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Unborn Victims of Crime Act is Just Plain Common Sense
The purpose of this bill is to recognize that there are two victims in some crimes – the mother and the child.

It is never right to beat, wound, maim or kill a person.  Society finds it particularly abhorrent to hear of attacks against women, especially women who are pregnant. It is incomprehensible that we do not have a federal law for injury or death to an unborn baby during an attack against the mother that is intended to harm the child.

The call for new legislation came after a widely reported story in November of 2005.

Currently in Canada, when an attacker kills a pregnant woman’s unborn child, no charge can be laid in that child’s death, even when the attacker purposely intended to kill the child. The attacker is only charged with injury to the mother. This is because our criminal law does not recognize children as victims of crime until they are born alive. This is a huge gap in federal law and a cause for grave injustice. 

One would think a bill that makes it an indictable offence to hurt an unborn child during an attack against the mother is just common sense. Yet, there is opposition to just such a bill recently introduced in Parliament. A Private Members’ Bill, C-484, would make it an offence to hurt or kill a baby in the womb during an attack on the mother.

Clearly there are two victims in these types of crimes, and the public recognizes this. An Environics poll commissioned by LifeCanada released in October 2007 showed that 72 percent of Canadians—and 75 percent of women—support a law that would make it a separate crime to kill a fetus during an attack on a pregnant woman.1

Bill C-484, Unborn Victims of Crime Act, introduced by Ken Epp, MP for Edmonton-Sherwood Park, amends the Criminal Code to make it an offence to intentionally injure or cause the death of an unborn child while committing an offence against the mother. The purpose of this bill is to recognize that there are two victims in such crimes, the mother and the child.

The call for new legislation came after a widely reported story in November of 2005. Olivia Talbot of Edmonton, 27 weeks pregnant with her son, Lane Jr., was shot three times in the abdomen and twice in the head by an assailant. No charge was, or could be, laid in the death of Baby Lane. There was no law for the child.

Leon Benoit, MP for Vegreville-Wainwright, responded to this injustice by introducing his Private Members’ Bill, C-291, which was unfortunately made non-votable by a Parliamentary subcommittee. The subcommittee did not have to give reasons for making the bill non-votable. Subsequently, concern was expressed by a few Members of Parliament that some of the provisions in Benoit’s bill might not have stood-up to a constitutional challenge. The constitutionality issue with Benoit’s bill had to do with the fact that a person could be charged with the equivalent of murder even if he did not know the woman was pregnant. Rob Moore, MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, during the debate in the House, said that this created an "absolute liability offense" meaning that there was no intention to commit a crime, and so the punishment was too severe and would violate the offender's Charter Rights.

Ken Epp’s bill addresses the concerns identified in regard to Benoit’s bill and to preclude any arguments that some Members of Parliament felt with Bill C-291, that it would have infringed on a woman’s choice to have an abortion.

Since the specific intent of this proposed legislation is to make it an offense to cause injury or death to a child in the womb during an attack against the mother, specific reference needed to be made in Ken Epp’s Bill C-484 to say that the intent of his bill was not to limit abortions. Bill C-484 is not the forum to address the issue of abortion. It has a different intent.

So, why is there still opposition to this new bill, particularly by pro-abortion groups [PDF]? It seems that pro-abortion groups do not want protection for the mother and the child she is carrying because they perceive that it would somehow limit a woman’s right to choose whether or not to carry the baby to term. In effect, pro-abortionists would limit the rights of victims to further their movement’s claims for choice.

As mentioned previously, and spelled out more clearly here, Bill C-484 addresses the “woman’s choice” argument head on:

For greater certainty, this section does not apply in respect of:

(a) conduct relating to the lawful termination of the pregnancy of the mother of the child to which the mother has consented;
(b) an act or omission that a person acting in good faith considers necessary to preserve the life of the mother of the child or the life of the child; or
(c) any act or omission by the mother of the child.

This text states emphatically that this bill is about providing sanctions for someone who would deliberately hurt a mother and the child she is carrying. 

This legislation is what the families of the victims are calling for. Without a law to address the crime against both the mother and her baby, injustice, rather than justice, prevails.

Many of the media stories that highlighted the need for this legislation reported that these were mostly instances where domestic violence had occurred. While there is a justified call for action to reduce and prevent violence in the home, a consistent application of the law would include protection for all family members including the unborn baby whom a mother has chosen to carry to term.


1) Environics poll commissioned by LifeCanada, October 2007.

Douglas Cryer is the Director of Public Policy for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.





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