when does human life begin? – canadian parliament to vote on studying the question

Last week I wrote a post for the NCR Today blog, on a controversial motion in our Canadian parliament. Motion 312 is a private member’s motion put forward by Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Stephen Woodworth. It calls for the House of Commons to form a special committee to study the question of when human life begins. Presently, under the Criminal Code of Canada,

“A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother.”

Though a pro-lifer himself, Woodworth insists that the purpose of the motion is not to reopen the abortion debate – something that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised not to do. All Woodworth wants is an “open-minded, evidence-based study” on a 400-year-old Criminal Code definition of a human being.

On Sept. 18, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement in support of Motion 312, inviting “all members of the Parliament of Canada to take into full account the sacredness of the unborn child and each human life.” Also, about 60 high-profile groups and individuals have signed The Declaration of Support for Parliamentary Study of Canada’s Legal Definition of “Human Being.”

A Catholic Register article describes the one hour debate last Friday, and the atmosphere in the House of Commons at the time. According to the article, only 30 to 35 MPs attended the debate which took place during the final hour of the House of Commons’ agenda dealing with private member’s business. The government’s chief whip, Conservative MP Gordon O’Connor, told the House in the previous hour of debate that the government would not support this motion. During the actual debate on Motion 312, O’Conner seemed to be taking notes on Conservative MPs who rose to speak in favor of the motion.

Conservative MP David Anderson defended the motion, “We need to recognize that a majority of Canadians believe that human life begins long before a person is born. We can understand that if the evidence establishes that a child does in fact become a human being before the moment of complete birth, then subsection 223(1) has some major problems and it is actually a law that dehumanizes and excludes a whole class of human beings from legal protection.” (Today, Immigration Minister and a prominent Cabinet Minister, Jason Kenney, announced that he will vote in favor of the motion.)

NDP MP Irene Mathyssen’s argument described the view of most who oppose the motion, “The member for Kitchener Centre’s desire to open up this debate has an end goal of changing the legislation to enable the fetus to be declared a human being…We are all very aware that such a change in the definition will place Canada directly on the regressive path to banning abortions.”

The vote is scheduled to take place on Wednesday.

(More thoughts to come….)

a rainbow church

Here is my latest article for the catholic dialogue column in the Prairie Messenger, called a rainbow church. It’s dedicated to all my LGBT friends, and the families and friends who love them for who they are.

Some recent comments on this blog have me thinking even more about the hurt that mean and vile judgment can inflict on another. Personally, I don’t have a very thick skin and get hurt easily by verbal attacks. But these comments come from strangers out in cyber-space. And, quite frankly, from their tone I probably wouldn’t be seeking their friendship anyway.

But what if the rejection is coming from those you respect and love? What is it like for women and men who live daily in fear of prejudice, bigotry and bullying? What is it like to have to deny your true self, to keep it hidden from a society or church that does not accept you the way you are?

To all my friends who have shown me that this is not how it has to be….thank you!

May we evolve from a community that is too often perceived in black-and-white doctrinal terms to a community reflected in the multicoloured hues of a rainbow, melding into one glorious sign to the world of God’s great love for us all.

a legal dance around prostitution in canada

On March 26th, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down a ban on brothels. The judges ruled that prostitutes should be allowed to legally take their trade indoors and pay staff to support them. How the court’s views on prostitution have evolved by Daniel Henry, a Senior Legal Counsel, gives some judicial history to this issue in Canada. But don’t expect clarity. The legal dance around what should be legalized and what should remain within the criminal code requires some tricky mind-work.

Ronald Weitzer, a professor of sociology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C and author of Legalizing Prostitution from Illicit Vice to Lawful Business, stated in a CBC News interview that “Victimization is reduced with other parties present, and often in brothels they have alarm systems, maybe a hidden camera at the entrance and other screening techniques that the receptionist or the manager will engage in prior to the man or client even getting in the door.”

Not everyone believes that legalizing brothels guarantees a classy and safe environment for sex trade workers. Shelly Gilbert, who works with Legal Assistance of Windsor and the Anti-Human Trafficking Action Group, believes “This legislation is trying to speak to some of the protection required by a particular group of sex workers…There needs to be legislation that speaks specifically to what that exploitation and coercion means.” The ruling doesn’t help the women she works with. “It doesn’t help them to get out of the industry, necessarily,” she said. “Many are not making enough money to hire people. Most of the women I’m working with are still struggling in poverty.”

The Catholic Register reported on a March 24 conference on human trafficking, organized by the Loretto Sisters, ‘Myth of prostitution as a choice must be challenged’ – human trafficking conference. Bridget Perrier, a sex-trade survivor, spoke with the moral authority of experience. “We always hear that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession. I always say it’s the world’s oldest oppression…Really, it’s paid rape. It’s child abuse.”

Simply put, “It’s the men who should be punished,” she said. “Their wives should know. They’ve got a right to know…Men need to be held accountable…It needs to start when they’re little. They need to be taught that we honour women, they are our life givers.”

Joy Smith, a Conservative MP from Winnipeg, believes the law must target the market for women, girls and boys. “We cannot allow our children to be bought and sold. It just can’t happen.” Smith is the sponsor of Bill C-310 which would allow Canadian courts to prosecute human trafficking offences committed outside Canada by Canadians or permanent residents of Canada.

In the midst of the intricate legal language and wrangling, the voices of Ms. Perrier and Ms. Smith shine with the simplicity of truth. As with many social justice issues of our time, change will not come from pruning the occasional branch or pinching off a dead bud or two. We need to get to the root of the problem. And, at the root of prostitution are oppression, exploitation and abuse.