Order of Canada 'dishonour'

By 
  • July 10, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - A firestorm of protest continues to sweep across Canada in the wake of a July 1 announcement that abortion doctor Henry Morgentaler would receive the Order of Canada.

Catholic bishops from coast to coast joined numerous pro-life groups in condemning the decision by Governor General  Michaëlle Jean to give the country’s highest honour to the man whose name is most widely associated with the fact that Canada, almost alone among civilized nations, has no legal restrictions on abortion.

At the same time, momentum is building in a nationwide campaign to push Prime Minister Stephen Harper into reversing the decision. Thousands have signed online petitions and letters are pouring into government offices.

So far, two Order of Canada medals have been returned by recipients who feel the honour has been tarnished.

On July 8, representatives of Madonna House in Combermere, Ont., returned the award given to the community’s founder, Catherine Doherty, a pioneer of social justice and Christian compassion.

Fr. Lucien Larre of Coquitlam, B.C., has also given back his Order of Canada to the Governor General, saying the award should be “reserved for people who can be models or be inspiring for a majority of Canadians.”

On July 2, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops called on the “appropriate authorities to reconsider this nomination and not to award this distinction to Mr. Morgentaler.”

Morgentaler began his crusade for the legalization of abortion in the 1960s. He opened his first abortion clinic in Montreal in 1969 and was charged under then abortion laws in 1970. Eventually, his case wound up before the Supreme Court of Canada which, in 1988, ruled that Canada’s abortion law was unconstitutional as it violated a person’s right to “life, liberty and security of the person.”

Before that point, abortions were restricted and had to be done in hospitals. Since that time, Canada has had no law limiting abortions. Almost 100,000 abortions are performed each year in the country and the issue continues to cause deep division in public opinion.

On July 9, pro-life advocates demonstrated their displeasure in front of Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s residence in Ottawa, in a protest organized by the Campaign Life Coalition. The coalition has also organized an online petition at www.ipetitions.com/petition/Morgentaler.

The CCCB, which co-ordinates the efforts of Canada’s Catholic bishops whose flocks include 13 million Canadians, was joined by numerous other voices.

Natale Gallo, president of the Canadian Association of Knights of Columbus, called on the 230,000 Knights in Canada to write to the prime minister, the Governor General, members of Parliament and members of the Order of Canada advisory council to “express their revulsion at the prospect of presenting such an award to the nation’s largest and most outspoken abortionist.”

“It is imperative for us to urge our Canadian government leaders to ensure that this act of dishonour against our country and our families is revoked,” he said in a statement.

The Catholic Women’s League, representing 98,000 members across Canada, expressed “profound disappointment and distress” while also calling for revocation of the honour. They were joined by many other groups, including the Toronto Right to Life Association and the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute.

In Edmonton, Archbishop Richard Smith called on Catholics in his archdiocese to write to the Governor General to reverse the decision.

The Order of Canada “is given to people who have dedicated their lives to improving the well-being of Canadians,” he said. “I myself feel a real sense of shame and sadness that something like this could take place.”

Vancouver Archbishop Raymond Roussin said the honour was “an insult” to women and their families seeing  Morgentaler receive this honour.

The Catholic Office for Life and Family, a pro-life agency of the Canadian bishops, said in a statement that “Canada has its heroes, and they deserve to be recognized; however, it is neither heroic nor admirable to cause the death of unborn children, the most vulnerable of all Canadians. COLF therefore urges the Harper government to take the necessary action to ensure that the decision to award the Order of Canada to Dr. Morgentaler be revoked.”

London, Ont., Bishop Ronald Fabbro also urged the Governor General to change her mind.

“Dr. Morgentaler has spent his life advocating that women in Canada have easy access to abortion. Through his efforts, hundreds of thousands of unborn children have been killed. How can we celebrate this carnage by honouring its author? The killing of the unborn has now become ingrained in the very fabric of Canadian society. The sad consequence is an undermining of the respect that our society should have for the value of human life.”

These reactions followed by a day a call by Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins for the 1.7 million Catholics in the archdiocese to also lobby the government on this decision.

Spooked by the reaction, the prime minister tried to distance his government from the decision.

“It’s not a decision of the Government of Canada,” Harper said July 2. “That said, I guess my preference, to be frank, would be to see the Order of Canada be something that unifies, that brings Canadians together.”

While the final decision on who receives the Order of Canada is given to the Governor General, it is based on recommendations of an advisory council. This council, currently chaired by Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, has two government appointees — Privy Council Clerk Kevin Lynch and deputy heritage minister Judith Laroque.

The Globe and Mail reported July 3 that the committee, which usually operates by consensus, had a split vote on the Morgentaler recommendation, with both government representatives voting against.

The Globe also reported that McLachlin drove the recommendation forward to be accepted by a majority on the committee.

Dr. Morgentaler, now 85, lashed out at his critics July 2 in a press conference at his Toronto clinic.

“I hope the controversy will die down very soon,” he said. “The controversy or negative opinions come from the usual sources: the Catholic Church, the fundamentalists, the women who are usually against women’s rights, and that’s not really surprising. They always say what they always (have) said before: they’re opposed to abortion all this time, they’re still opposed now and they view it as an insult to them that I received the honour.”

Morgentaler also complained about Harper’s reaction. “I think Stephen Harper represents a reactionary party, a party which harbours many anti-choice people, some of them prominent and outspoken.”

Morgentaler claimed that 80 per cent of Canadians are “in favour of women having access to safe abortions.”

However, recent opinion polls show that most Canadians have deep concerns about the lack of any legal restrictions on abortion. An Environics poll from 2004 reported that 68 per cent of Canadians favour some restrictions, 33 per cent say life should be protected from the moment of conception, and 73 per cent support mandatory counselling before an abortion.

Morgentaler said he was very proud of his new honour and his life’s work.

“I’m proud of the fact that 20 years ago, the Supreme Court of Canada legalized abortion and women how have an opportunity to choose a good clinic and doctor to protect their health, their life and their dignity, so all these things are positive.”

But COLF pointed out that since the Supreme Court decision in 1988, nearly two million unborn children were aborted. “Is that the outstanding achievement that has been a service to this nation.”

Gwendolyn Landolt, national vice-president of REAL Women, a pro-life advocacy group, said the Order of Canada “has become a political tool to promote the left-wing agenda.”

“Over the years, the Order of Canada has mainly been awarded to feminists, homosexuals, environmentalists, left-wing broadcasters, writers and others involved in promoting the political left,” Landolt said in a news release. “Rarely has the Order of Canada recognized the services of those who take a conservative approach to issues.”


 

To have your voice heard

To inform Canadian authorities of your disappointment with the decision to award an Order of Canada to Dr. Henry Morgentaler, you can write to the following:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, by mail: The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, Office of the Prime Minister, 80 Wellington St., Ottawa, Ont., K1A 0A2; by phone: (613) 992-4211; by fax: (613) 941-6900; e-mail: pm@pm.gc.ca.

 The Governor General of Canada, Michaëlle Jean, by mail: The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Rideau Hall, 1 Sussex Dr., Ottawa, Ont., K1A 0A1; by phone: (613) 993-8200 or toll free 1-800-465-6890; fax (613) 998-8760; e-mail info@gg.ca, cc e-mails to smcook@gg.ca

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