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Canada's infanticide law is outdated and should be reviewed: Children and youth representative

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July 23, 2016 - 10:30 AM


KAMLOOPS - A Kamloops woman will have her second-degree murder charge downgraded to what experts call an "outdated" charge that came into law in 1948.

Courtney Saul still faces criminal sanctions if found guilty of killing her infant son in 2011 but will no longer face life imprisonment. A prosecutor indicated in court the murder charge would be stayed in favour of infanticide, a law that remains in the criminal code based on English law from 1922.

Canada's Criminal Code defines infanticide as when a woman wilfully commits an act or omission causing the death of her newly-born child, if "at the time of the act or omission she is not fully recovered from the effects of giving birth." It describes the mother's mind as "disturbed" at the time.

Although she cannot comment on this specific case, B.C.'s Representative of Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond agreed to speak about the law in general. She says this term alone makes the offence outdated, and it goes back to a time when women were considered to have a compromised mindset.

"It comes from a different era which in a way minimized the value of a life of an infant," Turpel-Lafond says. "And somehow women were not of a sound mind at the time of birth."

Turpel-Lafond says although women can suffer from postpartum depression, it is still a mental disorder and should be treated as such.

"If there's a mental disorder, there's a mental disorder," Turpel-Lafond says.

Grant Wilson, president of the Canadian Children's Rights Council, says the country's infanticide law is completely outdated.

"Basically what it comes down to, is the law should be taken off the books and it should have been taken off the books a long time ago," Wilson said.

The council is a non-governmental organization that describes itself as a non-profit advocacy group for children's rights. Wilson believes that both men and women can suffer from depression after a child is born, but that should be treated as a mental disorder.

“There are some people, unfortunately, that are just killers.”

The biggest difference between an infanticide conviction and a second-degree murder conviction, is the presence of a mandatory life sentence.

"Beyond the heinous and disturbing circumstances, the difficulty is the law itself," Turpel-Lafond says.

If a woman is convicted of infanticide, the maximum she will serve behind bars is five years, which advocates say is not enough.

"We are not the country that we were when that offence was created and placed in the criminal code," Turpel-Lafond says.

Saul will be appearing in court next month, when her charge will be formally changed to infanticide.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ashley Legassic or call 250-319-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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