Canada
3 min

Fetus rights part of SoCon chess game

Trends in women's political issues not looking good

If I hear another “socially progressive, economically Conservative” homo defend Stephen Harper again, I’m going to lose it.

You might remember the refrain from after the last federal election in 2006: He’s not so bad. This is a minority government. The free vote on re-opening the same sex marriage was only about pandering to the Western base and was meant to fail. Harper’s committed to right-wing economics, but he’s no religious zealot.

We all know Harper’s been careful to micromanage all government communications, in an effort to paint himself as a middle of the road, fatherly kind of guy. But just last week, even the propaganda department at the PMO couldn’t keep a lid on Charles McVety, president of the ultra-right Canada Family Action Coalition.

McVety couldn’t contain his excitement over a controversial few sentences buried deep within Bill C-10, a broad ranging piece of income-tax legislation. The Bill allows self-appointed censors from the Departments of Heritage and Justice to yank tax credits away from film and television productions deemed to be “contrary to public policy.”

All three opposition parties missed this stealth manoeuvre, until the bill hit third reading in the Senate, and McVety gloated to the Globe and Mail about how this bill represents the government’s — and Canadians’ — true “conservative values.”

This came in the same week as a private members’ bill from Conservative MP Ken Epp that puts a significant dent in women’s reproductive freedom by establishing legal “personhood” for fetuses passed second reading.

The so-called “Unborn Victims of Crimes Act” will now go to committee hearings, where you can bet every religious whackjob will testify about the “rights” of the unborn. Shamefully, neither the Liberals or the NDP whipped their caucus to vote against the bill.

If anything, it’s been a banner year for religious wingnuts, and with Harper approaching majority territory in the polls, we can only imagine what actions he would take if he didn’t have to rely on the Liberals nor the NDP to get laws passed.

It’s useful to take a close look at some strategic initiatives that the Harper government has pushed through over the last two years. When you line them up, you see the escalation in tactics and the rather brazen moves by the Conservatives to silence queer and women’s rights activists.

The first thing that the Harper government did was cancel the Liberals’ universal daycare program. At the time, the move was couched in the rhetoric of providing “choice” for families, buying off parents with a measly $100 monthly child care supplement representing a mere fraction of the real cost. It was only months later that the Canadian Family Action Coalition started publishing inflammatory articles on their website, revealing their real problem with daycare: the possibility the children could be exposed to — gasp — positive messages about homosexuality. They are also seriously worried about children who play dress-up in opposite-sex clothing.

Then, in close succession, Harper cut the Court Challenges program, a long-time target of the anti-feminist REAL Women of Canada. In one swift move, the Conservatives undercut any future criticism of their initiatives, by denying funding to the groups who would take them to court. Almost in the same breath, Harper made deep cuts to Status of Women Canada, removing the word “equality” from its mandate. The re-configured department now refuses to fund any women’s groups that focus on research or advocacy, and this has already led to the demise of the National Association of Women and the Law.

Just last month, the Conservatives were able to ram through their controversial omnibus crime bill, which raised the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16, while continuing to criminalize anyone under the age of 18 who engages in anal sex. This checked off another item on the Canada Family Action Coalition’s to-do list. In the meantime, HIV educators are struggling to figure out how to cope with a knee-jerk anti-sex law that will make it harder for them to reach youth who may be engaging in sexual activities that are now considered illegal.

Add censorship of Canadian cinema and a significant attempt to chip away at reproductive freedom, and it seems that Charles McVety has got it made. Except there’s one little problem. Voices of opposition are getting stronger every day, and it’ll take much more than a few bad laws to deter us from fighting back.

The last couple of years have seen a wave of political engagement amongst queer youth that I certainly haven’t observed in my lifetime. A recent decision by Health Canada to ban donations of organs from gay men sparked a national protest, and dozens of satellite actions on university campuses across Canada. The omnibus crime bill was the impetus for the youth-driven Age of Consent Committee led by activist Andrew Brett, which made presentations to parliamentary committees and to the Senate opposing the initiative.

And pro-choice activists are mobilizing like crazy, flooding MPs offices with letters demanding that they vote against the Unborn Victims of Crime Act at third reading. They are also putting pressure on Stephane Dion and Jack Layton to do the right thing — for once — and whip their caucuses to defeat the bill at third reading.

The Religious Right may have chalked up a few victories in recent months, but the battle lines have been drawn. With a federal election waiting in the wings, I can only hope that the outcry from the grassroots will have an impact at the ballot box.