, it will leave a lasting legacy for good or for ill of our understanding of what it means to part of the human family.

Because of the very serious nature of the topic in front of us today, we, and by that I mean every member of this chamber, must take a step back and consider some very foundational questions. Each of us needs to ask ourselves these difficult questions. How we as members perceive these foundational issues is absolutely key to addressing this sobering topic before us today.

Consider with me for the next few moments these questions. What does it mean to be human? What gives human life meaning and value? Does every human life possess intrinsic value and dignity, regardless of perceived deformity, regardless of perceived disability, regardless of the perception of being a burden, regardless of whether or not a person may have achieved their best before date?

For me, the answer to all of these question is a resounding “yes”. Every human life is worthy of our utmost respect and protection. Every human life matters. Therefore, needless to say, I do not support physician-assisted suicide, or voluntary euthanasia or any legislation that would further devalue human life.

My world view is influenced by my life experiences, and most profoundly it has been shaped by my faith. I believe every human life has intrinsic value and dignity that needs to be held in high honour and esteemed, in other words, to be considered worthy.

There is a saying in the Talmud, “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

On the Peace Tower of our Parliament buildings carved in stone above the west window, members will find these words taken from ancient Hebrew writings in the book of Proverbs, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

What is our vision for Canada? I ask each of my colleagues today what their vision is for Canada.

My vision for Canada is one where every human life is valued and cherished from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. It is my firm belief that life is a gift from God and that this gift is far too precious to be discarded or destroyed. Every human life is filled with infinite value and, yes, every person, regardless of disability, deformity, depression, or devaluation based on criteria of so-called “usefulness” has something to teach us about what it means to be human.

For those who are suffering, we have the privilege to come alongside and care deeply. We provide proper pain relief, palliative care, human touch and love, in other words, we provide compassion.

The very meaning of the word compassion is “to suffer with”. It is to come alongside and enter into the suffering, to come alongside with feeling and care. Compassion is supporting them. It is to ignore the fact that compassion has everything to do with relationships if we are to allow physician-assisted suicide. We simply cannot have compassion if the relationship has been intentionally terminated.

That being said, the Supreme Court of Canada has established grounds for an exemption from prosecution for physicians who would assist in administering the suicide dose or carry out the act of euthanasia. The Supreme Court of Canada has done this, completely rejecting the fact that the elected members of the House of Commons have rejected initiatives to legalize physician-assisted suicide on at least 15 occasions since 1991. Most recently, a bill to allow physician-assisted suicide was rejected in 2010 by a vote of 59 to 226. My contention is that it is not the job of the Supreme Court to create laws but rather to interpret them.

I was one of the members of Parliament who served on the joint committee appointed to study physician-assisted dying. Our committee heard from many witnesses representing many different viewpoints. We heard from medical professionals, palliative care experts, mental health professionals, the disability community, the aboriginal community, various faith communities, legal and constitutional experts, and ethicists. As members might expect, from such a large variety of people, there was a very diverse response.

The unfortunate reality is that the timeline given to our committee for the completion of our report and recommendations did not allow for the large number of groups who wanted to appear before this committee. Groups like the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, L'Arche Canada, Living with Dignity, as well as Dr. Balfour Mount, who is considered to be the father of palliative care in Canada and in fact in North America, were not allowed to appear at all.

The joint committee report had no teeth when it came to insisting that before physician-assisted suicide could be offered or even considered in Canada, there should at the very least be a credible offer of accessible and affordable palliative care to those who faced such a final solution of hastened death. Like the committee report, Bill C-14 fails miserably in stepping up with real change on this crucial issue.

Dr. Harvey Chochinov, chair of the external panel, professor of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba, and Canada research chair for palliative care, suggests that all patients requesting medical aid in dying would need to have a palliative care consultation to ensure that patients would be fully informed of all palliative care options that could be initiated in order to mitigate the suffering of patients. To ignore the very real lack of choice without a concurrent real offer of palliative care is to offer no choice, only hastened death.

I am thankful that Bill C-14 has incorporated many of the viewpoints of the dissenting report. However, it still includes very vague and subjective language and does not address many key issues raised by witnesses who appeared before the joint committee.

A major concern in this entire discussion has been the overt attempts to soften the language. Rather than call it physician-assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia, it was then referred to as physician-assisted dying. Even physicians objected vigorously to the term “physician-assisted dying”, especially palliative care physicians. For many decades these doctors have been assisting patients through the natural dying process.

It has been said that all social engineering is preceded by verbal engineering. We will find no better example of that verbal engineering than in the matter before us today. This topic is far too important to allow this vague and euphemistic language to go unchallenged. As Dr. Chochinov notes, Bill C-14 makes no distinction between physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, yet both are included in what the bill calls “medical assistance in dying”. It is extremely important to outline the difference, because international experience reveals that they are vastly different in terms of their uptake and lethality. In jurisdictions that offer only physician-assisted suicide, such as Oregon, these deaths account for about 0.3% of all deaths. In jurisdictions that offer euthanasia, hastened death accounts for approximately 3.0%, a tenfold increase.

If we were to extrapolate these figures to Canada where there are approximately 260,000 deaths per year, under a physician-assisted suicide regime, there would be approximately 780 deaths per year. However, if we were to extrapolate that to allow for euthanasia, the number of deaths would increase to 7,800 per year, which as I pointed out is a tenfold increase. The reason for the lower numbers under a physician-assisted suicide regime is ambivalence. It is crucial that at the very least the government needs to point out that if we are to proceed with this, we have to ask that those who request physician-assisted death must follow through on physician-assisted death rather than voluntary euthanasia because the numbers are so different.

Another key missing component is the matter of conscience protection for doctors and health care workers. If it is possible to ensure a “consistent approach to medical assistance in dying”, as the preamble asserts, there is no reason why at the same time a consistent approach to guarantee conscience rights cannot be included in Bill C-14.

Finally, Bill C-14 should include a system of judicial oversight in order to protect vulnerable persons. While two independent witnesses and two independent doctors sounds good on paper, the risks of overt or subtle coercion are too great and the possibility of abuse too real. These assertions need to be verified under a framework of legal oversight.

In summary, we should be offering hope to all Canadians. As legislators, we should be doing everything in our power to ensure that not one single person dies needlessly. It is with this in mind that I repeat the need for at least three major amendments to Bill C-14: first, vulnerable Canadians need better protection with a system of judicial oversight; second, doctors, health care personnel and institutions need clear conscience protection; and, finally, Canadians who are suffering need a real option of palliative care not hastened death.

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12:25 p.m.


Anthony Housefather Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is clear that the hon. member is very passionate about life, and that certainly comes through in what he has said.

I want to ask the member about his comments with respect to the Supreme Court. He seems to believe that the Supreme Court needs to defer to the will of Parliament. However, that is not the Charter of Rights oriented system we now have in Canada. We adopted the Charter of Rights because we believed it would guarantee the protection of individual liberties, regardless of what the majority necessarily believed. In this case, whether the member, other members or I like it or not, the Supreme Court came to a decision in Carter that said medically-assisted dying was open to a certain segment of the Canadian population.

Based on what the hon. member has said, it sounds as if he is suggesting the only real path is using the notwithstanding clause to override the court's decision. Is the hon. member asking us to do that?

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12:25 p.m.


Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know my colleague is also passionate about life.

It is clear that there was a very short timeline for the committee to hear witnesses, take all of that input and come up with a report to give to the government, and then the government to craft legislation. Now we are under a very strict timeline, even in terms of debate in the House. The justice committee itself will be under an extremely short timeline. It is clear to me that we do not have adequate time to give this serious topic the serious consideration it really needs.

Whether the government wants to invoke the notwithstanding clause or not, I will not suggest that. It certainly would be one option. What I do know is that by rushing ahead the way we are at this point, we will not have the kind of law Canadians deserve.

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12:25 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have great respect for the work my colleague has done on issues of palliative care over the years with the parliamentary committee.

We agree on many things and disagree on some things, as wont in the House. I share his frustration with the Supreme Court's decision on the timelines. I respect the Supreme Court's right and power to establish rules and laws where it believes Parliament has left a vacuum. However, the new government should have been given the opportunity, as a form of good will, to engage the population of our country in this very important discussion as it affects every person and cuts across party lines. It would have been fair to give the new government the ability to hear from Canadians. I agree with the member. We are now under a very strict timeline of which Canadians are watching but are not a part.

Given these are the limits that have been placed on us by the Supreme Court, my concern is the legal vacuum that happens if we as the House do not respond to this, and the dangers that legal vacuum will create with other individuals and organizations stepping forward knowing they can go to the Supreme Court if Parliament has not acted.

Therefore, has my colleague considered the danger of that legal vacuum if we do not have a law in place by the end of June?

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12:25 p.m.


Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for the work he has done on palliative care. I was honoured to support the motion he presented to the House last year. It was an honour to work across Parliament, across partisan lines, to facilitate the report “Not to be Forgotten”, which includes many recommendations. I am proud to say that a number of those recommendations have been completely or partially implemented, but we have a long way to go.

I am concerned as well about the potential legal vacuum that could exist if we do nothing. However, I have pointed out in my comments that there are at least three key amendments that the legislation needs if it is in any way going to resemble what I think are adequate safeguards for vulnerable people. Those include that vulnerable Canadians need better protection with a system of judicial oversight. It is fine to say that there are two medical doctors, two independent witnesses, and yet no way of actually asserting that those are in fact independent.

Another one is health care protection for conscience of health care workers. It would be totally inappropriate for an institution that was set up to improve end-of-life care and to walk with patients through that end-of-life natural process to demand that they go diametrically opposite to the principles under which they were founded and now have to participate in physician hastened death.

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12:30 p.m.


Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Oakville North—Burlington.

I want to begin by taking a moment to pay tribute to two Canadian women whom I did not know but have come to know in their deaths, and who I think are two of the most courageous women. They are Gloria Taylor and Kay Carter. These two women were on a journey of life that was not of their choosing, and they came to the point in their lives where they wanted some assistance in the final days of their lives in the final part of their journey.

As a United Church minister, I walked that journey with many people, hundreds of people in fact, and have done even more funerals where I did not know the people and only came to know them through the stories of their families and the legacy they left behind. Kay Carter and Gloria Taylor are two such women whose courage, tenacity, hopefulness, and love of life have instructed us to this very day, where we are now considering a bill on medical assistance in dying.

In paying tribute to them, I also want to give them thanks for engaging us in what is one of the best civics lessons that we could ever have as a chamber. Each of the branches of our government has a chance to speak to this. There is a legislative branch and a judicial branch, as well as the executive branch.

We actually began this conversation in 1982 where we invoked the charter that is now so much part of our Canadian culture of rights and freedoms. That charter has instructed all Canadians, Canada's courts, and Canada's legislators since the day it was passed. The reality is that when Kay Carter and Gloria Taylor made their appeal to the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and it went to the Court of Appeal in B.C. and then to the Supreme Court of Canada, we had the opportunity to have our judicial branch take a look at their rights and the possibility of their having assistance in their deaths. The courts ruled on that and gave one year for the parliamentary branch and the executive branch to come up with a law.

The parliamentary branch then spoke by having a joint committee with the House and the Senate. I need to say to this chamber that it was probably the richest experience I have had as a member of Parliament. Men and women—senators and members of this House—engaging in a discussion, listening to the stories of life and of death and of healing and of hope, changed me profoundly. It gave me the opportunity to recognize that the parliamentary system that we have gives Canadians a great opportunity to hear their voices being heard at committee and now in this House.

The executive branch then picked up from the report and has presented Bill C-14. I want to thank the minister for her work on this, and the work of her office and of justice, for taking the report that we did seriously, engaging in it further, and coming up with a piece of legislation that at this time I am very clear I will be supporting at second reading.

That does not mean that I think we are finished with this piece of legislation, because it is now back to the parliamentary system where we are to engage in the dialogue with the executive branch about making a law that could be good enough better. When we are dealing with issues of life and death, I do not think “good enough” is good enough. We can honour the quest that Gloria Taylor and Kay Carter engaged in and that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on and that the executive branch has presented a law on, and as parliamentarians take seriously the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, take it to our hearts and look at what it is that we as members of Parliament are sworn to. It is more than allegiance to Her Majesty. It is about upholding the Constitution of this country and engaging in it with love, with commitment, with passion, and with hope, and looking at how the decision that the Supreme Court made can actually live out in the life of Canada.

We have a piece of legislation that is before us today, and it was decided that section 7 of the charter could not be used to deny the rights of two women looking for assistance in their deaths. The government of the day tried to fight that section 7 declaration of rights by invoking section 1 of the charter, saying that there were reasonable grounds to withhold those rights. However, the Supreme Court of Canada did not allow that. It said it would be unreasonable to deny those rights to be given to those women. The court made a very specific decision on a very specific case at a specific time.

The Supreme Court also said in paragraph 127 of the decision that it did not pronounce on things that were not before it in that case. That was a requirement for Parliament and also the bill, which, yes, does engage all Canadians in a discussion about what it is that we can have as a continuum of care that continues to the place where we help people on that final journey.

We come at it differently. I have full respect for the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga. He has engaged this subject well and I have taken into account the fact that he has passion. We have come at it differently, but I have no doubt that everyone on both sides of the House is concerned about the well-being of Canadians. However, I think the bill needs to go even further to be faithful to our Constitution.

I have concerns in that I think there could be further challenges to the bill in the courts, which I do not think Canadians should have to endure. I have a couple of very specific concerns that I would like to raise in the House and one is the use of the word “incurable”.

The court was very clear that it did not want to use the word “incurable”. Instead, it used the word “irremediable”. By invoking the word “incurable”, one begins to look at the disease instead of the person. What I mean by that is that sometimes a disease may be incurable or curable, but the person has the right, the Supreme Court said, not to undertake treatments that are not acceptable to that person. The treatments may be cruel or punishing and the reality is that the court said they do not need to undertake them. The disease may be curable, but that person has chosen a different path and that, under section 7, is their right. I have that concern about invoking that word.

The other concern I have is the introduction of the concept of foreseeable death or death in the foreseeable future. All of us live a precarious life. Life is fragile, life is precious, and life is dear, but for some life has become intolerable. Some diseases are not necessarily mortal in the sense that people are automatically going to their final days with that disease, but people still have pain that is intolerable. The Supreme Court decision in Carter says they have the right to medical assistance in dying.

The introduction of that concept of death in the foreseeable future has muddied the waters. Physicians are asking what it means. Does it mean “terminal”? Some hospitals have a different definition of “terminal” than other hospitals and other physicians have. We have to be very careful on that.

The third point I would make is about one of the safeguards. This is robust legislation. There are safeguards in place that I do not believe are of great concern. One safeguard worries me, and that is the final one in the third section on safeguards, proposed paragraph 241.2(3)(h), which says that immediately before the administration of those substances that will cause death, the person needs to, once again, declare competently that they want death to happen.

I have been in too many hospital rooms. I have sat with too many dying people. Most of the people who will access this kind of continuum of care are dying and will probably be receiving morphine. To take them off the morphine to ensure they have the capacity to give consent is cruel. The reality is that in a 15-day period, that person should be allowed to make a gracious exit and be given the compassion not to be once again required to become competent, because the morphine is helping them with their intolerable suffering. That they are suffering intolerably has already been declared.

With those exceptions, I am supportive of the bill. The justice committee has its work to do. I am looking forward to thorough deliberations. I have utter confidence in every member of that committee. I am looking forward to the bill returning to the House and going to the other place. I know that Canadians will have a law that helps them and makes Canada a richer and stronger country.

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12:40 p.m.


Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his work as co-chair of the committee and for the good working relationship that our committee had.

There is one concern I have, and this happened frequently during our committee hearings as well, I believe unintentionally, or perhaps intentionally. There is a conflation of two issues. One is physician-assisted dying or physician-assisted suicide, and the other is simply discontinuing medical treatment.

Patients have always had the right to refuse what my colleague refers to as punishing medical treatment that may prolong their lives. I wonder if my colleague would clarify that this was not his intent, and that, in fact, patients have always had the right to refuse medical treatment that would extend their lives unnecessarily or, as people say, “It's okay to pull the plug”.

These are issues that we have dealt with for many years. That is not the issue that we are talking about today. I am concerned that this kind of language is creating some confusion on the part of people who may think we simply want to extend life at all costs with whatever medications are necessary, or with medical procedures that may go beyond what the patient requests.