Monday, August 25, 2008

Tories abort Ken Epp's bill, but where's Epp?

As a number of other folks have already mentioned, the Conservative government announced its intention today to scuttle Bill C-484, the Unborn Victims of Crime Act, a bill that many fear could lead towards the erosion of womens' reproductive rights:

The Harper government cut loose a contentious private member's bill that would have made it a crime to take the life of a fetus just as election speculation hits fever pitch.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced Monday that the government will draft a new bill to replace Bill C-484, the Unborn Victims of Crime Act, so that it closes the debate about fetal rights and focuses instead on penalizing criminals who harm pregnant women.

The act, which was introduced last year by Tory MP Ken Epp of Edmonton and passed second reading in the spring, would make it a separate offence for killing an unborn child when a pregnant woman is slain.

Pro-abortion advocates have denounced it for giving the fetus some human rights. Last week, the Canadian Medical Association voted to oppose the bill, and Liberal Leader St├ęphane Dion spoke out against it, challenging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to clarify his own views on abortion.

I'll hold my thoughts on the Conservatives' true plans on the issue until when (or if) we see actual legislation. I question their ability to come up with something that will be acceptable. But clearly, they're trying to clear the decks for the looming election campaign and Stephane Dion's comments on the topic in Oakville last week (and the reaction they garnered) had an impact.

One thing confuses me though. Reading the Web story at the Globe site, they quote just Justice Minister Rob Nicholson. Looking elsewhere, Reuters also has the PMO's Kory Teneycke. Bloomberg just has Nicholson. Ditto CP and Canwest.

The CBC adds some insight on Epp' status, although without Epp himself commenting:
"We've heard the criticism from across the country, including representatives from the medical community, that Mr. Epp's bill could be interpreted as instilling fetal right," Nicholson said.

He said the new bill was specifically worded to avoid that interpretation.

"This bill will be very clear and straightforward, and the bill will not be misinterpreted," he said, noting that Epp had not yet been informed that another bill was being introduced to replace his.

Nicholson would not give exact details about how the two bills are different.

Interesting. First reporter to chase down Ken Epp and ask him how he feels about the death of his deeply-felt legislation wins a gold star. Possible questions: did you get a phone call from the government before they announced they were killing your bill? Will you and your socially conservative brethren support a watered-down version?

And for you parliamentary procedure wonks out there, can the government simply decide to kill private member's legislation, which according to the wire coverage seems to be what they're doing? Note, they say Epp hasn't even been informed.

Now, if there's an election the bill dies, of course (and the Cons wouldn't have a chance to introduce their bill, making this all a pre-election PR exercise). However, lets say the HoC returns for a fall session, and carries on to the fixed election date. Now, of course the Cons can ask Epp to withdraw his bill, and if he didn't agree he'd be Garth Turnerized might quick. But suppose he said no. Would his bill remain on the order paper and continue through the legislative process?

A look at Ken Epp's Web site shows he's still full-steam ahead with his bill:

Surely bad planning by the PMO not to have white-washed his Web site yet.

But back to questions for Epp, given that in a number of lengthy statements posted on your Web site you reject and dismisses the concerns of legal and medical professionals, do you also reject and dismiss Nicholson's objections? If not, why not?

You says your bill has nothing to do with abortion or fetal rights, and that such concerns are off base:

And yet your justice minister says that, not only are the concerns of your opponents justified, he's drafting a new bill to address those concerns:

"We've heard criticism from across the country, including representatives of the medical community, that Mr. Epp's bill as presently drafted could be interpreted as instilling fetal rights. Let me be clear. Our government will not reopen the debate on abortion," Mr. Nicholson said. "

For this reason ... I'm announcing that the government will introduce legislation that will punish criminals who commit violence against pregnant women but do so in a way that leaves no room for the intr
oduction of fetal rights."

And in May, when Liberal MP Brent St. Denis introduced private member's bill C-543, which aimed to address the issue of violence against pregnant women without jeopardizing a women's right to choose, you were opposed:

How is what Nicholson is proposing now any different than the St. Denis approach that you have already rejected?

Anyway, also interesting will be the reaction of the social conservative wing of the Conservative Party. Of course, the ones in caucus will shut-up in fear of the Dear Leader. How about the rank and file though, the activists, the fundraisers? Will they hold their nose and still vote Conservative? Will they sit on their hands and stay home? Or will they rise up in anger and demand action? Will they take their votes to the Christian Heritage Party (join here disgruntled so-Cons!), or one of the other right-wing fringe parties?

After all, Stevie has burned them before. How long will he be able to keep them in the fold while kicking them in the nads? Time will tell, I suppose. You want to talk about hidden agendas come majority? No one is praying harder that Harper actually has one than the socially conservative wing of the Conservative Party.

UPDATE: Epp lives, and so does his bill.

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liberazzi said...

What's the phrase, "too clever, by half" or something to that affect. That's what this bill seems to be to me. Unfortunately, some of the more conservative Liberals, 25 in fact, voted Yea in second reading. Therefore, Dion shouldn't play this one up too much, cause his own caucus once again might show him up. Even more disturbing is one of those conservative Libs who voted Yea is my MP (I checked the Hansard), so I might have a tough call to make when the time comes, Oct 14;)

wilson said...

If there was a legal problem as doctors say, then the bill had to die.
Epp says it wasn't about abortion, and I believe him, he will accept that it was not written with the right safe guards in place.

The new legislation that instructs the judges to 'consider' the pregnancy of a women in sentencing a criminal, is a better avenue.
I'm hoping the sentencing will double if an unborn child is hurt or killed as a result of a crime.

Jeff said...

If you believe Epp, wilson, then read the statements on his Web site. He discussed, and dismissed, all the objections Nicholson raised when they were raised by others. He also dismissed similar legislation to what Nicholson seems to be proposing that was introduced by St. Denis. And he said his lawyers tell him that pregnancy is already considered an aggravating factor in sentencing.

Will he now accept all the arguments he vehemently rejected before just because its Nicholson that is now raising them? Probably I suppose, but very grudgingly. Will his supporters? More of an open question.

Jeff said...

And didn't Harper promise a free vote on this kind of thing? Big gap between free vote and killing it by fiat.

Jeff said...

Epp says it wasn't about abortion, and I believe him, he will accept that it was not written with the right safe guards in place.

See the update wilson, apparently not.