OTTAWA, March 29, 2011 (CCRL) – Just days into the official campaign for the federal election May 2, there is no shortage of information and opinion in the media about issues such as the economy, the environment, health care, military commitments or foreign aid.

Issues with a clear-cut relationship to Catholic teaching concerning the right to life or the dignity of the individual do not loom large on the radar screen at the present time.  Nevertheless, some did emerge in the most recent Parliament. For the information of our members, here is some background about issues where the League is particularly knowledgeable.

Bill C-389, which would have added “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in the federal human rights code and Criminal Code, was passed by the House of Commons in February but died on the Senate Order Paper with the election call. The League’s aim was not to deny anyone their fundamental equality, a principle which no Christian should ever question. Rather, our objection to C-389 was the addition of a very subjective category to what has historically been an objective set of criteria for bringing human rights complaints.

Further information: Addition of gender identity to human rights law is of concern, says League. How they voted: From Hansard, February 11, 2011.

Roxannne’s Law to prevent coercion in abortion caused some disagreement within the pro-life movement as some were dissatisfied with its exemption for abortion providers and arguably narrow focus on those unborn children whose mothers face pressure and coercion to have abortions they would not otherwise have had. The League believed the proposal drew needed attention to a neglected area of the abortion issue, and would have preferred to see it passed to a committee stage where any problems with the bill could have been addressed. It was voted down 178-97 (29 abstentions) on second reading December 15, 2010.

Further information: Failure of Bill C-510 unfortunate, says League. How they voted, from parliamentary website.

The Maternal Health Initiative, Canada’s contribution to the G-8 program for international development, was meant to focus on providing health care for women and their children, especially through the provision of medicines, clean water and clinics. Before long it became a lightning rod for abortion activists, in Parliament and in the media. While the League was glad that a motion to fund abortions under the program was defeated, we noted that it was a minor victory given that funding is provided within Canada for abortions at any stage of pregnancy.

Bloc MP Francine Lalonde again introduced a private members’ bill (C-384) to liberalize Canada’s laws on physician-assisted suicide. It was defeated on second reading, but the debate helped raise awareness of the need for more and better palliative care facilities in Canada. The League submitted a brief to the all-party committee struck to study the question. The Bill may also have played a role in educating people about what is really meant by euthanasia and assisted suicide; both refer to direct acts committed with the purpose of ending life, not to simply letting nature take its course. A poll taken in November found a slight decline in support for euthanasia.

Of less prominence in the most recent Parliament, but still of concern to the League, the public expression of religious belief on contentious topics can still be challenged under Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA). Cases appear to have been put on hold since one of the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s own commissioners in 2009 declared Section 13 to be in violation of the Charter, but the CHRA itself has not been changed.

The League has repeatedly asked for the repeal of Section 13, in calls to the Prime Minister and Justice Minister. Any limitation on a Charter right such as free speech should be heard in a true court, not a tribunal designed to resolve disputes in workplaces and the provision of goods and services.

Review of Section 13 greatly needed.

CHRC findings inadequate, says League

This is by no means an exhaustive list of issues that may be of interest to our members. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a voters’ guide that includes suggestions on the right to life and a wide range of social justice concerns. The non-partisan website How’d they Vote includes an easily-searched list of all Bills presented in the most recent Parliament.

– From our March electronic newsletter. Subscribe now.

Election issues brochure from Real Women of Canada