By Patrick B. Craine

WINNIPEG, Manitoba, October 9, 2009 ( – The murderers of a pregnant woman plead guilty in Winnipeg yesterday and were sentenced today.  While two murders occurred, only the killing of the mother was prosecuted because Canadian law does not recognize the humanity of an unborn baby.

Nathaniel Mark Plourde, 21, plead guilty to first-degree murder yesterday in the 2007 death of Roxanne Fernando, 24.  Jose Manuel Toruno, 21, plead guilty to second-degree murder.  The guilty pleas, lodged as a high-profile jury-trial was set to begin, came as a surprise.

The court has described the murder as a “callous, well-planned execution.”  On February 15th, 2007, only weeks after Fernando had discovered she was pregnant, Plourde lured her into his car under the pretext of celebrating Valentine's Day.  Fernando brought her chocolates and a teddy bear as gifts.

Plourde was assisted in the brutal murder that took place later by Toruno and an unnamed 17-year-old youth who plead guilty to first-degree murder last year, receiving the maximum youth sentence of six years prison and four years parole. 

Plourde was given a life sentence today with the mandatory minimum 25-year imprisonment.  The minimum for Toruno was life with 10 years in prison, but the judge agreed to the Crown's request for a minimum of 15 years, saying that he deserved every minute.

While Plourde's lawyer, Roberta Campbell, contended otherwise yesterday, Crown attorney Brent Davidson explained at the youth's sentencing last year that the murder followed Fernando's refusal to have an abortion.  He said Plourde pressured her to abort the baby, and she agreed at first, but then had a “change of heart.”

“It would be the fetus that would drive the planned and deliberate killing of Ms. Fernando,” he said.

While the U.S. and other countries have laws that protect unborn children in such crimes, Canada does not recognize any rights for unborn babies.

Conservative MP Leon Benoit put forward a private members bill in 2006 attempting to make it an additional offence to injure or kill an unborn child on top of the existing offence against the mother.  The bill was quashed before reaching the floor.

Later that year, the National Post revealed that then-Justice Minister Vic Toews had been warned in an unsigned note that “Any change to the definition of a 'human being' in the Criminal Code could have the effect of criminalizing abortion. … The government has no plans to propose any reforms in this area of the law.”

Conservative MP Ken Epp then put forward a second bill at the end of 2007, which the Conservative Party killed in the summer of 2008, promising a weak alternative that would simply add the unborn child's death to a list of 'aggravating factors'.

“We've heard criticisms from across the country, including representatives from the medical community, that Mr. Epp's bill as presently drafted could be interpreted as instilling fetal rights,” said current Justice Minister Rob Nicholson in August 2008.  “Let me be clear, our government will not reopen the debate on abortion.”

See related coverage:

Two Murders of Pregnant Canadian Women Renew Calls for Unborn Victims' Legislation

The Abortion Politics of the Conservative Party of Canada