We don’t need a new criminal charge of ‘femicide’
Late last year, the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) started using the term “femicide” in its public statements, even though an OPS advisory committee had not yet finalized its definition of the word.
That followed a June coroner’s inquest in Renfrew, Ont., examining the 2015 deaths of three women killed by the same man. It offered 86 recommendations aimed at preventing intimate partner violence. One of those was that the federal government should explore adding the term “femicide” to the Criminal Code as a separate offence from homicide.
Mexico formally made femicide a crime in 2010, which is why the Mexican Secretariat of Public Security sent out a tweet in early March stating police have arrested “a person of foreign origin for the possible crime of femicide,” after a Canadian woman was killed and her boyfriend arrested.
It is interesting that some people feel the word “femicide” should be added to our Code. On an emotional level, I understand why people might think that would bring more attention to this crime. After all, according to the OPS, a woman or girl is murdered every 36 hours in Canada.
While I agree the issue of intimate partner violence needs to be addressed in this country, I am not convinced that creating a formal charge of femicide is the way to do that. Allow me to explain.
The Code already addresses the crime
First, the concept of femicide is already in the Code. Section 718.2 outlines the “Purpose and principles of sentencing” and it includes a list of aggravating factors that can result in a harsher sentence. The second of those is “evidence that the offender, in committing the offence, abused the offender’s intimate partner.” It is also an aggravating factor if the crime is committed against those involved in the sex trade, as they are in a vulnerable position.
I may be cynical, but I wonder why we would want to differentiate between the murder of males and females. Murder is murder. I don’t believe we need a special word because the victim is female.
When discussing femicide, many people point to what is called the Montreal Massacre. That happened on Dec. 6, 1989, when a gunman walked into Montreal's École Polytechnique and fatally shot 14 young women as he screamed “You are all feminists.” He then turned the gun on himself.
His crime was clearly directed against women. Had the man lived, he would have been charged with multiple charges of homicide. And the sentence he would have received would be harsh because of aggravating factors outlined in s. 718.2 include if “the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion [or] sex.”
His crime against female students was already captured in the Code. It is unnecessary to call it femicide since the facts about what happened are clear.
Definition of a woman is fluid
Another point to consider is the definition of a woman. Statistics Canada says there are now three genders, including non-binary. There are also multiple gender identities.
If an individual who identifies as a woman is murdered, is that a femicide? What about trans people or those who are transitioning?
There is currently much debate across the country about gender in relation to sports and other areas. That’s great, but we don’t need to draw our criminal justice system into that discussion. If the Code was amended to include a separate charge of femicide, I can envision that valuable court time will be spent debating which murders fall within that category and which don’t.
And if femicide were a separate charge, would the penalties be harsher than for homicide? Is that fair to the victims?
Let’s keep calling all murders homicides. After all, the debate about adding femicide to the Code has deflected attention away from a real issue, and that is how to reduce intimate partner violence. Introducing the charge of femicide will not achieve that.