Two human rights activists from Truro, N.S., are thrilled an Ontario Liberal MP is pushing to have torture recognized as a crime in Canada.

For 23 years, Jeanne Sarson and Linda MacDonald have been calling on the federal government to amend the law to make non-state or domestic torture a specific criminal offence and not just a form of assault.

"It goes beyond abuse," said Linda MacDonald, with the group Persons Against Non-State Torture. "A lot of drugging and programming and horrific gang rapes, and there's trafficking and prostituting."

MacDonald said in most cases, there is also extreme physical violence.

Private members bill

Last week, London North Centre MP Peter Fragiskatos tabled a private members bill in the House of Commons to amend the Criminal Code to create the offence, for a private individual, of inflicting torture.

"Right now, when acts of torture take place by private citizens operating in the private sphere, aggravated assault is the charge that is applied and that is not really reflective of the suffering that has been endured," said Fragiskatos. 

"This is a human rights bill that I am pursuing, plain and simple."

He points out the existing law in Canada only recognizes acts of torture carried out by state officials. 

"Police officers, military officials, things along those lines. We have to make sure that when acts of torture take place in the private realm, that our Criminal Code recognizes that," Fragiskatos said.

Dustin Paxton case

The MP said the case of Dustin Paxton highlighted the need for a torture law. In 2012, Paxton was found guilty in Calgary of aggravated and sexual assault against his former business partner and roommate.

He put his roommate through daily beatings over a period of 18 months. The victim, who can't be named because of a publication ban, was dropped off at the Regina hospital in critical condition.

Over the last two decades, Sarson and MacDonald estimate they've dealt with 3,000 victims of domestic torture around the globe, including about a dozen in Nova Scotia.

'We stopped apologizing'

The challenge has been convincing politicians that something more needs to be done.

"We stopped apologizing quite a few years ago, so we want the country to step up to the plate and just be truthful with ourselves and just go for it and make this into law so that there's no more blockage," said Sarson.

She calls Fragiskatos's bill a win, but acknowledges this is only the first step.

"I'm feeling a possibility that finally we can move to be a country that really understands what supporting human rights means," said Sarson.

Second reading of the torture bill is expected in late March or early April.