I’ve written a few times about abortion. Each time I hesitated, concerned about provoking a backlash, since anger has become the default for handling policy disagreements in this brave new wired world. And abortion is the quintessentially emotional and contentious issue, on which even people of goodwill and some thoughtfulness can and do disagree vehemently.
But because my reach is so small, and because the folks who like the work I do on this blog are not typically given to vitriol, there’s never been a problem.
But now I have a problem. I’m as angry as I remember being about something the Canadian Federal Government is doing, and it relates to abortion.
The Prime Minister refers to it as a kerfuffle: This to describe the reaction to the Government’s decision to require organizations applying for grants under the Canada Summer Jobs Program to state that they agree with the Liberals’ position on what they call “reproductive rights,” to wit, abortion on demand.
Since 1988, Canada has had no abortion law.
In the present case, the structure
— the system regulating access to therapeutic abortions —
is manifestly unfair.
– Chief Justice Dickson
But the Supreme Court decision that struck down the then-existing law did not say that abortion on demand was a Charter right.
I don’t like abortion, especially sex-selection abortion and abortions after the point of viability. I believe that aligns with a majority of Canadians, but even if it doesn’t, I should be able to hold that point of view and to express it — politely, reasonably, without attacking anyone else — without any fear of reprisal from my Government. Even without being cut off from any taxpayer-funded program.
So should anyone, and any organization, be able to hold and to express an opinion contrary to the Liberals. That is an actual Charter right, as it turns out.
What the hell is the Government doing, requiring anyone – individual or organizational – to sign up to the governing party’s point of view on anything in order to access taxpayer-funded programs? Guys, it’s not your money: It’s ours. It’s not your government: It’s ours.
I hope I’d be as angry if the requirement were to formally acquiesce to a Government policy I agreed with. I hope I never need to find out. This should stop now.
This post is not about abortion.
If you have a National Post subscription, you can read more on this issue at the links below. For those who don’t, I’ve copied some of their salient points.
It’s clear Trudeau has overreached. He has achieved something few statesmen can boast about — unity among Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh organizations, albeit 100 per cent in opposition to him.
There is, presumably, some nervousness among his advisers that a sustained impasse could hit political support in communities that have, hitherto, been enthusiasts.
But such is the chauvinism on reproductive issues in Liberal circles, there is a refusal to believe in the legitimacy of any dissent from their orthodoxy.
There is a word for such behaviour ““ arrogance. It has killed Liberal governments in the past. It may do so again.
What shallow hubris engenders the sense that Mr. Trudeau, as through this both petty and profound intrusion he has, has the authority to undo the balance of citizens’ religious and moral beliefs and the political dispensations of a particular government? The Liberal platform of the day is not, as this government wildly seems to think, a synonym writ large for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
But hey, it’s only a jobs program. Well, once started, why stop? Why stop at the grant-applying organizations? Why not question the students who are to get the jobs? Why shouldn’t they be asked to sign on the dotted line, tick the right boxes? Why shouldn’t they be asked as well if they endorse the Liberal readings on abortion, the carbon tax, diversity, NAFTA, refugee intake, the return of ISIL fighters?
On the principle underwriting the summer jobs policy, there is absolutely no logical reason why they should not be so interrogated and obliged.
Justin Trudeau keeps saying things like, “We are not limiting freedom of expression or freedom of belief in any shape or form. We are simply saying organizations with the explicit purpose of limiting and eliminating Charter rights like women’s rights do not qualify for government funding.” But the Charter does not protect unlimited abortion on demand.
Kelly McParland, National Post
People and organizations can oppose abortion and still be respectable, law-abiding citizens. It’s not clear whether the Prime Minister understands this distinction, or prefers to ignore it in favour of a less honest approach.
What Trudeau’s government is doing is to treat Liberal policy and pro-choice dogma as equivalent to Charter protection. It reflects the innate Liberal conceit that party policy inherently reflects national opinion, that if Liberals believe something, it must be right and true.
The effect of Trudeau’s position is to take federal funding and tie it to forced acceptance of Liberal beliefs.
One judge found a constitutional right to abortion in the early stages of pregnancy only: Madam Justice Wilson
Two judges found there was no constitutional right to abortion: Justices McIntyre and La Forest
Four judges found it unnecessary to decide whether a constitutional right to abortion exists: Justices Dickson, Lamer, Beetz and Estey
As you suggest, this is a quintessentially emotional and contentious issue, all of which makes it very difficult to find common ground. And, certainly, you have a right to your point of view regardless of what that view is and regardless of whether or not anyone else agrees with you.
It has been interesting to me that, in news commentaries, much has been said about this action flying in the face of “people of faith” or “faith groups.” That makes it sound as if people of faith are of one mind on the issue of abortion. They’re not. Neither are faith groups; there is no monolithic stance among the denominations.
I, as you, don’t agree with the federal government’s action in this case. I also didn’t agree with the Harper government’s action in the defunding of groups whose philosophical or ideological bent Harper saw as being different to that of his government. KAIROS, which was an inter-denominational organization, comes to mind.
Tom – To the extent that any organization has been targeted or had its charitable status revoked based on their views (as opposed to their noncompliance with CRA regulations limiting political activity), then that is equally offside.
Having said the above, I thought a little more about it.
If the issue, as you suggest, is one of “it’s not your money (insert whomever is the government of the time) it’s ours,” and given that there’s not an endless supply of money so that all grant applications will receive approval…therefore given that not all groups applying for funding grants – from any level of government – will necessarily receive them…what would be an agreed-upon set of principles that could be established so as to remove political party bias from the process?
Tom – My issue is that it’s not any government’s job to tell any of us what we should/must think or believe. If I have money to hand out (and I do) then I’m free to choose people I agree with. The government does not have that option, in my books. Of course everyone sort of prefers to deal with people they align with philosophically, but not this blatantly.
I may be all wet, but I think the criterion for receipt of the grant was an assertion that the Canadian constitution would be adhered to by the recipient. Was there any more than that?
Ted – Yes, it appears there’s more to it than that. Here’s a clip from an article (as opposed to a column :-)) about the issue: “The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada played a large role in kicking off the controversy, as it put out reports last year on the anti-abortion groups that had been getting federal grants through the program. In response, Employment Minister Patty Hajdu’s office said in April 2017 that groups opposing abortions in Liberal-held ridings would not receive any summer jobs grants. This year, the Liberal government created a mandatory attestation on the application form that states the organization’s â€œcore mandateâ€ must respect individual human rights, including reproductive rights.”
When but a wee lad, I found myself writing copy for a (paltry) living, and the Suit in charge would turn up, on occasion, and pronounce on how the story of the day “is going to smell”. My left-leaning principles were stuffed under the desk, and I vowed, with this having been flung in my face, that, at the very least, two disparate sources must be consulted to find out where the truth – if truth there be – lay, at least for my own consumption, if not that of the listener. I suspect the true ‘scent’ of this story will lie somewhere between The National Post (of whose musings we’ve heard considerably here) and… What? The Star?
For what it’s worth, have a look at https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/funding/canada-summer-jobs.html. Section 1: Overview goes to some pains to clarify what happened this year. I don’t see much in there that could be a nod to a “Liberal position”; it looks like the law of the land to me. True: it does have a smell. So does the NP coverage.
Ted – Thanks for your gentle but pointed response. I take the point: I should have looked further afield than the National Post before launching. However, I don’t read the Overview on the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ, below) program website quite the same way you do. I still think they’re imposing a values test on applicants (bolding added for ease of reference): “CSJ applicants will be required to attest that both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. The employer attestation for CSJ 2018 is consistent with individual human rights in Canada, Charter rights and case law, and the Government of Canada’s commitment to human rights, which include women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.”
They then go on to define reproductive rights as including abortion. I wonder whether any Roman Catholic or Muslim organization could make this attestation about their “core mandate,” just with respect to abortion, and the kerfuffle suggests not. In my view, a more reasonable requirement might be to require that the job activities be consistent with (current) “Government of Canada human rights priorities” (well, governing party priorities, since you could find other views within the House of Commons and the Senate and perhaps the judiciary, but I get that they all write like that). I’m still waiting for us to cut diplomatic ties and trade relations with Vatican City, Ireland, and Latin America, based on their abortion laws which are not consistent with our stated human rights priorities which are (they say) “at the core of our foreign and domestic policies.” Pew Research offers what appear to be facts (not agenda) on how abortion is regulated around the world. To be clear, I don’t oppose abortion in the sense of wanting it to be illegal. I do oppose my government telling me that I must not only comply with current governing party policies/commitments to the extent that they are legal requirements, but also support those policies (especially on a moral issue that is so contentious) on pain of being excluded from a taxpayer-funded program that was not designed to further, and is not focused on furthering, such policies. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
Isabel – Regarding our current PM, the phrase “Just not ready” comes to mind.
John – Well, as John Ivison noted, the PM is usually credited with knowing what to say and how to say it, for maximum effect. Ivison thinks this action is uncharacteristically lacking in common sense.
I read Ivison’s article and I agree with him to the extent that the PM is OK when dealing with softball and prepared for questions. Faced by a hard unprepared for question, he comes up with a lot of ums, and ahs and his hubris falls flat.
John – I don’t disagree. But Ivison’s broader point, I think, was that his political instincts are generally pretty good yet seem to have deserted him here. We’ll see how long it takes for them to retrench, as I expect they will. I read that the outside group behind the change in the application is asking them to pull back.
Isabel, I agree with you. I am not ready to form an opinion on why Trudeau acceded to this plan or plot or smarty pants idea. Among people with small “l” liberal values, one often finds an incautious melding of attitudes. Among conservatives, one is more apt to find immovable compartmentalizing. “Like-minded” people succumb to a slippery slope kind of mentality and put too many eggs into the same basket. If pinned down on some issue, the liberal individual might cede some ground. Or not. The political leader tries to steer a steady course on far-from smooth seas. Perhaps that misalignment of a political stance and an important value is what leaders of any political persuasion are forced to do by their close party members, which may be why I have trouble aligning myself with any one — and, sometimes, with any — political party. The unfortunate truth is that politics and religious beliefs make restless bed-fellows. Yet, the body politic is composed of people with very strongly held, even uncompromising, beliefs and values. I, for example, am a pacifist. Political leaders are almost never allowed to be pacifists. I am opposed to abortion, yet a political party with other admirable planks in its platform may support abortion. There is more than one way to kill a human being and harsh economic policies can accomplish that as surely as can war or abortion or assisted suicide. Politicians cannily but also unavoidably bring those hot-button issues to public attention. Justin Trudeau does not appear to me to argue his positions with the same hard-headed logic of his Jesuit-trained father. However, I think he is more compassionate. Until now, he has appeared to be upfront about his ideas and policies. I object in this case to what also appears to be subterfuge. It deserves at the very least a kerfuffle.
Many years ago, an Association of Christian Artists of which I was a member, sought charitable status that was managed so slowly by the government that the organization died for lack of funding after a few years of valiant struggle. Later, in the course of my work editing books about our government, I learned what I had suspected, that in those years Christian organizations were quietly blacklisted for charitable status, beneath, for example, secular art organizations, which is about as wrong-headed an application regarding “charitable status” as can be imagined. Meanwhile, the feminists made some headway with shelters for women, abortion counselling, and so on, which are “charitable” works with as biased an agenda as any church has ever had. And all of that was with “our” money, too.
All such conflicting values have weakened my expectations of achieving the kinds of social reforms I would like to see through the government or through the church. Nevertheless, I keep those institutions in mind as I continue to work at my personal mission of bringing the healing of sound energy to those most in need. And, on that personal front, it has been a good week.
Laurna – To speak mostly to your last point, I’d agree that social reform is a big demand to make of government, or of churches. I’d say that’s our job. All of this makes me more inclined than ever to limit the role of government, and the power of any organization.
I must start by admitting that I haven’t been following this controversy. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of it until you wrote in high dudgeon. But I think that maybe, perhaps, possibly, I don’t agree with you.
I don’t read Trudeau’s words as focussing on abortion-on-demand. I see them as women’s reproductive rights in general. Which includes access to birth control. Tying tubes, if necessary. Freedom from genital mutilation. The right not to be treated as a baby machine. Or from being treated as an object for male sexual gratification.
Yes, that may involve the right to have an abortion. I’m against abortion; it is only a fraction removed from infanticide. But I’m even more opposed to denying women the option — not a right, please — of having an abortion. Being pro-choice does not mean I am pro-abortion. If Trudeau’s comment is about abortion, as you contend, then I think, I hope, that it is about ensuring that women DO have a choice. That when they go to a women’s shelter or a counselling service or a church, that they are not told they MUST not have an abortion, regardless of the circumstances.
You would, I suspect, endorse Canada’s foreign policy of connected trade with human rights — that if you want to do business with us, you have to treat your sweatshop workers with respect; you can’t imprison and torture Falun Gong members; you can’t have slaves…. etc. If we can put pressure — and that’s all it can be, the power of persuasion — on foreign governments to pay attention to our social standards, what’s wrong with apply the same standards within our own country?
Respectfully, but contrariwise,
Jim T – Thanks for your thoughtful and careful rebuttal. I’ll try to do as well, in return. 🙂
The reporting I’ve read on this issue indicates that the push came from the Abortion Rights Coalition, asking the Government to Do Something about anti-abortion groups getting grants through this program. So I’m pretty sure the issue at hand here is abortion: not ensuring access to birth control, or preventing genital mutilation or sexual harassment. I suspect we align reasonably closely on abortion, for what that’s worth. I don’t want to deny the option completely either; nor, I would guess, do most Canadians. But I think the Liberals are playing a bit fast and loose with the facts. Canadians may indeed broadly agree on abortion, but it seems to me that that agreement is not abortion on demand, but something a little more nuanced, at the least. Nor does the Charter establish a right to abortion, even though they say that it does. Under Justin Trudeau the Liberals have been clear on being a pro-choice party, and have required people wanting to be candidates to do more than just agree to vote that party line: They have to say that they held pro-choice views. To me, that’s about the same as what they’ve done here: going beyond actions to beliefs. From what people do to what they think. I’m not comfortable with any government moving into that territory.
As for the trade analogy, I take your point, but would suggest that we expect/require other countries to meet something close to our labour/environmental laws for two primary reasons: to not put Canadian workers and businesses at a competitive disadvantage, and to counter arguments made by opponents of trade with repressive regimes. Supporting that economic/political analysis is the fact that we don’t refuse to trade with Ireland because abortion is allowed there only to save the mother’s life. We don’t cut diplomatic ties with the Vatican because abortion is completely prohibited there. To the degree that we think about it at all, we accept that they’ve come to a different position based on their beliefs.
In Canada, there’s no law on abortion or against expressing anti-abortion views, as long as you don’t harass women going into abortion clinics, so the Government’s action goes well beyond demanding that Canadians and Canadian organizations follow our laws: It presumes to judge their beliefs. Who asked them to? Well, we know who asked them to. But it’s not OK by me, even though I don’t support hard-over anti-abortion groups with my time or my money.