Proposed Bill C-484 – LEAF Backgrounder and Position Statement
Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF)
On December 13th 2007, Conservative MP, Ken Epp tabled Bill C-484, “An Act to amend the Criminal Code (injuring or causing the death of an unborn child while committing an offense)”. The Bill is usually cited by its short title, The Unborn Victims of Crime Act.
Bill C-484 would allow charges to be laid in the death of an “unborn child” if the mother is a victim of violent crime. It therefore grants de facto legal personhood to fetuses. Fetal personhood conflicts with the Canadian Criminal Code and decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which have consistently refused to grant personhood status to unborn fetuses.
On March 5, Bill C-484 passed Second Reading in the House of Commons. Four Conservative MPs voted against the Bill, while 27 Liberal MPs and one of the 19 elected New Democratic MPs voted for it. Ten Liberals, including Liberal leader, Stephan Dion, were absent from the vote. The Bill passed by a vote of 147-132.
Bill C-484 now moves to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Given the voting record of that committee’s members, there is a roughly even split of members who voted for and voted against the Bill in the House.
LEAF’s Position Statement
LEAF opposes Bill C-484 because it is little more than an attempt to grant legal person status to unborn fetuses, while failing to provide any substantial measures to address violence against women, including pregnant women. The implications of this Bill are significant for women’s equality and could affect women’s access to abortion.
LEAF is concerned about the pervasiveness of male violence against women and children in Canadian society. Pregnant women can be particularly vulnerable to acts of physical and emotional violence. Bill C-484 does not achieve the aim of taking seriously violence against women and does not add any meaningful legal remedies to those already present in the criminal law to address violence against pregnant women. When a pregnant woman is abused or killed, loss of the fetus is harm to the pregnant woman herself. This harm can be considered an aggravating feature in sentencing.
Equality advocates have identified systemic causes of violence against women and proffered a wide range of meaningful solutions to those causes, such as adequate financial security for women and children trying to leave abusive situations, more stable funding and education opportunities for women with children, and better training for police, lawyers and judges and better funding for transition houses and women’s groups serving the needs of abused women. If this or any other Canadian government was serious about addressing violence against women, including pregnant women, it would look to the wealth of recommendations made over the years by a range of community-based organizations with expertise in assisting women and children victims of violence.
Director of Communications and Branch Relations Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund Inc. (LEAF)
60 St. Clair Avenue East, Suite 703