Image courtesy of Elvert Barnes via Flikr.
By Shannon Clarke
Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott awarded Diamond Jubilee medals to anti-abortion activists Mary Wagner and Linda Gibbons in October, reports the Ottawa Citizen.
The Diamond Jubilee is a celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the throne. Medals are awarded to Canadians who make “significant contributions” to society, and it is up to Canadian MP’s to distribute them. According to the Ottawa Citizen, the Governor General’s Chancellery of Honours reviews all applications before they are handed out.
For dedicating their lives to advocating for “pre-born” children, Vellacott chose to give two of his allotted 30 medals to the women.
Wagner, 38, is currently serving time in a Toronto jail, charged with mischief and violating a court order by protesting at abortion clinics. She was arrested at a Toronto clinic in August.
Gibbons, 63, has also been arrested for violating court orders at abortion clinics’ “bubble zones”, which protect women from harassment and prohibit counseling against abortion within 150 metres of a clinic. In her long career as an anti-abortion protestor, she has spent nine years in jail.
Vellacott has likened the women’s efforts to that of Martin Luther King Jr., a statement that caused further outrage among some Canadians.
Both Wagner and Gibbons oppose Canadian law, which treats abortion as any other medical procedure and is subject to provincial and medical regulations.
This year has seen much talk on Parliament Hill about abortion, however, specifically the question on when life begins, central to both pro-choice and pro-life positions.
In April, Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth argued for an hour-long committee on the topic of the definition of “life” in Canada, saying the current definition does not align with 21st century medicine. The current definition says that life begins at birth, not conception.
“How can we honestly discuss all of the complicated issues around abortion if we cannot decide whether or not a child is a human being before the moment of the complete birth?” he told Radio-Canada.
The discussion divided parliament members, with New Democrat leader Thomas Mulcair insisting that no one in his caucus supported the motion.
“We’re resolutely in favour of women’s right to choose, so it’s very clear for us,” he said, as recorded by CBC Canada.
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said he would allow a conscience vote for his own MPs.
But when the discussion came around on April 26, it received no support from any of the MPs who attended. While Woodworth insisted his motivation for the discussion was only to provoke “respectful dialogue”, others, namely Conservative MP Gordon O’Conner, argued the intent was to limit abortions in Canada.
“Society has moved on and I don’t believe this proposal should proceed. As well, it is in opposition to our government’s position,” he said.
O’Conner is one of three prominent Conservatives who did not support the Unborn Victims of Crime Act, passed in 2007 but never made into law.
The prime minister has been clear that he will not reopen the debate on abortion, saying in 2011: “The government will not bring forward any such legislation, and any such legislation that is brought forward will be defeated as long as I am prime minister.”
He voted against Woodworth’s motion.
Though some, like Vellacott, applaud the efforts of Wagner and Gibbons, others won’t be so pleased with this new honour. Pro-choice activists have worked tirelessly for greater access to abortions for all women in this country.
In a statement to the press, Vallacott defended his decision, saying:
“It’s a pretty upside down world when we honour abortionists like Henry Morgentaler for killing over 5,000 babies and imprison precious women, like Mary Wagner and Linda Gibbons, who try to save babies from such savagery. They are the real heroes of humanity.”
Vallacott’s sentiment, and appreciation for civil disobedience, could also set a dangerous precedent for other activists, conservative or otherwise, who oppose laws that violate their moral beliefs. It is especially risky when, in cases such as this, these laws are created to protect vulnerable members of the community.
The definition of “just cause” is, after all, highly subjective. M