Sunday, May 25, 2014

Abortion debate needs voices of reason

The leaders of Canada’s national political parties all agree on one thing; they do not want to talk about abortion.  Yet, with Justin Trudeau’s announcement that going forward all Liberal candidates must be pro-choice, abortion is back on their radar screens. 

Under Trudeau’s leadership, the Liberal Party joins the New Democratic Party in discouraging those who believe in the sanctity of life within the womb from the party folds and from running for Parliament. This leaves only the Conservative Party truly open to those with pro-life sensibilities.

While Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair may want to avoid candidates who are solely interested in codifying an uncompromising ban on abortion, party policy that precludes individuals who are not pro-choice from running for office violates a fundamental principle of Canadian democracy.

Representation is a pillar of democracy
As any well-taught sixth grader in the country knows, representation is one of the pillars of Canadian democracy. Canadian citizens have a right to select their representatives to Parliament. Collectively, these representatives should represent the diversity of Canada in race, creed and opinion.

Representatives have a responsibility to listen to the conflicting voices of Canadians on all matters, including those of conscience, even though they may disagree with those voices. The electorate is not well served when political parties pay lip service to Canadians of all views, but then stipulate, as Mr. Trudeau has in an email to Liberal party members, “incoming Liberal MPs will always vote in favour of a woman’s fundamental rights.”  

While it is true that the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the country’s last abortion law in 1988 on the basis that the law was unconstitutional, and contravened Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which guarantees a woman’s legal right to life, liberty and the security of the person, there are other ways to support pregnant women besides silencing the voices of those who believe that life is sacred from the moment of conception.

Canada needs voices of reason to move beyond polarized arguments
The practice of discouraging, if not down right excluding, those who are pro-life from vying for office implies that anyone who is not pro-choice is incapable of being an effective parliamentarian. There seems to be an assumption that all pro-lifers are radical zealots. This is simply untrue; many people who hold pro-life views and who have reservations about Canada’s lack of abortion laws are quite capable of approaching the issue rationally, realistically, and with regard for a woman’s right to choose.

Canadians need voices of reason on both sides of the abortion debate at the national level. Perhaps if national leaders were more open to dissenting voices on the topic, and to the concerns of the sixty percent of Canadians who favor some legislative restriction on abortion (such as on sex selective abortion), the debate could move beyond inflammatory rhetoric and polarized arguments. Instead of focusing on universal and unrestricted access to abortion or a complete ban on abortion, Canada could move towards the development of educational and social programs that would held reduce the number of abortions in the country, while at the same time respecting a woman’s freedom and right to choose.  Too often pro-choice means no choice for a pregnant woman because of a lack of practical support for other options during a difficult time.

National parties that prevent Canadians from running for office based on a single issue shut out many talented, principled, altruistic and reasonable people from participation in the development of the broad range of economic, environmental, legislative and social policies that affect Canadian life. 

As Archbishop Cardinal Collins of Toronto noted in his letter to Trudeau, Pope Francis "would have been ineligible to be a candidate" for the Liberals. And, as someone noted on a media discussion board, Mother Theresa would not have made the cut either.

With Trudeau’s “resolutely pro-choice” version of Liberal values, the Liberal Party follows the New Democratic Party in an exclusionary practice that has implications for representation in a parliamentary democracy, and at the end of the day, may do little to support women facing the difficult decision of carrying a pregnancy to term.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

We learn to be racist

Just who was Jesus?  

It’s a question that commands a lot of attention, and engenders a whole lot of heated debate.  While I have read scholarly books on the topic, I rather like a comedic set of arguments that attempts to define Jesus in terms of racial stereotypes.

It does not matter whether you believe in Jesus or not, these sometimes irreverent arguments challenge us to see an image of divinity in all people, and to acknowledge, respect and cherish the innate dignity of others.

Quoting from these anonymous arguments, Jesus was black because he called everyone brother; he liked Gospel; and, he couldn’t get a fair trial. But, there are three equally good arguments that he was aboriginal: he was at peace with nature; he ate a lot fish; and, he talked about the Great Spirit. Then again, there are three equally good arguments that he was Italian: he talked with his hands; he had wine with his meals; and, he used olive oil. 

Racism in sport
Two recent incidents of racism in sport  - the offensive comments of Los Angeles Clipper’s owner, Donald Sterling, against blacks, and an alarming number of racist tweets against PK Sabban of the Montreal Canadiens following his overtime goal against the Boston Bruins - provide striking examples of the inability of some people to accept others who differ from themselves.

While these incidents have sparked discussion about the prevalence of racism in pro-sports, and have drawn attention to racism in the NCAA, which Billy Hawkins, professor of kinesiology at the University of Georgia, dubs the “new plantation”, racism is definitely not limited to the sporting arena. 

and in Canadian history
Consider the legacy of Indian residential schools in Canada.   The very creation of the residential school system was an expression of the concept ‘the white man’s burden’, which held that the white man was a superior being responsible for the management of non-whites. All too frequently, this attitude of racial superiority resulted in terrible abuses to First Nations children as we are learning from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which wrapped up four years of hearings in late April of this year.

Racism perpetuates itself
None of us are born with racist views. We learn them, whether at home, in our social circles or elsewhere in our culture.

As an adolescent growing up in the late 1960’s, I had an early lesson in the perpetuation of racism that made racism much more real to me than the violent images on television coming out of the southern United States.

My older sisters were members of “Up with People”, a movement of young people that promoted racial equality through music.  Our hometown was pretty much white, and when a visiting choir from the States came to perform, some families were reluctant to billet the black teens, which was strangely ironic. My mother was indignant that race was an issue in placing these kids, and volunteered to take two black billets.

That night at the supper table, we talked about prejudice, including the prejudice that existed against Italians, and the derogatory term “wop” that cut deeply, and angered my Italian father and grandfather, who were both Canadian citizens. We did not talk about the prejudice against aboriginal people; while Canadians watched the civil rights movement unfold to the south, the majority of us were oblivious of the destructive systemic racism in our own country.

That conversation left an indelible impression on my developing character and sense of morality. The message that night was clear. People are people. There is no such thing as the “other”; we are sisters and brothers of one human family.

While my parents used the moment of welcoming two billets into our home to instill respect for the “other” in their daughters, I could have learned a very different lesson that night had I been sitting somewhere else, like in a hockey arena, listening to adults around me jeer at a skilled NHL player for being black.

So, just who was Jesus?  He is any person who is marginalized, ridiculed or abused.