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View David de Burgh Graham Profile
Lib. (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.
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