THE CIRCUMCISION REFERENCE LIBRARY


Letter of Allan Rock, Minister of Justice, to Geoffrey T. Falk, February 6, 1996.

 

The Hon. Allan Rock
Minister of Justice
and Attorney General of Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa ON
K1A 0H8
February 6, 1996

Dear Mr. Falk,

Thank you for your correspondence in which you question why there are no legal sanctions against the practice of male infant circumcision in Canada, especially given the existing prohibitions against the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). I regret that I was unable to reply earlier.

Male circumcision is often compared to FGM and, while it is still my view that the practice of FGM is an offence under the Criminal Code as it currently exists, you may be aware that I have received a lot of support for adding a specific reference to FGM in the Code. Therefore, on December 14, 1995, I tabled Bill C-119, "An Act to amend the Criminal Code (child prostitution, criminal harassment and female genital mutilation)."

It is important to recognize, however, that FGM and male circumcision are not comparable procedures. Whereas the Canadian medical profession coes not recognize FGM as an appropriate medical procedure in any case for any girl or woman, male circumcision remains a medically accepted procedure. More specifically, there are recognized medical benefits to male circumcision in appropriate cases but there are none on the case of FGM. FGM always poses serious life-threatening and life long health risks for women.

I am aware that although the Canadian Paediatric Society's policy entitled "Circumcision in the Newborn Period" does not advocate routine male circumcision for newborns, neither does it prohibit the practice for newborns. In contrast, the Canadian Medical Association, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, and the Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario have each adopted specific resolutions against the performance of FGM on any girl or woman, for any reason.

Accordingly, the practice of male circumcision is really an issue to be discussed by parents with their medical practitioner and is not an issue that should be addressed by the criminal law.

With respect to your comments about human rights, it may interest you to know that, while section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees equality before and under the law without discrimination based on a number of enumerated grounds, including "sex" and "age", the Supreme Court of Canada in the Andrews case (a decision handed down in 1989) stated that "every difference in treatment between individuals under the law will not necessarily result in inequality and as well identical treatment may frequently produce serious inequality." In the case of male circumcision, it is important to note that female and male genitalia are quite different. Therefore, a Criminal Code that prohibits FGM but not male circumcision may not amount to unequal treatment or protection given the differences between the genders and the differences between the two procedures.

Thank you again for taking the time to share your views with me.

Yours very truly,

(signed)

Allan Rock

------------RESPONSE------------

Toronto, ON
February 27, 1996

Dear Mr. Rock,

Regarding your letter of Feb. 6, 1996: Thank you for responding to my question regarding Bill C-119 and male circumcision.

As you acknowledged, the Canadian Paediatric Society has stated that "...there is no medical indication for circumcision during the neonatal period." You also stated that in appropriate cases circumcision of the male newborn has "recognized medical benefits"; but this is true only in the presence of a disorder. Canada does not accept surgery of any kind on healthy female genitalia; surely the same standards of diagnosis and treatment must be applied to all children. Your letter does not address this issue to my satisfaction. Normal foreskin is not a disorder, and I continue to believe that the practice of circumcision of healthy children is unethical and illegal according to a strict interpretation of the Canadian Criminal Code.

The Canadian Paediatric Society has not adopted a specific resolution against male circumcision. This is, I believe, due to the widespread prevalence of the procedure in Canada, whereby it would be politically awkward to adopt such a resolution at this time. On the other hand, various mild and severe forms of female genital mutilation are a cultural tradition in parts of Africa, that have no widespread acceptance in Canada. We must not let cultural biases cloud our judgement in the handling of health care issues.

Sincerely yours,

(signed)

Geoffrey T. Falk

cc: Roger Simmons, Chairman
    Standing Committee on Health

cc: Christiane Gagnon, MP
    Bloc Quebecois

cc: Reform Party

cc: Canadian Paediatric Society
    401 Smyth Road
    Ottawa, Ontario
    K1H 8L1




Citation:
(File revised 28 September 2006)

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