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Evangelicals are a convenient target in the prostitution debate

Julia Beazley is a policy analyst with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

 Much attention is being paid to the role of Evangelical Christian voices — or those deemed Evangelical by association — in the debate over Bill C-36, the new proposed prostitution law. For some time now, those in favour of decriminalizing prostitution have been trying to frame the debate in us-and-them terms, “them” being evangelical groups with abolitionist views on prostitution.

After the Supreme Court heard the Bedford case, I remember listening to interviews with co-applicant Valerie Scott and lawyer Alan Young, and being surprised to hear them singling out “the Evangelicals” and seeking to discredit our arguments as moralistic. Although one of the main parties opposing the court challenge was an impressive coalition of national women’s organizations and survivor groups, they chose to use valuable airtime to talk about what the Evangelicals had to say — or rather, what they assumed the Evangelicals had to say , which wasn’t what we’d said at all.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has a reputation for mounting well-researched, well-informed and well-reasoned arguments. On this issue in particular, we are well-connected with women’s groups and frontline organizations, and most importantly with survivors of prostitution and the groups representing them. Their stories, their voices and their experiences have very much shaped and informed our position on the issue.

It’s particularly disheartening, then, to see some survivor voices discredited as either Evangelical or connected to Evangelicals. It is true that some have found faith — Evangelical or not — in their journey out of prostitution. But that does not, and should not in any way, negate their lived experiences or the strength of their voices in this debate.

Why the consistent focus on the Evangelical angle? It seems fairly transparent, actually. It is far easier to seek to discredit our voice — and those aligned with us by association — than it is to contend with the multitude of voices of survivors and women’s groups who take the same abolitionist position.

It would be ridiculous to suggest that the many survivors advocating for laws that target the demand for paid sex don’t know what they’re talking about. Or that the many women’s organizations and frontline service providers don’t understand the realities of prostitution. Or that the police, the Manitoba Attorney-General, prominent lawyers and researchers are simply being moralistic in their positioning.

We are motivated by the belief that all people have inherent dignity and worth, and should not be treated as objects for another’s gratification or profit

But, oh, the Evangelicals. Far simpler to discredit us, and the whole abolitionist perspective along with us, as though we were its only or main proponent.

The EFC is guided by biblical principles that compel care for the vulnerable and inform the duty of care we owe one another as human beings. We are motivated by the belief that all people have inherent dignity and worth, and should not be treated as objects for another’s gratification or profit.

We share the widely held position that prostitution is rooted in the historical subordination of women and is, at its core, a form of violence, inequality and exploitation. We are passionate about working towards a society where all people — and in this case particularly women and children — can live free from exploitation, in all its forms.

Many organizations serving our nation’s most vulnerable and victimized are run and staffed by people of faith. This is a public good. A faith that gets to work and gets its hands dirty is faith at its best.

And so the EFC has been engaged in the debate about our prostitution laws, intervening before the Supreme Court, advocating for the abolition of prostitution before our parliamentarians, and testifying before the Justice Committee about the strengths and weaknesses of Bill C-36. We do this because we care deeply about the issue and the people affected, as do the many evangelicals across the country we have the privilege of representing.

We’re flattered by the attention, but not at the expense of the voices of survivors. What they have to say in this debate cannot — must not — be ignored. To obscure their voices beneath a manufactured controversy about why Evangelicals are at the table is disingenuous. Let’s refocus the debate on what matters most.

National Post



Every Woman, Every Child: Working Together to Reduce Deaths From Pregnancy to Age Five

EFC President Bruce J. Clemenger participated in the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Summit held by Federal Government last week in Toronto. He reflects on how the issues relate to all Canadians.

The numbers are staggering: 6.6 million children under 5 dying each year around the world due to malnutrition and disease; 289,000 women dying during pregnancy or childbirth. That translates into 18,000 children dying each day by preventable causes, with 40% dying in the first month, and 15% in the first 24 hours. 

The majority of the mothers are between 15 and 19 years old. The death of mothers often leaves surviving children as parentless – orphans – in desperate and volatile situations.  

Such huge numbers can numb us and make us feel helpless. But the situation isn’t hopeless. Since 1990 the number if deaths of children has been almost halved from 12.6 million. And maternal mortality has dramatically declined from 523,000 in 1990.

Most of the deaths are preventable. What is needed is the will, resources and effective strategies. And underlying these, compassion and generosity. 

For its part, the Canadian government has made maternal health and newborn and child mortality the primary focus of its international policy and aid. 

In 1990, countries around the world committed themselves to the Millennium Development Goals, eight priorities that included child mortality and maternal health. The specific aim is to reduce child mortality by two thirds and maternal mortality by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015.

The Prime Minister has made these two goals a Canadian priority and a personal focus. Canada has become a world leader in the pursuit of these goals and recently committed more funds for the years 2015 to 2020, promising more funding than the experts were asking for. 

Of course, government focus and funding are necessary but not sufficient to accomplish this task. The key for success is collaboration among a plurality of stakeholders on the points of consensus. Governments have the financial resources necessary to make a significant difference, and they can work collaboratively on a government-to-government basis with countries where maternal and child mortality are acute. (Only 11 countries account for 60% of the mortality.) 

But governments cannot do it alone. In Canada the government has partnered with a broad range of Canadian agencies that have proven track records and on-the-ground expertise in caring for women and children overseas. As we would expect, some of these are Christian agencies that work collaboratively with local indigenous agencies, including churches, in caring for the world’s most vulnerable. They have been doing this long before governments became involved. They are the hands and feet of compassion and mercy, providing services to women and their children.

The only controversy is the government’s refusal to fund abortion services. In its decision the government is respecting the diversity of views of Canadians and is focusing on strategies that do not pit the life of the mother against the life of her child, but on those that seek the well-being of both. All involved agree the projects the government is funding (combatting disease, improving nutrition and health systems) are necessary and will make a difference to issues related to poverty and homelessness, education and healthcare. 

This is a good news story about governments and non-governmental agencies coming together.

The inestimable worth of children, the importance and value of mothers and motherhood, and caring for vulnerable persons have been distinguishing characteristics of Christianity. Christianity has nourished a worldview that fosters a radically different view of disease and disability. As a result, medical care and caring for the most vulnerable have been integral to Christian mission since the church was birthed. 

Our faith also teaches us to be compassionate, to love our neighbours and to be generous with our time, resources and abilities.

The church, both in Canada and overseas, has an important part to play in this initiative, by encouraging governments to do good, by demonstrating and encouraging compassion and generosity among our neighbours, and partnering through Canadian churches and agencies with organizations and churches overseas who are not only the immediate neighbours of those who need our help, but among them.  

The need and the numbers are immense, but the call to compassion and generosity is not contingent on what we think is possible. It is an expression of our love for God and our neighbours. 


Increasing Abortion Access in Canada? Approving RU-486, Part 2

Health Canada is currently considering an application for RU-486, a prescription medication that would provide Canadian women with greater access to a non-surgical method of abortion.  What is this drug and how might it impact Canadian women? This post is the second in a series of three which will examine the drug, its effects, and the medical and political implications should Health Canada approve its use.

How Does the Health Canada Approval Process Work?

The Health Canada approval process begins after a drug has been tested in preclinical and clinical trials. Through a variety of laboratory and animal testing, pre-clinical trials are designed to determine if the drug will produce the intended result. The preclinical data must support the notion that the drug is non-toxic and safe. Then, an application is submitted to the Therapeutic Products Directorate (TPD) of Health Canada. Once this application is approved, the drug is then clinically tested on humans.  

After preclinical testing, clinical testing and with supporting data collection, the sponsor may file a “New Drug Submission” with the TPD. Information and data on the drug are attached to the submission. The information and data outline the safety, effectiveness and quality of the drug as well as the production details, packaging and labeling details, information regarding therapeutic claims, its side effects and results of both the preclinical and clinical testing. The TPD’s review is an assessment to determine if the benefits outweigh the risks. If the conclusion is “yes” then the drug is issued a Notice of Compliance and a Drug Identification Number which allows the sponsor to market the drug in Canada.

Where is RU-486 at in the Approval Process?

RU-486 has been in the approval process since 2001. Clinical studies were conducted, halted and then re-started. In December 2012, Health Canada received an application to consider RU-486 for marketing.

 It is unclear where the application now sits in the process. Up until January of this year Health Canada refused to acknowledge the existence of an application to approve RU-486.

On the government level, it still remains that no Canadian law has been passed to regulate abortions since the law was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1988 R. v. Morgentaler decision. In that case, the Supreme Court of Canada noted that the existing law put women at risk because of the law’s uneven application based on geographic location; and, that Parliament had the jurisdiction to enact legislation to limit or prohibit abortion. Prime Minister Harper has stated that abortion is not on the agenda for discussion.

The Health Canada process stands officially independent from the government that funds it.

Is RU-486 a Pro-Woman Drug?

RU-486 is not a pro-woman drug.

Considering this drug from several perspectives yields the same result.  While RU-486 would provide greater access to abortion for women in Canada, that access would come with a cost.

The cost of RU-486 is measured by Health Canada in terms of gains vs. losses. If the gains or “benefits” of RU-486 outweigh the losses or “risks” then it is deemed as a “success” in the drug approval process. Consequently the same method is being used to measure the value of the life of a woman or a child in the womb.  Measuring the well-being of a woman or child on such a scale does not advocate on their behalf or bring justice.

Information on RU-486 and its long term effects is scarce and much may be unreported. However, RU-486 and induced abortion can have long term effects such as: maternal or fetal death; uterine hyperstimulation; risk of hysterectomy; uterine rupture or perforation; later risk of premature births; risk of preterm delivery; chronic pelvic pain as a result of a pelvic infection, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and possible deformation of the child in the womb are all possible side effects.

RU-486 doesn’t just impact women medically. It takes a toll psychologically and emotionally. Any woman choosing to take RU-486 experiences a painful process that takes at least two weeks. This painful process is accompanied by the “passing” of the aborted baby. When the first pill is taken the baby is starved of the nutrients needed to sustain life, which means a deceased child may be carried in the womb for up to a week before being able to take the second pill to expel the baby. Because RU-486 can be taken up to about two months into the pregnancy, the baby may already have formed a discernable head and limbs. Women have found this both psychologically and emotionally taxing.

There is much more to consider than temporary side effects, choice or giving a woman a sense of control over her abortion.

A woman must live with this choice forever. What happens when the relief of her choice wears off, or “control” over the abortion leaves her feeling the opposite? For some women, once the finality of the personal choice sets in, there is an overwhelming sense of responsibility for the death of a child. In one report, a U.S. woman was hospitalized after trying to commit suicide subsequent to just such a chemical abortion.  A New Zealand study noted that young women who undergo abortions are more likely to display suicidal behaviour, depression, substance abuse, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental disorders.  Other studies conducted by Dr. David Reardon describe a correlation between abortion and mental health issues such as sleep disorders and child abuse. The psychological and emotional scars from RU-486 are real and permanent. It is much more than just taking a few pills and waiting.


Increasing Abortion Access in Canada? Approving RU-486, Part 1

Health Canada is currently considering an application for RU-486, a prescription medication that would provide Canadian women with greater access to a non-surgical method of abortion.  What is this drug and how might it impact Canadian women? This post is the first in a series of three which will examine the drug, its effects, and the medical and political implications should Health Canada approve its use.

What is RU-486?
RU-486 is an abortion pill. RU-486 has been legalized, not without controversy, in 57 countries worldwide. In January 2014, Health Canada Deputy Minister George Da Pont confirmed that a pharmaceutical company has sought the drug’s approval for use in Canada. Practically speaking, this means that Canadian women would have yet another form of access to abortion. RU-486 would be an alternative to the standard surgical processes.  Canada has yet to legalize this method of abortion.

This abortion method is referred to as a chemical or medical abortion. The abortion is caused by a combination of two separate medications: Mifeprex and Misoprostol.

Has it Been Used in Canada?
Yes, in 2001 there was a drug trial of RU-486 in Canada. The drug trial was halted that same year after use of RU-486 resulted in the death of a woman. She suffered Toxic Shock Syndrome brought on by a bacterial infection related to her chemical (RU-486) abortion.

How Does RU-486 Work?
RU-486 works chemically to counteract the hormone crucial for sustaining pregnancy, progesterone. Mifeprex (mifepristone) binds to the progesterone receptor site in place of the progesterone hormone. It does this with twice the strength of progesterone, which enables the Mifeprex to ‘beat’ the progesterone hormone to its receptor site. The resulting failure of the progesterone to bind to the receptor sites causes placental failure. The failure of the placenta causes the developing embryonic child to lose the necessary nutrition and oxygen needed for development and survival, resulting in death.

Use of RU-486 is a multi-day process. On the first day, a woman takes three 200mg tablets of Mifeprex. On the third day, she takes two 200mg tablets of Misoprostol. Misoprostol is taken in conjunction with Mifeprex because it induces contractions. As a result, the woman experiences a forced miscarriage, a chemically induced abortion.

On the 14th day, it is recommended that the woman return to her doctor for a post-treatment appointment—to confirm that a “complete termination” has occurred. If the chemical abortion has failed, the patient would undergo a surgical termination to complete the abortion process.

What Are the Side Effects?
There are many side effects associated with RU-486. The most common of the 2,207 adverse side effects are

  • bleeding
  • nausea
  • abdominal pain
  • uterine hemorrhaging, and
  • vomiting

As the drug’s 2001 Canadian trial was short-lived, it is worthwhile to examine the experience of the American women who have used the drug.

According to a recent report by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, between September 2000 and the end of April 2011, 612 American women needed to be hospitalized due to their use of RU-486. 339 women received a blood transfusion due to blood loss and 256 woman developed infections. Out of those 256 women, 48 of them developed “severe infections” (which often included death or hospitalization) due to RU-486.  150,000 American women experienced serious bleeding after taking RU-486. Tragically, 14 women have died in the U.S. as a result of using RU-486.


Canadian Law Societies: Bastions of Intolerance?

Guest Post by Albertos Polizogopoulos                                                                    

Trinity Western University’s bid for a Christian law school is again in the news. TWU’s proposal to create a law school was approved by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada in December. The British Columbia government then granted TWU permission to offer law degrees. Unhappy with these decisions, some members of the legal community, and a number of provincial law societies, are seeking to circumvent the Federation’s ruling by launching a campaign against TWU and its future law students. They are advocating that individual provincial legal bodies prohibit TWU graduates from practicing law in their jurisdictions.

The Law Society of British Columbia, which had delegated its authority to approve new law schools to the Federation has recently changed its rules to allow it to veto against certain law schools. The Law Society of British Columbia and the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society have announced that they will hold hearings to consider whether they should admit graduates from TWU to their provincial bars.

The opposition stems from TWU’s Community Covenant which pledges students to abstaining from certain activities and behaviours during their studies including the viewing of pornography, the possession or use of alcohol on campus, and “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” TWU’s opponents argue that the Community Covenant is discriminatory towards the LGBT community and that there is no place in Canada for a law school that holds traditional Christian beliefs.

TWU’s application to create a law school has indeed fostered an environment of discrimination and intolerance, but it is TWU that is the victim. 

TWU’s position on sexual relationships is grounded in the Bible and is part of the institution’s, and its members’, sincerely held religious beliefs. As such, those who oppose the admission of TWU graduates to the practice of law are apparently actively advocating for religious discrimination in Canada.

TWU has not, does not and will not prevent students from the LGBT community from studying at TWU. In fact, TWU has made clear that it welcomes all students and its history and admittance practices support that position. The Community Covenant is with regard to behaviour and activity, not being or identity. This same Covenant requires its students and faculty to “treat all persons with respect and dignity, and uphold their God-given worth.”

If the Law Society of British Columbia or other law societies decide that they will not recognize the law degrees of TWU students because of the institution’s and the students’ religious beliefs, will those societies then also  refuse admission to the bar to everyone who holds a traditional view of marriage and sexuality? Will they prevent their citizens from traditional Christian, Judaic, Islamic, Bahá'í, Mormon, Sikh, Zoroastrian, and Jain backgrounds from practicing law?

And what about British Columbians who want to receive their legal services from a lawyer who shares and understands their belief system? Religious beliefs can sometimes play a significant role in certain family law disputes or estates matters. But this fact is irrelevant as certain law society heads apparently know better. Perhaps these citizens can try to seek out legal services from lawyers from provinces that truly value a multicultural and diverse bar.

If we, as a society, are not offended by the exclusion of religious minorities from the public square on the basis of their religious belief for one reason, then we will not be offended by their exclusion on the basis of any reason. As a society, Canadians pride themselves on being multicultural, polyethnic, religiously diverse and tolerant of all. But talk is cheap and in reality, many who claim to be tolerant are really only tolerant of ethnic, cultural and religious views, attitudes and practices with which they agree.

What’s perhaps more surprising, at least from a legal perspective, is that the issue of TWU’s Community Covenant has already been ruled on by the Supreme Court of Canada. In 2001, the Court ruled in Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers that the British Columbia College of Teachers had no legal justification for refusing to accredit TWU’s graduates on the basis of TWU’s Community Covenant. The Court found no evidence that TWU’s students, who had signed and abided by the Community Covenant, demonstrated any discriminatory behaviour in the exercising of their duties as teaching professionals.

One would think that Canada’s provincial law societies such as the Law Society of British Columbia, which are made up of lawyers who are ostensibly aware of significant Supreme Court of Canada decisions, and from apparently superior, non-religious law schools, would know that case. Or at least acknowledge its implications.

Whatever the Law Society of British Columbia, or other provincial law societies think TWU’s Community Covenant or TWU as a university, if they exclude TWU graduates from practicing law in their jurisdiction, they become the intolerants guilty of discrimination. Their discrimination is based on the religious beliefs of TWU, its students and its faculty.

Is the fact that future TWU law graduates subscribed to TWU’s Community Covenant grounds to exclude them from the practice of law? What of graduates from other law schools who share TWU’s position on sexual relationships? Should they also be excluded from the practice of law on the sole basis of their religious beliefs?

The real question here is “should Canadian Christians be excluded from the practice of law?” Do we, as a society, endorse a faith-based test to practicing law? That is the inevitable conclusion and consequence if we endorse the barring of TWU law graduates from practicing law on the sole basis of their view of sexual relationships.

Albertos Polizogopoulos is a Partner with the firm Vincent Dagenais Gibson LLP/s.r.l. in Ottawa, Ontario. He regularly appears before courts and appellate courts including the Supreme Court of Canada to advocate for his clients’ rights to freedom of religion, freedom of expression and parental authority. He also frequently appears in media interviews and on panels to discuss constitutional law. @CharterLaw

Mr. Polizogopoulos is currently acting as legal counsel to the EFC in the Loyola High School v. A.G. Quebec case, and has previously acted for the EFC in Alberta v. Hutterian Brethren of Wilson Colony case, the S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chenes case and the Cuthbertson v. Rasouli case.

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