Paul Tuns:

On May 9, Conservative MP Cathay Wagantall (Yorkton-Melville) moved that Bill C-311, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (violence against pregnant women), be read the second time and referred to a committee, with the Liberal, NDP and Bloc Quebecois condemning the Conservatives for what they claim is an attempt to reopen the abortion issue.

If passed, Bill C-311 would amend section 718.2 of the Criminal Code to add knowing an assailant who causes physical or emotional harm to a woman he knows to be pregnant as an aggravating factor in sentencing a convicted criminal. Currently, Section 718 treats crimes motivated by prejudice or hate toward designated groups as an aggravating factor. Wagantall’s bill would add pregnant women to the list of protected groups.

The bill begins, “Whereas Parliament wishes to denounce and deter violence against pregnant women by explicitly including pregnancy as an aggravating circumstance for the purpose of sentencing.” Wagantall rose in the House of Commons to note “more than 80 cases in recent Canadian history of women who have been killed while pregnant. Each of these women was killed by men who knew they were pregnant. The killers intentionally sought to do harm to the pregnant women and, in many cases, end their pregnancies. As it stands at this moment, we in this place have failed them by not requiring sentencing judges to take these actions into account.”

Wagantall said, “Canada is failing its pregnant women and the children they have chosen to carry to term,” and passing C-311 would fulfill “the responsibility as legislators to do everything that we can in our roles to denounce and deter gender-based violence in all of its forms.” She said, “every measure we can implement to better facilitate pregnant women who are facing violence must be taken.”

Earlier that day, Wagantall held a press conference with members of families that lost loved ones who were killed while pregnant. Jeff Durham said C-311 has nothing to do with abortion. He said, “Part of what’s been lost in this debate is viability of a woman’s choice. Two sides of an option make up a choice. You can’t protect only one and still call it a choice. It’s crazy to me that the argument on one side is against the choice of a woman. I’ve been thinking about it a lot in terms of reproductive rights. Like, how can we call them reproductive rights and then not extend them to the ones that chose to reproduce. It is so absurd.”

Three MPs rose in the House to oppose Wagantall’s bill: Leah Gazan (NDP, Winnipeg Centre), Andréanne Larouche (BQ, Shefford), and Rachel Bendayan (Liberal, Outremont). All three insisted that C-311 was an assault on what they called “abortion rights” in Canada.

Bendayan, who is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance, asked if Wagantall agreed with Campaign Life Coalition that there is a “legal void” due to the “lack of abortion law in Canada”? She also asked if Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre agreed with CLC and whether he supported C-311.

Gazan said C-311 is “another attack on abortion as health care, another attack on abortion rights as human rights,” warning that if it passed it would lead “back to the dark times of what has been mentioned so many times today: back-alley abortions.” Gazan said, “We are talking about violence, and I cannot think of anything more violent than restricting a woman’s right to health care, including the right to access a safe abortion.”