OTTAWA, Canada — Liberal Party of Canada leader Justin Trudeau’s recent edict that all future Liberal candidates must be pro-abortion rights and vote pro-abortion may have further limited the political landscape for pro-lifers with parliamentary ambitions as well as for voters. But former Liberal ministers of parliament (MPs) and Catholic leaders encourage Canadian Catholics to understand Trudeau’s flawed logic and get vocal.
Former long-serving Liberal MP Tom Wappel, who was elected to Canada’s parliament as a Toronto-area Liberal MP in 1988 and for five subsequent terms, even though he never hid his pro-life views, said he is insulted not only by Trudeau’s exclusion of differing viewpoints, but also by his lack of understanding about Canada’s federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Trudeau, who is Catholic, claimed that the charter mandated support for abortion when he made his announcement in May that only pro-abortion candidates can seek Liberal nominations.
"To hear that I would have now become persona non grata in the Liberal Party is a slap in the face," said Wappel. It is an insult to me, an insult to the people who invited me in and for those who voted for me. It is particularly galling because it’s totally unnecessary and based on an incorrect interpretation of Supreme Court decisions."
Trudeau’s pro-abortion-candidates edict aggravated the political bias against pro-life legislation that was already in place in all three of Canada’s major political parties. The leftist New Democratic Party (NDP), currently the official opposition in parliament, has long had an official policy of support for abortion rights.
And while the ruling Conservative Party has no restrictions against pro-life candidates and has a large contingent of pro-life MPs who are allowed to vote with their consciences on right-to-life issues, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly stated he will allow no legislation to be passed that would reopen the national political debate on abortion.
No Constitutional Right
Wappel, a retired lawyer now living in Ottawa, said that, contrary to Trudeau’s repeated assertions, abortion is not a constitutional right in Canada. In fact, the country has had no law whatsoever respecting abortion since the Supreme Court of Canada struck down an existing law in its 1988 Morgentaler decision.
"It’s very important for people to understand no Supreme Court of Canada decision has found a right to abortion under the charter. Period. The Supreme Court decision in the Morgentaler case specifically held that parliament has the authority to legislate restrictions on abortion if it so chooses."
All Canadians should be concerned about Trudeau’s actions, said Wappel. "It is totally anti-democratic. If he takes this position on abortion, he can take it on any issue." Wappel’s political peer Pat O’Brien was elected to four terms in parliament as an outspoken pro-life Liberal MP for the Ontario election district of London-Fanshawe, but he ended his career as an Independent and today serves as a consultant to Canadian pro-life and pro-family groups. He terms Trudeau’s position "a nonsense argument."
O’Brien said he is sorry to see that the Liberals’ formerly "big-tent party — now, under Justin [Trudeau] — has been shrunk to a pup-tent party way over on the left side of the spectrum," leaving no room for dissenting opinions and voter opinion on which candidates they prefer.
Until now, he said, the NDP has been the most dictatorial party on the issue of abortion. "All their MPs must toe the line and support it. Now, we’ve got the Liberals taking this position."
O’Brien also stresses that Harper is also unfriendly regarding the abortion issue, having made it clear throughout his eight years in power that he will not reopen the abortion debate. Previous attempts by backbenchers to raise the issue have been consistently stifled. The most notable instance was British Columbia Conservative MP Mark Warawa’s recent motion seeking to stop sex-selection abortions that was quashed in 2013. This happened despite an Angus Reid poll in 2012 that showed 60% of Canadians (and 66% of women respondents) across all party lines supported the idea of laws banning sex-selective abortion.
No Restrictions on Abortions
Among Western nations, Canada is the only country without any legislation restricting abortion. Canadians, and especially Catholics, need to understand why there is no abortion law in Canada, said Mary Ellen Douglas, the national organizer of Campaign Life Coalition.
"In 1969, the omnibus bill allowed for a therapeutic abortion committee to approve abortions. It was basically a farce, and we were going to take them to court because we knew they weren’t even meeting the women and [were] just signing off," explained Douglas. "It was at that point the Supreme Court struck down the entire law."
In the 1988 Morgentaler decision, Justice Bertha Wilson noted she felt legal protection ought to begin sometime in the second trimester, yet, with no law stating otherwise, Canadian women have access to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy.
Douglas said Campaign Life Coalition’s objective is to obtain a law to protect life from conception to natural death. To succeed, she said, "We need to get enough politicians in parliament to vote for it."
And Trudeau’s new policy for members of his party will make any abortion legislation more difficult, Douglas said, unless his own party and Canadian voters speak out.
Throughout the controversy, Trudeau has maintained he, like his father, Pierre Trudeau — who was Canada’s prime minister when abortion was first legalized in the country in 1969 — is a devout Catholic, despite his position on abortion.
René Laprise, director of media relations for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in an email, "The CCCB continues to observe the situation, but, to date, the executive [committee] has not made a decision on whether or not to issue a separate statement."
However, several Church leaders have spoken out individually.
In an essay in the Edmonton Journal, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith explained: "A pro-abortion stance is irreconcilable with Catholicism. Period."
Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto wrote an open letter to Trudeau in which he pointed out that, had Pope Francis moved to Canada and chosen politics rather than a priestly vocation, "he would have been ineligible to be a candidate for your party, if your policy were in effect."
Before asking Trudeau to reconsider his position, Cardinal Collins reminded him "that political authority is not limitless: It does not extend to matters of conscience and religious faith. It does not govern all aspects of life."
Bishop Frederick Henry of Calgary has likewise publicly condemned Trudeau’s stance. He said the Canadian constitution and history "both seek to protect religious freedom by equally encouraging, promoting and enforcing religious pluralism. Both envision not merely diversity of religion or faiths, but the active engagement, not mere tolerance, of such diversity, and not in isolation, but in relationship to one another."
Bishop Henry ended his letter by asking: "Why are Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau not listening? Why are we letting them get away with it?"
Wappel said Catholic voters should not accept this situation: "At some point, Catholics have to draw a line in the sand and say this is not liberal tradition, and I cannot support it, and I cannot support it going forward. The more people — especially women — who contact the Liberal Party and say they will not stand for this, the better.
"There is a constant refrain that all women in Canada support abortion. Any poll will tell you that most have some limits for some things. There are very, very few people who support abortion on demand for any time, for any reason, for any number of times."
O’Brien agreed that voters need to be vocal, using social media to make their views known and counted and that they should be contacting their local politicians. He notes that traditional Catholic support for the Liberal Party has waned over the last few elections and predicts this new development will erode support even more dramatically.
Said O’Brien, "If you don’t like their stands on things, contact them and say so."
Karen Murphy Corr writes from Abbotsford, Canada.