In keeping with his campaign to start a national discussion, Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth has tabled a motion that would see a special committee of Parliament created to study Section 223(1) of the Criminal Code, which defines when a human being becomes a human being. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has already responded with a two-sentence statement.
“Private Members motions are considered in accordance with the rules of Parliament. The Prime Minister has been very clear, our Government will not reopen this debate.”
Below, the prepared text of Mr. Woodworth’s remarks this morning to reporters.
Good Morning. Thank you all for your attendance.
Don’t accept any law that says some human beings are not human beings! That’s my message to Parliament and to Canadians.
Don’t accept any law that says some human beings are not human beings! It does not matter what result you’re trying to achieve with such a misrepresentation or whose philosophy supports such a misrepresentation. History is littered with disastrous examples of laws which pretended some people were not human beings to achieve some desired result or suit someone’s philosophy.
Don’t accept any law that says some human beings are not human beings! It’s simple. It’s the finest principle of Canadian justice. I believe most Canadians agree with this principle.
Why do I think this principle is so important? Not just to me, but to each of you personally?
Before I answer that question, let’s read Section 223(1) of Canada’s Criminal Code:
223. (1) A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother, whether or not
(a) it has breathed;
(b) it has an independent circulation; or
(c) the navel string is severed.
Canada’s 400 year old definition of human being says children are not human beings until the moment of complete birth.
Now there might be some people who can convince themselves that a child magically transforms into a human being when their little toe pops out of the birth canal. However, I’ve concluded that modern medical science will inform us that children are in reality human beings at some point before the moment of complete birth. For me – and I think for most Canadians this law clearly misrepresents the facts. It’s based on limited seventeenth century medical knowledge.
Yet 79% of Canadians don’t even know there’s no recognition of a child’s humanity until the moment of complete birth. They think children are protected at least in the later stages of development. No wonder they don’t feel any need to talk about it. But what if they knew the truth?
Section 223 is, purely and simply, a law that says some human beings are not human beings. Don’t accept any law that says some human beings are not human beings. Nothing justifies it.
So why do I say this principle is important to each of you personally?
It’s not just because it’s controversial, and you’re here to get a nice controversial story!
It’s because each of you is a journalist! At some point in your life you made a personal commitment to the truth! At least that’s what we expect of you! Has anyone here abandoned their commitment to the truth?
Don’t you want truthful laws? Don’t you wish we could get rid of every misrepresentation in Canadian law? How can Section 223 or any law be based on a lie and be just?
Just laws must be based on accurate evidence, not arbitrary lines unrelated to reality. If there’s no objective criteria for who’s a human being, then personhood and the fundamental rights that go with it can be defined in any way any powerful person or group decides. Is that the Canada you want?
Don’t accept any law, including Section 223, that says some human beings are not human beings. It’s an important principle! No Member of Parliament should remain silent in the face of any law that says some human beings are not human beings. I wouldn’t deserve to be elected to Parliament if I remained silent in the face of such a law.
I’m merely proposing in my motion that Parliament inform itself from the relevant disciplines. I am not even suggesting what the outcome of that study should be.
If we care about the truth, we will courageously follow the facts wherever they lead. That’s what you do as journalists. Isn’t that what you would want of conscientious Members of Parliament?
So this story is about Section 223. This story has to do with one Parliamentarian’s belief that justice demands honest laws based on cogent evidence and principle.
Here are the facts on which I rely,
1. In 1642 Sir Edward Coke wrote that children before birth were not considered human beings until they were born alive. He didn’t know any better.
2. In 1879 when our Criminal Code was drafted, and in 1892 when it was adopted, this law was incorporated.
3. I am not aware of any cogent evidence which supports the idea that children are not human until the moment of complete birth, and I know of some that does not.
4. Parliament has a duty to update an important law like a definition of human being having informed itself from the relevant disciplines.
No one has proven me wrong on any of these points.
And it’s simply not legitimate, not even to achieve some desired result, for Parliament to accept a law that says some children are not human beings when they are. That misrepresentation prevents us from even having an honest conversation about it.
“Ah, but you’re just a man, so why should we pay attention to your concern for honest and just laws?” Believe it or not, I’ve had that response from some people! Or, “you’re pro-life, so why should we listen when you tell us not to accept any law that says some human beings are not human?”
Well, the proposal in my motion was actually suggested by a very famous woman. And that woman would not be considered a pro-life person.
Like her, you need not be a man to agree with the proposal in my motion. Like her, you need not be pro-life to agree with the proposal in my motion.
To what woman am I referring? I am referring to Madam Justice Bertha Wilson, former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.
When did she suggest this proposal? In her 1988 decision in R.v. Morgentaler.
Here’s what she said:
“The precise point in the development of the foetus at which the state’s interest in its protection becomes “compelling” I leave to the informed judgement of the legislature which is in a position to receive guidance on the subject from all the relevant disciplines. It seems to me, however, that it might fall somewhere in the second trimester.”
Justice Wilson was, of course, talking about another law, but her comments and her suggestion apply equally to Section 223’s definition of a human being. Now I don’t know whether or not she has since changed her mind. What I do know is that other courts have referred this to Parliament since Justice Wilson suggested it. And I do know that Justice Wilson’s advice for Parliament to inform itself from all the relevant disciplines was wise.
A respectful dialogue to update a 400 year old definition of human being, with the aid of twenty-first century information, will benefit everyone. Whatever view one has about other issues, does it make medical sense to say that a child is not a human being until the moment of complete birth?
Members of Parliament have a duty to not accept any law which says some human beings are not human, including our 400 year old definition of human being found in Section 223.