By Jonathon Van Maren
Justin Trudeau’s decision to insert an “abortion clause” into the application process for the Canada Summer Jobs Program has resulted in what the prime minister has called a “kerfuffle,” and the backlash to his decision is continuing to dog the Liberals. The BBC reported on the story to explain why it was such a “controversial policy.” American news outlets and opinion commentators continue to discuss the story, and now even the New York Times has weighed in with the headline “Linking Youth Funding to Abortion Rights Spawns Backlash in Canada and Beyond,” noting that the Liberal decision “is inflaming a cultural battle and angering religious groups, opposition politicians, and even American conservatives.”
Commentators on both Left and Right have thus far been nearly universally critical of the decision. In the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson wrote that, “This oath is not only offensive; on its face, it’s a clear violation of the very Charter rights that it claims to defend…The government should scrap the odious clause from the application forms where it has popped up, apologize to Canadians for violating their right to freedom of religion and come up with something that doesn’t place people in an intolerable moral conflict.” The Globe and Mail followed up with an editorial explaining that disagreeing with Canada’s abortion regime is a right, noting in part that, “The Charter protects their freedom to dispute the contents of the constitution and its interpretation by the courts. But Mr. Trudeau appears to have unilaterally decided that arguing against a right is as bad as infringing it. That’s chilling.”
The National Post published a devastating editorial headlined “Trudeau uses ‘alternative facts’ on abortion to discriminate against people of faith,” and explained how Trudeau and the Liberals get the facts on abortion wrong:
No legislation exists in Canada limiting abortion, nor is there anything in the Charter explicitly guaranteeing unfettered reproductive rights, despite the prime minister repeatedly suggesting that there is. Defending his government’s plan to deny a portion of federal funding to non-profit groups that might focus on campaigning for limits, any limits, on abortion, Justin Trudeau has repeatedly claimed he is merely defending Charter rights. “An organization that has as its stated goal to remove rights from Canadians, to remove the right that women have fought for to determine what happens to their own bodies, is not in line with where the Charter is,” he said this week.
Fact check: What permits unrestricted abortion in Canada is not a law, but the absence of one. There is an important difference. The Supreme Court struck down what it ruled were overly restrictive laws in 1988, and gave Parliament a year to come up with replacements. Parliament tried, failed, and gave up, apparently forever. The result is an enduring legal vacuum that successive governments have been all too happy to ignore rather than reopening a contentious and complicated debate.
Many Canadians have made their peace with the status quo. But we should still all be very uneasy with Trudeau’s peddling of his own “alternative facts” version of the arrangement and how Canada arrived at it. His government has, appropriately, been taking fire from across the spectrum over its new requirement for organizations seeking federal support for hiring summer students.
Trudeau’s decision to target pro-lifers has actually resulted in an enormous number of people getting a crash course education on what the status quo in Canada actually is on abortion—a status quo polls say 80% of Canadians are unaware of. The National Post ended their editorial with a firm rebuke to Trudeau:
It is strange that the prime minister, a man who never misses an opportunity to talk about his respect for the rights of women, does not much value the rights of women of faith who might disagree with him about abortion. And it is no less than disturbing that he would use misinformation as a way to marginalize both women and men of faith. (That includes, we should point out, religious Muslims, another group the prime minister has until now been vocal about in offering his defence and respect.) The abortion facts on the ground are already all on the prime minister’s side. What more does he have to prove?
Rex Murphy also surfaced to take some eloquent shots at our prime minister, who must be wondering how a move to target pro-life groups has backfired on him so spectacularly:
Does anyone think Mr. Trudeau, more a stumbler than a specialist on the ethics front, is overreaching here? Just a jot or a tittle? Has he really not read the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a document on most occasions he treats as believers of old reverenced the Sinai tablets?
Over in the Waterloo Record, Peter Shawn Taylor was equally critical, writing that, “You might obey all the laws of the land, take off your hat for the anthem and participate broadly in civil society. But for Justin Trudeau, that’s not enough.For our prime minister, loyalty also means swearing allegiance to the Liberal platform. And anyone who isn’t prepared to conform will find themselves denied basic opportunities that should be available to all law-abiding Canadians.” He finishes his column by quoting lawyer Barry Bussey:
“We are seeing the dark underbelly of the Liberal government,” says Bussey. “If you don’t agree with their view of the world, you aren’t eligible for government benefits. It is almost a communist mindset.”
It’s hard to disagree with that.
And finally, John Ivison in the National Post, who is himself pro-choice, expressed disbelief that Trudeau was still defending his position after a week of getting a shellacking in the press:
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.
I wonder if Justin Trudeau regrets bringing up the abortion debate. He’s certainly finding out that there’s a lot more Canadians who disagree with the Liberals on abortion than he ever could have imagined.
For anyone interested, my book on The Culture War, which analyzes the journey our culture has taken from the way it was to the way it is and examines the Sexual Revolution, hook-up culture, the rise of the porn plague, abortion, commodity culture, euthanasia, and the gay rights movement, is available for sale here.