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If the hockey riots of Vancouver needed a face an unlikely one was found in 17-year-old Nathan Kotylak.

Kotylak skipped his high-school graduation ceremony in Maple, B.C. so he could turn himself into police and confess that he was the person shown attempting to torch a police car in a widely-distributed photograph. The photo was taken in the aftermath of the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs, when mobs vandalized and looted their way through the streets of downtown Vancouver.

The first reaction to all this is that Kotylak and the rest of the mob are hooligans who should probably be tossed in jail. They terrorized a city and brought shame to the country and should be held to account. In due course, the police and the courts will settle all that.

Meantime, though, we are left to try to understand why this happened. Why did so many young people run with the mob? And how to explain the public response, when the initial shock understandably became anger before taking an inexplicable turn to rage and calls for vengeance.

Aboriginal anguish


For Canada’s First Nations people, last week’s auditor-general’s report must evoke deja vu.

In her farewell report to Parliament, outgoing auditor-general Sheila Fraser took the government to task for repeated and ongoing failure to address numerous barriers preventing First Nations people from sharing in Canada’s prosperity. It is Canada’s shame that so many native people live without such basic needs as a warm home and safe water.

The auditor general itemized what previous reports had said about the failure of successive governments to improve living standards on native reserves. Yet these observations barely made the news. The headlines went to the splashier findings about outrageous expenditures from last year’s G8/G20 summits and, in particular, excessive spending in the Parry Sound-Muskoka riding of Conservative cabinet minister Tony Clement.

As the new Treasury Board president, Clement is expected to introduce spending efficiency to a cash-strapped government. Today, that seems a bit rich. Clement was rebuked by the auditor general for blowing some $45 million tax dollars in his  riding, using funds approved for border security on local projects without proper oversight or an appropriate paper trail. While he was authorizing gazebos and other projects in Ontario’s cottage country, First Nations people were living in mould-infested homes, boiling drinking water to avoid disease and sending children to ramshackle schools.

Groundbreaking report


An exhaustive American study has attempted to answer the imponderable: what caused so many priests to sexually abuse minors over the second half of the 20th century?

The authors of the report, from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of New York, spent five years sifting through thousands of pages of data, interviews and surveys from victims, priests and bishops. Their work, commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is described as the most complete  examination of clergy abuse ever.

They found that abuse increased throughout the 1960s, peaked in the 1970s and then drastically declined around the mid-1980s. No single cause was identified but it found a host of social and institutional factors that may explain the sudden spike and just-as-sudden fall. The most controversial of these is that clergy abuse was sparked by a broader decline in society’s moral behaviour typified by the sex and drugs revolution of the 1960s.

Courting trouble


Last year Parliament overwhelmingly rejected a private member’s bill introduced by former Bloc MP Francine Lalonde that would have amended the Criminal Code to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. That should have been the end of the story, or at least the end of a chapter until either the government or a private member put the issue back before Parliament. But Canadian law on this contentious issue is again under threat, but this time MPs have no say in the matter.

It shouldn’t be that way, of course. Canadians elect Members of Parliament to make laws. But much the way on-demand abortion was legalized in 1988, Canadian law on end-of-life decisions will be made by judges if proponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide succeed in cases currently before the courts.

The first challenge is from a Vancouver woman who helped her terminally ill, 89-year-old mother commit suicide in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal. Lee Carter admits she abetted her mother’s death. That would mean she broke Canadian law that prohibits a person from aiding, encouraging or counselling another’s suicide, or intentionally causing a death. But backed by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, she has asserted in B.C. Supreme Court that the Criminal Code is unconstitutional.

Tough on trafficking


The 18-year-old woman arrived from Africa to begin a new life working in a Vancouver hair salon. At least, that was the promise.

But when she landed, according to police, her employer confiscated her passport and used threats and intimidation to force the young woman to work seven days a week, 18 hours a day as an unpaid household servant. A virtual slave. She lived that way for a year, alone and terrified, before escaping to a women’s shelter.

Her ordeal has resulted in a Vancouver woman facing charges of human trafficking, a crime that is rampant around the world. The United Nations estimates that more than 2.4 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking. It is a $32-billion global industry, behind only drug smuggling and gun-running as the most lucrative international criminal activities. It thrives because the world abounds with poor, vulnerable people who are easily exploited, but also because for every victim lured or snatched from their home there is someone willing to acquire human cargo.

Let the debate begin


A record turnout of some 15,000 pro-life supporters cheered former Liberal MP Pat O’Brien at the annual March for Life when he proclaimed on Parliament Hill that the abortion debate is back on.

O’Brien may be correct to sense a change in temperature. While still no heat wave, pressure is building for Stephen Harper’s new Conservative majority to initiate the national debate shunned by successive Parliaments since a 1988 Supreme Court decision overturned Canada’s abortion laws.

This reluctance to debate an issue of such fundamental importance is, of course, a travesty. It is Canada’s shame that it is the only Western democracy with no laws on abortion. A woman is legally entitled to receive an on-demand abortion at any point during pregnancy.

This sorry state persists despite support from only a small minority of Canadians. A poll this month by Abacus  Data of Ottawa showed 59 per cent of Canadians (and 63 per cent of women) support enacting restrictions on abortion against just 22 per cent who endorse the status quo. For most, the question isn’t whether Canada should have abortion laws; it’s a matter of how new laws should be framed.

Yet politicians, infuriatingly, frustratingly, refuse to initiate the debate. That was the case under Liberal majorities and Conservative minorities, but even with a new majority and a socially conservative caucus largely sympathetic to calls for abortion legislation, Harper sounds reluctant to budge.

“As long as I am prime minister we are not opening the abortion debate,” Harper said during the recent election campaign. “The government will not bring forward any such legislation and any such legislation that is brought forward will be defeated as long as I am prime minister.”

Although that sounds definitive and although we generally expect politicians to keep election promises, we urge Harper to reconsider.

When the Supreme Court overturned the abortion laws in 1988 it was not because it favoured an anything-goes abortion policy. The court believed it was the role of Parliament to draft abortion legislation to conform with the Charter. But Parliament has repeatedly shirked its duty.

The debate should be about more than abortion law. If an outright ban is not achievable — Catholics may have to swallow that Canadians overwhelmingly support early term abortion — the debate must include a discussion of non-abortion options for distressed women. Abortion is too often the first choice rather than last option. That has to change.

Even if Harper won’t reopen the abortion debate, government has a moral obligation to provide women with medical, financial and social programs to support them through pregnancy. Public funds that currently prop up the abortion industry should be spent on support programs for pregnant women.

This debate is long overdue. Maybe it’s not here yet, but we sense that it’s coming.

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Legitimate kill


He was the face of evil, an indiscriminate murderer, a terrorist whose tentacles reached across nations to snare others into an ideology of hate.

Now Osama bin Laden is dead and Christians are called to sober reflection, not celebration.

The announcement that bin Laden had been shot dead in his Pakistan mansion by U.S. Navy Seals sparked rejoicing around much of the Western world. It had taken almost 10 years to sniff him out after the 9/11 attacks that claimed more than 3,000 lives, including 24 Canadians. The search was long but retribution was swift — a bullet to the head and a hasty burial at sea.

In the days after bin Laden’s mercenaries brought down the World Trade Centre in 2001, then U.S. president George W. Bush declared that America would have its justice. Asked if he wanted bin Laden dead, Bush made a quip about the bad guys in old-west posters: “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” But there was never a sense bin Laden would be taken alive and face trial.

Your right, and duty

The early months of 2011 have witnessed many hundreds of people killed in North Africa and the Middle East because they dared to demand the right to vote in free elections. In Canada, where freedom is taken for granted, this week’s federal election will be snubbed by 40 per cent of eligible voters.

It is a sad statement about the state of our democracy when millions of citizens give voting day the cold shoulder, particularly when so many people in so many countries are giving their lives for the right to cast a ballot. In Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria, hundreds have been killed this year alone by regimes that refuse to grant citizens the ballot. Canadian troops are in Afghanistan and our fighter planes are supporting Libyan freedom fighters because we believe their struggle to replace oppression with democracy is just. But at home millions of Canadian citizens, many of whom presumably support the Afghan and Libya interventions, treat their own democracy with indifference.

The explanations for that are varied but none offer a good excuse for citizens to shirk their civic duty. Yes, four elections in eight years add up to voter fatigue. A string of minority parliaments has created an atmosphere of hostility in Ottawa that is off-putting to voters. There have been a series of scandals over the past decade, from the Liberals’ ad-scam fiasco to the Conservative’s Bev Oda affair, which have deepened voter cynicism. Attack ads, commonplace among all major parties, debase our democracy and foster harmful polarization in society. Yet, staying home on election day is not the answer.

Catholics in particular are called to actively promote the common good by engaging in the political process. For some, that means participating in public life by standing for elected office. But for most Catholics it means, at minimum, casting a ballot on election day for a candidate who can best represent Christian values in Parliament. Voting is not an option; it is a duty.

Canada’s bishops urge Catholics to carefully discern their choices. They believe a candidate’s views on life issues is a paramount consideration, as well as their position on a broad range of family and social justice matters. And even when there is no obvious choice — for example, when no candidate reflects the Church’s teaching on life — the obligation to vote remains. But it then becomes incumbent on citizens, acting respectfully, to continuously lobby MPs to advocate for a more just and moral society.

In many countries, people are willing to risk death to be able to cast a ballot in an open and free election. Canadians are blessed to have that privilege. We have a civic duty to vote but, also, we owe it to our less-fortunate world brethren to respect their cause by exercising our right on election day.

He is truly risen

What actually happened on that first Easter Sunday?

Every Easter, millions of Christians worldwide celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. They rejoice at the Scripture passages that recount the Risen Lord appearing first to Mary Magdalene and later to His disciples. The story is so familiar, so central to our faith, that even casual church-goers can almost recount it by rote. But what really happened that day?

In Pope Benedict’s new book, Jesus of Nazareth — Holy Week: From the entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, Christians have been given an Easter present to help them explore that question. The final chapter of Benedict’s book is a profound historical examination of the Resurrection. On the matter of that first Easter, he ponders: What is the Resurrection of Jesus?

Defending faith

Freedom of religion is enshrined in the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights and guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But merely articulating this noble concept is meaningless without the will to vigourously defend it.

So it is encouraging to see this important issue injected into the election debate through a promise from Stephen Harper’s Conservatives that’s been endorsed by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. Pope Benedict XVI calls religious freedom the path to peace and now we find it may even be a  source of harmony between Liberals and Conservatives.

As part of their election platform, the Conservatives have pledged to create an Office of Religious Freedoms that would operate within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. This new office would monitor religious freedom abroad, promote it as a tenet of Canadian foreign policy and support programs and organizations that advance the cause of religious freedom. It would also offer safe haven to persecuted religious minorities through “generous” refugee programs.

Questions still

Four months ago the Catholic Organization for Development and Peace announced procedural changes to stop donor money going to organizations sympathetic to abortion. Those changes, which came after a bishops' investigation revealed some D&P funds had gone to groups hostile to Church teaching on life issues, seemed to turn the page on a bumpy chapter in D&P's history.

So it's difficult to comprehend last week's unseemly events in Ottawa where Archbishop Terrence Prendergast had to intervene to cancel a D&P initiative because the speaker from Mexico, a priest, runs a human rights organization that is chummy with a pro-abortion group. The archbishop must be wondering how in heaven's name this could have happened. How could D&P, his own staff, fellow bishops and the priest himself, Fr. Luis Arriaga, put the Archbishop in such an awkward position.

Prendergast is one bishop unreservedly on the front line in the anti-abortion crusade, whether it be in his public statements, joining the annual March for Life or, last year as Quebec bishops were noticeably absent, standing with Cardinal Marc Ouellet when Canada's then-primate was under attack for unequivocally defending life. So he would have been rightfully perplexed and perturbed at reports that his archdiocese was welcoming a speaker from a D&P partner agency that is linked to a pro-abortion organization called Right to Decide.