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e-4423 (Justice)

Initiated by Jeff Durham from Windsor, Ontario

Original language of petition: English

Petition to the House of Commons in Parliament assembled

  • It is well established that the risk of violence against women increases when they are pregnant;
  • Currently, a woman’s pregnancy is not an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes in the Criminal Code of Canada;
  • Addressing this legal void through sentencing that considers the vulnerable state of the pregnant woman is necessary in denouncing such crimes; and
  • Having appropriate sentences when violent crimes are committed against pregnant women is imperative to protecting their reproductive choice to have a child. The sentence should match the crime.
We, the undersigned, citizens of Canada, call upon the House of Commons to legislate the abuse of a pregnant woman and the infliction of harm on her child as an aggravating circumstance for sentencing purposes within the Criminal Code.

Response by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Signed by (Minister or Parliamentary Secretary): The Parliamentary Secretary James Maloney

Our Government will always defend a woman's right to choose. Women, and women alone, should decide what happens to their bodies. Private Member’s Bill C-311, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (violence against pregnant women), which proposed aggravating factors that would apply to sentencing cases involving pregnant victims, was being used as a stepping stone toward opening the abortion debate in Canada. The Bill was defeated at second reading in the House of Commons on June 14, 2023. The sponsor of this legislation has specifically noted she was trying to fill a so-called void on abortion law in Canada. Canadian women fought for decades to ensure they have access to abortion services here in Canada and our Government will prevent the right to choose from being undermined in any way. Any attempts to introduce abortion into the Criminal Code will be vigorously opposed by our Government.

Gender-based violence, including intimate partner violence, has no place in Canada and our Government has made it a priority to end it in all its forms. Committing an offence against a pregnant victim is already an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes at common law.

The Criminal Code’s sentencing provisions require offenders to receive sentences that are proportionate to the gravity of the offence and to their degree of responsibility, taking into account aggravating factors, including evidence that the offender abused their intimate partner or a member of the victim’s or the offender’s family (paragraph 718.2(a)(ii)), and evidence that the offence had a significant impact on the victim, considering their age and other personal circumstances, including their health and financial situation, which includes consideration of a victim’s pregnancy (subparagraph 718.2(a)(iii.1)).

Bill C-311 would have actually made pregnant women less safe by narrowing the circumstances in which existing aggravating factors that protect pregnant victims apply. Specifically, the Bill’s first proposed aggravating factor would have only applied where there is evidence that the offender knew of the victim’s pregnancy. This could have unintentionally resulted in sentencing courts refusing to treat a victim’s pregnancy as an aggravating factor in cases where there is no such evidence.

The legislation was inconsistent with its stated purpose and we had concerns that it was yet another backdoor attempt to re-open the abortion debate in Canada, which should remain firmly closed.

Open for signature
May 3, 2023, at 9:43 a.m. (EDT)
Closed for signature
August 31, 2023, at 9:43 a.m. (EDT)
Presented to the House of Commons
Cathay Wagantall (Yorkton—Melville)
October 4, 2023 (Petition No. 441-01725)
Government response tabled
November 20, 2023
Photo - Cathay Wagantall
Conservative Caucus