By Don Hutchinson
The portrayal of the human race in space-age adventures is frequently one of a unity that is the utopian expression of some future dream. It certainly does not portray a contemporary reality. And, in those adventures of far off space, the other side is as demonized – represented as evil or diabolical to the point where the good guys’ understanding of reason and decency cannot be applied – as takes place on planet Earth, in country Canada, today. It’s at times embarrassing that we embrace the civil utopian ideals of a single human race while holding to the good vs. evil paradigm when engaging in public discourse. (I recall in university over 30 years ago that an unwritten rule of debate was he who first demonizes his opponent – we called it comparing him or her to Hitler – loses the debate.)
On Thursday, I watched as a long-time friend was demonized by opponents from outside and within his own party for proposing a reasonable setting for a study by a Parliamentary committee. I first met Stephen Woodworth, MP (Kitchener Centre), in the 1980s through our shared involvement in Christian Legal Fellowship; the same place I met another long-time friend and former cabinet member Hon. John McKay, MP (Scarborough-Guildwood). Mr. Woodworth has proposed, quite reasonably, that Parliament study when human life begins, currently defined in s. 223 of the Criminal Code. His motion M-312 proposes a Parliamentary committee of similar composition to other committees for the purpose of the study. That would mean 7 Conservative MPs (one being the chair), 4 NDP MPs and 1 Liberal MP on the committee (which would likely also have a composition of pro-life, pro-choice and pro-abortion MPs in that mix) to engage in a neutral study of importance to Parliament’s legislative capacity. Woodworth was characterized in the hour of debate, in the media and by opponents outside the House as having: a hidden agenda; secret desires; and, ignoble ends … rather than there being any actual basis for or debate on the motion. In order to better extend the demonization, allegations were made of some secret plot on the part of the Prime Minister that allowed a Conservative backbench MP to introduce this private members’ measure, thus drawing out comment from Prime Minister Harper that he would not support the motion when it came to a vote.
The motion was deemed suitable for debate in the House by an all-party committee that vets such things. Apparently, the committee was not required to assess whether Mr. Woodworth was a suitable person to introduce the motion. That decision was made by his constituents, whose opinion is to be respected by Parliament under the rules of our Canadian democracy.
There was reasonably balanced attention paid to the motion by the national media, with one notable exception. A group of about 30 people (and I’m being generous with this number) assembled outside Centre Block on Parliament Hill to oppose any conversation that might include abortion. The big 2 networks offered up 3 to 5 minutes of air time to this demonstration on their national broadcasts, more on their news networks. This group demonized any opposition to their position, including a misstatement of the 1988 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R v Morgentaler in an effort to silence the other side. Similarly, the national media refer to “pro-choice” activists and “anti-abortion” activists when the truth is that there are “pro-choice” activists, “pro-life” activists (it’s about so much more than the question of abortion) and “pro-abortion” activists in the 3 main camps on this issue.
I encourage people to wade through the 130 pages or so of the Morgentaler decision for themselves. It is a somewhat confusing decision because of the several justices authoring separate decisions, but here’s the easy way to keep track. Place 2 columns on a piece of paper: at the top of one write, “jurisdiction of Parliament to decide” and at the top of the other “unlimited right to abortion.” As you read through the challenge to wording of a 1969 law that was found to be flawed, simply record whether or not the judge or judges writing note that making law in regard to children in the womb is the jurisdiction of Parliament or the absolute right of the pregnant woman. You’ll quickly realize that the debate is a national one that belongs in Parliament, even though no Prime Minister has been willing to have the debate since Mr. Mulroney’s Bill C-43 passed the House and died on a tie vote on 3rd reading in the Senate in January 1991 – 3 years after the decision in Morgentaler.
No demons were identified on the Supreme Court or in Parliament in those days, but a conclusion was made that appropriate debate was (and is) due on an issue of national importance.
On Thursday, May 10, over 15,000 people will gather on Parliament Hill – if the numbers are like last year – to ask that the debate take place. Those 15,000 plus are encouraged to stand consistent with our principles and not demonize the other side; even though that group of 30 has sought to demonize us. The media are encouraged to give appropriate coverage to this largest of gatherings that takes place on Parliament Hill each year (outside of Canada Day); based simply on objective reporting of the news.
And Parliament is encouraged to seriously consider the opportunity to engage in a study by a committee such as that proposed in motion M-312. The day is fast approaching, if it has not already arrived, when our children will not accept the 1970s rationale about an embryo being a glob of cells – Henry Morgentaler suggested more like a fish – rather than a developing human being; and it is the relevancy of Parliament that will be assessed when their voices mature to voting age. The world around us is in revolt with governing structures being challenged from the African continent and across Europe as being outdated – seemingly demonized and in need of being exorcised by youth in rebellion. Canada’s Parliament need not set itself up for similar action.
I have known Stephen Woodworth neither to be evil nor diabolical. He’s a good man. He’s a good lawyer. He thinks things through. His constituents think him an appropriate person to represent them and he has presented Canada’s Parliament with an opportunity to stand unafraid of scientific and medical advances, in favour of understanding, reporting and intelligent debate as we journey into the future.