Liberals Move To Strip 'Zombie Laws' From Criminal Code

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OTTAWA — Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould fended off suggestions she was stirring up a debate on abortion Wednesday, as she introduced legislation to eliminate so-called "zombie laws" from the Criminal Code.

Zombie laws are sections of the law that remain in the Criminal Code despite having been deemed unconstitutional by the courts.

Among those is the statute dealing with abortion, which remains on the books despite the Supreme Court having struck it down as unconstitutional in 1988.

During a press conference on Parliament Hill, Wilson-Raybould specifically highlighted that as one of several sections the government plans to scrub from the Criminal Code.

jody wilsonraybould
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould addresses a conference in Ottawa on Feb. 15. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

She went on to note that the legislation was being introduced on International Women's Day.

But the minister pushed back when asked whether the government was stirring up a potential debate on abortion by removing the section, which is sure to elicit a strong response from anti-abortion activists.

"We're not opening or reopening the abortion debate," she said.

"We are simply taking a leadership role and hoping that we will have this bill passed through and we can clean up the criminal code once and for all."

Abortion provision one of many to be removed

Both Wilson-Raybould and Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, who also attended the press conference, said they were proud to be part of a government with the courage to remove the abortion section.

"Our government without equivocation recognizes and acknowledges the constitutional rights of women and are taking the courageous step to ensure that we remove this section from the Criminal Code," Wilson-Raybould said.

The abortion provision is only one of several that the government plans to remove from the Criminal Code.

Among the others are sections that cover the act of spreading false news, anal sex and vagrancy, all of which the Liberals propose to scrub from the books.

The government is also proposing to eliminate two provisions dealing with drunk driving that the courts previously ruled as unconstitutional, as well as two provisions dealing with murder.

One of those, Section 230, gained notoriety during the murder trial of Travis Vader in Alberta last year.

travis vader lawyer brian beresh
Travis Vader's lawyer Brian Beresh speaks to media after the murder verdict. (Photo: Jason Franson/CP)

Justice Denny Thomas initially convicted Vader of two counts of second-degree murder for the killing of Lyle and Marie McCann, but the section he cited had been ruled unconstitutional in 1990.

Vader was eventually convicted of two lesser counts of manslaughter.

Wilson-Raybould acknowledged the "difficult ordeal this has been for the McCann family," and thanked them for their calls on the government to finally clean up the Criminal Code.

The legislation that has been introduced is only a first step toward making sure the Criminal Code aligns with the Supreme Court's rulings, Wilson-Raybould said.

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