In May, a sub-committee of the standing committee on procedural and House affairs ruled that Bill C-291, a private member’s bill by Conservative MP Leon Benoit (Vegreville-Wainwright) that would have made it a separate criminal offence to harm an unborn child during the commission of a crime against a pregnant mother, was non-votable. On June 6, the full committee upheld the decision by a 7-1 vote, with four abstentions.
The only MP who voted to make it votable was Tory Tom Lukiwski (Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre), as the other Conservative members of the committee all abstained.
Mary Ellen Douglas, national organizer of Campaign Life Coalition, said, “When a committee can so easily squelch those voices, I wonder how much democracy we really have, no matter which party is in power.”
Worryingly, Attorney-General Vic Toews sent a memo to the committee immediately prior to its proceedings, claiming that Benoit’s bill was unconstitutional. Benoit denies this.
CLC national president Jim Hughes said the bill was “very reasonable,” in that it provided a measure of justice to pregnant women who have chosen to keep their unborn babies. He said it addressed the absence of fetal rights when a crime is committed that harms the unborn life.
Mary Talbot, the mother of Olivia Talbot, who was six months pregnant when an assailant shot her once in the head and her child in utero three times, travelled from Alberta to speak to the committee, but was denied the opportunity to do so. Her daughter’s assailant was only charged with one count of murder. Since then, Mary Talbot has been seeking justice on behalf of her grandchild.
She told The Interim she was very upset with the committee’s decision, but vowed to continue the fight.
Benoit seemed to concur. Following the one hour of debate that is allotted to bills deemed non-votable, Benoit sent a letter to supporters, in which he said the bill will return in a modified form, to be debated and voted on.