In Debate: C-510, Attempting to Criminalize Abortion

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP): Mr. Speaker, Bill C-510 is no more than a thinly veiled attempt to criminalize abortion providers and promote an anti-choice agenda. This is the fourth time in four years that a Conservative backbench member of Parliament has introduced an anti-choice private member's bill that masquerades as legislation that will protect women. In this case the member belongs to the secretive parliamentary anti-choice caucus.

Coercion is already illegal under the Criminal Code, section 264.1, and abortion counsellors are already screened for possible coercion in women seeking an abortion.

I must also point out that though the member for Winnipeg South claims that Roxanne Fernando was murdered because she refused to have an abortion, the murderer himself, his lawyer and the crown prosecutor all agreed that this was not the motive. The judge who presided over the criminal trial wrote this in his decision. Please read it:

"The murder was apparently motivated by...[the defendant's] irritation and panic that Ms. Fernando, who was carrying his baby, was insistent on having a relationship with him."

I am extremely disappointed that the member would use the tragic murder of a young woman to push an anti-abortion agenda because what is quite clear is that this law would most likely be used against abortion providers and would have a chilling effect on women's access to abortion services.

Women in Canada already face challenges when trying to access abortion services. Canadians for Choice released a report in 2007, which noted that abortion services are only available in one out of six hospitals in Canada and that these services are poorly dispersed across the country, being concentrated mostly in urban areas. Some provinces refuse to fund abortion services, leaving many women with no choice.

If the bill is passed, it may restrict women's access to abortion even more, by criminalizing abortion providers.

The member for Winnipeg South is right on one point. Women do suffer abuse at the hands of their partners. Last week Statistics Canada reported that women continue to be about three times more likely to victims of spousal homicide than men. If the member for Winnipeg South were actually concerned about violence against women, he would urge his caucus and the Prime Minister to stop dismantling frameworks that address the systemic discrimination that women face.

Since 2006 the Conservative government has denied women access to justice by cancelling the Court Challenges Program, shut down 12 of 16 regional offices of Status of Women Canada, cut 40% of Status of Women Canada's operating budget, removed question number 33 from the census, the question that dealt with unpaid labour, denied funding for research and advocacy on women's equality issues, removed the term “gender equality” from policy language at DFAIT, removed abortion from maternal health policies abroad and excluded federally regulated workers from chapter 11 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the pay equity provision.

It has been four long years of nothing but contempt for women by the government. Little by little the Harper Conservatives are dismantling frameworks set up to advance women's equality—

In 1991, a committee report entitled “The War against Women” thoroughly studied the measures the federal government should take to reduce the violence faced by women. If the member for Winnipeg South really does care about reducing violence against women, I would urge him to read this report and work towards implementing the recommendations. The report explains that the vulnerability of women to violence is integrally linked to the social, economic and political inequities women experience as part of their daily lives, inequities exacerbated by the government of which the author of Bill C-510 is a member.

Tragically, violence against women has not been substantially reduced since that 1991 report. Women are far more likely than men to be killed by an intimate partner. In 2009, 43% of female deaths were women killed by a male intimate or ex-intimate partner, whereas 4% of male deaths were at the hands of a female intimate or ex-intimate partner.

While all deaths are tragic, we must be determined to advance women's equality because that is the only way to reduce violence against women. Canada does not have a comprehensive long-term plan to address women's equality. The Conservative government offers only band-aid solutions to systemic problems. In truth, the government is part of the systemic problem.

Aboriginal women in Canada are five times more likely to die from violence than other women in the country. Nearly 600 aboriginal women have gone missing or have been murdered in the last 30 years, yet the Government of Canada is only now indicating it will dispense the $10 million of funding to address this violence. Even at that, the plan is inadequate. There is no mention of important healing programs for families and individuals. Most of the funding is for policing. That is not what first nations requested. They wish a comprehensive plan that includes support for the aboriginal victims of violence and their families.

When it comes to the women of this nation, we have the statistics, the studies and the reports from expert panels, but what we do not have is the political will to implement the long-term solutions that will reduce the inequity between men and women. The government could introduce a national child care program, make needed changes to maternity and paternal leave, provide adequate funding for legal aid, restore the court challenges program, help women with disabilities, implement real proactive pay equity, create a national housing program and invest in programs that would address violence against women. It could do all of these things, but that would require a real commitment to women, children and families.

Bill C-510 will do nothing to reduce violence against women. Like the other anti-choice private members' bills introduced by government backbenchers, it is a Trojan Horse. When we examine Bill C-510 carefully, we see it defines abortion as causing the death of a child. Currently under the law a fetus does not become a person until born.

This bill recognizes the fetus as a child and therefore a person with legal status. Such an initiative could have significant ramifications in a number of different areas of law and opens a Pandora's box in the abortion debate.

In Canada women have been guaranteed rights and equality under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Persons do not gain legal status and rights in our society until after a live birth, as per the Criminal Code. Also, the supreme court has ruled that a woman and her fetus are considered physically one under the law, Dobson v. Dobson.

If we give legal rights to a fetus, we must automatically remove some rights from women, because it is impossible for two beings occupying the same body to enjoy full rights. If we try to balance rights, it means rights of one or both parties must be compromised, resulting in loss of rights. Legally speaking, it would be very difficult to justify compromising women's established rights in favour of the theoretical rights of a fetus.

It is also of concern that Bill C-510 essentially contradicts the election promises of the Conservative Party. During the past elections, their platform stated, “A Conservative Government will not...support any legislation to regulate abortion”.

Bill C-510 does just that. It initiates legislation that will effectively regulate abortion in Canada by changing the definition of the legal status of a fetus. It opens the door to making abortion illegal. Canadian women fought long and hard for the right to safe, legal abortions in Canada. Women have been forced to put their private lives under scrutiny in the courts in the fight for the right to choose.

I would like to take a moment to thank all the brave women, organizations and abortion providers who fought for our right to choose.

I urge all members of the 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, sincerely, honour Roxanne's memory, we will end violence against women. We will not tolerate the sham that has been perpetrated against the women of this country.

Mr. Daniel Petit (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, CPC): ...the bill includes a very unusual provision related to severability, whereby any provision of the bill that is deemed invalid or unenforceable must be construed so as to give it the maximum effect permitted by law or, if that is impossible, it must be severed from the bill. This is an unusual provision.

Bill C-510 proposes making an offence out of certain conduct that is already prohibited under the Criminal Code and other acts—again, already prohibited under the Criminal Code and other acts—by way of offences such as assault (section 265 of the Criminal Code), uttering threats (section 264.1 of the Criminal Code) and intimidation (section 423 of the Criminal Code). It also proposes prohibiting interpersonal conduct, which is generally outside the traditional domain of criminal law—again, outside criminal law—such as non-violent disputes between spouses or between parents and their children where one of the parties is opposed to the continuation of the pregnancy and favours abortion. I am talking about non-violent conduct and discussions between various parties.

The proposed offences are likely to be difficult to interpret and subject to charter challenges because of the use of vague and undefined expressions such as, “compel by pressure”, which is quite new, and “rancorous badgering”, which is extremely new, because of the attempt to make the offence consistent with the charter by excluding from the definition of “coercion” speech that is protected by the charter, and because of the unusual provision, as I was saying earlier, with regard to severability, which hinders the discretionary power of the courts to order suitable restitution under the charter.

There are major legal difficulties with this bill and that is why I cannot support it.