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Monday
Dec092013

Advent, The West Wing and Canadian politics – some personal thoughts

By Don Hutchinson

In case it wasn’t clear from my posts on ActivateCFPL, the organization I work for or the work that I do, I am one of “those people” who lives in a political bubble. I read about politics, engage on the issues and care more about the impact of policies than the physical appearance or charisma of any of Canada’s political leaders. I confess, I research the policies of politicians and political parties before deciding how to vote in an election (and I vote in municipal, provincial and federal elections).

Before I joined the team at The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in 2006, my wife, Gloria, and I were praying about two opportunities that had been presented for our future – both related to politics. Politics was my first love … before I met Jesus … and Gloria.

One of the appealing things about working where I do is promoting biblical principles through well researched and well-reasoned public policy proposals. For me, Bible thumping (i.e. telling people to do things because the Bible says so in a way that casts the thumper as the authority on what the Bible says) is kind of offensive; but well thought out proposals that are beneficial to living in broader society bring a sense of joy when considered and implemented.

The political arena is an interesting one for engagement. Some declare loudly (thinking perhaps that volume magnifies falsehood into truth), “there is no place for religion in politics” or “there is no place for religiously based ideas in public policy development.” Me? I want to see the reasoning on proposals, whether from those who prefer to accept that the world was made from nothing by nobody and ideas about public policy can be founded in the same sources or those who claim foundation in religious belief. From my perspective, there has to be a place of respect for all voices, religious and non-religious, in Canada’s free and democratic society. And public policy proposals need to be rational, not loud.

As a bit of a political nut, you might also imagine that I enjoyed The West Wing for seven seasons. Another confession, I now watch it in reruns. (I say “a bit of a political nut” because I don’t own the DVDs! )

One of my favourite episodes was on this week. It’s the one in which Senator Vinick (Alan Alda) secures the Republican nomination and ends up heading to the White House to meet with President Bartlet (Martin Sheen), a Democrat, to discuss the impending debt ceiling deadline.

The senator is in a bit of a public relations mixup because he doesn’t go to church. In an easily missed segment of the show he explains why he doesn’t go to church. Vinick used to go with his wife. He stopped going when she got too sick to go, and then died. I get it. People get angry with God, choosing to punish Him by not going to church; or, they place their idea of faith in buildings and people instead of God.

Bartlet, who is living with multiple sclerosis and in the final year of his term as President, offers this sage advice. The demands of the job are such that to stay alert you can either consume a lot of coffee or pray. Bartlet opts for prayer.

My belief in God places me in the camp that opts for prayer.

There’s a lot going on in Canada – federally, provincially and municipally – as we head toward the traditional Christmas break in this season of Advent; advent being the celebration of the expected birth of Jesus, my Saviour, Hope of the world.

As usual, people will disagree with the policies and behaviour of political parties and politicians they either voted for and are disappointed with or didn’t vote for and oppose. Still, for most, there will be some expression of good will.

The apostle Paul wrote that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Letter to the Ephesians 6:12). Although, there are days when the struggle seems personified in flesh and blood, I turn my thoughts to evil’s influence rather than evil people, and opt for prayer.

If you are also a praying person, I invite you to opt in.

Opt in to praying for our elected representatives. Opt in to praying for the development of good public policy. And, if you’re so inclined, opt in to praying for those of us at The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada – and others engaging in this arena – that we would stand firm in our work.

If your prayer takes you a step further, perhaps into an unanticipated interest that pulls you into the political bubble, then let me know and I’ll add you to my prayer list.

If you’re not a praying person, then I invite you to respect me as I respect you. Opt in, and let’s shape the future of the nation together through well-reasoned, good public policy.

Wednesday
Nov272013

Busting the 3 Biggest Myths on the Government Funding of Abortions

By Faye Sonier

Over the last few weeks, public comment on the issue makes it apparent that there is still confusion surrounding the funding of abortion procedures in Canada.

Joyce Arthur wrote a piece at Rabble.com where she lambasted Campaign Life Coalition’s Defund Abortion campaign; painting the protestors as naïve, uninformed activists fighting for a hopeless cause. Two weeks ago, a letter written by Health Minister Deb Matthews was made public and also garnered attention.

In November 2012, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) released the report Provincial Decisions: Abortion Funding in Canada. The document examined the provincial and territorial governments’ roles in determining abortion funding for their jurisdictions. It took months to prepare this short report. Untangling the issue of abortion funding in Canada is complex, notably because most people – including those within government – are working from false assumptions or erroneous information advanced by a select group of pro-choice activists. We reviewed original government documents, read case law and called government officials to confirm our conclusions. This project was, quite surprisingly, no small endeavour.

The report, which was updated last month, is available for free download. But let me tackle the three most common myths associated with abortion funding in Canada for you right here. Check out the report for more information and source materials.

1. Myth: The Canada Health Act requires that abortions be funded by the government

The Canada Health Act does not state that abortions must be funded by provincial or territorial governments. It does state that “medically necessary” services are to be covered.

This Act sets out which criteria provincial and territorial governments must meet in order to receive transfer payments from the federal government. While healthcare is a provincial and territorial matter, the federal government began participating in the funding of healthcare procedures as it desired that citizens across the country have equal access to healthcare services.

The federal government currently pays for approximately 40% of all healthcare services in Canada via transfer payments to the provinces. The provinces pay for the balance.

If the federal government determines that a provincial or territorial government isn’t meeting certain Act criteria, such as failing to provide “medically necessary” services, it can choose to withhold funds from its transfer payments.

2. Myth: Abortions need to be considered “medically necessary” services

Contrary to the arguments that some pro-choice advocates advance, determining which medical procedures may or may not be considered “medically necessary” in Canada is no easy task. Actually, it’s a bit of nightmare for everyone, from seasoned judges to patients simply seeking medical care.

Provincial governments, not the federal government, determine which services are considered “medically necessary” and which are not. They do so in consultation with their respective colleges of physicians and/or other medical groups. If a province determines a service is “medically necessary” it will fund it.

When citizens have challenged their government’s non-funding of procedures, the courts have appeared to struggle with what the term “medically necessary” legally requires of the provinces.  The courts have alternatively provided extremely broad and vague definitions of what can be considered necessary (“a medical service that is essential to the health and medical treatment of an individual”) or they have simply determined whether the specific procedure being considered is necessary. No court has yet provided citizens or government with clear criteria by which to assess whether a procedure should be considered “medically necessary.”

It is also not a matter of consensus within the medical community that any or all abortions are medically necessary. For example, New Brunswick has a regulation which sets out that an abortion will only be funded in that province if two physicians affirm in writing that the procedure is “medically necessary” in the particular circumstances.

Additionally, an association of physicians, Canadian Physicians for Life, recently released a thorough and compelling public statement explaining why they believe “that no abortions are medically necessary.” In 2012, an international association of over 140 medical professionals released a statement setting out that abortion is never medically necessary. The statement is known as the Dublin Declaration. The Declaration has now garnered over 700 signatures.

3. Myth: Provinces and territories cannot choose to defund abortion procedures

By virtue of The Constitution Act, 1867, provinces determine and manage healthcare in their jurisdictions. If, however, a province chooses to defund abortions and the federal Minister of Health interprets such decision as a violation of a provision of the Canada Health Act, the federal government could choose to withhold some funding from the healthcare transfer payments.

However, over the last decade various Ministers of Health have responded differently to abortion funding challenges. Whereas one Minister (Ujjal Dosanjh) took action when faced with a province declining to fund abortions at a Morgentaler clinic, another Minister (Tony Clement) chose not to pursue the matter, and did not withhold funding from the province for its decision.

Historically, it appears that the deductions made to transfer payments to provinces that refuse to cover all or some abortion related costs are minimal. For example, in 2001, the Nova Scotia Department of Health refused to cover the facility fees for a private abortion clinic. The federal government of the day stated that this was a violation of certain provisions of the Canada Health Act and said it would deduct $39,000 from the federal transfer payment, a minimal sum. The provincial government responded that it would forego the $39,000 rather than adopt the federal government’s interpretation of the term “medically necessary services.”

The facts on abortion funding mean that there is room for pro-life advocacy and engagement.

Provincial Ministers of Health could and should be persuaded to reconsider their provinces healthcare priorities. Attention may be drawn to the associations of physicians who are making clear, compelling and public statements about proper and comprehensive healthcare for women, and how this healthcare need not include the aborting of children.

This is not a hopeless cause. Public opinion is split on the issue, with less than half of Canadians supporting the general trend of government funding for abortions on demand. A 2010 Angus Reid Public Opinion poll found that only 44% of respondents believed that our “health care system should fund abortions whenever they are requested.” 39% believed the procedures should only be funded in cases of emergencies and 10% believed that abortions should never be funded.

While it may have been a complex task to untangle the legislation and policies relating to abortion funding, our advocacy work going forward need not be. The message is simple: our tax dollars don’t need to fund abortions.

Tuesday
Nov262013

The Carter Assisted Suicide Challenge: Why this case might NOT be headed to the Supreme Court of Canada

Guest Post: Geoffrey Trotter, Counsel for the EFC in the Carter v. Canada case. Article was originally published in Take Five.

While some have characterized the majority decision in Carter as a narrow application of stare decisis to avoid dealing with the merits, a closer look reveals an important contemporary appellate endorsement of the underlying rationale for the prohibition on assisted suicide as articulated by the Supreme Court of Canada in Rodriguez.

First, the Carter majority confirmed a robust application of the s. 7 right to life which is not diminished in those who have lost some or many of the capacities of the able-bodied.  Recognizing that autonomy and liberty are already protected under other heads of s. 7, the majority invoked the Rodriguez court’s language of life having a “deep intrinsic value of its own” and the “sanctity of life” which “must be respected and we must be careful not to undermine the institutions that protect it.” (Carter para. 279; 252).  The majority explained: “Those who have only limited ability to enjoy those blessings are no less “alive”, and have no less a right to “life”, than persons who are able-bodied and fully competent. If “life” were regarded as incorporating various qualities which some persons enjoy and others do not … a slippery slope would open up…” (Carter para. 280).

The majority’s rejection of the Chief Justice’s dissenting proposal to include notions of quality of life in the right to life under s. 7 is important, for while attractive (we all treasure the things invoked by the Chief Justice – cultural and spiritual experiences, memories, and forming friendships, for example) it would limit the application of the right to life and devalue all of us who will, sooner or later, whether by accident, disease, or age, reach a stage where our capacities are slipping away.  The Carter majority confirmed that, as in Rodriguez, the sanctity of life principle still excludes “freedom of choice in the self-infliction of death” (para. 275).

In dealing with the principles of fundamental justice, the majority pointed out that, contrary to the aura of inevitability apparent in many media reports, “enshrining [assisted suicide] as a constitutional right” is “a matter of serious concern to many Canadians … [and] no consensus on the subject is apparent, even among ethicists or medical practitioners” – and cited how most national medical bodies including in Canada, the US, UK, New Zealand, Australia, and the and World Medical Associations, are opposed (Carter paras. 243, 249).  The majority then cited the Rodriguez court’s holding that the distinctions between “withdrawal of treatment and palliative care, on the one hand, and assisted suicide … are maintained and can be persuasively defended” (para. 252).

The Carter majority thus concluded at para. 315 that the Rodriguez court’s articulation of the legislative objective of the existing law was not restricted to the narrow purpose of only protecting the ‘vulnerable’, but also with the “societal concern with preserving life” in general, and therefore that concerns over the fundamental shift in societal values that would arise if the state permits some citizens to kill others in certain circumstances, cannot be simply brushed aside.  This is apparent also from the majority’s candid statement that it was “not confident that a fully rounded, well balanced alternative policy, with comprehensive public support, would or could be developed in the time-frame of any of the suspensions of declaration of invalidity”, and even from its obiter which urges the Supreme Court, should it revisit the merits of Rodriguez, to require each applicant for an assisted suicide to go through a court process to ensure the stringent application of safeguards (Carter paras. 334-335).

Is it inevitable that the Supreme Court of Canada will grant leave to appeal?  The media has declared it so, and ever since the trial judgment was released, I assumed the same.  In light of the majority judgment in Carter, however, I am no longer so sure.  The majority’s judgment is not a hold-your-nose-and-follow-precedent decision; rather, it re-articulates the fundamental values which the law exists to further and protect.  With the Supreme Court of Canada able to address the stare decisis issues in the Bedford appeal, it has a genuine opportunity to decline leave in Carter if it so wishes.

Geoffrey Trotter, formerly of Gudmundseth Mickelson LLP, now runs his own civil litigation practice (www.gtlawcorp.com).  He represented the intervenor, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, in the Carter appeal.  The EFC was also an intervenor 20 years earlier in Rodriguez.

Wednesday
Nov202013

It’s time Canada take the lead in protecting children from online pornography 

By Julia Beazley

Last night, it was my privilege to participate on a panel discussing the protection of young people from the harms of pornography. Hosted by MP Joy Smith (Kildonan-St. Paul), the evening on Parliament Hill featured Dr. Gail Dines, an internationally-acclaimed speaker and author (Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality, 2011). The other panellists were Mark Hecht (Beyond Borders) and Cassandra Diamond (Women’s Support Network of York Region).

Over the last several years, the EFC has made fighting prostitution and trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation a high priority, and much of my time has been dedicated to researching and speaking about these issues.

As I’ve studied and learned from women who’ve been exploited and prostituted – most from the time they were children – it has become clear to me that trafficking, prostitution, strip clubs and pornography are all interconnected. Unless we are willing to talk about and address each of these, and in particular, the demand that drives them, we won’t solve the problem of sexual exploitation.

This is not about being prudish, or anti-sex. Frankly, prudishness is a luxury we can no longer afford when it comes to contemporary pornography and how it is impacting our children and our society. In fact, if anyone is guilty of being anti-sex, it is the pornography industry that is hijacking the sexuality of a generation with its’ violent, formulaic depictions of human sexuality that are devoid of any sense of intimacy.

We have moved well past the point where we can consider pornography simply a matter of personal choice or preference, because our children are being exposed to violent and degrading material when they lack the capacity to make such a choice.

The material that our children are being exposed to is an entirely different creature than what they might have stumbled across a generation ago. Today’s porn is based in the domination of men and the humiliation and degradation of women.

As Dr. Dines says, “mainstream pornography found on free internet sites is not yesterday’s Playboy – rather it is a multi-billion dollar industry of cruel, body-punishing acts of making hate to women. This is the world your average boy is catapulted into when he types ‘porn’ into Google. “

To be clear, the pornography industry has never respected women or treated them justly – but at least the product men were consuming even a decade ago, in the mainstream anyway, didn’t seem to be dripping with contempt, even hatred for women.

The average age of exposure to pornography today is between 11 and 13 years of age, a time when the sexual template of most children is a blank slate. For many, their formative sexual experience will now be with the material they encounter online – material which teaches them that the primary, if not sole, value of a girl or woman is as an object for sexual pleasure.

Now more than ever, pornography dehumanizes women. In interviews men and boys who regularly use pornography will make distinctions between their use of porn and sex with “real women” or “real girls,” who want things from them and who are too much work. There is an “othering” of women in pornography; that teaches boys and men that those women are somehow qualitatively different in their value from the women in their lives. And, if they are other, less than, less real, then their use and abuse seems justifiable. But that dehumanization cannot help but spill over into real life, teaching boys that the primary function of a woman is to serve as an object for their sexual pleasure. I think it’s probably safe to say that girls are internalizing that same message.

Pornography teaches entitlement – the idea that sex is a need, and that men (boys) have a right to it on their terms at any time; which legitimizes the buying of sex and leads society to accept that there should be a class of women made available for purchase.

Porn feeds the demand for paid sex – which funnels women into prostitution; because the women and girls in guys’ lives won’t allow or participate in the brutal sex acts portrayed in porn, and prostituted women are the one group of women who can’t say no. Men consume porn and seek out the sex they believe other men are having and feel they too are entitled to have. As violence and degradation in porn have become commonplace, this is mirrored in the lived experiences of women in prostitution.

And all of this fuels sex trafficking. Increased demand for paid sex always leads to an increase in trafficking. Trafficking victims are exploited in pornography, and filmed sex acts are sometimes used as a means of coercion and control. Porn is also used to groom and train trafficking victims. It’s time we start, as MP Joy Smith says, connecting the dots.

As a mother of a nine year old boy, I sometimes feel panicked. I think the fact that I am immersed in issues of exploitation only intensifies that panic. I wonder, even with my eyes wide open, will I be able to protect him? I want him to grow up with a healthy understanding of his own sexuality, rooted in deep respect for himself, and in deep respect for women. And so even at this age, I try to talk with him as openly as I can. But I am painfully aware that I can’t be everywhere, at all times.

Boys who are being raised on porn are being robbed of genuine masculinity, robbed of the ability to connect and relate and be intimate in real life, with real girls, then women; they are growing up with distorted and unrealistic expectations of themselves and of their sexual partners. And, as a society, we are only beginning to see the implications of this, with more and younger men addicted to pornography, acting out sexually, and experiencing sexual dysfunction in early adulthood.

We have to get past the awkwardness and discomfort and fear of treading on our kids’ privacy and autonomy and make sure we are aware, engaged and talking to them about it. Because if we don’t, as my friend Trisha Baptie has said, everyone and everything else will.

The internet is feeding pornography into our homes, and to our mobile devices, 24/7, in ever more violent and degrading forms, and into a medium that, frankly, most children know better how to use than adults do.

It is time for Canada to give serious consideration to requiring Internet service providers to automatically block pornographic content, as has been proposed in the UK, and in Iceland, which already has strict laws preventing the printing and distribution of pornography. Currently in Canada, parents can ‘opt out’ of pornographic material by purchasing and installing a filter. The system in the UK, and being proposed here by MP Joy Smith turns that scenario on its head – adults wishing to access pornographic material from their home computers and mobile devices have to ‘opt in.’ And the only one opting in is the credit card and account holder. This is not about censorship. Adults would still be able to watch porn. But the default position would be one that would protect children who lack the developmental maturity to handle the material from accessing it, whether by accident or by intent.

Some argue that filters will never catch everything, or that they’ll catch too much, and there is no doubt any such filter would have to be quite sophisticated. But we have got to err on the side of protecting our children.

Filters won’t be the only answer- they can’t and must not spare us as parents, professionals and educators from having to engage – but they will be a critical tool in the toolbox. We need both a legislative and public health approach in order to effectively address the deleterious effects of pornography on our young people.

If we as parents, professionals and lawmakers fail to address this, we risk a society where boys learn from pornography at ever younger ages that women are to be objectified, humiliated, dominated, degraded, and worse; we risk crippling generations of boys relationally and sexually, and placing generations of girls in increased danger of violence and exploitation.

Saturday
Nov022013

Religious beliefs and practices are constitutionally guaranteed, not “silly” or “stupid”

By Don Hutchinson

Clayton Ruby’s personal crusade against a Canadian Christian university establishing a law school has resulted in marketing his opinion in four published newspaper pieces (National Post, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Vancouver Province). In addition, Clayton and I debated the issue on CBC’s Q with Jian Ghomeshi, which I wrote about in The Uncaged Christian Lawyer.

Clayton’s line of argument in each instance demonstrates a personal bias against all Canadians who hold religious beliefs – beliefs he has depicted variously as “silly” and “stupid.”

Clayton Ruby advocates the restriction of religion to private belief without public expression. He supports this extreme position by quoting two lines from a 2001 Supreme Court of Canada decision involving Trinity Western University. One line was a failed prediction by the court, which I’ll get to later. The second, he quotes out of context in a manner that distorts the court’s final, and binding, decision.

Couched in a caricature of the LGBT community, Clayton launches his attack asserting a professional arrogance that declares the practice of law is a more important career choice than any other which might be made by Canadians. Accordingly Trinity Western may, in his opinion, have other professional schools, as they do, but should be denied the opportunity to teach law.

In his argument, Clayton’s caricatured image of LGBT identity suggests that if gays and lesbians cannot engage in sexual activities on a university campus their humanity is being compromised. I have friends who tell me that such imagery makes them feel reduced to being described as sex addicts rather than respected for who they truly are.

In continuing this sleight of hand/words, Clayton then presents an inaccurate portrayal of same sex marriage as it has been legally defined and implemented in Canada. Both the Supreme Court and the Parliament of Canada accept that there exist differing opinions on same sex marriage. This divergence of opinion was not just recognized but protected in law when same sex marriage was legalized, noted as being “not against the public interest,” to be respected in the diversity that is Canada’s free and democratic society, and posing no violation to the equality rights of gays and lesbians. Trinity Western University’s president makes that point forcefully and accurately in his reply to Clayton’s opinion article in the Vancouver Province.

Trinity Western is a privately funded Christian university, like several others in Canada. TWU went to the Supreme Court of Canada to secure its right to prepare students to practice in self-regulating professional careers. The court affirmed that religious beliefs and practices are protected, and vigorously so, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In an 8 to 1 decision the Supreme Court of Canada declared the religious Canadian university has the constitutional right to exist, the constitutional right to establish behavioural requirements based on beliefs and the constitutional right to teach students from a faith perspective; with graduates who fulfill the necessary academic requirements to be recognized by the requisite professional association, in the instance of that decision by the British Columbia College of Teachers.

The essence of the Supreme Court’s determination in regard to TWU having a school of education was the same standard applied to any other university. Are the academic requirements being met? That’s an objective question, measured by an objective set of standards.

The BCCT was told it could not discriminate against people on the basis of their personal beliefs.  

At that point, the court did indeed state, “The proper place to draw the line in cases like the one at bar is generally between belief and conduct … The freedom to hold beliefs is broader than the freedom to act on them.” It said so in the context of teachers teaching in the public school classroom after receiving their duly earned certification from the BCCT. The public school classroom is not a church pulpit. It is governed by the code of conduct required by members of the College of Teachers.

However, the professional constraints of engaging in teaching children did not and do not alter the court’s consistent expression (originally stated in R. v. Big M, repeated in TWU v BCCT and in cases since) that “The essence of the concept of freedom of religion is the right to entertain such religious beliefs as a person chooses, the right to declare religious beliefs openly and without fear of hindrance or reprisal, and the right to manifest religious belief by worship and practice or by teaching and dissemination.” This is the religious freedom that applies to individuals and to communities, such as that at TWU or your neighbourhood community church.

Even the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association has taken a position contrary to that expressed by Clayton. The BCCLA references the same Supreme Court decisions, with nothing taken out of context.

Every university in Canada has admission standards. Explore a university website and you will find a code of behaviour for students. In a high profile case, the University of Calgary is in court for actions it took to discipline students for non-academic behaviour that violated the U of C’s code.

TWU’s code includes in its five pages reference to an expected standard for staff and students that they refrain from sexual activity outside of TWU’s religious community’s accepted definition of marriage. No student has been expelled for violation. TWU also prohibits smoking, alcohol consumption and other activities on campus. And it asks students to commit to “treat people and ideas with charity and respect” and “cultivate Christian virtues, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, compassion, humility, forgiveness, peacemaking, mercy and justice.” Read it. It’s on their website.

Where the Supreme Court got it wrong in 2001 was in reckoning, “… we conclude that a homosexual student would not be tempted to apply for admission…” Not only have gay students attended and graduated from TWU, so have students from other faith communities. They too have publicly endorsed TWU’s application to establish a law school. Why? They found TWU a supportive environment with high academic standards. In the end, isn’t academic standard the basis on which any university is to be assessed?

And religion? If the reasoning in my above words seems logical to you, you should know that I believe in the Creator God who made me, His Son who died on a blood stained cross and left behind an empty tomb, and His Holy Spirit who sustains me and informs my thinking. My thinking isn’t crippled by my religious beliefs, it is established in them; as is the thinking of three quarters of Canadians according to Statistics Canada.

I do not belittle anyone who chooses to believe in a universe or human life created by accident (or a series of accidents) or reason based solely on their personal belief in human intelligence. After all, the freedom to believe in God or to believe only in oneself is a cornerstone of the Canadian democracy, recognized and enshrined in our Constitution.

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