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Wednesday
Aug282013

Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty we are free at last.

By Don Hutchinson

“Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty we are free at last.”

On this the 50th anniversary of the speech containing these words having been delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, there are several ceremonies of reflection planned. I remember watching a grainy black and white film of the 47 minute “I have a dream” speech when I was in high school. It was inspirational to watch what has been described as the greatest speech of the 20th century, to hear the intonation in the voice of the speaker and experience the rise and fall of the emotional response of the 250,000 gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963.

It was also inspirational in the sense that the there was an evident divine influence – The Holy Spirit – on the words spoken by the preacher and civil rights leader. I was not a Christian at the time I first saw the grainy film, but I was inspired by the man of God – the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister who earned his Ph. D. at Boston University, a campus I had the pleasure of visiting a few short weeks ago. While the National Mall in Washington now bears a memorial opened in August 2011 – King is the first non-president so honoured – Boston University also has a memorial, the Free At Last sculpture standing outside the Marsh Chapel at the geographic centre of the BU campus, the school of theology where King studied.

Free at last. These words were among many that introduced King’s comments on the dream of equality for every man, woman and child; a dream rooted deep in his faith and his love of people and country.

A few years earlier and a little farther North another Baptist, Canadian Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker, spoke words of freedom similarly inspiring a key step in Canada’s journey of human rights. "The Chief," as he was known, spoke the words on July 1, 1960 in the House of Commons when introducing The Canadian Bill of Rights (a copy of which he gave to my father and now hangs in my office):

I am a Canadian, a free Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship God in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.

Today, in 21st century North America we are privileged to experience freedoms that are the envy of the world. But, are we free?

A few years ago in Quebec, legislation was introduced requiring religion be described in the same category as mythology when taught – even in religious schools – and now there is a government proposal to prohibit civil servants from wearing religious symbols or clothing. In several provinces across the country civil servants who perform wedding ceremonies are prohibited from being so employed if their religious convictions allow them only to serve the 97% of couples marrying who are engaging in a one man one woman marriage. In Ontario, the government has passed legislation mandating that Roman Catholic schools provide gay-straight alliance clubs, even though they already offered clubs to seek support for diversity in the student population; and, atheists argue that religious texts should not be available for free distribution in the schools (with parental consent).

A friend of mine uses the illustration of a group of people trying to decide what to do. Let’s consider that in the context of an evening together. One might suggest going for dinner and another to a movie, while a third that perhaps just a walk in the cool of the day would be nice. The fourth friend rejects all proposals and suggests they do nothing. But is doing nothing a neutral solution? Not if it is the preferred option of one of the four. The neutral solution would be a fifth activity that all agree on.  Another alternative would be for each do what they prefer – not necessarily a neutral solution for an evening together but that would be freedom!

Freedom encourages people to wear their religious symbols and clothing as part of the mosaic in a free and democratic society. Freedom permits the religious to serve alongside the non-religious in the civil service, making accommodation for the needs of each and ensuring provision of service for the public. Freedom recognizes that teaching in a religious school will be from a religious perspective, but the concepts of reading, writing, arithmetic and participating in the civil life of society may all be taught and reinforced without the opinion of one being forced on another.

Freedom would even permit a person to speak openly about his motivation for civil rights activism or seeking public office to be from inspiration, i.e. rooted in his faith. How welcoming would a contemporary public square crowd be of a Baptist minister – like Dr. King – or an openly Baptist Prime Minister – like Mr. Diefenbaker?

When we exclude one for fear of offending another we encourage neither tolerance nor freedom but enforce a new bigotry. Like the old bigotry it is directed at those who look different, speak different or believe different than those who hold the reins of power.  

I have a dream that one day we will be free at last; free to speak without fear, each free to worship God in our own way – sharing together in what our constitution guarantees as a "free and democratic society."

Thursday
Jul182013

Fighting to Keep our Elected Representatives Accountable

By Faye Sonier

This morning, pro-life blogger Pat Maloney announced that she’s taking the Government of Ontario to court over its suppression of abortion data.

In January 2012, the Ontario government quietly passed an amendment to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). As a result of the amendment individuals are no longer being permitted to make access to information requests for data related to the provision of abortion services.

But did the amendment intend that no information – not even generalized, non-identifying data – could be released?

The legal community was confused. A number of lawyers and law firms released commentary stating that the amendment likely applied to hospital records but not aggregate Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) billing records. However, if it didn’t apply to OHIP billing records, it would still be possible to determine how many abortions were paid for by Ontario tax-payers.

This kind of data is invaluable. In 2010, it’s estimated that over $30 million was spent on government funded abortions in Ontario. That’s no small chunk of change. Tax-payers have a right to know that.

Citizen access to government information is a basic democratic principle. As Moira Patterson, a professor of freedom of information and privacy law has said, “Governments everywhere have a natural inclination towards secrecy. However, in a genuinely democratic society access to information is necessary for the 'open debate, discussion, criticism and dissent, which are regarded as central to the making of 'informed and considered choices.” Our ability to exercise our democratic rights and responsibilities are effectively void without access to information. It’s for these reasons that journalists frequently make freedom of information requests; to find out what our government is doing and how much it is spending doing it.

Without this data, as Maloney states in her press release, how are Ontarians, particularly organizations such as youth and women’s health groups, going to monitor trends and determine if government or non-profit programming is effective? If a group launches a provincial safe-sex program, without abortion data, how will it assess if the program was effective? Premier Kathleen Wynne has promised to re-introduce what some consider a radical sex-education program. How will Ontarians determine if that is tax-dollars well spent? There is no way to know if such a program would cut the rate of teen abortions or spike them if the government hides the data.

Interestingly, without even knowing the amendment had been made to the law, Maloney made a simple access to information request for some generalized OHIP billing information. She wasn’t seeking names of patients or doctors, or the identity of hospitals that provide abortions. She just wanted the numbers and statistics that are generally available for all medical procedures performed in the province. This is something that Maloney has been doing for years. This time, the Ministry of Health came back and refused to provide the information based on this new amendment to FIPPA. Maloney broke the story on her blog and it became a national issue.

So now Maloney has to invest significant time, money and resources to fight this fight. It’s a fight to ensure that Ontarians can keep their provincial representatives accountable on health care costs and programming. And this isn’t just Maloney’s fight. This is a fight for all Ontarians.

Are we comfortable with the government deciding what information we can and can’t access about their activities and funding? If we’re comfortable with one $30 million a year restriction, what’s next?

What Ontario’s government did to restrict otherwise generally available data from its citizens is unthinkable and arrogant. It tells me that they don’t think the people who elected them are entitled to know how their tax dollars are being spent or if government programing is effective. Frankly, passing this amendment was a condescending move. Hats off to Maloney for taking the government on.

__________________________________

For more information about abortion data suppression in Ontario, download a copy of EFC's report Black Holes: Canada's Missing Abortion Data. It clearly and concisely explains how abortion data is collected in Canada, and how the Ontario government has restricted the release of data to its citizens.

For details on Maloney's case, visit this blog page, where she has included links to relevant documents, including her legal submissions. This morning's press release is available here.

Monday
Jun242013

The Case Against Legalized Prostitution

This article was originally published at lawdiva.wordpress.com Barrister

Guest Blogger: Georgialee Lang is a lawyer who recently presented the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada's arguments before the Supreme Court of Canada in the Attorney General of Canada v. Bedford case in which Canada's prostitution laws were being challenged.

 

Prostitution is a practice that arises from the historical subordination of women and the accompanying patriarchal right of men to buy and exchange women as objects for sexual use.

Canadians embrace and respect the worth and dignity of every person and our Courts have confirmed that respect for human dignity is an underlying principle upon which Canada is based. However, the practice of prostitution is an assault on human dignity.

In 1949 Canada signed the United Nations Convention to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking In Persons which included this statement:

“Prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons
for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of
persons and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community.”

While Canada has chosen not to criminalize prostitution itself, our criminal law provides that communication for the purpose of soliciting, living off the avails, and common bawdy houses or brothels are illegal.

The argument to legalize these prostitution offences is based on the notion that, if legal, women will be safer; they will be able to communicate and screen their potential customers; they will be able to hire bodyguards and assistants; and they will move from street soliciting to brothels, which are safer.

The trouble with their argument is that countries that have legalized prostitution for those same reasons have learned the hard way that the gains they hoped to achieve for women in prostitution have been illusory.

The best example is the State of Victoria, Australia, home to capital city Melbourne, where prostitution was legalized in the 1980′s in order to minimize harm to prostitutes.

Their worthy goal was to eradicate the criminal element, guard against unregulated expansion of the practice and combat violence against prostitutes.

Instead, according to noted expert and social scientist Dr. Janice Raymond and others working in the field, legalization led to a massive expansion of prostitution, where ironically, the growth was mainly in the illegal sector where unlicensed brothels proliferated.

The legalization of brothels did not empower women to work as independent businesswomen in their own organized brothels because, not unexpectedly, large brothel operators dominated the brothel industry making it difficult for individual prostitutes or even small groups of women to compete against the huge money and marketing of commercial brothels.

Street prostitution did not disappear simply because women who work outside have a host of social problems including homelessness, addictions, are under-age, or are unwilling to register with the government. Women in these situations were not able to be employed by brothels by the nature of their lifestyle.

The law, while intending to eliminate organized crime, brought with it an explosion of human trafficking by international crime syndicates. Finally, the legalization of brothels legitimized pimps and procurers as business men.

While prostitution will always be with us, do we want our streets, not just the back alleys, to be strolls for working girls, who can linger as long as they choose when the communication law is struck? Do we want our neighbouring homes and apartments to be commercial legal brothels? Do we want to change the social fabric of Canada by endorsing prostitution?

You ask if there is a solution? Many are recommending the approach taken by Sweden where their legislators recognized that prostitution causes serious harm to individuals and society as a whole, that it is associated with crime, violence, and human trafficking, but that at its core it is the victimization and oppression of women.

The Swedish model criminalizes the purchaser of sexual services, but not the women who engage in prostitution. The government reports that street prostitution has been reduced by 50%, but more importantly, the practice of prostitution is not condoned and is seen for what it is: a form of violence against women.

 

 

Thursday
Jun202013

Joyce Arthur Demands that “Naïve Reporters” Shut Out Pro-Lifers

By Faye Sonier

Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, recently blasted media outlets for being too “balanced” in their coverage of Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s death by interviewing pro-life Canadians. 

The pro-life perspective “is an extremist view,” not deserving of “legitimacy” and “does not deserve equal time or respect in Canada” railed Arthur in a recent Rabble.ca piece. According to Arthur, “naïve reporters” should not be interested in the pro-life expression of “concern for women’s well-being,” or the perspective that all human beings, including those at earlier stages of development, deserve human rights.

In an effort to drive her point home, Arthur relies on a 2013 Angus Reid poll to argue that only 5 per cent of Canadians are opposed to abortions being available in any and every circumstance. In response to the same question, 35 per cent of those surveyed appear to endorse Arthur’s view that women should be able to have an abortion “at any time during their pregnancy, with no restrictions whatsoever.” 

However, the largest percentage of those interviewed – a majority of 59 per cent - believed that unrestricted abortion in Canada is wrong. They felt there should be restrictions on the practice.  The largest group within that category, about a third, felt that abortion access should only be provided during the first trimester.

By believing that abortion on demand is not good public policy, the majority of Canadians hold a position radically different than Arthur’s.

This same poll offers insight into Canadian’s true and nuanced perspective on the issue. When asked whether they knew the state of abortion law in Canada, only 23 per cent of respondents were aware “a woman can have an abortion at any time during her pregnancy, with no restrictions whatsoever.” A staggering 77 per cent thought there were laws in place to restrict abortion access at some point or for some reason.

When Canadians label themselves as ‘pro-choice,’ they don’t mean it the same way Arthur does. Most believe there actually are some restrictions on abortion access and that those limits on access are reasonable. For example, the same survey reveals that nearly half of Canadians believe that abortion is only accessible during the first trimester. When they say they are pro-choice, they are pro-choice in that they support a law they wrongly believe exists. 

When provided with a real world example of what unrestricted abortion access engenders, Canadians demonstrate that they don’t truly support our abortion status quo. As a 2011 survey shows, 92 per cent of Canadians thought sex-selection abortions, where a child is aborted because his or her parents prefer a child of the opposite sex, should be illegal. Only 6 per cent share Arthur’s belief that this practice of sex-selection gendercide should be legal.

Only 6 per cent, when faced with a concrete outworking of unrestricted abortion access, stood with Arthur on the side of unlimited abortion access. The vast majority of Canadians do not believe that abortion is a morally good or neutral choice in every circumstance.

While Arthur cherry picked a statistic that suited her ends, a fuller and contextual understanding of abortion statistics reveals that while most Canadians aren’t pro-life in what many consider the strict sense of the term, neither are they pro-choice in Arthur’s immoderate sense of that term.  Only a small minority, quite possibly as low as the 6 per cent in the survey, share Arthur’s view.  In this debate, Arthur is the real radical and extremist.

This reality translates into opportunity for both sides of the debate to engage and persuade a public that largely isn’t settled in one camp or another. And in a democratic nation that values free speech, elected representative government and freedom of the press, a debate on an important social and human rights issue is frankly the least we can do.

The accusation that the media was being too balanced in its coverage of Morgentaler’s death is a ridiculous claim. Even by Arthur’s own analysis of the media coverage, a significant number of stories – 37 per cent of those she reviewed - didn’t include interviews with pro-life Canadians. But if “extreme” or minority positions should be ignored by the media, than by her own standard, Arthur is the one who should be excluded from engaging with the media. Ever.  Again.

In Arthur’s attempt to exclude pro-life Canadians from the media and the public square, she condemns herself to the same fate with her irrational and ridiculous standards.

Wednesday
Jun192013

Don't ignore the real issue on prostitution

As originally published in the National Post, June 17, 2013

By Julia Beazley

Last week, an article in these pages (Legalize the Sex Trade, Kate Shannon and Sandra Ka Hon Chu, June 11), saw the authors declare that “the science is unequivocal: criminalization of sex work in Canada, and globally, has been an abject failure in protecting sex workers from violence, predation and murder.” While I might question which particular scientific studies the authors were referring to, I don’t disagree that the laws have failed to protect. The criminalization of sex work — more specifically, of people who are being prostituted — has indeed failed.

Canada’s existing laws have proven ineffective at discouraging prostitution and protecting women. But the evidence is unequivocal that decriminalization or legalization of prostitution has been a greater failure. Countries that have legalized prostitution have found it neither provides more control over criminal behaviour nor offers greater protection for women from violence. It has also led to increased rates of sex trafficking.

The only model of law that has proven effective is the so-called “Nordic” model, first enacted in Sweden more than a decade ago. This model recognizes the vast majority of prostituted persons are not for sale by choice. Sweden’s law focuses its punitive powers on the johns, the pimps and the traffickers.

Swedish legislators started from the premise that prostitution is only and ever a form of sexual violence and exploitation of vulnerable women, men and children. Rather than try to manage or control prostitution, they determined to abolish it, establishing legal and social measures that take aim at the roots of sexual exploitation. Under this model, prostituted persons are decriminalized and those who purchase sexual services are criminalized; with fines geared to income and possible imprisonment. It has proven to be the most successful prostitution policy developed in a democratic society; and has been replicated in Norway, Iceland and is in various stages of consideration in France, Israel and Ireland. Targeting the demand has been demonstrated to be the most effective means of reducing rates of prostitution and sex trafficking.

Why is this? Because the violence experienced by women in prostitution is not rooted in the laws on paper, or in how they stand up to a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The violence directed at women in prostitution is rooted in the demand for paid access to women’s bodies — and the fundamental inequality that underlies this sense of entitlement.

The reality too often ignored in debate over which laws are best is that prostitution itself is inherently dangerous. It’s not the laws that endanger women in prostitution. It’s not the street corners or the alleyways that prey on, rape, assault and murder women. It’s the pimps, traffickers and buyers whose disrespect and devaluation of those women goes unchecked. To suggest that if prostituted women had time to make better choices about which customers to accept, or to negotiate the price and acts they will perform, they would be less subject to violence, is to put the responsibility for reducing violence squarely on the wrong shoulders.

In Sweden, children are taught in school from a young age that the purchase of sex is not just illegal, it’s unacceptable; it’s violence against women, and contrary to gender equality

The violence is rooted in the underlying view among the people, mostly men, that purchase them that women in prostitution are somehow fundamentally different from their mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives and daughters. This misperception justifies treatment of women as objects to be bought and sold. The very existence of prostitution requires a subclass of people who are available to be bought, sold and rented; people understood to be somehow just a little less equal than everyone else. The Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia have discovered that legalizing prostitution does not change this.

A key to the success experienced in Sweden is a public awareness campaign that accompanied the change in law.  Children are taught in school from a young age that the purchase of sex is not just illegal, it’s unacceptable; it’s violence against women, and contrary to gender equality. This may be the most effective in the long run, because children are growing up with a different understanding of what respect between the sexes means.

If we truly want to stop the violence experienced by women in prostitution — and I believe we all agree at least on that point — let’s do as Sweden did, and tackle the problem at its roots.

 

Julia Beazley is a Policy Analyst with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

 

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