Dear Members of the House of Commons Justice and Human Rights Committee,
First, I would like to thank all the Members of Parliament who voted against the proposed Unborn Victims of Crime Bill (C-484). I would be remiss not to highlight my appreciation for Marlene Jennings (MP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Lachine), Irene Mathyssen (MP London—Fanshawe) and Raymond Gravel (MP Repentigny) who spoke eloquently about the dangers the passing of this Bill into legislation would present.
I am writing as a Canadian woman who has recognized the need for and championed women’s human rights throughout my life. I am alarmed with how the public debate on this and other human rights issues has been framed these past few years. I never thought that such a Bill, built on the grief of families who have witnessed violence against their mothers, daughters, sisters or partners, to exploit human compassion in an attempt to usher in a precedent for re-opening a debate on what constitutes human life, could ever have been ordered up and passed a second reading. Whether Ken Epp (MP Edmonton–Sherwood Park) honestly believes he is championing women’s human rights is debatable knowing his public statements on abortion and his close affiliation to numerous pro-life organizations, including LifeCanada who commissioned the Environics Poll that Mr. Epp’s has relied upon for support for his Bill.
The murder of every woman in this country is a tragedy, whether she is pregnant or not. The criminal assault of a woman who has chosen to carry her pregnancy that results in a miscarriage is also tragic. The sheer number of domestic assaults in this country is frightening – I would applaud any MP or government that actually tackled that issue. This proposed Bill does little for Canadian women, pregnant or not, who are murdered or assaulted.
Of course, I would prefer to see policy and programs put in place that would prevent the occurrence of these violent and tragic attacks on Canadian women. Proponents of Bill C-484 cite the case of six pregnant women having been killed in over the past three years. The Robert Pickton case alone dwarfs these numbers and the Crown has decided not to bother pursuing a trial on the twenty outstanding cases. According to the data collected by Statistics Canada, an average of 180 women have been victims of homicide annually between 2002 and 2006. The age range with the highest incidence of homicide is that of women aged 30 to 39 with an average rate of 35 homicides per year. This Bill does not address in any significant way the violence faced by countless Canadian women on a daily basis.
Here is an excerpt of a report issued by Statistic Canada in 2006, entitled Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends 2006 by Holly Johnson:
Violence against women is a persistent and ongoing problem in Canada and around the world. It affects women’s social and economic equality, physical and mental health, well-being and economic security…
…Gender-based violence is perhaps the most wide-spread and socially tolerated of human rights violations. It both reflects and reinforces inequities between men and women and compromises the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims.
The 1995 Federal Action Plan for Gender Equality emphasized the interconnections between equality and not only gender, but other personal characteristics: Barriers to equality are rooted in long-standing attitudes and traditions not only about women, but also about race, age, sexual orientation, disability, colour, etc. In particular, the life situations of women outside the dominant culture—women with disabilities, Aboriginal women, women from visible minorities, elderly women, lesbians, lone mothers, women in poverty—are quite different from the mainstream. For them, the path to equality has been, and continues to be, even more difficult. Equality for all women will come about only as these attitudes, imbedded in the workplace, educational institutions and the family, are challenged and begin to change…
This Bill only proposes to deal with the aftermath of violence against women, and only pregnant women at that. Bill C-484 wraps itself in concern for women but obviously misses the mark in addressing the serious issues that underlie violence against women. This Unborn Victims of Crime Bill not only fails to address the sweeping problems that exist for female victims of violence by selecting only a specific group of women who are assaulted or murdered, but it only seeks to find remedy through the courts and the application of criminal law.
Bill C-484 fails to explain how having two separate charges differs from the current law, which already takes pregnancy into account as an aggravating factor. In addition, in an attempt to disingenuously distance itself from the underlying intention of the Bill to bestow legal personhood to the fetus, this Bill (unlike previous similar Private Members’ Bills with the same underlying intent that failed constitutionally) actually has the audacity to include the exclusion of consensual abortion as some sort of safeguard measure.
I have yet to see any legal opinions on this Bill but even though I am not a lawyer, I can see huge gaping legal holes in this piece of legislation. How can you have one piece of legislation bestowing human rights to a fetus and have other laws that recognize human life beginning at birth simultaneously? Bill C-484 is almost set up to dare one group of concerned citizens or another to challenge the discrepancy. The bottom line, this amounts to challenging our current status quo on reproductive rights for women.
It seem unfathomable to select a very distinct group of women for special protection under the law, especially given that that protection is focused uniquely on the fetus. How does this help our society deal with violence against women at large? How is this Bill, despite the qualifying statement, not about abortion rights in this country?
Recent events in Parliament have clearly demonstrated that there is a dogged attempt to change the social and legal landscape of Canada one incremental step at a time. Whether it is censoring film and television productions for “offensive” content or repudiating our long standing commitment to protect Canadian citizens from the death penalty, the current government is certainly trying to undermine the great strides Canada has made as a progressive nation and a leader in human rights.
In closing, I would ask you to think of one last question. If this was a noteworthy and necessary piece of legislation to protect women from violent crimes, why wasn’t it included in the Conservative Government’s omnibus crime legislation (Bill C-2) that was recently passed? Surely a party that voted overwhelming for this Bill would have seen its value and included it in their legislation. Or is the fact that Stephen Harper promised not to revisit the abortion issue the reason that he wants his government to distance itself from Bill C-484?