Letter from A. Kim Campbell, December 15, 1992.


A. Kim Campbell, PC, QC,
MP Minister of Justice and
Attorney General of Canada
Ottawa, Canada
K1A 0H8
Dec 15 1992

Ms. Margaret A. Somerville
McGill Centre for Medicine,
Ethics and Law
24th Floor
2020 University Street
Montreal, Quebec
H3A 2A5

Dear Ms. Somerville,

Thank you for your thoughtful letter of June 10, 1992, about female genital mutilation and male circumcision. I regret that I was unable to reply earlier.

I am grateful to you for drawing my attention to your article on medical interventions in the McGill Law Journal. I am certainly not at this time going to suggest that you are mistaken in the analysis you present in your letter. However, it is my position that another mode of discourse is possible on these topics.

I do not believe that it is always helpful to discuss in detail whether a particular act is or is not strictly speaking contrary to a provision of the Criminal Code. As you know, there are many acts that occur daily that may, strictly speaking, be contrary to the Code, you they are nevertheless not prosecuted because they are not offensive to society.

In response to this line of reasoning it is sometimes objected that one should not rely on prosecutorial discretion in criminal law matters. To this, my reply would be that Canadians are lucky, broadly speaking, in their criminal law, which is expressed in general terms and thus is not riddled with sections stating, for example, that deliberately hitting someone is illegal but deliberately bumping into them on the bus is not illegal. But, having a criminal law expressed in general terms does necessarily entail the existence of a prosecutorial discretion. At the same time, I am fully aware that society's opinion can change regarding whether a particular act that could be considered criminal, should in fact be prosecuted.

In the conclusion of your article you state that medical interventions are not regarded in practice as prima facie illegal, and that some non-therapeutic interventions are accepted by our society. In my opinion these points are crucial in connection with female genital mutilation and male circumcision.

I do not believe that the issue of the therapeutic value of male circumcision has been finally decided in the medical literature. But regardless of this, it remains true that in our society male circumcision is at present accepted and indeed has been for many years. As I mentioned above, I am aware that there may come a time when this is no longer so. Furthermore, I am not yet persuaded that male circumcision can be said to cause harm that is above the de minimis level.

On the other hand, female genital mutilation is not at present accepted in our society. I am fully aware of the respect and protection offered in Canada to multiculturalism and it is my opinion that female genital mutilation goes beyond the limit of what multiculturalism will allow. In addition, it must be stressed that female genital mutilation undoubtedly causes harm that goes well beyond the de minimis level. I gather that there is apparently an uncommon form of female genital mutilation that may not cause serious harm, but I do not believe that this procedure is currently accepted in our society.

I hope my reply will be of some use to you. In closing, I wish to repeat that, if the medical profession reaches a consensus that male circumcision is harmful beyond the de minimis range, or if female genital mutilation becomes accepted in our society, then I will certainly re-examine my opinions on these topics.

Yours sincerely,


A. Kim Campbell

(File revised 27 September 2006)

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