TORONTO, October 8, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) — Campaign Life Coalition had no trouble placing its pro-life voter guide ads in Canadian Christian-based newspapers. The voter guides list all the candidates that the organization has been able to identify as being genuinely pro-life to help readers make fully informed voting decisions in the upcoming federal election. It was a very different story, however, when efforts were made to place the ads in two Catholic newspapers. They were refused by the Catholic Register in Toronto for supposedly being too partisan, and by the Prairie Messenger because the position on the social justice issue of refugees held by one of the pro-life candidates was deemed too controversial.
“Two protestant magazines with charitable tax-status did include our ads without any concerns about whether or not they were too political or fears that there would be any legal problems,” Jeff Gunnarson of Campaign Life Coalition (CLC), the political arm of the country’s pro-life movement, told LifeSiteNews. “But when it came to the Catholic venues, our ads were turned down either for ideological reasons or because of a fear of risking their charitable tax-status.”
The CLC ads in question list the Federal candidates who both live and vote by their pro-life convictions according to their voting records and other criteria compiled and carefully evaluated by CLC.
Because the Liberal and NDP parties force politicians in their ranks to vote pro-abortion, candidates from both of those parties could not be rated “pro-life”. The ads therefore listed only Conservative and Christian Heritage Party candidates, not for CLC partisan preferences, but simply because both parties' policies on the life issues excluded their candidates. CLC would have liked to have included pro-life candidates from other parties, but none existed who indicated they would ignore the party policies.
“This list includes candidates from the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) and the Christian Heritage Party (CHP). There are no supportable pro-life and pro-family candidates running for the Liberals and NDP, who require all candidates to support abortion-on-demand,” the ads state.
For the Catholic Register, the ads were claimed to be too partisan.
Jim O'Leary, publisher and editor at The Catholic Register, told LifeSiteNews that, according to legal advice, his “hands were tied by federal regulations under the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) pertaining to registered charities” when it came to deciding on whether or not to run CLC’s ad.
“As a registered charity, The Register is prohibited by law from engaging in partisan political activity. These laws are more rigidly enforced during election campaigns, according to our legal adviser.”
“When we were presented with the ads from CLC, said O'Leary, our first inclination was to support their campaign and we did everything we could to try to make that happen, including expensive consultations with our lawyer to see if the ads could somehow be amended to conform with CRA requirements for registered charities. We were advised, however, that the ads met all reasonable criteria to be declared partisan and to run the ads would place us in contravention of the statutes and put our charitable status in jeopardy. Therefore, we had no option but to regretfully decline the particular ads in question,” he said.
The non-Catholic publications clearly had different legal advice.
O'Leary confirmed that it was Miller Thomson Lawyers, the same firm regularly used by the Archdiocese of Toronto, that provided the advice. Toronto life and family advocates have frequently experienced the firm appearing to direct the Archdiocese and Church-related groups to take positions that rarely give highest priority to the moral and spiritual mission of the Church. The Church tends rather to be regularly advised to avoid any controversy or potential financial risks.
Catholic Mississauga lawyer Geoff Cauchi called it “overly cautious” to refuse to run an ad in a paper that has charitable status simply because the ad may be perceived to have a partisan perspective.
“The newspaper is not using its charitable status in this case to help another party, it’s just taking ads from paying customers. Nobody reading this newspaper believes that the publisher necessarily agrees with the point of view expressed by its paid advertiser, especially when the advertiser has no obvious connection with the publisher. As long as the paper charges fair market value, why cannot third parties that are not charities place such an ad,” he told LifeSiteNews.
Cauchi said a paper with charitable status could easily protect itself from the CRA by stating next to the ad that it is a paid advertisement and that the newspaper does not necessarily support the views expressed by the advertiser. He questioned the validity of the opinion given to Catholic Register by the Miller Thomson firm.
When CLC took its ad to Prairie Messenger, a Western Canada Catholic journal that has defended publishing pro-abortion pieces in the past, Gunnarson was told that the ad would not be published due to a controversial position on refugees held by one of the candidates — Saskatoon MP Kelly Block — listed on the ad.
“I said, we’re a pro-life organization. We want to inform western pro-life supporters through your journal who are the pro-life candidates they can vote for,” Gunnarson related about his conversation with Prairie Messenger editor Maureen Weber.
“Yeah, I know,” Gunnarson said she replied. “I just don’t like the ad. I’m not going to run it.”
Gunnarson said that for a Catholic organization to decide to not run a pro-life ad because one of the candidates mentioned has a position on refugees that it did not agree with is absurd.
“There are non-negotiables. One of the first is the right to life. You can’t have refugees if you don’t first have the right to life,” he said.
Weber told LifeSiteNews that it’s “not appropriate” for the journal to be taking political ads and that it has not done so “for a long time.” She mentioned that the journal also has charitable tax-status and that “it’s touchy these days” when it comes to running political ads.
Campaign Life Coalition has had many difficulties in recent years trying to have its candidate evaluations distributed in Catholic dioceses and parishes across the nation. Hence, at election time, most Catholics have been poorly informed about the stands of the individual candidates on the crucial moral issues. Thankfully now, more and more Catholics have at least become Internet aware, says Campaign Life Coalition, and can obtain that information by going to their complete federal election guide page.
Pope Francis has on various occasions urged Catholics to become more active in politics, and take risks to promote the Gospel, saying on one occasion that they should engage no matter how “dirty” the politics might be.
Christians have a duty to get involved in and even “embroiled” in politics, working for the common good in the world of politics, he said in an informal question-and-answer session in May to members of Italy's Christian Life Community.
In a September 2013 homily Pope Francis stated that a “good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself – so that those who govern can govern.”
Gunnarson worries that the pro-life message is, in effect, being silenced by Catholic publications that appear more concerned with ideologies and their charitable tax-status than spreading the Gospel of Life in the political sphere.
“If the pro-life message gets shut down by our Catholic newspapers because of ideological reasons, disagreements, or because they are worried about losing their charitable status, what does that say about the whole Catholic culture?”
“It’s like trying to engage the culture with our hands tied. It’s a sad day if Catholic newspapers find themselves in a position where they say they can’t run an ad simply informing Catholics about who the pro-life candidates are because they’re concerned ultimately about money,” he said.
“For a large percentage of those readers, it is likely that the ads would the only time they would see such crucial information to help guide their voting decisions to be consistent with their faith principals”.
See the full size ad that was sent to the Catholic Register here.
See the full size Prairie Messenger ad here.