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.