By Jonathon Van Maren
At a press conference earlier this afternoon, religious leaders came forward to demand that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals either scrap or change the new abortion attestation, in spite of sloppy attempts by the Employment Minister Patty Hajdu to clarify the attestation and assure faith groups that they could check the box and apply for Canada Summer Jobs funding. Imam Refaat Mohamed of the Canadian Council of Imams, Rabbi Chaim Strauchler of the Shareei Shomayaim Congregation, Cardinal Thomas Collins of the Archdiocese of Toronto, Bruce Clemenger of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and others were present to take questions from the media, after releasing an interfaith statement signed by over 80 religious leaders, which reads in part:
However, with the changes to the Canada Summer Jobs guidelines, many organizations will be deemed ineligible because they are unable or unwilling to attest that their “core mandate” and beliefs align with the current government’s position. These groups are being denied equal access to a government benefit solely because of their religious beliefs or conscientious objection.
In managing its programs, the government should respect and accommodate the diversity of values and beliefs within Canadian society and must itself abide by the Charter in its treatment of individuals and groups. The fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression, as guaranteed in the Charter, must be respected and affirmed in legislation, regulations and policy.
The promise of a free and democratic society is that there be no religious or ideological tests or conditions to receiving government benefits or protection.
The changes to the Canada Summer Jobs guidelines and application not only violate the fundamental freedoms of faith-based organizations, they also significantly impact the broader communities served by their programs, often the most vulnerable in Canadian society.
Canada is known and widely respected as a religiously plural and multicultural society. Respect for the diversity of beliefs of all Canadians and meaningful engagement with those who hold differing beliefs is essential to maintaining a robust democracy. Please ensure that Canadians continue to benefit from collaboration between governments and faith-based organizations working together for the common good of our country.
As I’ve noted before, it doesn’t look like Trudeau plans to back down on the attestation—and that means that the backlash will probably continue. One Liberal MP, Newfoundland’s Scott Sims, broke rank earlier this week to condemn the attestation, telling the CBC that it violates the religious rights of many Canadians—although he had no problem if the attestation was re-written to specifically target pro-life groups. The NDP ethics critic Nathan Cullen also came forward to briefly condemn the attestation, calling it “unnecessary and offensive,” before taking back his statement on Twitter a few hours later to apologize for the “harm from my comments” and hastily remind everyone that both he and his party are “fiercely pro-choice.” He claimed that his initial statement was from “concerns raised by groups in my riding,” which was presumably the reason for Sims’ departure from the Liberal position, as well. Politicians of every stripe are feeling the heat.
Reponses to the attestation continue to be almost universally negative, with even the Toronto Star’s editorial board asserting that Trudeau had over-reached. Only the unhinged Heather Mallick, who claimed that gay men who disagreed with her vision of feminism were straying off the progressive reservation (this column was tweeted by the Employment Minister), and Michael Coren, who was roundly mocked by Jonathan Kay and a number of others who find it consistently hilarious to watch Coren predictably take the precise opposite position of earlier versions of himself in response to current events, were predictably supportive of Trudeau’s move. Even iPolitics chimed in with a reminder from Brent Rathberger that abortion is not protected by the Charter:
Those law students could tell you something that seems to have escaped the Liberal government’s notice — the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not contain reproductive rights. Give it a read. Conscience and religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression, peaceful assembly, association, mobility, life, liberty and security of the person, legal rights upon arrest and equality — these things are protected. Not a word about abortion or any other reproductive right.
But the best column on this whole “kerfuffle” that I’ve seen so far is from my friend JJ McCullough over at Loonie Politics. Some particularly eloquent excerpts:
The morality, and thus legality, of abortion — which is to say, the intentional destruction of a human fetus to prevent it from achieving its natural destiny as an autonomous person, is the most substantial ethical dilemma of our age. The Atlantic published a very deep and thoughtful piece the other day describing the changing role science and scientists play in mediating this dilemma; many pro-life activists, author Emma Green noted, now routinely cite studies and experts touting novel concepts like fetal pain in an attempt to shift the debate to their side. Pro-choice advocates who once leaned heavily on standard assumptions of fetal inhumanity — “lifeless blobs of tissue” as Green summarizes — must now rearm themselves with more scientifically literate rebuttals.
At least in America, that is. In Canada we have evolved a political culture that has atrophied the seriousness and importance of the abortion debate, turning what should — and deserves to be — a present and ongoing political and moral conversation into something hidden, abstract, and low-stakes.
In Canada, there is no high level debate over abortion, and the moral justness of destroying embryonic humans, there is only debate about the debate, something far more easy and frivolous that allows mainstream right and left to dodge the ethical heaviness of the underlying issue…
This is the sort of manufactured crisis Canada’s opinion-having class loves, because it so easily permits self-righteous posturing on the abortion debate without requiring any deep engagement with the abortion issue. Just the contrary, in fact: posturing on the Summer Jobs story allows those who fully support Canada’s abortion status quo — termination at absolutely any stage of fetal development — an easy moral distraction through which to feign greater intellectual depth on this issue than they actually have…
We go through this national kabuki every so often.
Trudeau bans pro-life candidates; columnists posture and say they should be allowed to run, knowing full well they will have zero influence in caucus.
Some campus club bans a pro-life display; we hear lectures about how it’s important to support freedom of expression “even when we disagree with the message” — like this one, which all good-thinking Canadians obviously should.
A back-bench Tory seeks to introduce a motion that engages with abortion in some exceedingly circuitous way — say, denouncing the forced abortions of cleft-palate babies in rural Laos — and champions of democracy insist the bill must not be vetoed in committee, but rather voted down in the full House of Commons.
In every such episode, smart Canadians walk away feeling they’ve proven themselves critically engaged and open-minded about the abortion issue, without ever having to dirty their beautiful minds with thoughts of fetuses being extracted and mutilated, and the corresponding question of whether a moral society should impose some degree of legal restriction on this practice, as we do with prostitution and euthanasia and human cloning and selling bodily fluids and the slaughter of animals and everything else Ottawa has concluded is too ethically fraught to exist in an anything-goes vacuum.
There is a strain of thought in Canadian culture, encouraged by our political class, that our nation’s greatest virtues can be found in government policies that ask nothing of us. The classic example is our “free” healthcare system, through which we’ve learned to convince ourselves that there’s something noble and selfless about getting everything for nothing. But our abortion status quo is much the same. It’s not a fun subject to think about, so we’ve taught ourself there’s something heroic about never engaging with the issue as anything but a thought exercise on the conscience rights of cranks.
As science marches on, and the abortion debate in America becomes increasingly sophisticated, Canada is in danger of becoming the western world’s cowardly moral outlier on an issue that has proven stubbornly resistant to being ignored.
I couldn’t have put it better myself.
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.