By Paul Tuns

Bill C-233, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sex-selective abortion) was introduced to the House of Commons in February and had second reading on April 14. Proponents of C-233 said it is necessary to protect preborn children, especially girls, from being killed by abortion for being the wrong sex. Pro-abortion MPs claimed there was no need for the bill and that it was a threat to so-called abortion rights. 

Conservative MP Cathay Wagantall (Yorkton-Melville) explained why she introduced the bill: “sex-selection abortion is wrong, it is a discriminatory practice on the basis of sex, and it takes place in our country because we have no law against it.” She noted that 84 per cent of Canadians want a law against the practice. “I am speaking this evening on behalf of pro-choice and pro-life Canadians, religious and non-religious, those on the left, right and centre of the political spectrum; new Canadians, the young, the elderly and those in the medical profession across our country seeking support for a framework from the federal government to make sex selection in utero illegal.”

Wagantall said, “sex-selective abortion is a Canadian problem that requires a Canadian solution” and that C-233 “would create protections for unborn baby girls whose lives are ended simply because they are girls.”

She said the absence of a criminal prohibition against the practice of gendercide “shouts to the world that valuing one sex over the other is permissible in Canada.”

If passed, C-233 would make it an offence for a medical practitioner to commit an abortion, knowing that abortion was sought solely on the grounds of the child’s sex, and doing so would be punishable with a prison term up to five years.

Prior to the debate, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada released a sheet of talking points against C-233, saying that “concern over sex selective abortion in Canada has been overstated” and that “the bill is motivated by anti-choice and religious views.” Bloc, Liberal and NDP MPs who spoke against C-233 reiterated those points.

Jennifer O’Connell, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and MP for Pickering-Uxbridge (Lib), said nobody supports sex-selective abortion but said “that is not what this bill is and the member knows it.” She charged Wagantall and the Conservatives creating “backdoor anti-abortion legislation.”

Bloc MP Andréanne Larouche (Shefford) also insisted that “no one supports sex-selective abortions” but said that all feminists must oppose C-233 because “it contravenes the principal and fundamental right of women to control their own bodies.” Larouche said “the Bloc Québécois is obviously against the bill, which is essentially an anti-choice bill.”

NDP MP Lindsay Mathyssen (London-Fanshawe) offered pro-abortion boilerplate, saying “our Supreme Court struck down the abortion law in 1988 because it violated women’s right to bodily security,” and asked Wagantall: “why does she not believe in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?”

Liberal MP Pam Damoff (Oakville North-Burlington) began her speech against sex-selective abortion by claiming that “our government condemns all forms of gender-based violence.” She said, “This is a bill searching for a problem that does not exist,” noting that “Canada is not seeing a disproportionate number of male versus female births.” Wagantall said that the medical literature has documented that imbalances do exist in some Asian communities. Damoff claimed that the bill “introduces considerable risk in stigmatizing racialized communities.”

Damoff said “if we want to tackle stereotypes that value men over women, the answer is not criminalizing women’s bodies” and concluded “this bill is one more example of the rising power of the anti-choice movement across our country.”

Conservative MP Karen Vecchio (Elgin-Middlesex-London), an abortion supporter, rose to condemn “both sides” whom she claimed were using C-233 to talk about their usual talking points on the issue of abortion while ignoring the substance of the bill, sex-selective abortion.

No pro-life MP other than Wagantall rose in the House to address C-233, and she focused on gendercide. Wagantall asked “will elected members of Parliament from all political parties condemn this practice and make it clear to all that Canada values women and equality?”

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole said in a press conference prior to the debate that he opposes C-233 but vowed to allow a free vote. He refused to answer a question of whether he would allow his “shadow cabinet” to vote their conscience.

In 2019, a Maru/Blue poll conducted by the National Post found that in every region and among every demographic, Canadians wanted to criminalize sex-selective abortions.

Campaign Life Coalition supports Bill C-233, saying it “represents the majority view of 84 per cent of Canadians, who unequivocally reject the barbarous and discriminatory practice of sex-selective abortion.” CLC continued: “it is a grave affront to the dignity of Canadian women for the Government of Canada to continue permitting the abortion of baby girls solely because they are girls,” and “Canada needs to step up and outlaw this outrageous practice.”

We Need a Law also supports Bill C-233. At a press conference on April 12, Tabitha Ewert, We Need a Law’s legal counsel, said, “sex-selective abortion is a blow to equality as it devalues a pre-born child just based on her sex.” Ewert continued: “Just as our law prohibits this type of discrimination in other areas, and as equality between the sexes is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so our law should prohibit the discriminatory practice of sex selective abortion.”