On March 28th, 2023, NAWL participated in the Specific consultations and public hearings on Bill 12, An Act to reform family law with regard to filiation and to protect children born as a result of sexual assault and the victims of that assault as well as the rights of surrogates and of children born of a surrogacy project. Bill 12 is a provincial Bill in Quebec.
Bill 12 was tabled in reaction to a story about “Océane” (a pseudonym) reported in the media a few months ago. Océane was sexually assaulted by her roommate and, as a result, gave birth to a child. Even though her assailant was found guilty and is currently in jail, he brought her to court to be recognized as the child’s father. In legal words, he wanted his “bond of filiation”, that is, the legal relationship between a parent and a child, recognized by the courts. He won: there was no avenue for the judge to refuse to recognize the bond of filiation. The Minister of Justice of Québec promised to change the law.
That’s how we got to Bill 12, which proposes, among other things, to allow a child conceived by sexual assault to object to having their bond of filiation recognized with regard to the person who sexually assaulted their mother.
The National Association of Women and the Law is generally supportive of the Bill, but we raised several important issues and questions:
- Based on the current state of the Bill, the bond of filiation between a parent and a child conceived by sexual assault could only be removed if the court finds that it’s in the child’s interest to do so. We are asking for this criterion to be eliminated, because we know that courts often wrongly find that it’s in a child’s best interest to be with a violent parent.
- We are also concerned about mothers trying to have the bond of filiation removed and being found “alienating” as a result. Women are often accused of “parental alienation” when they try to protect themselves and their child from the father’s violence. We are proposing an amendment that would prevent courts from engaging in such victim blaming.
- Finally, we know that sexual assault often occurs within the context of conjugal relationships, and that sexual assault by a romantic partner can be much more difficult to prove. We are proposing to add a presumption to the Bill so that, in cases of domestic violence and coercive control, a sexual assault can be presumed.