A private member’s bill that would have made it a separate crime to assault a pregnant woman causing the death of her unborn child was overwhelmingly defeated on Oct. 19 by a 209-76 vote.
Put forth by Conservative Cathay Wagantall (Yorkton-Melville), Bill C-225, the “Protection of Pregnant Women and their Pre-born Children Act,” was also known as Cassie and Molly’s Law, would have made it a crime to harm or kill an unborn child while assaulting the pregnant mother. The law was named about Cassandra Kaake and her unborn daughter Molly, both murdered in Windsor in 2014. Matthew Brush was charged with first-degree murder and the case is now before the courts.
Jeff Durham, Molly’s father, campaigned for a law to recognize the loss of preborn victims of crime when mothers choose to carry their children to term. His story motivated Wagantall to introduce the law. Speaking the day before the vote, Wagantall said “in Canada there is no component in the Criminal Code to protect pregnant women from violence. This gap is leaving women vulnerable. Cassie and Molly’s law would address this specific issue to protect pregnant women and their future families.”
C-225 was supported by the Native Women’s Association of Canada because the NWAC said indigenous women are often targeted for violence when they are pregnant.
It was also supported by a majority of Canadians. In July, a Nanos poll found that 69 per cent of respondents — including 75 per cent of women — support the idea of a law that makes it a separate crime to harm or cause the death of a preborn child while harming a pregnant woman.
Still, every NDP and Liberal MP present for the vote opposed C-225, and they were joined by a pair of Tories, Peter Kent (Thornhill) and Sylvie Boucher (Beauport-Limoilou). Liberal and NDP MPs rose to claim that if passed, Cassie and Molly’s Law could lead to charging physicians for committing abortions and women for obtaining one. Kevin Lamoureux, parliamentary secretary to the government house leader, invoked the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in opposing C-225, implicitly endorsing Justin Trudeau’s insistence that abortion is a Charter right.
Conservative MP Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park) explained the bill would only add the offence when a charge had already been laid for an assault on the mother and that it had nothing to do with criminalizing abortion. “Because this only applies in the case where there is an offence against the mother, there is no possible way in which this bill could be twisted, or honestly there is no way in which it could be reasonably inferred to in any way inform a kind of legal change on an issue like abortion.”
During debate, Conservative MP Rachael Harder (Lethbridge) noted studies show “a pregnant or recently pregnant woman was more likely to be a victim of homicide than a woman who was not. This is a very scary statistic for families.” MP Harold Albrecht (Kitchener-Conestoga) reported that since 2000, at least 24 pregnant women have been murdered. He said passing C-225 would mean justice for families who lose two loved ones when their daughters, sisters, or wives are killed.
Lamoureux said that judges already take into account the pregnancy status of victims during sentencing so therefore C-225 was “redundant.”
Mike Schouten, director of WeNeedaLAW.ca, wrote in the National Post that C-225 respects reproductive choice by recognizing the decision of women to carry their unborn child to term. He chastised abortion advocates opposition to Molly and Cassie’s Law for failing to respect “when the pregnant woman has not chosen to get an abortion.”
Johanne Brownrigg of Campaign Life Coalition’s lobby office in Ottawa, was present during the vote and said she was “dismayed but not surprised” by the vote. She said, “simply having the word ‘unborn’ in a piece of legislation now targets it for rejection.” She said it was a shame that C-225 did not pass second reading and go to committee where testimony, including from Jeff Durham, Molly’s father, and Nancy Kaake, Cassie’s mother, would have had “a opportunity to discuss their experience and why a lack of this law is unjust.”
Durham and Kaake were in Ottawa for the vote and he talked to the CBC afterward. He said, “to see them vote this down, we felt completely abandoned by our government essentially, by our country.” Saying he did not know what precisely they could do next, Durham vowed the issue of justice for preborn victims of crime is not going away.