OTTAWA, Ontario, April 25, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – As many Canadians celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms last week, cultural conservatives across the country remembered it instead as the document that paved the way for unregulated abortion, same-sex “marriage” and, most recently in Ontario, legalized brothels.
Though the Charter contains no explicit right to abortion and no mention of “sexual orientation”, pro-lifers accurately predicted its devastating effects leading up to its passage on April 17, 1982 and campaigned hard against it despite opposition within their own ranks.
In a 2006 obituary for former Catholic Register editor Larry Henderson, the Globe and Mail reported that he had caused a “furor” by accepting paid ads in 1981 from Campaign Life that warned the Charter would result in abortion-on-demand and homosexual “marriage” and adoptions.
Last week, Campaign Life Coalition re-released a brief that they had put out in 1981 arguing that the unborn were excluded from the Charter’s protections. “With over 65,000 abortions each year in our hospitals the Charter cannot be considered as neutral on abortion,” it reads.
Gwen Landolt, the national vice president of REAL Women Canada, who served as Campaign Life’s legal counsel at the time, wrote another brief for them at the time warning that the Charter would lead to social issues being decided by judges rather than the legislature.
“Being a lawyer, I could see what was taking place, which was the transformation of the decision making power into the hands of the appointed court,” she told LifeSiteNews. “In other words anything Parliament passed was subject to review under the provisions of the Charter.”
“But I could see the wording was so broad, so vague,” she continued. “It means anything the judges wanted it to mean. So I knew what was going to happen – we were losing control. Parliament was losing control and by Parliament losing control, the public was losing any say in any of these issues of the day.”
Landolt said Campaign Life was extremely successful at lobbying politicians against the Charter, with people coming in from all over the country – to the point that Catholic MPs were concerned that their vote for the Charter would be a vote for abortion.
In fact, former Liberal and pro-life MP Garnet Bloomfield, who was one of only two Liberals who actually ended up voting against the Charter, told Landolt that at the party’s Wednesday caucus meetings Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau would express his frustration at the pro-life movement’s success.
“The pro-life movement started to be just a little cloud on the horizon and now it’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger like a huge storm cloud. It’s getting bigger all the time. We have to stop these pro-life people,” Trudeau would say, according to Landolt.
But, she said, the Charter’s success was unexpectedly guaranteed when Cardinal Emmett Carter of Toronto endorsed it – or ‘removed his opposition’ from it – after working quietly behind the scenes with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who had assured him that the Charter would not worsen the status of the unborn. Landolt said Trudeau had even given the Cardinal a verbal agreement that if the Supreme Court struck down the abortion law he would invoke the notwithstanding clause.
When they were first told of the Cardinal’s public endorsement, “the Catholic members of the Liberal caucus threw their papers in the air and said ‘hurray, now we can support it’,” explained Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition. “The many MPs who were very concerned about it now had this endorsement from Cardinal Carter.”
The previously successful, many months of intense pro-life lobbying efforts were derailed. Movement leaders were devastated, with many feeling deeply betrayed.
According to Hughes, the Cardinal eventually recognized his error, but too late. “He came back three days before the Charter passed and said Trudeau lied to him,” explained Hughes. “I guess he finally succumbed to all the material that we had sent him and he finally woke up and saw that it was wrong.”
Before the Charter passed, Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark reluctantly allowed his caucus members to put forward a motion stating that the Charter would not apply to abortion and capital punishment – on the condition that if the motion were defeated, the entire caucus would support the Charter anyway.
When the Liberal majority defeated the motion, pro-life PC member Doug Roche opposed the Charter anyway, said Landolt.
But the pro-life fight continued even after the Queen gave her royal assent to the new Constitution on April 17, 1982.
In 1986, the late pro-life Progressive Conservative MP Gus Mitges proposed a motion to amend the Charter to include the unborn, which would have afforded them total protection under the law. Most speakers in the debate spoke in favour of the motion, but it ultimately lost the vote 62-89 on June 2, 1987.
The motion’s chances were damaged by a very unexpected letter to the Members of Parliament from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. As The Interim reported at the time, the CCCB wrote that while they supported the protection of life from conception, the bishops “do not want their position to be understood as necessarily endorsing the constitutional amendment recommended by Mr. Mitges as the most suitable means to implement this right to life of the foetus.”
Pro-life leaders were once again bewildered and shocked by Canadian episcopal undermining of yet another very promising initiative to protect the lives of the unborn.
The effects of the Charter are still being felt across the country with its provisions brought to bear on social issues ranging from parental rights to euthanasia and much more.
In September, the Supreme Court of Canada approved drug injection sites by arguing that the federal government had violated the Charter’s protections of “life, liberty and security of the person” by targeting the Insite facility in Vancouver.
Landolt warned that in the coming years Canadians can expect the high court to rule on a slate of public policy issues that ought to be the proper domain of the elected legislature, including issues related to poverty, unemployment insurance, welfare, and mandatory minimum sentences for criminals.
“Nothing’s going to stop them now,” she said.
Canada’s abortion legislation was dramatically loosened in 1969 when Prime Minister Trudeau’s Liberals passed an Omnibus bill that allowed a committee of doctors to approve the deadly procedure. The changed law, with its loopholes, weak safeguards and resultant rubber stamping of most abortions soon led to a practical abortion-on-demand situation across the country.
It was that law which the Supreme Court struck down in 1988 by arguing that it violated women’s equality rights under section 7’s protection of the “security of the person.”
Though the Supreme Court ruling called on Parliament to enact a new law that would address the Court’s concerns, the Mulroney government introduced vastly weaker legislation than was necessary. Pro-life leaders warned that the bill would likely not prevent any abortions from taking place. It was dramatically defeated in a tie in the Senate after having passed in the House of Commons. The lack of any abortion legislation since then has left a legal vacuum on the issue for 24 years despite numerous attempts to introduce various types of abortion restriction bills.
Parliament is currently considering a motion by Kitchener MP Stephen Woodworth to launch a special committee to discuss when human life begins. In particular, Woodworth is calling for a re-examination of section 223 of the Criminal Code, which states that a child only becomes a “human being” once he or she has fully proceeded from the womb.
The motion is scheduled for debate on April 26.
See the March 14, 1981 Campaign Life ad warning about the dangers of the Charter.
See the second Campaign Life ad urging Ontario Premier Bill Davis to withdraw his support for the Charter.