This article is written by Leah Bredenhof. Leah is a Grade 11 student and aspiring journalist from Langley, BC who recently had the opportunity to sit down with MP Cathay Wagantall in her Ottawa office to talk about Bill C-225, Cassie and Molly’s Law.
Jeff Durham and Cassie Kaake were eagerly awaiting the arrival of their daughter Molly. However, in December 2014, about two months from Molly’s due date, Kaake was bludgeoned to death in her apartment in Windsor, Ontario, and her pre-born daughter was killed along with her.
According to the criminal code in Canada, charges could only be laid for the death of Cassie, and not her pre-born child, a fact that shocked and saddened Durham. Since the tragedy, Durham has been on a crusade to obtain justice for the murder of his daughter. He started a campaign called Molly Matters, and began collecting signatures for petitions to bring about increased severity of the legal consequences for committing a crime against a pregnant woman.
When Cathay Wagantall, MP for the Yorkton-Melville riding in Saskatchewan, heard about Durham’s cause she offered to help him create this legislation. She became passionate about justice for pregnant women and their babies. This resulted in Wagantall presenting her first private member’s bill in the House of Commons: Bill C-225 – the Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Preborn Children Act (Cassie and Molly’s Law).
What Bill C-225 isn’t
MP Wagantall began by emphasizing the importance of understanding the nature of this bill when responding to it. Major opponents of Bill C-225 claim the bill attempts to ‘humanize a fetus’ or criminalize abortion. However, Wagantall reiterated time and again that this is not the case.
“There are lots of laws in our criminal code that are there, but do not apply to human beings,” says Wagantall, “For example, we have laws against harming an animal. They’re not human beings, but we have laws against that. We have laws against doing an injustice to a dead body… Now just like we have laws in those circumstances where it doesn’t apply to a human being, we’re saying that these laws, certainly when you’re dealing with the life inside of a mother who’s choosing to carry her child to term, certainly that should be as important in our criminal code as it is for animals, or other things.”
Wagantall also stresses that this bill could not possibly be used against women who have abortions, or the doctors who give them. “This bill is to deal with a third party who commits a criminal offense against a woman,” she explained. “We’re not in any way incriminating doctors who are giving abortions because the woman is consenting to the abortion.”
In addition, she points out that Cassie and Molly’s Law does not allow for charges to be laid in relation to the pre-born child independent of the mother. This law would only make it possible for additional charges when someone commits a crime against a pregnant woman. In other words, if a woman is consenting to an abortion, no crime has been committed according to the criminal code, and no charges can be laid.
What Bill C-225 is
According to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, homicide accounts for 20% of all deaths of women who were pregnant. This means that a woman is more likely to be murdered during her pregnancy than she is to die in childbirth. In addition, the United Nations suggests that as many as 1 in 4 women experience violence during their pregnancy. Despite these serious numbers, there is, as of yet, no additional consideration given to the unique and special circumstances of pregnancy. In fact, pregnancy is not even an official aggravating factor under the Criminal Code, and has seldom been used to increase the sentence for a crime against a pregnant woman. “Across the country people are shocked to learn that we have nothing in our criminal code in regards to the life of a child that a woman is choosing to carry to term,” says Wagantall. It is imperative, therefore, that legal safeguards are implemented to prevent these crimes and ensure justice for the victims.
One word that is used frequently in the abortion debate is the word choice. Those who believe abortion is a fundamental right speak about a woman’s ‘right to choose’. However, there are currently no laws that protect a woman’s right to choose to give birth to her child. One purpose of Bill C-225, therefore, is to make the sentences for attacking a pregnant woman properly reflect the loss of a child who was wanted by his or her parents.
Wagantall described situations where a pregnant woman may endure an assault by a partner or other family member who was opposed to her carrying her child to term. In this situation, if the woman did not lose her life but her pre-born child was injured or killed, in the current legal context, the likely charges would only be assault or aggravated assault against the woman. Her child would receive no recognition by the criminal justice system.
With the implementation of Cassie and Molly’s law, the perpetrator would be charged for assault, and additional charges would be given for the death of the fetus. It wouldn’t be a murder sentence, Wagantall acknowledged, because if the bill is going to pass, the definition of a human being cannot change. According to the Criminal Code, a baby becomes a human being when it is fully removed from the womb, and so murder sentences cannot be given for the deaths of pre-born children. However, Wagantall believes that this law would more fully solve this ‘gap in the Criminal Code’ as it pertains to the loss of pre-born children to crime.
Mrs. Wagantall expressed how happy she has been with the general response from the public. People from both sides of the abortion debate have been coming together to support Cassie and Molly’s law. In fact, Durham, the founder of Molly Matters, is pro-choice himself. This is because the emphasis in this law is on protecting women and their right to bear children safely. “[The Molly Matters bill] is not a pro-life or pro-choice issue,” Wagantall noted. “It’s an issue for all women.”
Despite the overwhelming support from the general public, many of the Liberal and NDP MPs showed some reluctance when it came to supporting the bill in the recent discussion in the House of Commons. Many of them, rather than coming out in favor of Cassie and Molly’s law, suggested implementing a national strategy to prevent violence against women, a fact that disappointed Wagantall. “The reality is that a lot of women face this type of violence, and [Bill C-225] is a specific way we can deal with that, so we shouldn’t just be talking in platitudes and bigger-picture issues, we need to do everything we can.”
Wagantall also requested the support of the everyday Canadians in bringing this bill to pass. She suggested first of all, to contact a local parliamentarian to express your thoughts on the matter, and second of all, to print off the petitions available on the Molly Matters website to share around your community and send to the MP for your riding. “That kind of action on the part of everyday Canadians really makes a difference,” said Wagantall.
Molly Does Matter!
Clearly Wagantall’s passion comes from the understanding that, when so many women worldwide become the targets of violence because of their pregnancy, it becomes unthinkable to simply stand by. We need to protect these women, protect the rights of the family, and protect the next generation. One particular point that Wagantall made was that the bill would help protect the family. As she said in her motion for leave to introduce Bill C-225, “Families are the foundation of our country. Canadians deserve a legal system that protects all aspects of a family.”
When so many women worldwide become the targets of violence because of their pregnancy, it becomes unthinkable to simply stand by. We need to protect these women, protect the rights of the family, and protect the next generation. One particular point that Wagantall made was that the bill would help protect the family. As she said in her motion for leave to introduce Bill C-225, “Families are the foundation of our country. Canadians deserve a legal system that protects all aspects of a family.” If Bill C-225 passes, the laws of Canada will better reflect the value of women, family, and life.