Momentum builds against Morgentaler Order of Canada

  • July 3, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - Momentum is building in a nationwide campaign to push Prime Minister Stephen Harper into reversing a decision to give an Order of Canada to abortion doctor Henry Morgentaler.

Since the July 1 announcement by Governor General Michaëlle Jean that Morgentaler would receive Canada's highest distinction for contributions to the nation, Catholics and other pro-life advocates have been uniform in their denunciations.

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.

Worthy appointees forgotten in swirling controversy


OTTAWA - Getting lost in the controversy surrounding Dr. Henry Morgentaler's appointment as a member of the Order of Canada is the other new appointees.

Governor General Michaëlle Jean announced 74 other appointments — five companions, 26 officers, 42 members and one honorary officer — besides Morgentaler on Canada Day, July 1.

Among those honoured were people with Catholic connections, including a priest and a religious sister.

Sr. Christine Leyser, IBVM, of Guelph, Ont., is honoured for "serving as the driving force behind several institutions" that aid the needy in society, according to the citation issued by the Governor General. Leyser has run Guelph's Welcome In Drop-in Centre since 1983, a centre that cares for the homeless and people suffering from mental illness, isolation and economic marginalization. She is now a member of the Order of Canada.

Fr. André Poilievre of Saskatoon has worked on the streets and in prisons with aboriginal and inner city youth for more than 20 years, "helping steer them away from the pitfalls of addiction and gang violence," said the citation appointing Poilievre as a member of the Order of Canada. He has helped organize STR8 UP, a group that serves as mentors and helps at-risk youth make healthy choices.

Marc Kielburger of Toronto, who along with his brother Craig — a member of the Order of Canada appointee in 2006 — founded Free the Children in 1995, is now a member of the Order of Canada. His citation said Kielburger is being honoured "as an activist who is committed to promoting social activism and voluntarism in Canada's youth."

Patrick J. Keenan of Toronto is cited as a new member for "his sustained philanthropic contributions, notably in the areas of health care, education and culture." Among these is the Patrick J. Keenan Chair in Religious Education at Toronto's University of St. Michael's College, as well as initiatives over the years to support St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

The CCCB, which co-ordinates the efforts of Canada's Catholic bishops whose flocks include 13 million Canadians, was joined by numerous other bishops and pro-life groups.

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.

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.”

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.”

The decision has also sparked a backlash against the Order of Canada itself. So far one recipient of the award, Fr. Lucien Larre of Port Coquitlam, B.C., has returned 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.”

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 involving in promoting the political left. Rarely has the Order of Canada recognized the services of those who take a conservative approach to issues.”

(With files from Canadian Catholic News)

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