OAITH and Women’s Habitat’s statement on Bill C-484

Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH)
and Women’s Habitat
Toronto, ON

Letter to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights

April, 2008

My name is Rhonda Roffey and I am the Executive Director of Women’s Habitat, a Toronto agency providing shelter and support to women and their children who are fleeing violence. We have been providing these services for over 30 years. I am also a member of the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, a 67-member provincial network primarily of first stage emergency shelters for women who experience intimate violence, and their children.
At Women’s Habitat we see our role as that of ending violence against women. Along with services to women and children, we also work to address the many systemic and legislative barriers that reinforce women’s inequality. We know that ending violence against women is about addressing equality rights.

We are opposed to MP Ken Epp’s private member’s bill, Bill C-484 “Unborn Victims of Crime Act’.

Although Bill C-484 exempts abortion and women from prosecution, we know that it is only a small step away from criminalizing women.  Bestowing the rights of a person onto a fetus will inevitably give anti-choice groups the tools they need to take away a woman’s right to choice.

We know that C-484 is yet another attempt by those who seek to limit women’s choice to end a pregnancy.  If passed, this will bill eventually allow for the criminalization women and interfere with their right to safe, legal abortion.

A Backdoor Attempt to End Access to Legal, Safe Abortions

I am sure that you are aware of the support given to this bill by organized anti-choice groups and individuals. Over the years I have seen anti-choice advocates such as Ken Epp make various attempts to stop women from accessing abortion services.  In the early years they used religious jargon to argue that the practice was an affront to God.

Later, in the 1980’s, anti-choice groups framed their arguments in the context of murder.  Life began at conception, abortion ended a life; therefore, abortion was murder.   This argument failed to persuade the average Canadian or the courts.   The Criminal Code explicitly states that ‘A child becomes a human being…when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother.”

Recently, anti-choice propaganda has tried to portray abortion as dangerous to a woman’s health.  Flyers espouse that abortion causes everything from breast cancer to suicide, all of it false information. There are claims that abortion even causes domestic violence.

Anti-choice groups have become experts at using the judicial system as a means to their end.  Bill C-484 is just the latest attempt to get at the issue from the backdoor.

Ending Violence Against Women

Bill C-484 will not put us any closer to ending violence against women and will not serve to protect women, pregnant or otherwise, from dying at the hands of their intimate partner.  Violence against women is an equality rights issue.  We know that, more often than not, women are subjected to violence in their own homes because they lack the means to leave the violent situation.  Often when they do leave, they have nowhere to go and no access to resources.

Inquests into the violent deaths of women by their partners, tell us over and over again that systems and institutions fail women in their attempts to leave.  When women lack housing, childcare, decent jobs and income supports, they are often forced to choose between violence and poverty.  These kinds of systemic changes would go a long way to ending the violence that many women live with.

Ironically, it is Mr. Epp’s very Party that has cut funding and modified the mandate of Status of Women Canada.  Research and public advocacy efforts aimed at addressing women’s inequality, are no longer eligible for funding.

The Experts

Women’s advocates working in the anti-violence sector know that women are at great risk of violence during pregnancy.  And when a pregnant woman is murdered there is often a loud public outcry.  If the aim is to encourage stiffer penalties when a pregnant woman is murdered, then surely this can be done without recognizing the fetus as a human being.  It is particularly distasteful that anti-choice groups would use these tragic events to forward their own agenda.

The Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses represents shelters throughout Ontario who employ hundreds of frontline women’s advocates.  The Association knows that Bill C-484 will not protect pregnant women from violence.  It will not provide women with access to safe, affordable housing, childcare or sufficient income supports and it will not save their lives.  Enacting legislation that has the potential to erode women’s right to choice will not advance women’s right to safety and personal security.

The real issue facing women is sexist violence and its root cause: women’s inequality.  There are real solutions to violence against women. Bill C-484 is not one of them.