Thursday, September 27, 2012

Welcome To Canada! Just Don't Discuss Anything Controversial: The Aftermath of Motion 312

Kitchener-Centre MP Stephen Woodworth
It's the day after, and all across Canada the in-boxes, voicemails, and mailboxes of Members of Parliament are breathing a sigh of relief. The 294 votes have been cast, and Motion 312 has been soundly defeated.  For my American and International readers, Motion 312 was introduced as a private members bill to our House of Commons by Conservative Member of Parliament Stephen Woodworth from the riding of Kitchener-Centre, Ontario. The Motion reads as follows:

That a special committee of the House be appointed and directed to review the declaration in Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada which states that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth and to answer the questions hereinafter set forth;

that the membership of the special committee consist of twelve members which shall include seven members from the government party, four members from the Official Opposition and one member from the Liberal Party, provided that the Chair shall be from the government party; that the members to serve on the said committee be appointed by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the membership report of the special committee be presented to the House no later than 20 sitting days after the adoption of this motion;

that substitutions to the membership of the special committee be allowed, if required, in the manner provided by Standing Order 114(2);

that the special committee have all the powers of a Standing Committee as provided in the Standing Orders; and

that the special committee present its final report to the House of Commons within 10 months after the adoption of this motion with answers to the following questions,

      (i)            what medical evidence exists to demonstrate that a child is or is not a human being before the moment of complete birth?,

   (ii)            is the preponderance of medical evidence consistent with the declaration in Subsection 223(1) that a child is only a human being at the moment of complete birth?,

 (iii)            what are the legal impact and consequences of Subsection 223(1) on the fundamental human rights of a child before the moment of complete birth?,

 (iv)            what are the options available to Parliament in the exercise of its legislative authority in accordance with the Constitution and decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada to affirm, amend, or replace Subsection 223(1)?
For several weeks, women and men across this country have seen this motion as an attempt at re-opening the abortion debate and thus an attack on women's rights.  Thus the letters, e-mails and phonecalls, not to mention the massive e-petitions by groups such as LeadNow.

From the outset, our Conservative Prime Minister said that he would not support such a bill, as he has promised not to bring up abortion while he is in power.

While Mr. Woodworth is unapologetically "pro-life," there is not one word in the above motion that pertained to abortion or stripping away women's rights. What this motion was proposing was a discussion.

The Canadian Criminal Code states that:

A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother, whether or not

(a) it has breathed;

(b) it has an independent circulation; or

(c) the navel string is severed.

Furthermore, Woodworth argued that the current definition of a human being was according to a 400 year old English law and should be re-examined.

Again, I hear nothing about abortion or taking away women's rights. I hear a call for a discussion.

If the wording of this motion had been to ban abortion or ban partial-term abortion, or taking away a woman's right to choose, I'd understand the uproar. But it wasn't.

Not surprisingly, though, drama and hyperbole kicked in, and it was easily defeated. What if Mr. Woodworth hadn't have been a Conservative, but a member of the more liberal opposition parties?

As it stands, the Motion was defeated 203-91, with several Conservative ministers including the Immigration Minister and Minister for the Status of Women voting in favour. Also, a handful of Liberal party members voted in favour, while none of the Official Opposition NDP members supported the bill.

The drama continued after the vote, with NDP Women's critic Niki Ashton, took umbrage with Ms. Ambrose, the Ministeer for the Status of Women: "I think we need someone who is actually interested in women's equality. I think it's shameful that the minister in charge of moving forward on women's equality stood up in the House to essentially attack a woman's right to choose." Headshake. Whaaa? Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said it should be noted that Parliament sent a strong signal with such an overwhelming vote opposing the debate. "The question of abortion is essentially a question of a woman making that decision. It's something where we have to respect a woman's right to choose."

I'm movin' on up back to Woodworth's motion, and says nothing about abortion or taking away women's rights.

A friend and former pastor of mine, Harold Albrecht, is currently Conservative MP for the riding of Kitchener-Conestoga. The day before the vote we chatted online about opening up the discussion. Here's what he had to say: "It seems quite strange that we are unwilling to discuss this issue. We discuss freely the environmental impact on salamanders of the proposed new bridge, but somehow discussing the impact of a 400 year old law on the human species is not allowed? This makes no sense to me." He then remarked, "I will vote in such a way that I can look my children and grandchildren in the eye in 20 years and say "I did what was right, regardless of the political fallout."

I have 2 points to make at the end of this article:

  1. Why are we so afraid to have a discussion on when a fetus becomes a human being? Instead of trying take away rights, perhaps people are trying to make sure that all those who are human beings have rights.  The current definition of when a human being becomes a human being is unbelievable to me. So it's at the time of birth. Hmm. Is it when the head is out, or the shoulders? Is it when you can tell the sex of the baby, or when the umbilical cord is cut?  I think a discussion would be fascinating. Bring in the scientists, the ethicists, the theologians.  Why do people refer to what they are carrying as "their baby" if they are only carrying a fetus? Why do people light up with joy and have "baby" showers if it is undetermined whether the fetus will grow into a baby? A Christian mentor of mine from the past shocked me this past week when they said "I think there should be a discussion on when a fetus becomes a human, and then I believe abortions should be available, that the woman has the right to sit down with her doctor and make that call." 

  2. The terms "Pro-Life" and "Pro-Choice" are worn and tired, and they don't reflect the nuanced details that form our opinions on such matters. Do pro-lifers naturally hate women? Do pro-lifers who are women have an inferiority complex and need to be freed from the clutches of men? Do pro-lifers care as much for people once they are born and all throughout life as they say they do when a child is in the womb?  Is someone who is pro-choice necessarily without religion? Are they baby-killers? Do they have no respect for the sanctity of life?
Last night after having his vote defeated, Stephen Woodworth told The Record: "I think honestly that there is a consensus right across Canada that there ought to be legal recognition of children as humans before birth." Consensus, Stephen? Really?

What we have had here is a whole lot of huffing and puffing, I am glad to live in this land, and democracy was served, albeit after having it's buttocks being kicked by hyperbole. The fact that we won't discuss such matters disturbs me. 

Mark Andrew Alward