Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News

Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News

Deborah Waters Gyapong has been a journalist and novelist for more than 20 years. She has worked in print, radio and television, including 12 years as a producer for CBC TV's news and current affairs programming. She currently covers religion and politics primarily for Catholic and Evangelical newspapers.

OTTAWA - A Hamilton, Ont., father battling to protect his children from anti- Christian indoctrination in the public schools says he is only seeking the same rights of religious accommodation like those already accorded Muslims.

Dr. Steve Tourloukis, a Greek Orthodox believer, is taking the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board to court, seeking a declarative ruling that recognizes his right to be informed when a classroom will be teaching curriculum contrary to his Christian faith, the right to have his children exempted from such teaching and an acknowledgement from the court of parents’ rights to educate their children.

What’s at stake is the “ability to influence the moral development of our children,” he said. “Education is a way to recruit child soldiers. In 20 years there will be no Christians left to fight the battle.” The school system is imposing an “unlearning process” on children to undermine the traditional beliefs they are taught at home.

Ahead of court appearances Nov. 21 and 22 in Hamilton, Tourloukis spoke in two Catholic venues in Ottawa Nov. 17, warning the same provincial equity and inclusiveness strategy is being foisted on Catholic schools.

Tourloukis said he is “heartbroken” about what has happened in Catholic schools, pointing to the province’s forcing gay-straight alliances upon the system in its equity legislation. Taking his children, aged six and eight, out of the public system and into the Catholic schools would not protect them from the kind of indoctrination he is already taking on.

“The Catholic schools are like the Vancouver safe injection site,” he said. “The drugs are the same but the needles are cleaner. As a parent, I want to choose what’s best for my kids, not what causes them the least harm.”

Tourloukis said he is only asking for the same religious accommodation that is accorded Muslims. Muslim students can be exempted from any school discussion of Christmas, Easter or Halloween, while their requests for special prayer time are accommodated as are requests to opt-out of gym for modesty reasons or out of music classes for religious reasons.

“I’m only asking for what other faiths receive,” he said.

The school board was not interested in learning about his concerns as a Christian, he said. Instead, he confronted a “bigoted stereotype” that paints Christians as homophobes.

The board is treating constitutional rights of religious freedom as if they are subject to the Ontario Equity Policy and not the other way around, he said. He said he was told it was too difficult for the board to inform him about when subject matter might come up.

Tourloukis decried the fact there is no organized inter-denominational effort to “stop this madness.”

“Our collective response as parents and as the Body of Christ has been pathetically underwhelming,” he said.

“We have failed to recognize our sacred responsibility to our children. I’m doing nothing heroic. These are my children for crying out loud. I will not be an accomplice in the corruption of my children.”

He pointed out Catholics should not blame their leaders. The gay community is excellent at organization and even though it is relatively small in number, when one speaks up politicians know many more stand behind them.

Tourloukis’ lawyer, Ottawa-based Albertos Polizogopoulos, said the court battle could cost $50,000, but could go up tenfold should the case end up at the Supreme Court of Canada.

More information about Tourloukis’ case can be found at www.defendingparents.com, which is raising money for similar parental rights cases elsewhere in Canada.

OTTAWA, Ontario - Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Msgr. Jose Bettencourt, a native of Portugal who grew up in Ottawa, as the Holy See's head of protocol.

Msgr. Bettencourt is only the second non-Italian to hold the position. The post had been held by Msgr. Fortunatus Nwachukwa, a Nigerian diplomat, who was named Nov. 12 as apostolic nuncio to Nicaragua.

"We are very proud of him and the honor the Holy Father has conferred on him in calling him to this charge," Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa said.

"He values his ties with his local church of Ottawa though his duties only permit a short stay at Christmas and a longer break over the summer months," the archbishop said. "He is invariably pleased to receive Canadians when I refer people to him and is kind to a fault."

In his position Msgr. Bettencourt is in charge of the protocol involving the Holy See's relationships with other states, from welcoming visiting heads of state at the airport to dealings with diplomats and ambassadors accredited to the Vatican.

His role includes overseeing how heads of state and others participate in ceremonies such as canonizations and consistories and ensuring that visitors to the Vatican are welcomed and relaxed.

Before his appointment, Msgr. Bettencourt worked closely in organizing papal audiences, briefing the pope and visiting bishops, heads of state and lay people for the visits.

He has served in the Vatican's Secretariat of State since 2002.

Born in 1962 in Velas, Azores, Portugal, Msgr. Bettencourt grew up in Ottawa, where he attended both elementary and secondary school. He graduated from the University of Ottawa before pursuing theological studies at Dominican College and St. Paul University, where he studied for the priesthood. He was ordained in 1993.

OTTAWA - Social conservatives, often blamed for election defeats like that of U.S. Republican Mitt Romney in the Nov. 6 American election, need to find better ways to stress the positives of their message if they want that to change, say members of a Canadian think tank.

“Statistics are on the side of social conservatives when we look at the outcomes for our children, for moms and dads, for families, and the negative consequences of abortion,” said Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) executive director Dave Quist.

But getting the message out is daunting in a climate where “the left has been way out in front” and most people do not engage in elections until the last weeks or days, he said.

As Republicans in the United States are analysing their election defeat, many pundits blame the social conservatives in the party for the loss. Media reports on gaffes made by several Republicans on abortion were plastered across headlines across the United States, and many believe helped President Barack Obama to his second-term as president.

It is no secret that most social conservatives are pro-life, and these views are deemed a liability in Canada. Quist noted abortion has been perceived by Prime Minister Stephen Harper as the “third rail” of Canadian politics ever since Stockwell Day’s 2000 campaign where the openly Christian Day was painted as “scary” and ridiculed for his pro-life, creationist and evangelical beliefs.

Yet Quist pointed out “the abortion discussion is alive and well and perhaps thriving in many parts of the country.”

But Andrea Mrozek, IMFC research and communications director, said social conservative principles are about much more than abortion or opposition to same-sex marriage, though they have been “branded” that way. It is about the strength of civil society, promoting the common good and caring for families, the elderly and the vulnerable.

Mrozek predicted social conservative principles will become popular when Western social democracies, especially the United States and its $16-trillion debt and its yearly trillion-dollar deficits, hit the fiscal cliff “and government can’t fund programs any more and suddenly we have to get our act together.”

“When we contracted everything out to the government we did change our personal way of thinking that personal charity does not need to be done; somebody else takes care of that for me,” she said. “I’m alarmed by what I walk by on the street sometimes, that I think, well, someone else is going to take care of it.”

Social conservatives are used to supporting charities, such as crisis pregnancy centres, that receive no government dollars, she said. This kind of charitable impulse will be needed when government programs cannot be maintained, she said.

“If it crashed we’ll have a whole different conversation. People will either sink or swim and won’t have anybody to rescue them, except people who are prepared to reach out.”
IMFC communications strategist Eloise Cataudella, a Catholic from Toronto, spoke of the transformative nature of personal charity, both for the giver and the receiver. There’s a difference between the government’s social safety net and the giving of time and resources of a small charitable organization. Those who receive government help because they are unable to get a job might say “the government is taking care of me because they have been mandated to do so,” she said.
“This does not inspire the sense that the government cares for me as an individual,” she said. “A small organization, struggling to make ends meet, offers a sense of love behind that charity that is transformative and helps lift people out of poverty.”
Many are now “caught or stuck in a safety net,” she said.
While abortion remains one of the top issues identified with social conservatism, Harper has been able to “remain above the fray” as backbenchers in his caucus use private member’s business and other means to keep the abortion debate alive, Mrozek observed.
Harper’s strategy to push social conservatives aside “is one of the worst I’ve ever seen,” and “backfiring,” she said.
“These social conservative issues keep popping up and (Harper) has no way of dealing with it other than to say ‘stop’ or to use the resources of the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office)” to get Tory caucus members to vote against various Conservative private member’s bills or motions, such as MP Stephen Woodworth’s Motion 312 that would have investigated the personhood of the unborn child, she said.

OTTAWA - It is one thing to set victims of human trafficking free but quite another to get them started on a new life.

“They believe they are good for nothing,” said Conservative MP Joy Smith. “This is so wrong. It breaks my heart. A lot of these girls were lost and had no support to get back on their feet.”

With that in mind Smith has launched a foundation to invite the public to participate in the fight against human trafficking.

The Joy Smith Foundation is a registered, non-profit organization where “every red cent goes to the victims and the NGOs that take care of them,” Smith said.

The foundation is a follow-up to the federal government’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking announced in June 2012. Non-political and non-partisan, the foundation is all about the victims,, Smith said.

Victims are “so traumatized they need support” to “start their lives again,” she said. They “need a vision” to rebuild their lives.

“I’m trying to be a role model for the public to show them what they can do,” Smith said. The money goes to the victims to provide rehabilitation to prepare them for a new life outside the sex trade; for clothing, counselling, housing, and money, “all those important everyday things.”

She recalled the court testimony of one trafficking victim who said she felt “good for nothing except giving sex to men.”

The foundation’s other component is building awareness of the plight of trafficking victims and the “unsung heroes” among police officers who rescue them and the NGOs that look after them, Smith said. “These people need to be thanked.”

Smith said people do not realize how hard it is to work in the human trafficking field and the kinds of blocks one runs into, from “judicial blocks” to the blocks from one’s peers in the police force. The work can be discouraging and depressing because the damage to trafficked women and children is so horrible, she said.

“It’s all about love, your love for girls and a desire to give them a fresh start,” she said.

Smith is the first MP in Canadian history to cause amendments to the Criminal Code twice through private member’s bills. Bill C-310 added a mandatory five-year sentence to those convicted of trafficking children under 18, and C-268 made human trafficking an extra-territorial offence, allowing prosecution of Canadian citizens or residents for trafficking crimes committed in other countries.

More information about the foundation can be found at www.joysmithfoundation.com

OTTAWA - Pro-life activist and Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medalist Linda Gibbons is back in prison, certain she is doing God’s work for praying outside an abortion facility.

Police moved in and arrested her Oct. 30 after the 64-year-old great-grandmother prayed outside of the Morgentaler abortuary on Hillsdale Avenue in Toronto, breaking a temporary injunction prohibiting demonstrators from coming too close to the facility and impeding its business.

Gibbons carried her usual sign depicting a picture of an infant and the words: “Why Mom? When I have so much to give.” Police moved in after about an hour and a half and arrested Gibbons.

“We will remain free in our love, we will not be coerced by the government to turn our backs on the unborn child,” Gibbons told CCN in an exclusive phone interview from Toronto days before her latest arrest. “If that lands us in court, that’s a gift, another providential opportunity to do the Lord’s work.

“When hoping and praying become a criminal activity, where is our freedom?” she asked.

Gibbons said her fellow inmates often ask her how she can stand the confinement, and being away from her family.

“I always tell the girls, ‘One day at a time with Jesus.’ It is Christ’s strength that gives you that fortitude to persevere,” she said.

The injunction dates back to 1989 after the former Morgentaler clinic on Harbord Street was firebombed.

Morgentaler built a bigger and more secure facility at the Hillsdale Avenue location that is covered by the temporary injunction creating a bubble zone around it.

Gibbons recalled the first time she was arrested. She and some fellow pro-lifers were in the alley behind the facility praying in a circle. They were not blocking the entrance or talking to people or doing anything that might impede Morgentaler’s business operation, she said.

She knew she would lose her job at military headquarters if she was arrested. But the words of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane came to her: “Can you not pray with me for one hour?” She realized her job “is something I must lay down.”

“Anything I put before Christ is not where I should be at the moment,” she said. “Doing the will of Christ is my first duty and the duty of the moment.”

In between arrests Gibbons used to try to get a job so as to maintain her apartment, but she realized hanging onto her home or an income was unrealistic.

“For 20 years, I have had no government support; I’m on no government program,” she said. “Pro-lifers have are carrying me through.”

A great-grandmother of two, Gibbons does miss her family when she’s in prison.

“I see this as a cost of doing business with the government,” she said. “I’m trying to leave a legacy for my grandchildren, so they don’t have to live in a society burdened by abortion.”

OTTAWA - The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear an appeal of an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that upheld most of a lower court’s decision to strike down some of Canada’s prostitution laws.

The federal government had applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court in late May.

Prostitution is not illegal in Canada, but activities surrounding it are: soliciting for the purposes of prostitution, running a brothel or bawdy house and living off the avails of prostitution or pimping.

But in a landmark ruling March 26, the Ontario Court of Appeal rendered a decision that legalizes brothels and allows prostitutes to hire protection and other staff. Public solicitation and pimping remain illegal but the court ruled that prostitutes have a constitutional right to work in safe environments such as an organized brothel.

However, the Ontario court suspended implementation of its decision for one year to give Parliament time to amend the criminal code.

The Catholic Civil Rights League welcomed news of the appeal.

“With our partners REAL Women of Canada and Christian Legal Fellowship, we have been intervenors in this case from its beginning in Ontario Superior Court,” said league executive director Joanne McGarry.

“Our position was and remains that while the law is not perfect, any liberalization of it would not improve prostitutes’ safety, and would make it easier to lure and exploit vulnerable girls and women

“Evidence from other jurisdictions suggests that when legalization occurs, the illegal side of the business continues to flourish,” she said in a statement.

REAL Women of Canada national vice president Gwendolyn Landolt says she and the other two groups expect to file their intention to intervene by next April.

Landolt said REAL Women would like to see prostitution itself prohibited.

“We do want to see that women who are prostitutes have an option to get off the streets, into safe houses and to receive treatment,” said Landolt, who noted many have problems with alcohol or drugs and sell sex to maintain their addictions.

“They need help. You don’t encourage them by widening the law.”

She said cases where prostitution laws have been loosened have not brought more safe conditions for prostitutes.

“Brothels do not protect women,” she said. “In the Netherlands, one-third of brothels had to be shut down because the criminal element became involved.

“Prostitution is inherently dangerous, no matter what circumstances are involved.”

Landolt warned about the consequences to women and children who are being trafficked into, out of or across Canada into the sex trade. Canada is already a transit country for traffickers bringing sex slaves into the United States, she said. Aboriginal women and children are especially vulnerable to trafficking.

“Human trafficking is one of the most lucrative criminal undertakings in the world,” she said, along with the sale of illegal weapons and the drug trade.

St. Kateri teaches us our response in faith to Jesus Christ brings healing, said Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith at a Thanksgiving Mass in Rome Oct. 22.

“Among the most striking aspects of her witness is the miraculous transformation of her face soon after her death,” said the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in his homily at St. John Lateran, Rome’s cathedral church. “From the age of four, terribly scarred by the smallpox, her face was restored to its original beauty only minutes after she had died.”

Smith noted Kateri said “Jesus, I love you,” just before she died, showing how her response to Christ’s love preceded the healing.

“How greatly do we need this lesson from Kateri today,” he said. “We may not bear physical scars, but so many today carry deep emotional and psychological ones.

“These are inflicted not by smallpox but by poverty, addiction, loneliness and betrayal. They are caused by the abuse suffered by Kateri’s modern-day sisters and brothers in their time at residential schools,” he said. “So much pain, so many emotional scars. Yet Kateri teaches us that no wound, however deep, should leave us without hope.”

The archbishop called the facial healing “an outward sign of the interior transformation that is given to all who hand over their lives to Christ, and who do so in love.”

The Mass, televised live by Salt + Light Television, drew more than 2,500 people, many of them Canadian pilgrims. Almost 20 Canadian bishops were present, including concelebrants Bishop Lionel Gendron and Auxiliary Bishop Louis Dicaire of Saint Jean-Longueuil, who serve the diocese that includes the Mohawk territory where St. Kateri died. The all-party delegation led by Canada’s Speaker of the House of Commons, Andrew Scheer, attended as did Canada’s ambassador to the Holy See, Anne Leahy.

“The meeting of God’s loving initiative with a grace-filled human response is on beautiful display in the life of St. Kateri,” said Smith, who said her name Tekakwitha was one of the earliest signs.

Tekakwitha has a variety of interpretations: “she who feels her way ahead,” “moving forward slowly,” “one who bumps into things,” but also “one who places things in order” or “to put all into place,” the archbishop said.

“It is, of course, true that Kateri’s physical sight was seriously compromised due to the smallpox from which she suffered,” he said. “What is equally true, however, and what is of far greater significance, is that her inner vision was clear.

“Deep within her heart she had received the gift of seeing clearly the truth of Christ and His Church. It is as if God, through the very name Tekakwitha and the life of the one who bore it, has drawn attention to the limits of human vision in order to point us to the true sight that comes from faith.”

Smith tied the canonization of North America’s first female indigenous saint with the Year of Faith and the Synod on New Evangelization taking place in Rome until Oct. 28.

“Kateri reminds us that this new evangelization, to be effective, must not only be proposed anew but also find an open and ready welcome in the heart of the recipient,” he said. “When the Jesuit missionary, Fr. de Lamberville, spoke of our Lord and the Christian faith, the Gospel message of life and hope found a home within her.”

He called Kateri’s response to the Gospel message a “work of grace.”

“Only with the help of God’s grace are we able, like Kateri, to make of our entire lives a living and pleasing sacrifice to God, as St. Paul exhorts us to do,” he said. “Only with divine assistance do we become, like Kateri, the mothers, brothers and sisters of Christ by doing the will of His — and our — heavenly Father.”

An estimated 1,500 Canadian pilgrims attended the canonization in St. Peter’s Square, most of them from First Nations and other aboriginal communities. Among the 17 Canadian bishops was Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins.

“Throughout her short life, St. Kateri never abandoned her faith,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper in an Oct. 21 statement.

“The canonization of St. Kateri is a great honour and joyous occasion for the many North Americans and aboriginal peoples who cherish her witness of faith and strength of character. The Government of Canada stands with those who are celebrating her life on this day in Canada, the United States and throughout the world.”

The canonization Mass Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Oct. 21 is available via the cccb.ca web site or at www.saltandlighttv.org.

OTTAWA - A Conservative MP who came under fire for awarding Diamond Jubilee Medals to pro-life activists who have served time in prison has garnered plenty of support from those who see the activists as prisoners of conscience.

OTTAWA - Ottawa’s All-Party Anti-Poverty Caucus continues to search for nonpartisan solutions to poverty — but it won’t be easy.

The caucus marked International Day for the Eradication of Poverty Oct. 17 with a panel discussion entitled “Ending Poverty Together: Real Stories, Real Solutions.” It brought together NDP, Liberal and Conservative MPs and Senators, representatives from anti-poverty groups, and two panelists who shared their lived experience of poverty.

“We’re good at raising awareness,” said NDP human resources critic Chris Charlton, caucus co-chair. “We’re not so good at moving the yard sticks.

“Government programs can make a difference if we design them right.”

Though Charlton would like to see greater tax fairness, she acknowledged higher taxes were not likely to find all-party support. She praised a Tory program, however, that helps the working poor rise out of poverty as one example of a program all parties support.

Caucus co-chair Liberal Senator Art Eggleton decried the fact one in 10 Canadians live in poverty and one out of four are children. Poverty costs Canada about $30 billion, according to a recent study, he said, with health care costs alone consuming about $7.5 billion.

“The social welfare system treats the symptoms, but leaves the disease untouched,” he said.

It is less expensive to give someone a home and support services than to leave him or her on the street, he said, because street people drive up hospital costs through use of emergency rooms.

They can also end up costing the justice system money.

“We know the facts; we know the answers,” said Eggleton, the former Toronto mayor and Liberal cabinet minister.

“Why isn’t something happening?”

It is a matter of political will, he said, noting the caucus is trying to build it.

Eggleton also raised concerns about growing income inequality that is affecting not only the poor but also the middle class, calling the gap a threat to Canada’s social cohesion.

Conservative Senator Don Meredith, who is caucus treasurer, said he grew up poor in Jamaica, arriving in Canada at the age of 12. He lived with his family in social housing in the tough Jane-Finch area of Toronto. He credited his family, religious faith and hard work in “overcoming adversity and finding success.”

“This is not about partisan lines,” he said. “It is about the lives of Canadians.”

He stressed entrepreneurship, job creation and reaching at-risk youth.

Geraldine King, a young First Nations woman, said intergenerational poverty had become normalized to the extent she did not realize she was poor until peers started making fun of her when she reached age seven or eight. She thought going to food banks and wearing second hand clothes from a bin was something everyone did.

King credited a federal program with helping her get out of poverty. A new employment insurance (EI) rule allowed her to resign from her lower paying job to seek more training by attending university while still receiving EI benefits. This program helped her survive her first year in university. After that she qualified for bursaries and scholarships.

King said she was lucky to find out about the program because systemic barriers keep people like herself from finding out about them, especially those without computer access or living in First Nations communities.

Linda LeBlanc, an anti-poverty advocate who raised two children on and off social assistance, depending on her health or employment status, spoke of the isolation and marginalization she experienced.

Many poor people cannot leave their homes for lack of money and transportation, disability issues or pregnancy or small children, she said. Being poor means constantly juggling, never knowing what is going to come at you, just struggling to get through the day.

Though many say the best social program is a job, without supports like housing, child care and transportation the job will not do much good, she said.

Then there are many who can’t take a job even if the supports are in place.

LeBlanc said the best consultants on poverty are those who have lived it, but they often cannot find the money to attend meetings like this.

OTTAWA - Individuals living alone without family ties form a new growing risk-group for poverty, says a new study by Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) released Oct. 17.

At a news conference, CPJ executive director Joe Gunn blamed the rise of “precarious employment” for the growing risk to unattached working individuals of falling into poverty. Don’t believe the line that simply getting a job will get one out of poverty, he said.

“It has to be a good job,” he said.

“Working-age individuals living on their own are now much more likely to be poor than individuals living in family situations,” says CPJ’s Poverty Trends Scorecard—Canada 2012, released to mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

The study shows poverty among households with two or more workers accounted for a “shocking” 12 per cent of Canada’s poor. Households with one worker make up 39.1 per cent of Canada’s poor.

“Inadequate income support programs for working-age individuals and families ensure a life of poverty for almost one million Canadians,” the study says.

The study also identifies young adults as “more likely to be poor today than they were three decades ago,” noting fewer young people are working in 2012 than at the peak of the 2008-2009 recession.

Other groups that face higher risk of poverty and the likelihood of long-term poverty are aboriginal peoples, recent immigrants, the disabled and “racialized communities,” the study says.

The study shows the higher poverty levels caused by the recent recession were largely overcome by 2010, though Alberta and British Columbia have not fully recovered.

Not all the news is bad, Gunn pointed out. The study shows that over the past 15 years, Canada has seen a decline in overall poverty rates, “especially among children and seniors.” Gunn said this result shows government support programs can work to reduce poverty.

CPJ reported progress in reducing poverty in Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and Quebec.
“Poverty among lone-parent families has fallen as women’s position in the labour market has improved, and their average duration of poverty has decreased,” the study says.
Supports for working age and unattached people have “weakened” since the 1990s, the study says.
“Lack of support is a critical issue with the loss of middle-income jobs in Canada.”
Gunn said the House of Commons has pledged twice to overcome poverty and the House HUMA committee developed a plan that still needs to be implemented. That it has not been shows “a failure of our commitment to show we are here for the common good of all.”