Peter Stockland

Peter Stockland

Peter Stockland is publisher of Convivium magazine and a senior fellow at Cardus.

April 10, 2012

Trampling on rights

Something unsettling is happening when conscience becomes a dirty word in a liberal democracy. Yet most Canadians seem unfazed by the increasing tendency to treat our fundamental right to freedom of conscience as if it were some unspeakable anti-social offence.

The denial of conscience rights to marriage commissioners in Saskatchewan, the obliteration of parental rights in Quebec, the imposition of state sexual ideology on Catholic schools in Ontario — these should all be causing deep concern. In none of these cases, after all, have the aggrieved parties taken the law into their own hands. They have not shouted fire in a crowded theatre, the time-honoured test of the limit of free speech. All they have sought is their Charter-protected right to be exempted from legal or regulatory obligations that violate their deepest and most sincerely held beliefs.

A Quebec legislative committee’s call for legalized euthanasia might be a grave danger to Canada’s health care system. Its immediate and unquestionable menace, however, is the damage it does to democracy.

For the moment, the Select Committee on Dying With Dignity’s all-party report presented March 22 to the province’s National Assembly is in parliamentary and pre-election limbo. There is reason to hope its mad demand for legalizing doctor-administered assisted suicide in Quebec by 2013 will be lost in the dust of politicians hitting the campaign trail.

Preston Manning had an astringent warning for Canadian conservatives at the annual gathering sponsored by his eponymous think-tank.

“For conservatives, being right must mean more than just being right of centre. It must mean doing the right thing. There is no substitute for rock solid personal integrity,” he told the large “C” and small “c” faithful at the recent Manning Centre conference in Ottawa.

Though the words were delivered with Manning’s characteristic personal geniality and intellectual charity, their sting was palpable, particularly among those Conservative Party members still writhing after being flayed by National Post columnist Andrew Coyne. Coyne had carved the Conservative government’s political, policy and ethical failings with the surgical scrupulousness of an assembly line sadist handling the Friday night crowd at Mistress Cheri’s House of Pain and Shame.

Credit Air Canada with cluing me in to the bracing effects of the state sticking its imperious snout so deeply into Canadian society.

There I was on a recent cross-country flight waiting for someone in authority to give the malfunctioning in-flight entertainment system a good whack when the little screen was suddenly alight with visual metaphor. From the depths of one of the boundless bureaucracies that spend our quarter-trillion-dollar federal budget, we strapped in travellers were shown a videographic public service announcement on a matter so urgent it was deemed essential viewing for an audience that cannot escape.

Politicians given enough rope will invariably hang themselves, figuratively speaking of course.

Such is the case with Parti Quebecois justice critic Veronique Hivon, whose clamor for legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide should, if there is any justice, now be choked off for good and all.

Madame Hivon came hard out of the chute to condemn Quebec Tory Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu for his recommendation, later withdrawn, that our most notorious convicted killers be left alone in their cells with a length of state-supplied rope.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave Canadians a wake-up call with his recent warnings at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The problem is that even those who hear the alarm might rise to the wrong bell.

Harper was candid that our country’s solid economic performance in comparison to Europe and the United States masks a frightening demographic threat. Bluntly put, the number of Canadians nearing retirement is rising; the number of younger Canadians available to replace them is falling. The outcome of that stark reality, Harper said, will require his government to simultaneously undertake serious reform of federal pensions, particularly the Old Age Supplement, and immigration policy.

One of the more baffling events since last May’s federal election has been the emergence of grouchy opposition to the Harper government’s Office of Religious Freedom.

Curiosity dates back to the election campaign itself when the Conservative pledge to create an Office of Religious Freedom within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade attracted surprisingly little notice, much less alarm.

We were eastbound on a VIA train between Kingston and Montreal midway through the Christmas week when we got news of a horrifying accident ahead.

A man and woman had been killed when their pickup truck somehow jumped a barrier on Highway 20 at the west end of the island of Montreal. The truck plunged onto train tracks below and was hit by an eastbound VIA train.

The world has few writers with the fervour to publicly trash the  covers of their own books. The world has even fewer writers like Heather King.

For that reason alone, King’s newly released Shirt of Flame: A Year With Saint Thérèse of Lisieux is the one book I’ve read this year that I would suggest as a guidebook for the pilgrimage of ordinary life.

So our long slide down the slope of civilized savagery proceeds.

Agence France Press reports the first public case of a Dutch patient euthanized even though she had never formally requested death or followed the required legal protocols.

The woman, identified only as being 64 years old and from the south of Holland, was reportedly killed illegally in a hospital last March. The medical board that approves each act of euthanasia in Holland knew she had never formally asked to have her life ended. It also found she was far too cognitively diminished by Alzheimer’s to make a rational choice in her fate.