2 min

Canadians are feeling groovy

Canadian social values just may be up for grabs

Credit: Xtra files

There’s an odd feeling of reform in the air. While there are fewer flower children and student radicals running around Canada nowadays, the federal government’s apparent interest in liberalization feels strangely reminiscent of 1968.

It was 35 years ago that Pierre Trudeau, then justice minister, introduced some radical reforms – which were passed in 1969. Homosexuality was decriminalized. Abortion was legalized. Divorce was made available nationally. Trudeau introduced changes that pulled morality at least one step back from its influence on our laws.

Now the federal government has introduced a law decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana and is considering permitting same-sex marriage. (See the

next two stories for more on marriage.) Both issues are linked by social conservative morality that demonizes sex (at least the legal recognition of homosex), drugs and rock ‘n’ roll; any reforms would pull morality another step back from the law.

It’s easy to criticize these reforms for not aiming high enough. The marijuana law is going to increase the penalties for folks who grow and sell the stuff. The same-sex marriage initiative may fade into a separate domestic partnership regime; at the very least whatever the government does will set aside the larger question of why government is regulating relationships in the first place.

The same diminished ambitions were true in 1968. Homosexuality was decriminalized, but anal sex was left in the Criminal Code if it involved more than two people. Abortion was made legal, but only through therapeutic abortion committees in hospitals. Divorce was made available, but folks still had to wait three years.

Yet, back in 1968, politicians needed substantial courage to even touch the issue of sex and sexuality at all. Do they have the same nerve in 2003?

It’s too early to say. The marijuana bill might not pass, and the feds might still wimp out on same-sex marriage. The feds are, well, not exactly populated by courageous folks like Trudeau. In fact, on most controversial issues, they’re wimps.

This is how 2003 is dramatically different than 1968. The reforms you can smell are coming from the courts. You can trace this back to Trudeau who, later, gave us the Canadian Charter Of Rights And Freedoms, which permanently changed politics in this country. Controversial social issues are now delegated to courts, allowing politicians to avoid taking a stand. Government action on social and moral issues comes only because the courts have ordered it. Then politicians huff and puff about how courts are just too big for their britches these days.

The courts have not only shown courage, they’ve also shown that they’re more in tune with changing Canadian values than elected officials. In polls, the majority (though admittedly sometimes slim majority) of Canadians favour the legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage and laws protecting gay and lesbian people from discrimination – all cases where courts have led politicians.

Canadians have less and less tolerance for social conservatives who hate homosexuals, and want women barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. The Bible-driven values of the religious right just don’t hold sway like they do in the US, where gay men and lesbians are still trying to repeal sodomy laws and get basic human rights.

No matter where it’s coming from, the reform in the air signals the continuing decline of social conservatives and their Victorian morality. So maybe it’s time to put on a tie-dye shirt, and tell the feds that it’s time to do the right thing. The courts and the majority of Canadians are right there with them.

* Brenda Cossman is a member of the board of directors of Pink Triangle Press, which published Xtra.