News Abortion

“I Can’t Believe I Still Have to Protest This:” Abortion Rights in Canada

Tanya Castle

On April 26th Canada’s Parliament debated M-312, a motion that calls for the formation of a special committee of Parliament to review whether the definition of a “human being” as described in the Canadian criminal code can be extended to unborn fetuses.

On April 26th Canada’s Parliament debated M-312, a motion that calls for the formation of a special committee of Parliament to review whether the definition of a “human being” as described in the Canadian criminal code can be extended to unborn fetuses.

Stephan Woodworth, a Member of Parliament with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, proposed the motion, after an extensive media campaign that began in December 2011. The campaign propagated his view that the definition of a “human being” in Section 223(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada is 400 years old (Canada became a country in 1867) and should be revisited in order “to reflect twenty-first century medical evidence.”

Basically, Woodworth’s motion seeks to give legal personhood to fetuses. If passed, it would allow the prosecution of women for murder if they have an abortion.  It would even allow the prosecution of women for accidentally harming their fetus. Above all, it would allow the prioritization of fetuses “rights” over the enshrined constitutional rights of a pregnant woman!

Although Woodworth stated that his motion was merely to allow for “intellectual inquiry,” it is undoubtedly aimed at reopening the abortion debate in Canada. This became blatantly apparent when Woodworth stated on radio that the motion “certainly allows us to have an honest discussion about the abortion question.”

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Woodworth seemingly fails to remember that the abortion question was answered more than 25 years ago. In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canada’s abortion law was unconstitutional. When ruling on the Regina v. Morgentaler case, a Justice said: “The objective of protecting the fetus would not justify the severity of the breach of pregnant women’s right to security of the person.” Another added, the state cannot let others decide “whether her [a woman’s] body is to be used to nurture a new life.” In short, as Niki Ashton, a Member of Parliament and Critic on the Status of Women with the New Democratic Party, Canada’s main opposition party, said best, the Justices found that the abortion law, “violated Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, because it infringed on a woman’s right to life, liberty and security of person.”

Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephan Harper, has repeatedly promised that he will not reopen the abortion debate.  In December 2011, in an article published in Canada’s largest national daily newspaper, The Globe and Mail, the prime minister declared: “As long as I am prime minister we are not opening the abortion debate… The government will not bring forward any such legislation and any such legislation that is brought forward will be defeated as long as I am prime minister.”

Despite the Supreme Court ruling and the prime minister’s words, it happened, the abortion debate was reopened.  For one hour Parliament debated Woodworth’s motion.  Passionate pleas against the motion came from Canada’s opposition parties and most notably from Conservative Party MP and Government Whip Gordon O’Connor.

Gordon astutely pointed out the fallacy of this motion stating: “The purpose of Motion No. 312, which we are considering today, is to open to question the validity of subsection 223(1), which asserts that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth. If the legal definition of when one becomes a human being were to be adjusted so that a fetus is declared to be a legal person at some earlier stage of gestation, then the homicide laws would apply. As a necessary consequence, aborting fetal development anywhere in the potentially new adjusted period would be considered homicide. Thus the ultimate intention of this motion is to restrict abortions in Canada at some fetal development stage.”

He went on to appeal to individual freedoms in a democratic society. “I cannot understand why those who are adamantly opposed to abortion want to impose their beliefs on others by way of the Criminal Code. There is no law that says that a woman must have an abortion. No one is forcing those who oppose abortion to have one.”

Abortion, as O’Connor expressed, would always be part of society, that it was part of the human condition, and that is why “I want all women to continue to live in a society in which decisions on abortion can be made, one way or the other, with advice from family and a medical doctor and without the threat of legal consequences. I do not want women to go back to the previous era where some were forced to obtain abortions from illegal and medically dangerous sources. This should never happen in a civilized society.”

Near the end of his speech O’Connor rightly claimed: “society has moved on.” As one protester against the motion wrote on her placard outside the Government building, “I can’t believe it but I still have to protest this.”  Unfortunately, she does. We do.  

M-312 will receive a second hour of debate in late June or the fall before being voted on.

Commentary Race

Black Lives Matter Belongs in Canada, Despite What Responses to Its Pride Action Suggest

Katherine Cross

Privileging the voices of white LGBTQ Canadians who claim racism is not a part of Canada's history or present ignores the struggles of Canadians of color, including those who are LGBTQ.

As I walked the streets of Toronto last month, it occurred to me that Pride Week had become something of a national holiday there, where rainbow flags and the Maple Leaf banners flying in honor of Canada Day on July 1 were equally ubiquitous. For the first time in my many years visiting the city—the place where I myself came out—the juxtaposition of Pride and the anniversary of Confederation felt appropriate and natural.

For some, however, this crescendo of inclusive celebration was threatened by the Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) protest at the city’s Pride March, often nicknamed PrideTO. The group’s 30-minute, parade-stopping sit-in has since come in for predictable condemnation. The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente dubbed BLMTO “bullies,” sniffed that its tactics and concerns belonged to the United States, and asked why it didn’t care about Black-on-Black crime in Canada. The Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy, meanwhile, called BLMTO “Nobody Else Matters,” also saying it “bullied” Pride’s organizers and suggesting we all focus on the real object of exclusion within the LGBTQ community: gay members of the recently ousted Conservative Party.

There is a lot to learn from this Torontonian incident, particularly around managing polite liberal racism—an especially important civics lesson in light of the past month’s tragedies in the United States. Privileging the voices of white LGBTQ Canadians who claim racism is not a part of Canada’s history or present means ignoring the struggles of hundreds of thousands, many of whom are LGTBQ themselves.

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Pride has always been a thoroughly political affair. It is, thus, hardly an “inappropriate time and place” for such a protest. It began as, and remains, a public forum for the unapologetic airing of our political concerns as a community in all its diversity. We may have reached a new phase of acceptance—the presence of Prime Minister Trudeau at Pride was a beautiful milestone in both Canadian and LGBTQ history—but Pride as a civic holiday must not obscure the challenges that remain. It is not a coincidence that the majority of transgender people murdered worldwide by the hundreds every year are Black and Latina, and that many of them are sex workers. That is part of the reality that BLMTO was responding to—the fact that racism amplifies homophobia and transphobia. In so doing, it was not just speaking for Black people, as many falsely contended, but advocating for queer and trans people of many ethnicities.

Even so, one parade-goer told the Globe and Mail: “It’s not about them. It’s gay pride, not black pride.” The very fact that Black LGBTQ people are asked to “choose” validates BLMTO’s complaint about Pride’s anti-Blackness, suggesting a culture where Black people will be thinly tolerated so long as they do not actually talk about or organize around being Black.

Indeed, BLMTO’s much-criticized list of demands seems not to have been read, much less understood. While drawing attention to the Black Lives Matter collective, it also advocated for South Asian LGBTQ people and those in First Nations communities, whose sense of not-entirely-belonging at an increasingly apolitical PrideTO it shares.

In each paint-by-numbers editorial, there was lip service paid to the “concerns” BLMTO has about Canadian police forces and racial discrimination, but the inconvenience of a briefly immobilized parade generated more coverage. Throughout, there has been a sense that Black Lives Matter didn’t belong in Canada, that the nation is somehow immune to racist law enforcement and, in fact, racism in general.

Yet to listen to the accounts of Black Canadians, the reality is rather different.

Janaya Khan, one of the co-founders of BLMTO, recently spoke to Canadian national magazine MacLean’s about the activist’s views on structural racism in the country. As a native of Toronto, they were able to speak quite forthrightly about growing up with racism in the city—up to and including being “carded” (a Canadian version of stop-and-frisk, wherein officers have the right to demand ID from random citizens) at Pride itself. And last year in Toronto Life, journalist and writer Desmond Cole talked about his experiences being raised throughout Ontario. He told a story of a traffic stop, none too different from the sort that killed Philando Castile earlier this month, after a passenger in his father’s car, Sana, had tossed a tissue out the window onto the highway. The officer made the young man walk back onto the highway and pick it up.

Cole wrote, “After Sana returned, the officer let us go. We drove off, overcome with silence until my father finally exploded. ‘You realize everyone in this car is Black, right?’ he thundered at Sana. ‘Yes, Uncle,’ Sana whispered, his head down and shoulders slumped. That afternoon, my imposing father and cocky cousin had trembled in fear over a discarded Kleenex.”

This story, of narrowly escaping the wrath of a white officer on the side of a motorway, could have come from any state in the Union. While Canada has many things to be proud of, it cannot claim that scouring racism from within its borders is among them. Those of us who have lived and worked within the country have an obligation to believe people like Cole and Khan when they describe what life has been like for them—and to do something about it rather than wring our hands in denial.

We should hardly be surprised that the United States and Canada, with parallel histories of violent colonial usurpation of Native land, should be plagued by many of the same racist diseases. There are many that Canada has shared with its southern neighbor—Canada had a number of anti-Chinese exclusion laws in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and it too had Japanese internment camps during the Second World War—but other racisms are distinctly homegrown.

The Quebecois sovereignty movement, for instance, veered into anti-Semitic fascism in the 1930s and ’40s. In later years, despite tacking to the left, it retained something of a xenophobic character because of its implicit vision of an independent Quebec dominated by white francophones who could trace their ancestry back to France. In a blind fury after narrowly losing the 1995 referendum on Quebecois independence, Premier Jacques Parizeau, the then-leader of the independence movement, infamously blamed “money and ethnic votes” for the loss. More recently, the provincial sovereigntist party, the Parti Quebecois, tried to impose a “Values Charter” on the province aimed at criminalizing the wearing of hijab and niqab in certain public spaces and functions. Ask Black francophones if they feel welcome in the province and you’ll get mixed answers at best, often related to racist policing from Quebec’s forces.

Speaking of policing and the character of public safety institutions, matters remain stark.

A 2015 Toronto Star special investigation found hundreds of Greater Toronto Area officers internally disciplined for “serious misconduct”—including the physical abuse of homeless people and committing domestic violence—remained on the force. In 2012, the same outlet documented the excessive rate at which Black and brown Torontonians were stopped and “carded.” The data is staggering: The number of stops of Black men actually exceeded the number of young Black men who live in certain policing districts. And according to the Star, despite making up less than 10 percent of Toronto’s population, Black Torontonians comprised at least 35 percent of those individuals shot to death by police since 1990. Between 2000 and 2006, they made up two-thirds.

Meanwhile, LGBTQ and Native Ontario corrections officers have routinely complained of poisonous workplace environments; a recent survey found anti-Muslim attitudes prevail among a majority of Ontarians.

Especially poignant for me as a Latina who loves Canada is the case of former Vancouver firefighter Luis Gonzales. Gonzales, who is of Salvadoran descent, is now filing a human rights complaint against Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services for what he deemed a racist work environment that included anti-Black racism, like shining a fire engine floodlight on Black women in the street and joking about how one still couldn’t see them.

One could go on; the disparate nature of these abuses points to the intersectional character of prejudice in Canada, something that BLM Toronto was quite explicit about in its protest. While anti-Black racism is distinct, the coalition perspective envisaged by Black Lives Matter, which builds community with LGBTQ, Muslim, South Asian, and First Nations groups, reflects an understanding of Canadian racism that is quite intelligible to U.S. observers.

It is here that we should return again to Margaret Wente’s slyly nationalistic claim that BLMTO is a foreign import, insensitive to progressive Canadian reality. In this, as in so many other areas, we must dispense with the use of Canadian civic liberalism as a shield against criticism; the nation got this far because of sometimes intemperate, often loud protest. Protests against anti-LGBTQ police brutality in the 1980s and ’90s, for example, set the stage for a Toronto where the CN Tower would be lit up in rainbow colors. And any number of Native rights actions in Canada have forced the nation to recognize both its colonial history and the racism of the present; from Idle No More and the Oka Crisis to the 2014 VIA Rail blockade, that movement is alive and well. Indeed, the blockade was part of a long movement to make the government acknowledge that thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women constituted a crisis.

If we must wrap ourselves in the Maple Leaf flag, then let us at least acknowledge that peaceful protest is a very Canadian thing indeed, instead of redoubling racist insults by insinuating that Black Lives Matter is somehow foreign or that institutional racism is confined to the United States. Canada has achieved little of worth by merely chanting “but we’re not as bad as the United States!” like a mantra.

Far from being a movement in search of a crisis, Black Lives Matter and its intersectional analysis is just as well-suited to Canada as it is to the United States. In the end, it is not, per the national anthem, God who keeps this land “glorious and free,” but its people.

News Abortion

Now All British Conservatives Want to Weigh In On Limiting Abortion Rights

Robin Marty

Not that there are any proposals to reduce it, mind you, but if there were....

British conservative leaders are gathering this week and the country’s 24-week abortion limit pops up over and over again in the headlines. Recently, Maria Miller, the newly designated Minister for Women argued that limiting abortion after 20 weeks was necessary to protect women who might suffer physically or emotionally if they have an abortion. A few days later, Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of Health decided that even more appropriate would be a 12-week limit, stating that it’s too difficult to decide when exactly to make abortion illegal, so, “everyone looks at the evidence and comes to a view about when that moment is and my own view is that 12 weeks is the right point for it,” according to The Guardian.

As arbitrary as the reasoning behind these politicians’ enthusiasm for curbing abortion rights are, at least their public positions give them a legitimate role in the discussion.

But… the Defense Secretary? That’s a little weird.

Still, that is exactly what is happening, as Defense Secretary Philip Hammond says he, too, thinks the limit should be reduced, and that 20 weeks seems about right.

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Via Bloomberg News:

U.K. Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said he favors a reduction in the limit of time a woman can abort a fetus to “22 or 20 weeks” from the current 24 weeks.

“This is a matter of personal conscience,” Hammond said in an interview today at his ruling Conservative Party’s annual conference in Birmingham, central England.

“I think that when parliament originally enacted the 24 week limit that meant something in relation to medical technology at the time,” Hammond said. “Technology has moved on and babies are able to survive at shorter periods of gestation now than they were seven or eight years ago and therefore it is appropriate to look again to make sure we are in keeping with the spirit of what Parliament intended when it said 24 weeks” in legislation passed in the 1960s.

Despite all of this discussion of whether the time for obtaining an abortion should be reduced by four weeks or 12 weeks, Prime Minister David Cameron swears there is no actual proposal to restrict abortion in the works. I bet the women of Great Britain find those words very reassuring.