By We Need a Law
Editor’s note. The following is the text of the speech delivered at the Toronto March for Life on May 12, 2023.
Cassandra Kaake was murdered in Windsor, Ontario in 2014. She was 7 months pregnant with a little girl who she had already named Molly. Her killer was charged with one count of murder.
Arianna Goberdhan was 9 months pregnant when she was murdered by her husband in Pickering, Ontario. Her pre-born daughter, whom she had named Asaara, was also killed in the attack. Her husband was charged with one count of murder. Her family continues to seek justice.
In 2006, Manjit Panghali was 4 months pregnant when she was killed and then set on fire by her husband. She was identifiable only by dental records. Her husband was charged with one count of murder.
In 2007, Roxanne Fernando was murdered by her boyfriend and his friend because she refused to have an abortion. Nathanael Plourde was charged with one count of murder.
In all these tragic cases, where both a mother and child died, why was there only one murder charge?
This is a consequence of Canada providing NO legal recognition or protection for pre-born children. Our failure to recognize pre-born children as human beings means they are left unprotected throughout all of pregnancy. This also means they also cannot be counted as victims when they are killed as the result of violent crime.
In addition to the 4 women just mentioned, there are more than 70 cases in recent Canadian history where pregnant women have been murdered – usually by an intimate partner, someone who knew they were pregnant – and their pre-born child was not counted as a victim.
Over the years, various Members of Parliament have spoken to this issue, and attempted to introduce laws recognizing these pre-born children as the victims of crime that they are.
In 2007, Conservative MP Ken Epp came close with the Unborn Victims of Crime Act (Bill C-484). This bill passed second reading and was sent to a committee for study. But the session of Parliament ended before third reading could occur, and so the bill died on the order paper.
In 2010, MP Rod Bruinooge introduced Bill C-510, An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort. This private member’s bill, referred to as Roxanne’s Law in honour of Roxanne Fernando, whose boyfriend tried to pressure her into having an abortion in 2007. When she refused, he had her killed. But this bill was voted down by Parliament.
In 2016, Conservative MP Cathay Wagantall introduced the Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Pre-born Children Act (Bill C-225). The bill was referred to as Cassie and Molly’s Law, in honour of Cassandra Kaake and her pre-born child Molly whose story I shared in the opening. This bill was voted down as a result of abortion politics, with opponents arguing against any legal recognition of pre-born children out of fear it would impact the legality of abortion.
This year, MP Cathay Wagantall is trying again for justice in these cases. In January 2023, she introduced Bill C-311, the Violence Against Pregnant Women Act. This bill just had its second hour of debate in Parliament in early May, and we hope a vote will be coming up on it later this year. One immediate action item you can do is emailing or calling your Member of Parliament to ask them to vote in support of this bill.
To understand why I’m giving you some history on pre-born victims of crime bills in Canada, you need to understand a bit about the mission of We Need a Law. We Need a Law is a political pro-life organization that was started in 2012 with a goal of advocating for laws that would protect pre-born children. Our current laws are completely out of line with all other democratic countries, not to mention completely out of line with the most basic of human rights – the right to life.
We Need a Law recognizes that every abortion unjustly ends the life of a human being. But we also recognize that not every Canadian is there yet. So, we seek to find common ground, ways to have conversations with other Canadians and come to a place where we understand each other.
The stories I just shared, of women victimized by violent crime, are a starting point where Canadians DO understand each other. Everyone can see that a deep injustice is occurring when we allow people to literally get away with murder. And these murderers target the most vulnerable, in a place where they should be the most safe – pre-born children in their mother’s womb.
In order for us as a country to move towards full protection for pre-born babies, we need to begin with small steps. A law recognizing pre-born victims of crime as victims is a good small step.
We Need a Law also focuses on two other small steps where the majority of Canadians can find common ground: ending sex-selective abortion and ending late-term abortions.
Both a sex selective abortion law and a late-term abortion law would directly restrict abortion. But a pre-born victims of crime law doesn’t – it only impacts murder charges and sentencing. So why spend time on it?
We advocate for a pre-born victims of crime law because such a law sends a message to Canadians that pre-born children MATTER. They exist, as human beings, and they and their mothers both deserve protection and recognition.
No one sees a 9-month pregnant woman, like Arianna Goberdhan was when she murdered, and wonders if what she carries is human. No matter where you stand on abortion, it is clear that she carried a child, and that her daughter, like her, died waiting for emergency services to arrive.
Polling shows that the majority of Canadians support tougher penalties for those who commit crimes against a pregnant woman. Many don’t realize this isn’t already the case, just as many don’t know that abortion is legal throughout all 9 months of pregnancy. Educating our neighbours and changing our country means getting people to talk to us. It means finding common ground, and building on it.
A pre-born victims of crime law is an opportunity to highlight how Canada’s lack of abortion law leaves pre-born children unrecognized even when it comes to violent crimes, and it is an opportunity to move from there into the bigger conversation of the humanity of the pre-born child that makes them deserving of protection in ALL circumstances.
Joyce Arthur, the director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, Canada’s leading abortion advocacy group, said of a previous pre-born victims of crime law that “If the fetuses are recognized in [law], … it could bleed into people’s consciousness and make people change their minds about abortion.”
We want the humanity of the pre-born child to “bleed into people’s consciousness.” Canada still has no abortion law, and there is continued pressure to maintain that status quo. But we can continue being a voice for pre-born children. A pre-born victims of crime law is one way to do that that really resonates with our fellow Canadians.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can support a pre-born victims of crime law, all this information is available at ThereWereTwo.ca. Use this information to communicate to your MP. Tell them that when a pregnant woman is killed, there are TWO victims, and our law needs to see them both.
And then use this information to start everyday conversations about the humanity of pre-born children. Have this conversation with your family, your friends, your colleagues, and your neighbours. Ask them if they know about this injustice in Canada, that pregnant women are murdered, usually by intimate partners, and their children are not counted as victims.
Debates aren’t won in a day, no matter how many people show up, and hearts and mind are rarely changed by a single conversation. But showing up matters, because every time we show up and speak up it is one small step to having the humanity of pre-born children “bleed into the consciousness” of those around us. We need to use every opportunity we have to point out the humanity of pre-born children and continue to move Canadian opinion and law in a life-affirming direction.
So thank you so much for showing up today. I pray you will be courageous voices for life as you go from here and show up in your communities all year long.