This year, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne, a new medal has been created to honour Canadians who have given significant contributions to their country or area, or who have achieved something abroad that brings credit to Canada. A total of 60,000 medals are being given out over the course of 2012, and the eligibility is simple: be either a permanent resident or citizen of Canada (you do not have to live here), make a significant contribution, and have been alive on Feb 6th, 2012. Medal recipients are chosen through partner organizations, including senators, provincial premiers and Members of Parliament. Each MP is allowed to give out 30 medals.
So far, it’s been a neat campaign and a great way to recognize Canadians who are doing some exceptional things – a 9-year-old boy who’s raised over $40,000 for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, for example, and the list goes on and on. I mean, even Justin Bieber got one.
However, a controversy has arisen over the medal designation of two awards chosen by Maurice Vellacott, a Conservative MP from Saskatchewan, and much debate has begun over the recipients. Vellacott describes them as “precious…heroes of humanity,” only topped by Canadian Life Coalition member Joanne Brownrigg calling them “meek, gentle, humble women [who] remind me of Mother Teresa.” The Canadian law, however, would call them criminals — Mary Wagner, who has four times broken court injunctions to enter abortion clinics and been arrested for mischief, and Linda Gibbons, who has spent 10 years on and off in prison for violating injunctions and refusing to sign bail papers that required her to agree to an injunction. These women are relentless anti-choice advocates who have repeatedly broken the law in their efforts to, in Vellacott’s words, “protect defenceless, voiceless human beings in the womb from butchery and death, and trying to let vulnerable women know that there are other options and support and adoption possibilities.
Canada is one of the few countries in the world with no legal restrictions on abortion – although accessibility and regulations can vary by individual provinces, we are legally able to abort a fetus at any time. This didn’t happen by mistake – Canadians have fought immensely for this right, through protests, lobbying, and civil disobedience. Dr. Henry Morgentaler was one such advocate, who performed over 5,000 illegal abortions (by his count) while battling to change the laws, arguing that it violated women’s rights to criminalize abortion, and that it was a matter of necessity. MP Vellacott specifically called Dr. Morgentaler out, saying that it was “a pretty upside down world when we honour abortionists like Henry Morgentaler for killing over 5,000 babies and imprison precious women, like Mary Wagner and Linda Gibbons, who try to save babies from such savagery.”
Because of the work done by Dr. Morgentaler and Canadians for women’s rights, we are today able to access a safe and legal abortion. Regardless of your views on that fact, this is a right guaranteed to us in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While Vellacott and others may appreciate the work that anti-choice women are doing, these women are harassing Canadians and breaking the law in the process. As interim Liberal leader Bob Rae says, by encouraging this behaviour, Vellacott could be inciting others to break the law, which is a crime in Canada for which he could be punished. (That likely won’t happen, but is still worthy of consideration.)
Personally, I am uncomfortable knowing a government representative is openly and excitedly encouraging harassment of Canadians who are accessing legal medical services. As a Canadian, I value freedom of opinion and recognize that as wrong as I believe these women are, they have a right to their beliefs. However, consistently breaking the law and invading spaces that they have been rightfully banished from is not okay. These women earned their criminal sentences, and, in my opinion, do not fit the criteria for this award. They have not made a significant contribution to Canada – what have they done? They have contributed nothing worthwhile or important to our country, and I believe that if Canada is going to offer legal abortions, rewarding people for harassing those who access that legal right should not be part of it.
What do you think – should Wagner and Gibbons be given this award? Should Vellacott be charged with inciting a crime? Let us know in the comments!
Written by Emma Tarver
Follow her on Twitter, @iemcanadian!