Liana Gordon:

Arianna Goberdhan was 27 years old when she was brutally murdered by her husband in Pickering, Ont. She was nine months pregnant with their baby, Asaara, Sherri Goberdhan’s first grandchild. According to her, Asaara had long eyelashes and black hair, just like her mother. Although she was laid to rest in her mother’s arms, Canadian law recognized that only one victim was buried that day. 

It is a story that has been repeated at least 80 times in recent Canadian history.

Carolyn Marie Sinclair’s pregnant body was discovered in a garbage bag in Winnipeg. Despite killing two women — one of whom was pregnant — and having 99 previous convictions, her murderer is only facing 18 years in jail.

Liana White was 29 years old and four months pregnant with her second child when she was murdered in Edmonton. Her murderer was granted partial parole in the form of multiple unsupervised absences after serving 15 years and was granted full parole from prison in June. 

Cheryl Bau-Tremblay was 28 when she was murdered by her ex-husband in Beloeil, Que. Although she was five months pregnant, there were no additional charges placed on her killer for the death of her unborn child. Her killer was sentenced to 12 years in jail without parole.

Cassandra Kaake was seven-and-a-half months pregnant when her murderer took her and her unborn child’s life in Windsor, Ont. He is now serving 22 years in prison without the chance for parole. He was 28 during the time of sentencing, meaning full parole may be a possibility for him by the time he reaches his 50s.

In theory, it’s possible for him to receive rehabilitation and live another half of his life as a free man, which Cassandra Kaake’s family says is not very comforting to them after the pair of losses. Jeff Durham, Cassandra Kaake’s husband and father of her unborn child, said that he is truly the one who was given a life sentence, except for him “there is no chance of parole.” He stated, “There is not an end to the impact of these crimes. Not for me. Not until I am the one that’s dead.”  

Durham is the founder of Molly Matters, an organization that lobbies for the legal protection of pregnant women and their unborn children. 

Parliament has debated numerous bills which would identify unborn babies as victims of violence. Its latest iteration is Bill C-311, the “Violence Against Pregnant Women Act”, which seeks to ensure pregnancy is considered as an aggravating factor in sentencing. C-311 was defeated in a party-line vote last month in the House of Commons.

Researchers consistently find that pregnancy puts women at greater risk of abuse. 

According to a paper published by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, violence against pregnant women is “a serious health and development concern, in addition to a violation of a woman’s human rights. Violence can begin or escalate in pregnancy, and has significant consequences for the woman, fetus, and child.”

The World Health Organization noted that “the prevalence of physical violence in pregnancy was reported by women at between 1-28 per cent in different countries. Over 90 per cent of the assailants were the biological father of the unborn child.” 

The Abortion Rights Coalition Canada has opposed C-311 on the grounds that it implicitly ascribes fetal rights to the unborn, thus potentially jeopardizing abortion rights in Canada. In a paper it released outlining six main reasons to oppose the bill, one reason cited is that “the bill is redundant,” and that there is ample evidence pregnant women are sufficiently protected by law. 

Many families of pregnant victims vehemently disagree. 

Arianna’s mother, Sherri Goberdhan, said, “When we had the sentencing in 2019, my family and I held a rally at the Oshawa courthouse in order to bring life to the fact that my granddaughter was an actual human being. She was nine months at the time her mom gave birth to her, and when we cremated both of them, I held my granddaughter and she was a human. She was 7.5 pounds. She had the most perfect features… She would have been just as beautiful as her mom. And for the law to tell me that he is not responsible for her death is wrong.”

Sherri Goderdhan further stated, “For us, we grieve two people. Not just one. We grieve my daughter and my granddaughter, who was a person. To think that he is getting away with just one is not right.”

While the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada claims that the bill is an attempt to “re-open the abortion debate,” pro-life groups have noted that the bill never explicitly mentions fetal rights. Campaign Life Coalition has expressed support for the bill even though “C-311 does not directly recognize the humanity of the pre-born child.” CLC national president Jeff Gunnarson said it is just “common-sense” to provide pregnant women – and their children – legal protection at a time when they are notably susceptible to violence.

Conservative MP Cathay Wagantall says C-311 is consistent with both pro-life and pro-choice values by protecting a woman’s choice to carry a child to term. During the Bill’s first reading, Wagantall stated, “The first question each of us in this place must answer to determine whether we seek to denounce and deter the “Violence Against Pregnant Women Act” is this: Do we truly value women and their choice to be pregnant?”