Rewarding courage

By 
  • October 31, 2012

The values Canadians most cherish include democracy, peace, equality and freedom. So if the purpose of awarding Diamond Jubilee Medals is to honour significant contributions to Canada, then Linda Gibbons and Mary Wagner have every right to wear their medals proudly.

The pro-life crusaders are among 60,000 Canadians being honoured under a program to mark the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Their names were submitted by Saskatchewan MP Maurice Vellacott and approved by the Chancellery of Honours in the Governor General’s office. As Governor General David Johnston said last February in announcing the program, nominees were sought who “have dedicated themselves to the well-being of family, community and country.”

By that definition, Wagner and Gibbons are worthy winners. Canada currently lacks both an abortion law of any kind and a mainstream political party willing to discuss drafting one even though polls show that most Canadians support some type of legislation. Gibbons and Wagner, despite court orders and injunctions against them, and despite much public vilification, have been relentless in their peaceful, prayerful protest against what Pope Benedict has called a crime against society.

For this, both women have been repeatedly jailed. Gibbons has spent almost 10 of the past 20 years behind bars for maintaining her sidewalk vigils. Wagner has spent less time imprisoned but is currently jailed for trespassing after taking her cause inside a private clinic.

The two women are serial dissenters and, due to their criminal convictions for what amounts to civil disobedience, their inclusion on the honours list was widely criticized. The objections, mainly from those intent on silencing pro-life voices, ignore the long and important history of civil disobedience and peaceful protest in Canada. Equality rights for racial and religious minorities, women and the disabled all have roots in peaceful protest.

Gibbons and Wagner are pro-life crusaders first but they are also unwitting defenders of the fundamental Canadian rights of lawful assembly, peaceful protest and religious freedom. For that, they have been repeatedly imprisoned when their courage and resilience should warrant gratitude from not only pro-life advocates but from all Canadians.

When someone like Gibbons asserts a democratic right to pray and protest peacefully for the unborn, and then is arrested for it, all of society should be indignant. Canadians are guaranteed the freedom of conscience and religion, and freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. When one person confronts authority to peaceably express those rights, regardless of their particular cause, they’re advancing a fundamental right important to all Canadians.

Bravely, Gibbons and Wagner have been doing exactly that for years, and that’s why they’ve earned a Diamond Jubilee Medal.

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