Thursday, July 03, 2008

The recent news is that Henry Morgentaler, long time provider and campaigner for the right of Canadian women to access abortion, has finally, at the age age of 85 been named to the Order of Canada. The OOC is an award given from the office of the Governor General for outstanding contribution to the well-being of Canadian society, and there is little doubt that Morgentaler deserves this ward as few individuals have had such a profound civilizing effect as he has had over the years. Predictably our Conservative federal government lost no time in distancing itself from the nomination, pointing out that the selection is made by a committee totally seperate from the government of the day. Ooops ! Looks like this was one more thing that Sneaky Stevie forgot to get under his sweaty little thumb. Look towards underhanded conspiracies to stack the GG's committee in the future. But true to Sneaky Stevie's iron rule of his own caucus Conservative MPs were provided with a prepared script from which they were to read when questioned on the matter. can't let some of the nutters in his party slip up, and produce yet another scandal. There's all sorts of such potential in this situation.
The reaction of anti-abortion forces in both the Catholic Church and evangelical right wingers was far less measured than that of the government. Ballistic would be an understatement. The "shame" ! The "degradation" ! The 'horror" ! The "degeneracy" ! The who knows how many other dozen epithets that filled the media in the last few days. Some of this approaches Monty Python levels. One Catholic priest, Lucien Larre of Coquitlam B.C, has theatrically returned the Order of Canada medal that he received in 1983 for "his work with emotionally disturbed and addicted youth". Full stop here kiddies. One wonders exactly how many of the young people who were "helped" by Fr. Larre were in his clutches on a voluntary basis. The word "none" is a plausible answer. In 1992 Fr. Larre was convicted on two counts of assault on residents in one of his youth "homes" (can we say the words "juvenile prison" ?). One girl was slapped and choked by this loving example of Christian charity. The other was force fed pills that this "saintly" individual determined that she should take even if they had to be rammed down her throat. Both were indictable offenses, but, of course, Larre served no prison time. Still, it was no considered "degrading" to the OOC that what would be called in the USA "a convicted felon" continued to hold the Order. Larre didn't resign then, but rather waited until man who was acquitted by three different juries over the years was awarded same.
Lucien Larre is hardly the only convicted criminal who has retained his Order of Canada. the infamous Conrad Black, now serving time for massive corporate fraud in an US jail, is the subject of an ongoing online petition to have him removed from the lists of the Order. This case is particularly apt as Black renounced his Canadian citizenship in order to be appointed to the British House of Lords (Lord Black of the Brady Road Landfill it should have been). He is now trying to slither back to a Canadian prison in hopes of serving both easier and less time. Being a Canadian looks a little more attractive when you are wearing a prison jumpsuit rather than a red ermine robe.
The award is, after all, supposed to be a Canadian award. While nowhere approaching the level of both arrogance and criminality of Conrad Black, the case of ex-Prime Minister Kim Campbell is also instructive. Her "loyalty" to this country has been amply demonstrated by the fact that since losing power she has decided to reside elsewhere, first in Los Angeles and more recently in France. She did, admittedly, sneak back in to view the unveiling of her picture in the halls of the Parliament Building, but she promptly left again to climes that she feels are more congenial than that of the country that gave her this award. One can be assured that if Kimmy ever gets tattoos there will be an American Eagle on one buttock and a Fleur de Lis on the other. The placement of the Maple Leaf, if it appears at all I'll leave to your imagination. Yes, this is a Canadian award ????
But enough of these unpleasant individuals. Let's return to Henry Morgentaler. There are few people on earth that Molly will apply the description "heroic" to, and Henry Morgentaler is one of them. he was born in 1923 in Lodz, Poland. When the Germans captured Poland his father Josef Morgentaler was captured and killed by the Gestapo. He was not only a Jew but was also a member of the Jewish Socialist Labour Bund. Henry himself was finally sent to Auschwitz in 1944, but he survived. At the time of Liberation he weighed all of 70 pounds (he was 22 years of age). He took his medical studies under an United Nations scholarship program. upon graduation he refused to emigrate to Israel because he opposed Zionism, and in 1950 he and his wife emigrated to Canada instead. He then practiced general medicine in Montreal for the next two decades.
Morgentaler's convictions about the right of women to an abortion gradually drew him away from general medical practice. In 1967 he first testified in front of a government committee about this issue, and in 1969 he left his family practice to open an abortion clinic. The next decades were ones of legal struggle as charges were repeatedly laid against Dr. Morgentaler, and he was repeatedly acquitted by juries who refused to convict him despite the fact that he fully admitted that he broke the letter of the law. As an aside Morgentaler's legal struggles may have solidified a principle of Canadian society that is at least as important as his 1988 victory that ended all statutory restrictions on abortion in Canada. This principle was discussed here at Molly's Blog in connection with the case of Robert Latimer, and it resulted in the longest exchange of comments that this blog has seen. The principle is that of "jury supremacy" or "jury nullification". It is the accepted principle in Common Law that the decision of a jury is supreme, that it cannot be overruled by the judiciary. The final result was what has been called the 'Morgentaler Amendment' to the Criminal Code that forbade the overturn of a jury acquittal by a higher court of judges. The importance of this right of ordinary citizens cannot be overestimated. The right of women to control their own bodies, free from interference from the State, is one particular case. It was established by the exercise of their right of supremacy by three juries, a legal precedent that has far greater implications than one particular right. This right, which is "hated" (this is not too strong a word !) by both the legal establishment and by reactionaries of both the left and right, says that a committee of ordinary citizens, embodied in a jury, has the supreme right to judge a case on the basis of fundamental justice no matter what the letter of the law says. This is a safeguard against tyranny, and a door through which social progress can enter. If the reader wants to read the long exchange on this matter here on this blog just search "Robert Latimer" on Molly's Blog.
To read more about Henry Morgentaler, his life, work and struggles go to the link on him above. You may also want to consult the Wikipedia article Abortion in Canada for further information. But, as a famous American once said, "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance". Just as both the legal establishment and reactionaries are forever campaigning to reduce the fundamental right of jury supremacy, and, if they can't abolish it, hem it in as much as possible to reduce its effectiveness so too those who oppose women's right to choose will continue to try and abolish this mark of civilization. Our present Conservative government, under the able thumb of Sneaky Stevie will, of course, make no such noises as long as it is in a minority position, but let them win a majority and trial balloons will follow soon after. Canadian society will continue to hold those who are opposed to this right for the foreseeable future.
But they are not without opposition. Here are a few links to Canadian organizations that are devoted to keeping us on the list of civilized nations on this matter:
and, of course, the Morgentaler Clinic itself


Beijing York said...

Thanks for that petition link. I made sure to comment that Lucien Larre should also lose his award.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Molly. I had no idea that Larre was such an asshole.

Morgentaler should be the one to refuse the award considering the questionable characters associated with it.

mollymew said...

See the further post above about Lucien Larre.Boy I hate being reminded of my Catholic childhood.