New Quebec bill aims to protect mothers and their children born of sexual assault


Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette tabled a new bill at the Quebec legislature on Thursday, as part of the government’s reform of family law.

Speaking at a press conference in Quebec City, Jolin-Barrette said the proposed legislation is divided into three main parts.

The first aims to protect children born of sexual assault, as well as their mothers.

Jolin-Barrette recounted how the story of Océane, which broke in August of 2022, sent shockwaves across the province.

The young woman was raped, became pregnant as a result, and gave birth to her child. Her aggressor was legally recognized as the child’s father, despite her wishes.

“We can all agree that this is an untenable, despicable situation,” Jolin-Barrette said.

Bill 12, if adopted, means someone who commits a sexual assault that results in birth, will not be able to seek paternity of the child.

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“A mother who has experienced such a traumatic event should not live with the fear that one day her abuser will seek to have rights over her child,” Jolin-Barrette said.

The legislation would also allow for a mother who was sexually assaulted and had a child to have the father’s paternal affiliation revoked if previously granted.

The new legislation would also ensure that neither the mother nor the child will be financially penalized by the decision.

Jolin-Barrette said the attacker could be forced to pay compensation to the mother to help her provide for the needs of the child, even without having paternal rights.

“So, in summary, less stress for the mother, more protection for the child and help to provide for her needs,” Jolin-Barrette said in French.

Jolin-Barrette also took a moment to acknowledge Océane’s courage.

“The message we would like to send to Océane today is that thanks to her, thanks to her testimony, thanks to her voice, the laws will change,” Jolin-Barrette said.

Virginie Dufresne-Lemire, a lawyer who has represented victims of sexual assault, said she was pleased with the proposed changes.

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“These situations are more common than we think,” she said.

Jolin-Barrette cited lawyers specializing in family law, who estimate that there are more than 170 children born of sexual assault every year in Quebec.

Dufresne-Lemire said if the bill goes through women will be better protected and have more tools at their disposal to fight their case in court.

Nakuset, who is the executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, agreed there is some good that could come of the amendments.

“I think it will hep mothers who are victims of violence and leaving an unhealthy relationship,” she said, while also expressing some reservations.

Nakuset worried about the numerous hurdles of reporting a sexual assault to police in the first place.

She said it can be especially true for Indigenous women, who sometimes face language barriers and can be racially profiled by police.

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Nakuset said sometimes the women’s stories aren’t believed or there is no follow up.

“It’s his word against hers so the case may not actually even go to court,” she said.

A spokesperson for the justice minister confirmed to Global News that a civil conviction of sexual assault against the father is needed in order for the mother to request all parental ties be cut.

Jolin-Barrette said the decision to require a civil conviction over a criminal one is because the burden of proof is lighter.

The 48-page legislation also touches on surrogacy with a view to protecting the rights of the unborn child and those of the surrogate mother. There are also provisions to allow access to information for children born of medically-assisted reproduction.

— With files from Global News’ Tim Sargeant

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