House of Commons Hansard #80 of the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was laurentian.


Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Madam Speaker, the truth of the matter is that every one of those recommendations, as far as percentages of Canadians go, is accurate. The same poll the member is referring to also indicated that the majority of Canadians want to continue to have access to abortion. That is the truth. However, it also asked the question very specifically on certain issues, whether this narrow concern should be legal or illegal. Eighty-four per cent of Canadians indicated that a sex-selection abortion, where the abortion is taking place solely because of the desire for a certain sex of that child, should be illegal.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Lindsay Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, I too want to express my deep, heartfelt dismay at this debate today and support my colleagues who have raised amazing questions with respect to the member's statistics, which are wrong and misleading. I am truly upset by the fact that she is directly misleading her constituents, as she said at the beginning of her speech.

I would like to know this. Our Supreme Court struck down the abortion law in 1988 because it violated women's right to bodily security. Why does she not believe in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I hoped you would call the member to order. There are parliamentary conventions the member is aware of with respect to accusing people of something and—

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

I could go very far back to use the same thing on many other members in the House, so I am not going to intervene.

The hon. member for Yorkton—Melville.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Madam Speaker, I do not totally remember what the member's question was after all of that, but I will say this.

It is really important that we recognize that the Canadian Medical Association did major studies in 2012 and 2016 with ethnic researchers involved and with the ethnic community involved, and they indicated that this is a growing problem in Canada that needs to be addressed. Of course, it is happening for other reasons as well, but the truth of the matter is that this is a scenario where the majority of Canadians are saying they are not polarized the way certain groups would like them to think they are. This is an issue where Canadians come together and want a law that restricts sex selection as an option for abortion.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

April 14th, 2021 / 6 p.m.

Oakville North—Burlington Ontario


Pam Damoff LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous Services

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-233.

Let me start by saying that our government condemns all forms of gender-based violence. We have taken strong legislative action and made investments to protect women and girls since we took office, from improving judicial education to prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression, investing in an ambitious gender-based violence strategy and, yes, approving the use of Mifegymiso in Canada.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have provided an additional $100 million in funding to organizations across the country to support their efforts to end gender-based violence. In my community, $170,000 of that funding has gone directly to organizations that are dedicated to combatting gender-based violence.

There is no evidence to support the need for Bill C-233. This is a bill searching for a problem that does not exist. Canada is not seeing a disproportionate number of male versus female births. The sex ratio at birth for Canada is consistent with the global average. In fact, I believe this bill introduces considerable risk in stigmatizing racialized communities, which already experience disproportionate police surveillance, over-criminalization, and violence and discrimination at the hands of public officials.

Abortion providers and counsellors are trained to ensure that each person is comfortable and certain about their decision and that they are not having an abortion under pressure from anyone. Abortion is health care, and the patients' health and life need to be the primary concern for health care providers; that means ensuring that they can have access to a safe abortion.

We must assess the bill's ability to achieve its intended objective in light of the evidence showing that ensuring access to abortion services advances gender equality. Evidence shows that restricting such access, in particular through criminal law, has a detrimental and negative impact on equality rights. I am concerned that this bill may serve to exacerbate sex-based discrimination, not combat it.

This is not the first time the Conservative Party has attempted to legislate women's bodies. The anti-choice movement has co-opted the language of human rights and feminism to try to limit access to abortion.

The United Nations has issued reports recommending against criminalizing any aspect of abortion, including sex-selective abortion, since research shows that doing so creates barriers to accessing abortion services, which negatively affects women's equality. International agencies have made strong statements that women's right to make decisions about their own bodies is at the very core of the fundamental right to equality, and I agree.

Abortion is a medical decision made between a woman and her doctor. There are already safeguards in place within the medical community surrounding abortion. Legislators are not doctors and have no business interfering with the doctor-patient relationship. I firmly believe that legislators have no place in the uterus of women across our country.

There are obviously those in the Conservative Party who do not feel that way, including the sponsor of this bill, who has said she believes that abortion should never be performed, under any circumstances. If the hon. member truly is concerned about gender-based violence and discrimination, I would ask whether she supports preventative measures that are far more effective at reducing abortions, including comprehensive sex education, consent-based awareness-raising activities and campaigns, free and accessible birth control, and laws and policies that promote gender equality and actually address gender-based discrimination, including gender parity in all decision-making spaces, pay equity, paid parental and other forms of leave, and comprehensive social support services, including affordable housing, universal pharmacare and national child care. The list goes on.

If we want to tackle stereotypes that value men over women, the answer is not criminalizing women's bodies. The answer is getting to the roots of misogyny and sexism and doing the hard work, as a government and society, that we need to do to ensure that women's lives are valued. We need to ensure that young women who want birth control can access it without fear of recrimination. We need to ensure that we support the work that local women's organizations like SAVIS and Halton Women's Place are doing to cultivate male allyship, and we need to call out all people, regardless of gender, who think it is their right to control what a woman does with her body.

In 1988, in the Supreme Court of Canada's well-known Morgentaler decision, restrictions on abortion were found to violate women's section 7 security of the person rights. Since then, it has remained a medical decision, as it should be.

This bill is one more example of the rising power of the anti-choice movement across our country. Here in my riding, I have worked with the Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Services to raise awareness about how hard it is for women in my region to access abortion services. One cannot get an abortion in Halton unless it is an emergency. Over half a million people live in Halton Region. We are one of the safest and wealthiest communities in the country, and one out of five women in my region who choose to have an abortion in their lifetime will have to go outside the region to seek essential health care.

Halton Region is the best-case worst-case scenario. We sit between Toronto and Hamilton and are part of the most densely populated area of the country. Members should think about the barriers that exist for women who live in rural or remote areas or women who do not speak English or French. Members should think about the barriers that exist for women who cannot pay for the $100 taxi ride from Oakville to Hamilton. Now members should think about how these barriers are amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel between provinces is limited, sometimes outright banned, and clinics have closed. These barriers do not make our communities safer; they put women in danger and they act to restrict choice.

The rise of the anti-choice movement has also led to dangerous online misinformation campaigns sponsored by Alliance for Life Ontario, spreading dangerous falsehoods about medical abortion. This is part of a larger ideological initiative that seeks to misinform individuals and restrict their reproductive rights.

What is medical abortion, and why does the anti-choice movement want to convince Canadian women that it is unsafe and can be reversed? To begin with, medical abortions have been practised all over the world for more than 30 years. Despite three decades of evidence that proves they are safe and effective, they were only made available in Canada since 2017 under our Liberal government.

There are two drugs that are used for a medical abortion, sold together in a product called Mifegymiso. Mifegymiso is prescribed by a doctor, and it can only be given within the first nine weeks of pregnancy. A woman takes one tablet, and then 24 to 48 hours later the subsequent tablets, and that is it. Medical abortions are safe and effective, and the vast majority of abortions in Canada, about 90%, happen very early in a pregnancy, before the sex of the fetus is even known, I might add.

The campaign is targeting women who are seeking an abortion with wrongful claims that a medical abortion can be reversed mid-procedure, in the 24 to 48 hours after the first tablet. Advocates for the abortion pill reversal frequently cite research from Dr. George Delgado, a medical adviser for the Abortion Pill Rescue Network and medical director of Culture of Life Family Services in San Diego, a self-professed provider of Christ-centred medical care. This research has been condemned by the medical community, and compelling evidence exists that abortion pill reversal is ineffective and potentially dangerous. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada has released a statement condemning the practice, as has the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Simply put, denying access to health services that only women require, including abortion, is a form of gender-based violence. The UN has recognized this, our Supreme Court has recognized this, and I am confident that a majority of the hon. members in this place will recognize this.

I call on all members of this House to call out the anti-choice movement and recognize this bill for what it is, a bill that is trying to find a problem that simply does not exist in Canada, and I ask all members to join me in voting against this bill.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

Madam Speaker, it is with a heavy heart that I rise today to speak to Bill C-233.

The Bloc Québécois is obviously against the bill, which is essentially an anti-choice bill. The Bloc Québécois unequivocally defends the right of women to control their own bodies, their right to free choice and their right to free and accessible abortions. Of course, the Bloc Québécois opposes sex-selective abortion, but it also opposes the idea that the government can tell women what to do with their own bodies. Women are free to choose whether to terminate their pregnancy or not.

The fight against sex-selective abortion is a pretext used by the Conservatives to initiate a debate on abortion rights. Although the Conservatives claim that they do not want to reopen the debate on this issue, they keep coming back to it. Bill C-233 is yet another example. The Conservatives are looking for new legal grounds to criminalize abortion. Although sex-selective abortion is based on misogynistic and sexist ideas, we cannot fight it by imposing more social control on women. We cannot fight sexism with sexism. The solution is not more control, but more equality.

I will share the Bloc Québécois’s position on the issue. I will then speak about the importance of defending the right of women to control their own bodies, and I will conclude by tying this in to reproductive health.

The Bloc Québécois believes that rhetorical manipulation, the hijacking of the discourse on human rights and the fight against discrimination for other purposes are outdated and worn-out stratagems that do not show the manipulators in a good light and undermine citizens’ confidence in democratic institutions.

Hijacking the discourse on human rights undermines the fight for human rights. It is our responsibility as parliamentarians to state our real intentions when we open a dialogue on behalf of the citizens we represent. The This is about the quality of the democratic conversation. Obscuring the debate on abortion rights undermines the quality of the democratic conversation. This is why these practices must be recognized and condemned, and they must stop. The Bloc Québécois demands that the leader of the Conservative Party publicly acknowledge that Bill C-233 is merely a stratagem for attacking abortion rights, that he ask his members to oppose it, and that he call to order the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville.

Let me provide a definition of sex-selective abortion. It is a selective abortion based solely on the sex of the child. It involves primarily female fetuses in countries where cultural norms value boys. In Canada, a 2016 study by the Canadian Medical Association reignited the debate about selective abortions within some South Asian communities in Ontario. There is some evidence suggesting that, for cultural reasons, certain groups choose to terminate certain pregnancies in order to promote male birth in Canada. Nevertheless, this is extremely rare in Canada, and it has no impact on the ratio of male to female births in this country.

It would be wrong to think that this is a common practice in cultural communities in Quebec and Canada. The vast majority of cultural communities do not practise sex selection. Most importantly, the practice tends to fade away on its own within one or two generations. This evolution happens precisely because of the cultural effect and the value placed on gender equality, and not because of any prohibition. It reminds us that we must oppose all instances of discrimination. We need to emphasize the importance of valuing equality and promoting human rights and minimize coercion and control. Yes, sex-selective abortion is a legal practice that does happen in Canada, but it is much less widespread than is being suggested.

I would remind the House that the Bloc Québécois has taken the same position as the women of Quebec. The debate on women's right to control their own bodies is over and done in Quebec. It is a fundamental value that we uphold.

In connection with the debate on sex-selective abortion in 2012 and 2013, the Fédération des femmes du Québec clearly and publicly expressed its position against sex-selective abortion, against banning it and controlling women and against the Conservatives' veiled tactics. In keeping with our long-standing commitment, the Bloc Québécois stands with Quebec women and endorses that position.

There is a huge difference between opposing sex-selective abortion and supporting a ban on the practice in a bill. Criminalizing a medical procedure and making doctors liable to imprisonment is a major move we must not make.

We know that the problem the Conservatives want to solve is not selective abortion but abortion altogether. Quebeckers will not fall for the Conservatives' tactics. Women do not need to justify their choice to end a pregnancy. Health care professionals' only concern is and should be the health and safety of their patients, who have the right to a safe abortion.

The provisions of Bill C-233 compromise patient safety by sowing fear and mistrust into the doctor-patient relationship.

The issue of sex-selective abortion is not new to federal politics. In 2012, a Conservative member moved a motion to condemn it, thus reviving the abortion debate. That motion came on the heels of one moved by another Conservative member on the rights of the fetus, asking to create a parliamentary committee to study at what point a fetus should be considered a human being for the purposes of enforcing Criminal Code provisions. These tactics, aiming to surreptitiously criminalize abortion, were carried out despite the electoral promise of the former prime minister not to reopen the abortion debate.

The member for Yorkton—Melville herself has a history of introducing anti-abortion legislation. Is it not a bit odd that the battles waged by the member are never openly about the right to abortion, but that they all result, in one way or another, in a proposal to criminalize this medical procedure and make it subject to stiff prison sentences?

Today, in 2021, 33 years after abortion was decriminalized in Canada, the Conservatives are continuing their pro-life or, in my opinion, anti-choice militancy. By introducing a bill such as this in Parliament, their assault on women's rights pays political dividends by pandering to the religious right.

The Bloc Québécois's response to Bill C-233 is that it gives every parliamentarian, no matter their political stripe, the opportunity to reject regressive legislation that proposes an inappropriate solution to a false problem. By rejecting the bill, they will help put an end to the chronic problem of Conservative attacks on women's integrity and their right to control their bodies.

It was only in 1988 and after much effort that women gained the right to legal abortion. This fragile win continues today to be threatened by these opponents, who are using a set of tactics with a view to reopening this debate and limiting by alternate means women's freedom to choose abortion.

In Quebec, there has been a consensus that the debate on abortion must not be reopened since the 1988 Supreme Court ruling that struck down the provisions that criminalized abortion. The decision to have an abortion is one of the most difficult decisions in a woman's life. Such a serious decision must be left up to women, and women only. The Bloc Québécois is reiterating its support for freedom of choice, which has unanimous support in Quebec. A woman's body belongs to her.

The Conservatives are constantly repeating the same refrain about how they do not want to reopen the abortion debate; yet, they are the ones who regularly draw the debate back to that topic.

Let us now talk about reproductive health. Although the practice of sex-selective abortion is rather common in some regions and countries, the selective abortion of female fetuses is rather rare in Canada since it has little or no impact on the proportion of boys to girls. We are talking about a ratio of 105 boys to 100 girls, which is comparable to the international average.

Passing this bill could even have racial consequences. If Bill C-233 is passed, doctors could engage in racial profiling by questioning only pregnant women who are Asian or Indian. Canadians do not want to support a bill that encourages racism. Women's health and safety are at stake. Doctors and staff are trained to ensure that patients are all right with their decision and that no one exerts any pressure on them to have an abortion.

However, a woman could be at risk of physical violence at home if she does not have access to sex-selective abortion. Furthermore, women may feel forced to become pregnant until they have a boy. In such cases, the abortions are much higher risk and full-term pregnancies are even more so, especially when there are multiple ones close together.

The primary concern for medical professionals should be the health and life of their patients. This includes providing a safe abortion, regardless of other circumstances. No reason needs to be given for an abortion in Canada. Doctors should not ask and patients do not have to disclose that information. Bill C-233 could make women afraid to speak up, and it could have an impact on their relationships with their doctors by sowing fear and mistrust or causing adverse health effects.

This bill is clearly driven by an anti-choice agenda and religious beliefs. The bill is ostensibly meant to combat gender-based discrimination, but that is not the case. What we need to do is work on addressing these inequalities.

In conclusion, an ultrasound at 12 weeks will indicate whether it is a girl. However, such a determination also means that it is a human being, which opens up the debate on the right to abortion. If we truly want to protect women's health, safety and rights, we must vote against Bill C-233, in the name of respecting a woman's right to control her own body. Let us act now.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Lindsay Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, women in Canada and around the world have fought long and hard for the right to control what they do with their own bodies. Sadly, many women still do not have this right or they have actively lost it. In some cases, particularly here in Canada, the right to choose is only available in theory. The practice of this right is hindered by the fact that consecutive governments have not ensured that all women have the same rights under the Canada Health Act or the charter.

To my utter dismay, here we are again. This private member's bill, Bill C-233, is nothing short of a direct attack on women. Despite all the rhetoric claiming to be in defence of women's equality and despite the Conservative leader's assurances that his party will not reopen the abortion debate in Canada, we are debating a bill that does just that.

I am not surprised. He, like so many former leaders of the Conservative Party, has allowed his members to repeatedly try to undermine women's rights. Since 2006, members of the Conservative caucus have tried seven times to introduce anti-choice laws. In fact, this is not even the first time the member for Yorkton—Melville has tried to challenge women's rights under the charter, and like the other anti-choice private members' bills introduced by Conservative Party members, Bill C-233 is a Trojan Horse.

I am proud to say that women must retain their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and as a New Democrat in the House and as a woman who has the privilege to speak here tonight, I will never vote for a bill that is quite literally a slap in the face to women who have fought long and hard for the right to control their own bodies.

Dangerously, the argument that is being used within the bill is couched in language around gender equality, but I cannot state emphatically enough that Bill C-233 does nothing to address gender equality. Let me repeat that: Bill C-233 does nothing to address gender equality. It is a step toward regulating and eroding access to abortion.

When abortions are illegal, women do not stop having them. They only take more risks to access the services they need, and these risks can have deadly consequences. Before anti-choice laws in Canada were struck down, there were over 35,000 illegal abortions taking place every year. Thousands of women died because they were not given a choice. They were desperate and submitted themselves to clandestine procedures.

Our Supreme Court struck down the abortion law in 1988 because it violated a woman's right to bodily security. Recriminalizing abortion in any way would be a violation of the charter rights that cis women and transgender people have to life, liberty and conscience.

If we look at examples from India and Nepal, we see that laws against sex-selective abortion do not work, and because of these laws many women avoid the health care system. They risk their health and lives by resorting to unsafe abortions.

A 2019 study found that sex-selective abortion bans in South Korea, China and India are difficult to implement and have limited impact. They reduce access to safe abortion services and negatively affect the life chances of women and girls. By contrast, other studies have shown that policies that include mass messaging and measures to increase gender equality show a quick impact in reducing people's preference for having sons and in increasing parental investments in girls.

The sex-selective abortion of female fetuses is a symptom, not the problem itself. The root issue here is misogyny. A law banning sex-selective abortion only sends the problem underground. The answer lies in raising the status of girls and women over the long term.

In the promotion and protection of women's rights and gender equality, Canada must be a world leader. We must commit to the view that gender equality is not only a human right, but also an essential component of sustainable development, social justice, peace and security. These goals can only be achieved if women are able to participate as equal partners, decision-makers and beneficiaries of the sustainable development of their societies.

However, how can Canada be considered a world leader in women's rights when we have members of Parliament suggesting that we revert to the days of gender inequality through the restriction of abortion? How can Canada be considered a world leader when the government refuses to enforce the Canada Health Act, which requires provinces to fund equal access?

In 1988, abortion was decriminalized, but that does not mean everyone in Canada has access. Last year, Action Canada published “Access at a Glance: Abortion Services in Canada”. This overview of abortion care in Canada shows huge gaps in what care is available and where. There are significant disparities between rural and urban access to abortion. In some provinces, like Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, abortion providers are only in urban centres, despite the fact that 35% to 40% of the population is living in rural or remote communities.

Hundreds of people are forced to travel out of their communities to access abortion and must pay for travel expenses out of pocket. Travelling to another city for a procedure can mean having to take time off work, planning and paying for child care or elder care. Some people cannot afford to pay for these expenses.

Access to health services should not depend on one's postal code or income. Unlike any other province or territory, New Brunswick illegally refuses to pay for abortion services outside of hospital settings. This means that abortions provided in clinics are not funded by the government. This is a human rights violation and contravenes the Canada Health Act.

For decades, people across New Brunswick and Canada have been advocating for the government to strike down this discriminatory regulation, yet successive governments and the so-called feminist Liberal government continue to ignore this call, and persist in maintaining an unfair, illegal policy that seriously impacts abortion access in New Brunswick.

Everyone has the equal right to the best quality health care, regardless of race, age, class, immigration status, gender expression, sexuality and ability, but abortion care is impacted by discrimination and bigotry, both systemic and as a result of individual prejudice on the part of service providers. Racism, xenophobia, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and ageism in Canada are all direct and intersecting barriers to accessing abortion.

If the member introducing Bill C-233 was truly interested in strengthening gender equality, this bill could have ensured everyone's right to access health services. It could propose solutions to fight against racism and poverty and homelessness or combat homophobia and transphobia. It could propose operational-based funding for women's organizations, ensure permanent funding for shelters in Canada, put forward a universal early learning and child care bill, introduce a guaranteed basic livable income, ensure free access to birth control or Mifegymiso, create a national action plan against gender-based violence, or implement just one of the 231 calls for justice from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry.

If the member for Yorkton—Melville was truly dedicated to advancing gender equality, she could have drafted a bill that actually addresses the social, economic or political inequities women experience as part of their daily lives, inequities exacerbated by past and current governments.

Tragically, this bill does nothing to implement the long-term solutions that would reduce the inequality between men and women. In May 2020, Canada celebrated the 50th anniversary of the abortion caravan, the convoy of activists, advocates and brave women who travelled from Vancouver to Ottawa to protest the criminalization of abortion in 1970.

Canadian women fought long and hard for the right to safe, legal abortions. Women have been forced to put their private lives under scrutiny in the courts and in the fight for the right to choose. I would like to thank all the brave women, organizations and abortion providers who fought for our right to choose.

I urge all members of this House to recognize this bill for what it is, an underhanded attack on women's choice. I urge all members to vote against it. If we are to sincerely achieve true gender equality, we will not tolerate the sham that has been perpetuated against women of this country.

Instead of attacking health services and access, we need to address the reasons why women are undervalued, underpaid and underserved. We need a government that would champion programs and policies that ensure women's contributions to society, the economy and leadership in this country are respected and encouraged. Access to safe, legal abortions is integral to these rights.

New Democrats, it is safe to say, do not support this bill. We will actively fight against any motion or future bill that would threaten a woman's right to choose.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to start tonight's discussion regarding my multiple attempts to write this speech. I kept on changing the way I wanted to discuss it. What is my angle? Who is the audience and what do they expect? I knew I had to focus on the right tone and what specific words to say and why am I, a person strong in her belief, so worried about presenting on this important topic?

I have seen how these discussions have gone in the past, or should I say, I rightly recognize that this is not a discussion. Instead it is a debate characterized by a great deal of animosity from all sides with no resolutions. However, the bill challenges us to have a genuine discussion. The bill could be used as a potential platform to address concerns, but as I have witnessed, I am afraid there are few people willing to come to the table to have a well-intentioned, meaningful debate.

The bill should make us all think on how we feel about this subject, specifically on sex-selective abortion. I know that in these 10 minutes every word that I choose to say will be ripped and torn apart and we are losing the opportunity to have a real discussion and properly debate Bill C-233, the bill introduced by my colleague and friend from Yorkton—Melville.

This is a topic that people are very vocal on, with people being labelled as either absolutely right or completely wrong. Everyone has a label forced on them, but is that really what we want when it comes to such a complex issue? This should not be about how we feel on the right to choose to have an abortion. This is whether sex-selection abortion is happening in Canada and what is ethical in this situation. This is a subject that we just cannot win. There is no right or wrong on this issue.

When I talk about abortion, it is in general and not specific. I support women having a choice and when I speak on this issue, I recognize that there are many Canadians unaware of what our laws in Canada are. I want to go back 33 years to when there was a law. I want to share with everyone tonight the executive summary and the information available on sex-selective abortion.

One of the best and simplest summaries was a bill that the Library of Congress, prepared by Stephen Clarke, senior foreign law specialist in the United States. This where I found the best information on Canada.

Federal legislation that made the obtaining of unapproved abortion a crime was held to be unconstitutional in 1988 and has not been replaced. Canada has no legal restrictions on the obtaining of abortions. Abortion for sex selection is legal and there are reports that it is being practised. Sex selection and reproductive technology is prohibited, subject to an exemption that allows sex selection to prevent disorders or disease.

Until 1988, Canada's Criminal Code required women who wished to have an abortion to satisfy a therapeutic abortion committee established by a hospital that the continuation of her pregnancy would be likely to endanger her life. However, in the case of R. v Morgentaler, Smoling and Scott, the Supreme Court held that this provision violated section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 7 of the charter provides that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived therefore, except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

Since 1988, Canada has not had a law prohibiting any type of abortion, including abortions for the purpose of sex selection, although there have been several attempts at legislative reforms that have failed.

We have actually heard a lot about those tonight.

The absence of an abortion law in Canada does not mean that a woman can easily obtain an abortion at any time during her pregnancy. Physicians in Canada normally do not perform abortions after the 24th week of a pregnancy unless the health of the woman is in serious jeopardy, even though they cannot be prosecuted for this. Although information on the subject is not readily available, it may also be the case that many physicians refuse to perform abortions for the purpose of sex selection.

Now, turning to in vitro fertilization, the same paper from the Library of Congress states that:

Reproductive Technology

Canada’s Assisted Human Reproduction Act states that no person shall:

[f]or the purpose of creating a human being, perform any procedure or provide, prescribe or administer any thing that would ensure or increase the probability that an embryo will be of a particular sex, or that would identify the sex of an in vitro embryo, except to prevent, diagnose or treat a sex-linked disorder or disease.

Thus, Canada does generally prohibit sex selection in embryonic procedures, except to prevent, diagnose, or treat a sex-related disorder or disease.

What I just read is from the Library of Congress in a journal written back in June 2009.

There is a much bigger discussion here that we are not permitted to talk about politically. However, I believe in facts. I believe in multiple sides on these issues. When I think about a good debate and great conversations, I think about my own family. Yes, we are all from the same family, but then we add on the in-laws and extended family and brothers-in-law who call themselves the Martyn men. We have extremely heated debates, and sometimes things can get pretty spicy. Sometimes mother sighs, “That is just enough”. However, we share unique perspectives and have had different experiences in the past that have shaped our lives and our beliefs on certain issues. One thing I recognize is that I always learn something new about someone or something during these debates. I respect them, and I respect their views on these issues.

We do not have to believe to the same degree on every single issue, and I think that is where we are today. This issue could lead us to more. It could lead us to a study of greater awareness of an issue that is happening, such as sex selection. Yes, it can be a very difficult discussion, but I believe it can be a very thoughtful discussion as well.

As I have said in the House and in committees many times, I am a Pollyanna. I do believe in the best, and I do believe that when people are committed to discuss issues with diverse opinions, they can find the right balance.

One thing that I have learned through this pandemic is that what is important to people and how people react can be very different. I recognize the vast opinions on COVID-19, and I recognize that I do not have to agree with all of the opinions in this discussion. However, here sex selection abortion becomes something we truly should look at and consider. We have the right to pro-life and pro-choice, and we have the right to question if more needs to be done or considered. I am not saying today that more needs to be done, but is there an issue with sex selection?

As I said earlier in my speech, the debate is characterized by a great deal of animosity from all sides with no resolution. There are a few people willing to come to the table to have a well-intentioned, meaningful debate. My table is always open for all opinions on this matter, for and against.

There are many things that we must challenge our presumptions on. It is important that we are willing to challenge ideas and test them against other thought patterns. That is why in every Parliament we have a government with an opposition that challenges it.

Listening does not mean that one must agree. However, today's debate is on sex selection abortion and, unfortunately, this means that many members have decided to stop listening before the conversation even begins. Does this issue deserve to be studied? Is there an issue that is actually occurring here in Canada that needs to be addressed? We cannot know if we are not willing to even start the conversation. We must be willing to at least have this conversation to discuss this difficult topic and not immediately reach for the attacks and ignore the substance of the bill itself.

I thank everybody for listening to me today, and I wish everybody the best.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Pickering—Uxbridge Ontario


Jennifer O'Connell LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, normally I would say I am happy to rise in this chamber, but on this topic I could not be more disappointed. I am disappointed, as a woman in this country in this day and age, to be once again faced with Conservatives attempting to take away long-fought, long-established women's rights. Members should make no mistake about this. I guarantee nobody in this House supports sex-selective abortions, but that is precisely not what the member has intended with this legislation.

Just this past weekend, members of the Conservative party and their staff gathered with the Pro-Life Association to strategize on and discuss how to get backdoor anti-abortion legislation in this country to take away women's rights. In addition to that, they were referring to MAID and amendments there as an example. According to one article, they said this is “a 'very powerful first step and foundation' to introducing conscience rights in other areas, like targeting abortion or denying access to medical services for trans people.”

These are the values that this Conservative party represents, and I am ashamed. In this day and age there should be no debate. The last speaker said they wish there could be a debate, but the debate on women's rights is over. We are equal, and governments do not make decisions on our health and on our bodies.

There is no law or power that any government has to control decisions on the male body, so if members of the Conservative party want to talk about equality, then this debate is over. Let us work on abolishing inequality in this country, but a woman's right to choose is fundamental, and government has no place and no business in that decision.

Sex-Selective Abortion ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The hon. member will have eight minutes the next time this matter is before the House to finish her speech.

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.

[For continuation of proceedings, see part B]

[Continuation of proceedings from part A]

Laurentian University in SudburyEmergency Debate

6:40 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The House will now proceed to the consideration of a motion to adjourn the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter requiring urgent consideration, namely Laurentian University in Sudbury.

Laurentian University in SudburyEmergency Debate

6:40 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON


That this House do now adjourn.

Madam Speaker, I am very proud to be here this evening as the NDP spokesperson for the greater Timmins—James Bay region. I am very touched to open the debate on the future of Laurentian University.

For the people from all around northern Ontario, Laurentian University is a symbol that opened the door to several generations of young Franco-Ontarians, indigenous and young anglophones from small towns in northern Ontario.

It is important for Parliament to look at the crisis at Laurentian University and come up with a solution.

I will be sharing my time with the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

People in Canada might be wondering why the Parliament of Canada is talking about the future of a university in Sudbury. There are national implications about what is happening there right now. The use of the CCAA, the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, to demolish a public institution is something that we have to deal with at the federal level to make sure it will never happen again. If we allow this precedent to happen at Laurentian, we can bet our bottom dollar that premiers like Jason Kenney and other right wingers will use the CCAA to attack public institutions.

This is not an example of the reason that legislation was put in place, and it cannot be used at Laurentian today. A number of programs that have national significance are being attacked and undermined at Laurentian. That is the issue to be debated in this House, and I thank my colleagues from all parties for being present for this debate.

When I look at Laurentian, it is very emotional. My father was in his thirties and never had a chance to go to school. My dad had to quit school when he was 16 because he was a miner's son. There was no opportunity for post-secondary education. My mom quit school at 15 to go to work.

When my dad was 35, he had the opportunity to get a post-secondary education, and he got that because Laurentian University was there. The fact that we had a university in the north made it possible for my father to get the education that had been denied him, and he became a professor of economics. That is what Laurentian did for him.

I was speaking to a young, single mother yesterday who never got to go to school, as she had a child very young. She phoned me and said she was going to go to university next year. She asked where she will go now. Doug Ford and his buddies probably do not think it is a problem if people are in Kapuskasing or Hearst. He would say they should just go to Toronto or Guelph. They cannot.

Laurentian makes that possible. Laurentian removed the barriers for so many people in a region that has suffered such massive youth out-migration, year in and year out. Laurentian was the tool that we used. It is 60 years of public investment. I think particularly of the Franco-Ontarian community that has built a level of expertise and capacity that was second to none.

I think of the indigenous community. The university had the tricultural mandate, and the decision of the board of governors to attack indigenous services as part of their restructuring is an attack on truth and reconciliation.

Call to action 16 states, “We call upon post-secondary institutions to create university and college degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages.” Guess what, with the CCAA, that is gone. Gone as well are the massive and important programs for francophone youth to get educated in key areas.

I believe we have to step up at the federal level. We have to come to the table to work with Laurentian on its future, but I would say part of that has to be that we get rid of the president and board of governors who made this deal possible. If we look at what they put in their plan, this is not a restructuring. This is an act of intellectual vandalism that is without precedent.

They are destroying the engineering program in the land of the deepest mines in the world. They are destroying the francophone mining engineering program when the majority of young people coming into the mining trades are francophone and work all over the world. They have taken that away.

They made a decision to get rid of the physics program when we have the world-class Neutrino Observatory, which has won awards around the world. Now scientists will be coming in from elsewhere, but the local university will not be part of it. What kind of thinking is that?

The decision to cut the nursing program in a region where the majority of the population is francophone goes against the principle of access to equitable services for francophone communities.

We need to look at a couple of key areas to see why this matters at the federal level. The attack on the programs that were designed for the northern indigenous is an attack on reconciliation. The federal government has an obligation there.

The attack on the francophone language rights, services, programming and training is denying opportunities, and it will have an effect for decades to come. It is also going to have an immediate impact on the right for people in rural regions to receive service in their language because young people are being trained in their language to work in those communities. I would point to the decision to kill the midwifery program, which was fought so hard for.

For rural people, that program was essential. It is essential for the far north, in communities like Attawapiskat, where the midwives went to work.

This is showing us it does not matter, in this so-called restructuring, what the mandate of that university was, which was to provide opportunity and education that was second to none in North America.

Anyone who has not read the filings being used under the CCAA should really take a look at them, because this is the road map for the destruction of public education and public services in Canada. What we heard on Monday was a shocking attack on education, programs and opportunities. It was slash after slash after slash, but what is in here is what comes next. It is the ability of this board of governors, the Doug Ford crowd, to go after and destroy the pensions.

Coming from northern Ontario, we are no strangers to the attack on pensions. I remember when Peggy Witte destroyed Pamour mine and the workers had their pensions stolen. I remember when the Kerr-Addison mine, one of the richest mines in the history of Canada, was stripped bare by the creditors, so there was nothing left but a bunch of unpaid bills, and the workers had their pension rights denied. Is that is the plan for the post-secondary education? That cannot happen. Not on our watch.

Were there mistakes made at Laurentian? Absolutely, but it is indicative of the larger crisis in post-secondary education, where students are forced to pay massive amounts to get access to education. They come out with major levels of debt. We see university administrators putting money into new buildings, into all the bells and whistles, and denying tenure and adequate work for the professors.

We saw another university in northern Ontario that fired a whole crop of young, dedicated professors and put the money into the sports program. What we are seeing with Laurentian and other universities is the creation of a new level of precarious worker, the university professors and staff, who take on enormous amounts of student debt and are given no opportunity or security and now even their pensions are going to be undermined.

I am calling on my colleagues tonight that the federal government has a role to play. We have to change the CCAA laws so we never again can have a precedent where a public institution can be ripped apart and destroyed and where the pension rights and protections of the people who work in that public service are erased.

That is not what the CCAA was established for. It was established for private companies. It was also to give them security while they restructured. What is happening at Laurentian is not a restructuring, so we need to deal with the CCAA.

We need a commitment from the federal government about the Francophone services. We need to speak up for the indigenous programs that are being cut. We have to recognize northern Ontario is not going to go back to third-class status, where the young people, who are the greatest assets we have, have to leave year in, year out because we do not have the services. Laurentian is a service we put 60 years into. We have to protect it.

I am calling on the Prime Minister to show up and come to the table with a plan to work to save Laurentian.

Laurentian University in SudburyEmergency Debate

6:50 p.m.


Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Timmins—James Bay for the personal account in his describing of the opportunities given to his family members.

I must admit, I do not understand how we arrived to this point. I think for a lot of people in Ontario, myself included, it was a bit of a shocker to hear this news a few days ago. Does he have any insight into how we came to be here, how Laurentian came to a place where suddenly it is in this position?

Furthermore, from an actual implementation perspective, can he share details of the plan he is looking for from the Prime Minister? What does he think we can offer as Parliament, as government, in order to help?

Laurentian University in SudburyEmergency Debate

6:50 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Madam Speaker, when Laurentian began to find itself in financial difficulties, it did lobby the members for Sudbury and Nickel Belt. I do not know if they brought forward any of the crisis happening to Laurentian to their fellow Liberals, but we, as New Democrats, will certainly speak up.

Multiple issues have happened over the years. The chronic underfunding of post-secondary institutions and the huge levels of student debt have made it more difficult. There have been very bad management decisions, and very bad management decisions made in many universities on where they are going

The one issue on the CCAA is that when it was brought in, it was believed that maybe they were using it just to stabilize. What we would need from the federal government is for it to say that we cannot use CCAA to tear apart a public institution. We have to change that law. We need the Prime Minister to say that the government will put some money on the table.

Are we going to have to rebuild, rethink and re-establish? Absolutely. However, we cannot sit back and allow a public institution, with 60 years of history, to be simply torn apart and sold off like it is at a scrap-metal dealership. That is not on, because if that is allowed to happen at Laurentian, we can bet it will happen in region after region, as right-wing governments decide what an easy way that is to get rid of public education and public health.

Laurentian University in SudburyEmergency Debate

6:50 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I very much thank my hon. colleague for Timmins—James Bay for his strong advocacy for saving Laurentian University. I want to also ask the hon. member if what we are seeing with Laurentian could be the first canary in a coal mine.

Ever since Jane Jacobs drew attention to it in her last book, Dark Age Ahead, we have been watching post-secondary universities and post-secondary education having climbing costs for tuition, overcrowded classrooms, less access to professors and a real loss of sustainability in their funding model.

We must save Laurentian University, but do we not need a larger national approach to our universities?

Laurentian University in SudburyEmergency Debate

6:55 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Madam Speaker, the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands has hit the nail on the head. That is why we have to debate what is happening at Laurentian. This is the model of what is going to start happening elsewhere.

I would like to also point out, which I had forgotten, that the other programs they are cutting are the environmental sciences and environmental renewal. Laurentian invented that. Sudbury was an environmental disaster zone, a wasteland that had been caused by the sulfuric mine acids at Inco. When I was a child, Sudbury was as black as the moon.

For programs that were established to create and restore environments from industrial damage, from the acid rain, from the sulfuric mining, Sudbury is second to none in the world. It became a symbol, yet it is being cut. If this can be done at Sudbury, we know that these programs anywhere else will be on the chopping block when someone decides to turn his or her university into a lean and mean financial machine.

Laurentian University in SudburyEmergency Debate

6:55 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Resuming debate.

The hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

Laurentian University in SudburyEmergency Debate

6:55 p.m.


Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Timmins—James Bay for his passionate speech on this dramatic event.

I would like him to elaborate on the fact that the Liberals always court the francophone vote outside Quebec—

Laurentian University in SudburyEmergency Debate

6:55 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I must mention to the member that he has the floor to make a speech and not to ask a question.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

Laurentian University in SudburyEmergency Debate

6:55 p.m.


Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, thank you for clarifying that. I was about to ask my hon. colleague from Timmins—James Bay a question, but I will go ahead with my own speech after the really impressive one he just gave. It will be along the same lines as the question I was going to ask.

Each year and in each election, the Liberal Party of Canada tries to charm francophones outside Quebec, telling them how wonderful and important they are and how important diversity is. It woos them with fine words, but what happens after? Essentially, the Liberals drag their feet and not much happens. In fact, nothing happens. The tragedy at Laurentian University is unfortunately another example.

Too often in our history, the Liberal Party of Canada has touted the francophone community in its election slogans and speeches. The Liberals use the francophone community as a reliable voting base for when election time comes around, but they are all talk. Nothing ever gets done. The tragedy at Laurentian University is unfortunately another example of that behaviour. I am extremely sorry to see the Liberals treating francophones as a doormat to get easy votes, while never following up with any measures or decisions.

The cuts to Laurentian University are devastating. I just want to remind members that Stéphanie Chouinard, a political scientist who teaches at the Royal Military College in Kingston, called what is being done to French programs a literal bloodbath.

I think that my colleague from Timmins—James Bay clearly explained how Laurentian University was an icon in northern Ontario. He clearly demonstrated how it was an anchor institution that enabled francophones, among others, to continue studying in French and to pursue their education without leaving the region. It provided the opportunity to stay in northern Ontario and to live and study in French without having to move to Ottawa or even Montreal.

The carnage we are witnessing today is utterly appalling. Unfortunately, the federal government is dragging its feet and basically abandoning the 10,000 students who attend Laurentian University every year. The layoffs cost 110 professors their jobs. We cannot just stand by, because it is a shock for those people. If they leave the region, they may never return. That is absolutely terrible. There are also 28 French-language programs that are being eliminated. These 28 programs are important not just for the economic vibrancy of the region and the vitality of the francophone community, but also for access to public service, certain services and professionals capable of doing the work.

I want to list 25 of the 28 French-language programs that have been cut: law and political science; education; environmental studies; French studies; chemical engineering; mechanical engineering; mining engineering; geography; history; theatre; marketing; leadership; outdoor adventure; French literature and culture; mathematics; philosophy; financial planning; health promotion; human resources; midwifery; linguistics; economics; nursing; political science; and zoology. These are the programs that are vanishing before our very eyes.

This takes me back to the days of the great fight to save Montfort Hospital, when we really had to take to the barricades to defend the rights of francophones. It feels as though, right now, not only is there a Conservative government in Ontario that really could not care less, but there is also a Liberal government that is dragging its feet on the issue and waiting to see what will happen.

The Ontario Conservative government is prepared to trample on the rights of francophones and give up on a university like Laurentian and the ability to access programs and classes that are really useful not only for northern Ontario, but for the whole province and the entire francophone community of Canada. Meanwhile, the federal government is up on some kind of pedestal in its ivory tower, talking about how wonderful and fantastic the Francophonie is.

Let us look at what happens when it is time to take action. The Minister of Official Languages sent a letter to her Ontario government counterpart in which she said something that really blew my mind. It says right there in black and white that “the Government of Canada is prepared to study the possibility of providing financial assistance”. I must congratulate the Liberals on taking such a strong stand. Look at that: they are “prepared to study the possibility”.

Why do they not say that it is absolutely essential to protect post-secondary and university education with a suite of crucial programs for northern Ontario and that they will do everything they can to make that happen?

No, that is not this Liberal government's position. This Liberal government is monitoring the situation and may possibly be prepared to intervene.

Laurentian University is the only institution in northern Ontario that offers programs for francophones as well as a tricultural program. It offers programs in English, of course, but it also offers programs for indigenous peoples. This situation will certainly affect northern Ontario's francophone community, but it could also affect the programs Laurentian University offered in indigenous languages for indigenous communities.

As my colleague from Timmins—James Bay asked, were there problems with management, or poor planning? I do not know, but that is likely the case, given what is happening.

One thing that I am absolutely sure of, however, is that universities and post-secondary education in Canada have become chronically underfunded over the years. Whether under a Conservative or a Liberal government, we are witnessing the systematic privatization of our public universities and their programs and infrastructure, with what look like public-private partnerships. As the Canadian Association of University Teachers recently said, this could just be the first warning sign, the first brick to fall, the first university to run into trouble, and it will become increasingly common to see universities having trouble making ends meet.

Yesterday, the Standing Committee on Official Languages heard from Mr. Doucet of the Société de l'Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick. He told us that, if things continue the way they are going, we will inevitably see cuts to French programming at the Université de Moncton.

We are also seeing what is happening at Campus Saint-Jean at the University of Alberta. It is absolutely appalling. There is no money at all for the continuity of education at that campus, even though is so important for Alberta's francophone community.

We can see that the problems are piling up, and I am very proud and honoured that the NDP requested and was granted an emergency debate on the matter this evening in the House of Commons. This is like a game of dominoes where francophones keep losing time after time. Unfortunately, Laurentian University may simply be the first to fall.

However, there are solutions. The Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada told us that the federal government can take action and even has a duty to act. We completely agree.

There is another thing we agree on. The Assemblée de la francophonie de l'Ontario is proposing a solution that would involve a separate French or francophone university in Sudbury. We fully support that initiative. In fact, this week, I sent a letter to the Minister of Official Languages, urging her to consider this solution in order to maintain access to a post-secondary and university-level education in French in northern Ontario. To the NDP, that is a top priority. We think it is extremely shameful that there was no way under the current Liberal federal government to not only properly fund the universities, but to support francophone minority communities.

Since my time is running out, I will share my other ideas as I respond to my colleagues' questions.

Laurentian University in SudburyEmergency Debate

7:05 p.m.


Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my NDP colleagues for bringing forward the very important matter of Laurentian University, in northern Ontario, and the problems it is facing. We all agree that access to higher education in French is extremely important in Canada, especially for francophone minority communities.

From what I have been reading over the past few hours, Laurentian University filed for protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act. Obviously, there are long-standing issues and a lot of things had to happen before the university ended up in this tragic situation. Is my colleague of the opinion that the underfunding of universities is having a major effect in Canada?

Laurentian University in SudburyEmergency Debate

7:05 p.m.


Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, the effect is not only major, it is absolutely disastrous.

Unfortunately, I have to remind my Conservative colleague that former Conservative governments have not exactly helped fix the problem. Cuts to provincial transfers for post-secondary education made the situation worse and made it more difficult for universities to balance their books.

The last thing I want to see is for a university to download the responsibility of balancing their books to their students. Providing important public services and making universities accessible and truly affordable for students are collective obligations and duties. We have a good record on that front in Quebec, and I think that Quebec's model should be implemented throughout Canada.

Laurentian University in SudburyEmergency Debate

7:05 p.m.


Lindsay Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate my hon. colleague's passion on this issue, as well as that of all members of our caucus.

This is a unique francophone program for midwives. It is the only one in the country. It provides bilingual access and training for midwives. Interestingly, it was stated that the program was being cut because of low or limited enrolment, yet for 30 spaces there is a wait-list of over 300 applicants.

What impact will this have on the provision of midwifery services? Considering the debate we just had in the House about the importance of providing health services to women across the country, how will this impact women?