It has been said that the greatest way to measure a society is by the way it treats its weakest members.
Using this criterion as a thermometer, how does Canada fair? Are we a country in which the disenfranchised are taken advantage of? Do we have the social structures in place to care for the poor and downtrodden, those who can’t care for themselves or speak up in the face of injustice?
Judging by the increasing level of unrest in recent months, you could safely assume that as a country, we’re not doing very well; the mercury in the thermometer is steadily falling. The Idle No More movement, road and rail blockades, and pipeline protesters fill the front pages of newspapers with charges of one injustice after another.
It is a good thing that we have the ability to reflect on current practices and make adjustments as necessary; this is a virtue of a solid country. I am sure that there are ways to improve the lives of the First Nations, and there is certainly a plethora of ideas on how best to use our natural resources in an environmentally responsible manner that still allows for enough revenue to facilitate the many social programs Canada offers.
Whether or not these current issues should be regarded as injustices is perhaps debatable, but regardless of one’s position on them, the reality is that these are movements made up of people who can speak for themselves and address the way in which they are being treated.
This is quite different from another demographic who are not able to do so. Pre-born children of all ages face incredible injustices in Canada, more so than in any other country in the world. Since the injustice is for the most part invisible and the victims certainly can’t speak against it, it rarely makes the front page of the newspaper.
There is room for improvement in this area. Monday will mark 25 years of no legal protection for children at any stage of development in the womb. This gives us every reason to reflect on the status quo. Undoubtedly there will be some who celebrate this as a huge achievement for women’s rights. It’s unfortunate that many Canadians have accepted the dogma that states that abortion is solely a women’s rights issue. The reality is, it’s a human rights issue and Canada fails to measure up when it comes to its treatment of these weak members of the human family.
Statistics Canada reports that in 2009, there were more than 11,000 abortions after 13 weeks gestation. Interestingly, other western nations, some of which are more secular than ours, recognize in law the rights of pre-born children at 12 weeks gestation. Not only is Canada out of line with other democracies, we are also in contravention of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, which states: “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.”
Just because the quandary posed by blockades, pipelines and reserves is difficult, it is not an excuse to neglect the real concerns expressed. So also, though the issue of legal protection for children in the womb is difficult, it should not be an excuse for inaction.
It’s time for Canada to start setting things right, to coax the mercury back up the proverbial thermometer. Yes, the politics are complicated and difficult, but that should never excuse a First World nation from doing everything it can to protect the truly weakest members of society.
Mike Schouten is the campaign director for weneedaLAW.ca, a national organization that advocates for federal abortion legislation in Canada.