Showing posts with label Canada. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Canada. Show all posts

Saturday 14 May 2022

If Men Could Get Pregnant . . .

If Men could get pregnant . . .

It is my counterfactual conviction (meaning it is what I absolutely believe but as a hypothetical cannot be proven with evidence) that if men could become pregnant, the question of abortion would never have arisen.  If men were capable of giving birth, it never would have crossed anyone's mind that the termination of a pregnancy needed to be governed by legislation, let alone criminalized.  Conversely, the termination of a pregnancy is a question because of the inferior status assigned to women throughout Judeo-Christian, Greco-Roman history and culture.  Only in the 20th century have women been grudgingly assigned the status of "personhood," and we continue to struggle with the implications of that assignment.

Women Are to blame . . . men say so . . .

Woman have hard lives.  Men justify the suffering of women through mythology.  In the Christian tradition, Eve brought evil into the world and is therefore responsible for the suffering of all women.  In Greek tradition, Pandora opened the box which released evil into the world.  In Aeschylus' ancient Greek trilogy, The Oresteia, Orestes is put on trial by the gods for murdering his mother, Aegistheus, after she killed his father, King Agamemnon.  The conclusion of the trial is that Orestes is not guilty of a crime because his first loyalty was to his father.  Orestes was, first and foremost, the son of his father and his mother was simply the vessel of his birth.  Three thousand years later, that verdict is still being debated.

Tremblay v. Daigle (1989)

In 1989, the Supreme Court of Canada, in Tremblay v. Daigle, ruled that "a father has no right to veto a woman's abortion decision."  However, Daigle had already gone to the US to terminate the pregnancy before the Supreme Court ruled. Why are the courts, the judiciary branches of government in both Canada and the USA, which can interpret but have no power to create or change the law, being left to decide the abortion question?  The simple answer is that the executive branch, the men we elect (and yes the executive branch is dominated by men), has no interest in passing laws that would give individual women the power to decide to terminate a pregnancy.

 Roe v. Wade (1973)

No new laws were passed, but abortions became legal when the Supreme Courts in Canada and the USA (re)interpreted their respective constitutions as giving women the right to terminate a pregnancy.  In Roe v Wade (1973), the US Supreme Court heard the case of Jane Roe (a play on Jane Doe) against Henry Wade, Attorney General of Texas.  Roe's complaint was that the laws of Texas prevented her from terminating her pregnancy by forcing her to travel to another state and pay for an abortion.  Roe was accompanied in her petition by another Texas couple and a doctor who had already been convicted of performing abortions and had two more accusations pending.  In the end, the Supreme Court accepted to hear only Jane Roe's case.  Allowing Roe's case to even be heard was challenged because she became pregnant in 1970 and by the time her case was before the Court she had already given birth.  Nonetheless, the Court heard her petition and ruled that preventing her from having an abortion was unconstitutional based on various clauses of the US constitution relating to "privacy" and "liberty of the person."  Consequently, the laws of Texas and, by extension, the laws of any state which attempted to curtail a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy were determined to be unconstitutional. 

R. v. Morgentaler (1988)

A similar scenario unfolded much later in Canada. The Canadian Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms were enacted in 1982.  In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled, in R. v. Morgentaler, that abortion laws were unconstitutional, according to the 1982 constitution, because they "infringed upon a woman's right to 'life, liberty and security of person'."  Since that time, in Canada, a woman's right to an abortion has been unrestricted.  The Mulroney Conservative government attempted to pass a law in 1992 which would impose a two-year prison sentence on doctors performing abortions, but the bill died in the Senate.

Justice Alito's majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade

 The abortion question is very much back in the legacy media since Politico published a leaked draft of Supreme Court Justice Alito's majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade.  This year, the case of the Mississippi State Health Officer v. Jackson Women's Health Organization was brought before the Supreme Court.  The State of Mississippi is proposing a prohibition on non-therapeutic abortions after sixteen weeks of pregnancy.  At first glance, the proposal might not seem unreasonable.  However, some states are proposing to ban abortion after six weeks which would effectively ban most if not all abortions.  If Roe v. Wade is overturned, these various state bills prohibiting abortion would almost immediately become law.

What the Bible says about abortion

Despite US claims of separation between church and state, it is obvious that anti-abortion, pro-life movements are underpinned by powerful evangelical lobbies.  I remain dumbfounded that at this point in human history, evangelism, the literal interpretation of the Bible, can still have a profound influence on American politics.  (See How Many Americans Think Planet Earth Is 6000 Years Old?)  Moreover, even if we accept literal interpretations of the Bible, as I have pointed out previously (see What Bible Translation Says about People Who Oppose Abortion), despite attempts by Thomas Nelson Publishers to rewrite the Bible in the 1970s, Exodus 21:22 is explicit that a fetus is not equivalent to a human life.

When Life begins

Much of the debate concerning abortion, including in Roe v. Wade and the Alito opinion, eventually turns to the question of at what point a fetus is considered equivalent to a human person or, more abstractly, at what point life begins.  Typically, pro-life arguments contend that life begins at conception. In Western practice, life is taken to begin at birth.  We measure age by and celebrate birthdays not conception-days.

When Life begins according to the Bible

If we turn to the Bible to determine when life begins then the story of Onan becomes relevant.  These days, "onanism" is a synonym for masturbation.  However, what exactly Onan's sin was and how the biblical story should be interpreted are much debated.  When Onan's older brother died, Onan was, according to old-testament law, required to conceive a child with his brother's widow.  He went to his sister-in-law but, instead of completing the sex act as required, he "spilled it [his seed] on the ground."  If we want to take the Bible literally, one possible interpretation is that life begins with a man's seed and Onan's sin, wasting his seed, was equivalent to terminating a human life.  If you kill the seed, you kill the flower. God's punishment for Onan was death. If we want to base modern laws on Bible stories, then any man who masturbates, scratches his testicles carelessly, uses a condom or does anything to interfere with his own semen is guilty of the same crime as a woman who terminates a pregnancy. Needless to say, no government has ever considered legislating, let alone criminalizing, how a man treats his own semen.  

Alito's Argument overturning Roe v. Wade

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, according to various commentators, tends toward hyperbole and arrogance.  His draft majority opinion shows evidence of both, especially when we consider that he is critiquing the work of his predecessors and two decisions of past Supreme Courts:  Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).  Alito's argument, in contradiction to earlier Supreme Court decisions, can be boiled down to:

  1. "The Constitution makes no reference to abortion [. . . .]"
  2. Abortion is not equivalent to any of the various rights and freedoms that are claimed as implicit under the constitution.  
  3. "Liberty of the person" does not include the right to an abortion because of the moral issue and debate concerning the rights of the fetus as a "living person."
  4. In the absence of implicit or explicit coverage in the constitution, the Court must turn to US history, custom, tradition and precedent to determine its judgment.  Alito asserts, in contradiction to the Court in 1973, that US history shows no openness to granting abortion rights.

Alito's conclusion:

We therefore hold that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion.   Roe and Casey must be overruled, and the authority to regulate abortion must be returned to the people and their elected representatives.

Are Women's rights human rights?

 Reading Alito's conclusion I am reminded of  the refrain in Hilary Clinton's address to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing:  "Women's rights are human rights."  Now we know the response:  "Not in the USA."

Imagine that the Supreme Court ruled that whether or not a man could get a vasectomy would be determined by "elected representatives."  Unimaginable . . . which is exactly the point.

Women Don't have rights because, in the eyes of the law, women don't exist

There is a slippery, slight-of-hand argument running throughout Alito's opinion.  Alito claims that removing the right to decide the termination of a pregnancy does not discriminate against women.  Citing early court cases, Alito argues there are precedents which establish that women are not a group being discriminated against.  The dividing line created by an earlier court case is between  "two groups -- pregnant women and nonpregnant persons. While the first group is exclusively female, the second includes members of both sexes."  In this perspective, since women do not exist as group, it is not possible to claim that restricting abortions discriminates against them.   Therefore, state laws prohibiting abortions would only discriminate against "pregnant women," and it would be left to individual states to balance the rights of pregnant women and those of "unborn living persons."  In this latter case, curtailing the rights of pregnant women would be justified if state legislators believe that a fetus is a living person with equal rights.  What this slippery argument willfully ignores is that what is being taken away is not just the right of some women to a medical procedure; what is being taken away from all women is the right to decide.

 So What!?

The Supreme Court decision will be a victory for evangelicals, 80% of whom voted for Donald Trump knowing he would appoint conservative justices and predicting that this day would come.  Justice Alito is obviously right that US history does not provide precedents for allowing individual women to decide what happens to their own bodies for the obvious reason that American history is a history of discrimination against women.  Arguing that the future must be a continuation of the past is, more or less, a definition of "being conservative."

In practical terms, the new laws will force some woman (in southern states) to face the cost and inconvenience of traveling out of state to terminate a pregnancy.  Consequently, the greatest burden will be borne by the poorest of women.  In the abstract, women's rights and sovereignty over their own bodies will revert to 1970. We might hope that since the majority of Americans support a woman's right to decide, they will elect representatives who will legislate this right.  But, somehow, despite the promises of democracy, the will of the majority rarely succeeds against the power of lobbies and interest groups.

What about Canada?

Could the same happen in Canada?  The mechanisms are exactly the same.  Supreme Court Justices are appointed by the government.  Five of the nine current members of the Supreme Court were appointed by the Conservative government.  These days, various Conservative politicians promise that they will not introduce abortion legislation.  Such promises are irrelevant.  If someone brings a case to the Supreme Court tomorrow, the Court could overrule R. v. Morgentaler (1988) and abortion law would revert to 1969.  Abortion would become illegal in Canada unless a committee of doctors decide it was necessary to save a woman's life or health.

Thursday 25 June 2020

How Did Canada Lose to Norway and Ireland in Its Campaign for a UN Security Council Seat?

The Basics:  

  • The United Nations was formed in 1945, at the end of World War II.  There were 51 member countries.  Harry S. Truman was President of the USA and the UN's home was established in New York City.
  • The goal of the United Nations is world peace and security.
  • The Security Council is the power center of the UN.  It has five permanent members, the "big" winners of WWII:  the USA, France, the UK, Russia, and China.
  • On a rotational basis, other countries are elected by all 193 members of the UN General Assembly to occupy temporary, 2-year positions in the Security Council.
  • There are currently 10 temporary (non-permanent, 2-year) positions in the Security Council. The permanent members have remained the same since 1945.
  • The non-permanent positions are elected on a geographical basis, so Canada was competing against Ireland and Norway in what is known as the "Weog block" (Western Europe and Others).
  • In the 2020, three-country competition for two Security Council seats, Canada came in third behind Norway and Ireland.

Why did Canada lose?  The Said and the unsaid.

Here is a list of reasons I have surmised ("the unsaid") and I have read ("the said" which someone else has surmised):
  1.  Canada is a strong supporter of Israel.  According to Wikipedia, citing a CBC commentary by Evan Dyer, Canada's "consistent voting record in support of Israel" was an obstacle to its election.
  2. Over time, Canada has had a Security Council Seat for twelve years.  In other words, Canada has won this election process six times.  It was someone else's turn.
  3. Norway spent 2.8 million dollars campaigning for a seat; Canada only spent 1.74 million.  (Who knew there were campaigns for the seats?  Didn't we just put SNC-Lavalin on trial for paying bribes to foreign officials?)
  4. As part of the campaigning, Canada gave out free tickets to a Celine Dion concert.  Ireland gave out free U2 concert tickets.  (Turns out Bono is more popular in the UN than Celine.)
  5. Gender equity.  (This so ironic, it's almost funny.)  In Canada, we might think of our Prime Minister as the Poster Boy for gender equity.  The Security Council, as it turns out, is also very interested in gender equity.  The Norwegian Ambassador to the UN and the Irish Ambassador to the UN are both women.  Their election added two more women to the Security Council.   Canada's Ambassador to the UN and our candidate for the Security Council was Mark-André Blanchard.
  6. It's a fair guess that China did not vote for Canada.  Nor would any country under Chinese influence and, if the rumours are even half true, that would be a lot of votes.  After the vote, Norway's Prime Minister expressed the intention "to remain on good terms with China, Russia, and the United States."  Something Canada seems to have trouble doing.
  7. No-one I have read is saying so but I think it is a fair bet that the Trump White House would be unlikely to endorse a Canadian presence on the Security Council.  Trump's animosity toward Trudeau is well documented.  I can recall at least two incidents in which Trump described Trudeau as "two-faced" or words to that effect--The G7 and Davos.
  8. Why vote for the American lapdog?  Despite the exchange of insults between the President and the Prime Minister, Canada is perceived as being incapable of opposing or unwilling to oppose US hegemony.   The campaign for a Security Council seat has been going on at the same time as Canada has been holding Meng, the Huawei CFO, under house arrest to honour a US extradition request.  The arrest has been counter to Canadian interests while it serves American corporate and trade interests.  Historically, Canada has been elected to the Security Council once every 10 years under both Conservative and Liberal governments.  It has now been 20 years since Canada last held a seat.  Canada's willingness to sacrifice its own interests in order to accommodate an American "request" leads to the conclusion that electing Canada would simply be giving the USA another voice at Security Council meetings.

Does it matter?

According to Andrew Scheer, who seems to be in permanent bitch mode these days, the campaign was Justin Trudeau's "personal vanity project."  However, when the Harper/Scheer Conservatives failed to win a Security Council seat in 2010 "foreign affairs minister John Baird attributed the failure to win a seat to principled positions taken by Canada on certain international issues."  

I have gone looking for answers to the question "What are the benefits of a temporary seat on the Security Council?" and the answers have been neither tangible nor convincing.  "Having a seat at the table" is an interesting synecdoche but what does it really mean?  It's prestigious?  How does that prestige play out to be of any real benefit to Canada?

According to the rules of the Security Council, any one of the five permanent members can veto any proposal presented.  Hypothetically, if Canada were a member and presented an idea, all five of China, Russia, France, the UK, and the USA would have to agree before there could be any further discussion.  If all five permanent members wanted an idea to be discussed, they certainly wouldn't need Canada to propose it.  Or is the Security Council really about backroom deals, corridor conversations, and whisper campaigns?  If so, do they really need to be Security Council members in order for Ambassador A to lean over to Ambassador B and say, "Hey, why don't you let our citizens out of jail, and maybe we can sign a trade deal!"

Is the UN a dysfunctional bureaucracy?

The theoretical goals of the UN--"world peace and security"--could not be more desirable.  In practice, it appears to have fallen prey to the syndrome which plagues so many institutions, (governments, political parties, universities, security and police forces, even non-profit organizations and charities): a preoccupation with its own bureaucratic survival over the underlying raison d'être for which it exists.

Seventy-five years after it was first formed, Professor of International Relations, Jean-François Thibault, asks, "is the Security Council still relevant in its current form?"  Thibault is "not optimistic." We can only hope that the organization reinvigorates the goals to which it aspires before it expires.


An astute reader of this blog asked me if there has ever been a case of the non-permanent members of the Security Council affecting the outcome of voting on a particular resolution.  I have browsed 500 (of the 2500 available) examples of Security Council votes.  In these 500 cases, there was not a single example of one of the 15 members of the Security Council voting against a resolution.  In a handful of cases, there were two or three abstentions.

Friday 11 October 2019

There's Hypocrisy, and Then There's Scheer Hypocrisy

Andrew Scheer has dual citizenship.  So what?

When I heard the "breaking news" that Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party, and potentially Canada's next Prime Minister in a couple of weeks from now, held dual citizenship, I thought, "big deal; so what?"  We're not like those Americans obsessed with national homogeneity:  obsessed with President Trump's (aka Drumpf) being German, or obsessed with President Obama's birth certificate and Kenyan father, or obsessed with presidential-hopeful Senator Ted Cruz being born in Canada.  We believe in the Canadian multicultural mosaic in contrast to the assimilation of the American melting pot.

Dual citizenship versus hypocrisy

I disagree with Andrew Coyne who finds dual citizenship--not the blatant hypocrisy--to be the essence of the problem.  I would go so far as to claim that dual citizens are a net gain for Canada, making us a hub of international networks beneficial to our national interests in an increasingly interlinked, globalized planet.  However, it does give me pause to think that a man who could, in two weeks from now, be the Prime Minister of Canada is an American citizen.  The greatest leadership challenge of our next Prime Minister will be walking the fine line between the USA and China in our trade and diplomatic relations.  It is hard not to laugh at Scheer's ludicrous, hollow bravado claiming that Canada needs to "get tough with China."  The Chinese already have reason to believe that Canada only exists as a lackey branch-plant kowtowing to American interests.  Electing an American citizen as Prime Minister will make it that much harder to convince them otherwise.

There's hypocrisy then there's Scheer hypocrisy 

In my previous post, on blackface, I wrote that "I have never found politicians calling one another hypocrites very convincing or meaningful."  There are degrees of hypocrisy.  Andrew Scheer seems out to prove himself the hypocrite of hypocrites, the stone-throwing king of glasshouses. The Scheer unmitigated hypocrisy of criticizing the dual citizenship of Governor General Michaëlle Jean, Liberal leader Stephane Dion, and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair--all the while holding dual citizenship himself--has been laid out in the mainstream media.

Dual American versus French citizenship

What has been less explicitly spelt out are the differences between Scheer's American citizenship and the French citizenship of Jean, Dion and Mulcair.  In the first place, as many of my dual-citizenship friends have pointed out, renouncing your American citizenship is much more difficult to do than you might imagine.  The USA is one of only two countries in the world which levy personal income tax on non-resident citizens.  This translates to the fact that Scheer would have had to file an American income tax statement every year.  Unlike most dual citizenships, where it is possible to be a dual citizen and rarely think about it, Scheer would have been reminded of his dual citizenship and decided to maintain it every year of his adult life.

Jean, Dion and Mulcair each explained clearly how and why they became dual citizens (always related to family issues) but Scheer has left the explanation murky by simply claiming his father was an American.  However, the fact that his father was an American living in Canada does not in itself explain how Scheer became an American.  Another step and process were necessary, and Scheer had to undertake the process and annually decided to maintain his American citizenship.  As we are stopping to consider how Scheer would do in negotiating with our US neighbours, while maintaining a Canadian identity and culture distinct from the American monolith, we might wonder at the fact that both his sisters are registered Republicans living in the USA.

Sarcasm is the lowest form of irony

Snippets of Scheer's 2005 blog criticizing Michaëlle Jean's dual French/Canadian citizenship have littered the media, but it is worthwhile to consider his entire text (6, 13 Aug. 2005) in context.  What dominates and characterizes Scheer's writing is sarcasm.  Sarcasm, as I've pointed out elsewhere, is the lowest form of irony.  Sarcasm transmits an attitude, usually of disdain, without any clear, explicit content.  It tends to be a dissembling, cowardly form of communication--pretending that you will be understood, but without taking responsibility for what you are saying.  It demands interpretation but escapes interpretation because with sarcasm the dissembler never explicitly says what he means and can always deny whatever interpretation is given to his words.

Scheer in his own words

In the blog, Scheer rhetorically questions Michaëlle Jean's dual citizenship (though Jean, unlike Scheer, renounced her dual citizenship before taking office), then goes on to mock her claim, that "Having a person like me as governor-general will mean a lot not only to Canadians. I think it will mean a lot for humanity."  Scheer replies snidely:
Right, all of humanity is very excited that you've become Governor-General. I can just hear a collective gasp of amazment and happiness from hundreds of millions of people all over the globe who are now inspired because you are the new GG.
All that, and she's modest too.
How can a man who would have us believe that "blackface" is an important issue in this election be self-satisfied mocking a black woman who quite rightly acknowledges that a  woman of colour being named Canada's Governor General is a gesture that will be celebrated around the world?  Didn't most Canadians relish the brilliance of  Michaëlle Jean as our GG and the sea change happening in the world as she greeted President Barack Obama on the tarmac at the Ottawa Airport?

Maintaining his narrow-minded, short-sighted view, in his blog, Scheer goes on to mock the choice of Adrienne Clarkson, only the second woman, the first member of a visible minority and the first Chinese-Canadian ever to be named Governor General.  Scheer continues his mockery of  "Another CBC broadcaster."  Adding:  "If the Liberals aren't hiring journalists in the PMO or appointing them to the Senate, they're making them Governor-General."  (The Conservative Government in which Scheer was an MP would later appoint two journalists to the Senate:  Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy--both of whom had worked for the CBC and became embroiled in the Canadian Senate expenses scandal.)

When does hypocrisy become outright deceit?

There is a point at which hypocrisy becomes outright deceit.  Scheer has certainly played on that point with his campaign mantra that "Justin Trudeau cannot be trusted."  Whenever Scheer has been questioned about why he has failed to reveal his dual citizenship, his response has been "No one has ever asked me."  Scheer became a Conservative Member of Parliament in 2004.  In 2006, when the Conservative Party was provoking a scandal over Stephane Dion's dual citizenship, the CBC launched an inquiry to determine how many Canadian MPs held dual citizenship. reported that

Dion was criticized this week because of his reluctance to give up his French citizenship. He was born in Canada but holds dual citizenship because his mother was born in France. 
The Parliament of Canada website shows that 41 of the 308 MPs sitting in the House of Commons were born in 28 countries other than Canada, ranging from Uganda and Malta to China and the United Kingdom. 
Many of these MPs qualify for dual citizenship. That puts them in the ranks of the 691,300 people living in Canada who hold dual citizenships, according to the 2001 census. called their offices to check on their current status and found that the following MPs hold dual citizenships:
  • Omar Alghabra (Ontario Liberal), with Syria.
  • Raymond Chan (British Columbia Liberal), with the United Kingdom.
  • Libby Davies (British Columbia NDP), with the United Kingdom.
  • Jim Karygiannis (Ontario Liberal), with Greece.
  • Wajid Khan (Ontario Liberal), with Pakistan.
  • Maka Kotto (Quebec Bloc Québécois), with France.
  • Pablo Rodriguez (Quebec Liberal), with Argentina.
  • Michael Savage (Nova Scotia Liberal), with the United Kingdom.
  • Mario Silva (Ontario Liberal), with Portugal.
  • Lui Temelkovski (Ontario Liberal), with Macedonia.
  • Myron Thompson (Alberta Conservative), with the United States.

Why isn't Andrew Scheer's name on this list?  Did the CBC only contact MPs born outside Canada?  Such a procedure wouldn't make much sense since Stephane Dion, whose case spurred the inquiry, was born in Canada and his dual citizenship would not be discovered if only MPs born outside Canada were questioned.  Could the CBC research have been this shoddy?  Should we believe Andrew Scheer's claim that he has never been asked about his dual citizenship?  Certainly, he had to be aware that the question was being asked about MPs with dual citizenship, and he decided not to come forward, and to maintain his dual citizenship.  Ultimately, the question is "Can Andrew Scheer be trusted?"

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