A recent sentencing in Ontario could be fodder for the upcoming federal election in the Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding.
Nicholas Baig received a sentence last week of life in prison with no chance of parole for 17 years for killing his wife Arianna Goberdhan in 2017. Goberdhan was nine months pregnant at the time.
Under Canadian law, Baig could only be charged with one murder because the Criminal Code does not recognize an unborn child as a human being.
This has long been a contentious issue for Rod Taylor, leader of the Christian Heritage Party and the party’s candidate for election in October.
“There’s two lives at stake and until we start putting legal protection around the unborn, life in general is devalued,” he said.
In 2016, Cathay Wagantall, the Conservative MP for Yorkton-Melville (Saskatchewan) introduced a private member’s bill called Cassie and Molly’s Law (after another case similar to the Goberdhan murder) that would have made it a criminal offence to injure or kill a preborn child in the commission of another offence.
That bill was soundly defeated in the House of Commons with 209 members voting against, 77 for and 52 either abstaining or not present.
Current Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen voted nay on the legislation.
“There have been cases in the past where people have tried to make it a double homicide,” Cullen said by phone from Ottawa. “The challenge becomes determining when that whole question of life and what determines life and then that, of course, reopens the debate around abortion and other questions even Conservatives and others are unlikely to want to open in Canada.”
But that is precisely what Taylor wants to do.
“There’s all kinds of questions around that, but this is a woman who wanted to choose to keep her child and if it’s all about choice then the choice to protect life should be at least as valuable as the choice to end a life, we think much more so,” he said.
“For many people, they haven’t thought about the issue, but I think a general recognition that there’s a human life in there, I think generally the public awareness is rising, a few years ago people didn’t understand gestational development and so on, as well as they do now, so it’s certainly an issue that should be handled.
“Those who claim to be pro-choice don’t really want to discuss it at all, so issues like this that should receive full support from all the parties in the house of commons, the right to choose life for your own child shouldn’t even be a reason to have a discussion, but the other side is so afraid of opening the abortion debate, they won’t even support a woman’s right to choose life for her own child.”
But Cullen said it’s not that simple and would set a legal precedent.
“I think we just have to be careful with the sensitivity of this and the [Goberdhan] family is in such a grievous place that it’s hard to imagine what their world is right now,” he said.
“If this was deemed as double homicide and that is permissible under the law, then is an abortion doctor also committing a homicide? Sometimes activists will say, ‘no, no, this is just for this particular horrible situation,’ and there will be public and understandable sympathy for that, but our experience in the U.S. and other places is that debate, of course, doesn’t end there, it continues on.”
Greg Brown, who is in the running to replace Cullen as the candidate for the NDP in the next election also weighed in.
“I’m not surprised the social conservatives want to talk about this,” Brown said. “This is a core issue for them—always has been and always will be. These are deeply held beliefs and this is one of the key issues that separates us.
“One thing I hope Rod Taylor and I can agree on is the role governments should play in providing more opportunities for women to leave unsafe relationships. As a progressive, I support more choices for women.”
Cullen noted that even if prosecutors can’t bring charges for the death of an unborn, the courts have discretion to on sentencing.
“Parliament does allow for that sentencing consideration, the circumstance of the victim being pregnant if that is a motivation for the offence in the first place, can mean longer sentences,” he said, adding he is in favour of stiffer penalties in this type of case.
He said it goes further than that, though in terms of violence against women in general.
“There’s still not enough done to protect women in this country broadly,” he said. “There has not been enough support from the federal government for women’s shelters and other places of sanctuary. So, the problem itself is incredibly important that we deal with it better.”
Baig’s sentencing comes coincidentally just before the annual March for Life which will be held May 9, a seminal event in the pro-life calendar. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of abortion in Canada.
For the past week, in advance of the march, pro-lifers in Smithers were out on the highway holding placards with slogans such as “Signs up for the pre-born” and “We need a law.”