U.S. funding helped to re-open the Canadian abortion debate
Last May in Ottawa, 20 Conservative MPs participated in the March for Life, an annual anti-abortion protest that mirrors its namesake in Washington, D.C. The march commemorates a 1973 U.S.Supreme Court ruling that abortion is a private decision and not a crime.
One of Canada’s most active pro-life groups, the Campaign for Life Coalition (CLC), organized the Ottawa march, mobilizing thousands of protesters to raise awareness on what they believe to be the moral problem and dangers of abortion.
In 2010, the CLC said the March for Life had attracted 15,000 young protesters from all backgrounds and ethnic groups. But in 2012, their numbers had grown: 19,500 marchers came out.
Conservative MP for Kitchener Centre Stephen Woodworth spoke to the crowd, stating his belief that the current Canadian “definition of human being is dishonest and wrong” and that “human rights are an inherent and inalienable gift” which Parliament cannot rescind with Section 223 of the Criminal Code.
The Campaign for Life Coalition has members in cities across Canada and a lobbying office in Ottawa where, its website says, the organization works “at all levels of government to secure full legal protection for all human beings; from the time of conception to natural death.”
CLC's belief system is that human life starts at conception, and like Woodworth, the organizations' members believe that Section 223 is “on par with North Korea” for "disallowing “protection for children up until the little toe comes out of the birth canal.”
U.S. funding helped to re-open the Canadian abortion debate
The Canadian abortion debate, seemingly laid to rest in the eighties, has seen a new resurgence, in part because of U.S. funding on this side of the border.
Research on tax filings and joint ventures of charitable organizations show support for Canada’s pro-life movement from Catholic groups in the United States, as well as increasing support for the cause among MPs aligned with religious organizations.
Last September, Woodworth tabled Motion 312 to determine the definitive point when a human being is a human being: at conception, after birth, or somewhere in between.
He argued that he wanted to finally address a study proposed to the legislature by Justice Bertha Wilson in 1988.
“Motion 312 actually embodied the specific suggestion that Justice Bertha Wilson made at the time when she was writing the [R v. Morgentaler] decision and throwing out Canada’s last abortion law. She actually suggested that Parliament needs to have a look at which point we should be protecting the interest of children before birth.," Woodworth told the Vancouver Observer.
But Woodworth's motion was met with general dismay in the House of Commons and was defeated by 203 to 91 votes. Prime Minster Stephen Harper had distanced himself from the discussion back in April and petitioned his party to squash the Motion once September came.
Yet despite the Prime Minister’s call, 87 Conservative MPs voted in favor of Motion 312. These MPs make up 53 per cent of total Conservatives.
On the same day of the Motion 312 vote, Langley’s Conservative MP Mark Warawa filed Motion 408, which calls for the House of Commons to collectively condemn sex-selective abortions.
Referring to Warawa’s Motion, Mr. Woodworth said, “[I]t’s going to be interesting to see whether or not there are those whose preoccupation with abortion is so single-minded that they are willing to accept discrimination against females through gender selection [sic] pregnancy termination.”
Woodworth says that the House of Commons needs to update its views in the face of “advances in medical science and modern understanding.” He explains that Canadian law must reflect the reality that a 400-year old definition of the human being cannot avoid democratic review and stay “frozen in time.”
Nickel and dime average people
In order to raise the funds for CLC’s political activism, the CLC turns to small donors. The march, according to CLC president, Jim Hughes, costs around $100,000 each year.
Mary Ellen Douglas, CLC Ontario president, told the Vancouver Observer that donations come from over 100,000 families the CLC is in regular touch with, and from “nickel-and-dime” average people.
She said that the bulk of activism money is raised by the CLC itself and that they do not overly rely on larger organizations like the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Canada’s national assembly of the highly-ranked clergymen and one of the distinguished sponsors of the March for Life.
The Conference of Bishops is one of the few publicly listed sponsors alongside individual archdioceses and other Catholic organizations. According to the sponsor list on CLC’s website, the Conference of Bishops donated $5000 in 2012. Further research reveals that a separate pro-life arm called the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) also contributes.
COLF was co-founded by the Conference of Bishops and the world’s largest fraternal Catholic organization, the U.S.-based Knights of Columbus, “to build a culture of life and a civilization of love by promoting respect for human life and dignity and the essential role of the family.”
Director Michele Boulva told the Vancouver Observer that the organization holds informational seminars on topics like abortion, stem-cell research, euthanasia, and other topics related to the creation or cessation of life. She added that COLF also sends out informational letters to MPs ahead of votes like Motion 312.
”We are a bit politically active, but predominantly we are of an educational nature,” she said.
Although COLF is autonomous and they do their own publication, they are co-funded by the Conference of Bishops and the Knights of Columbus, according to Boulva.
Based out of Connecticut, the Knights of Columbus run a network of charitable organizations which fund everything from broadcast media and construction of churches to scholarships and political activism. As of February 2011, the Canadian Knights have 227,538 members comprising 1,942 councils which form a dominant part of a link connecting potent Members of Parliament, the pro-life movement and the Catholic church.
Woodworth is a Knight, as are Americans John Boehner, Jeb Bush, and Rick Santorum.
Over $1 million in U.S. funding
The American Knights of Columbus tax records from 2004 to 2007 show the Conference of Bishops as a recipient of $1,036,350, including explicit support for COLF and “pro-life activities.”
The Canadian March of Life received $6,250 from the Knights of Columbus in 2004. In 2005, the Ottawa march disappeared from the books, but the Campaign for Life Coalition became an item on the cash recipient list with $17,752 in total financial support from 2005 to 2007.
Furthermore, according to a public statement by the Canadian Knights of Columbus, the annual interest of their $1 million Bishop du Laval fund is given directly to the Conference of Bishops. The statement also notes that the “Canadian Knights have also been key supporters and participants in Canada’s annual March of Life.”
Parliament Hill and the U.S. Knights of Columbus
A March news release by the American Knights of Columbus reports on a private luncheon attended by Supreme Director of the Canadian Knights, Robert Cayea, and Speaker of the House, Conservative MP Andrew Scheer. The Speaker is a member of the Knights of Columbus Council 10418 in Regina.
Other notable members of the Knights include Conservative MP Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, and a potential successor to PM Stephen Harper. Kenney, too, voted in favor of Motion 312. Last June, on behalf of the Canadian government, Kenny awarded Deputy Supreme Knight Dennis A. Savoie with a commemorative medal for his charitable work and contribution “to the revitalization of the new voices of lay Catholics” expressing “the values of dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life.”
The ceremony took place at MP Andrew Scheer’s reception room and was also attended by Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, vice-president of the Conference of Bishops and Stephen Woodworth, who frequently volunteers for the Knights. At the time of writing, Supreme Director Robert Cayea had not returned calls to comment on the Knights’ relationship with Canada's Parliament Hill.
Despite the resounding defeat of Motion 312 in September and a general desire in the House of Commons to move on from further discussion of abortion, legislative backbenchers have been successful in reintroducing the discussion of universal human rights.
With Mark Warawa’s motion on sex-selective abortions still on deck for debates, it is hard to imagine that the issue of abortion will be resolved in the nearfuture.
Woodworth says he is trying to close, not reopen, the abortion debate in addressing Justice Wilson’s proposal and determining the point at which a human being can be lawfully protected within full purview of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The majority of Conservative MPs are anti-abortion, according to the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. With continued help from south of the border, this country's March for Life is likely to grow.