Pierre Trudeau once observed that living next to the USA was in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. “No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt,” he observed.
By any measure, today’s America is more divided and polarized than in Pierre Trudeau’s days. In today’s world, what happens in America has increasingly reverberated through Canadian policy, politics and discussion.
Issues we thought as Canadians had come to a reasonable accommodation are now being rekindled with much more extreme reactions. Some views of what constitutes “freedom” is also being openly challenged.
And into this we have a new issue we thought had been settled with the normal Canadian attitude of ‘reasonable accommodation’ and the rule of law.
It is with these recent experiences in mind, that I find it disturbing to see 50 years of precedence being overturned by a few individuals from a single branch of government south of the border. I am, of course, referring to the high likelihood that the U.S. Supreme Court is about to overturn Roe vs Wade and reverse a women’s right to choose and exercise her reproductive rights.
Roe v Wade was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in which they ruled that the Constitution of the United States protects a pregnant woman's liberty to choose to have an abortion.
So why should we be concerned about this U.S decision? This likelihood has rekindled a debate that the majority of Canadians considered settled for many decades.
As a mother, a woman, and a Liberal MP, I cannot stand by quietly as this divisive issue comes to the surface again. We have seen other social movements move into the spotlight from the fringe, and each time, our Liberal government has moved proactively to secure the rights of our citizens.
Most recently, our government has formally banned conversion therapy, the widely discredited practise aimed at changing a person’s sexual or gender identity. We protected that ban into law with changes to the Criminal Code of Canada.
Abortion in Canada was decriminalized due to a 1988 Supreme Court decision, but no bill has ever enshrined that right into law. Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made good on one of our election promises and has tasked the ministers of health and the status of women to move forward with examining existing laws to ensure the rights of women are protected both now and under any future governments.
This long-term thinking is required as we witnessed opposition Conservative MPs this week in the House of Commons say no to the Bloc Quebecois’ motion for unanimous consent to recognize “freedom of choice” for abortion, effectively defeating the motion. And the Conservative leadership’s directive that MPs are to stay silent on the issue speaks volumes about their indifference to the rights of Canadians, and perhaps even their true intentions.
I am proud to be part of a government that is unequivocal about protecting a woman’s right to choose and ensuring access to safe and legal abortions. As our neighbours to the south are faced with the potential to take these human rights away, our government will continue to stand up for access and to put women’s rights at the forefront of our policy decision-making.
As a woman, a mother, a citizen and a Liberal, I will stand with my fellow Canadians to defend our rights and freedoms. And this includes the right to choose reproductive rights.
Viviane Lapointe is Member of Parliament for Sudbury.