Saturday, January 2, 2016

The history of Canada's abortion law


A friend of mine died last fall and left to me his collection of pro-life books. I thought there wouldn't be many that would be new to me, but I was wrong. I now have about 30 books to read, fascinating collection. Dan was a lawyer and a politically involved man, so much of this reading would appeal to the lawyer mind-set.

As a point of interest, Dan had been a life-long Liberal and he jokingly remarked to me a few years ago, that he had to do penance for all those years of being a Liberal once he understood the pro-life position.

The first book that jumped out at me to be read was Borowski: A Canadian Paradox. I have heard a few details about Joe Borowski, but nothing very accurate or factual and I knew this was a key figure in the abortion debate in Canada. The book is a fascinating read, written by Lianne Laurence who was active in the pro-life movement in the 80's and 90's and has written for Catholic Insight magazine. I have been seeing her name recently amongst the writers featured at LifeSiteNews.

A short background for those who know little or nothing about Borowski. He was born in Saskatchewan in 1932, into a large Polish Catholic family that was eking out a living on a prairie farm. Joe's parents had escaped from Poland before World War II. Joe left home in his early teens, traveling to various cities to get employment. He met and married Jean Zelinski from a neighbouring town and they moved to Vancouver, taking jobs in restaurants, Joe selling vacuum cleaners and Jean selling Avon, then to Whitehorse where Joe sold vacuum cleaners and Jean worked as a waitress until their first baby arrived. A move to Regina, then a final move to Thompson Manitoba where Joe got a job in the new Inco mine.

This is a point of interest to me as I grew up in Sudbury, Ontario, the site of another Inco mine. One of our neighbours moved to Thompson when the new mine opened up there, so it is likely that he actually got to know Joe.

Joe became involved in the politics of the mining community very soon and he was acutely aware of injustices that were going on. He became active in the union, and his first foray into provincial politics came when he went to Winnipeg with a petition signed by 1700 residents of Thompson, demanding that the town be granted self-government instead of being run as a company town with Inco calling the shots. Joe became well known for his union activities and actually was fired by Inco for being such an activist.

During this time, Joe and his wife had opened a small store that sold mining souvenirs that Joe made. This kept them afloat during the sparse years. This was also the time when the New Democratic Party came into being and Joe found the party to be a good fit for him with his views on working conditions for the lower and middle class.

He began his political protests when sales tax was mandated in Manitoba. Joe simply refused to pay it and he picketed outside the legislature, setting up a tent and sleeping right there on the steps. His protest grew to include raising the minimum wage for workers and objecting to the pay raise that the legislators voted for themselves. He became known as the advocate for the working man.

His refusal to pay the sales tax resulted in his going to jail and this became a recurring pattern of activity for Joe. Of course, he then became aware of the conditions in the jails and advocated for the prisoners along with his other causes.

In a short while, Joe was asked to run for the newly-formed NDP party and he was elected as a member of the official opposition in the Churchill constituency. By 1969, Joe was elected as an MLA in the Ed Schreyer NDP government for the constituency of Thompson.  Schreyer appointed him Minister of Highways, and later he had the portfolio of public works as well.

This is another point of interest to me. When we lived in Ottawa from 1975 to 1986, our oldest daughter attended school with Tobin Schreyer, son of Ed Schreyer who had been appointed Governor General by Pierre Trudeau's government. Rebecca was invited to the Gov General's house on several occasions and I recall trick-or-treating there with the kids, with Lily Schreyer dressed as a witch and stirring a cauldron of liquid nitrogen. Fun days, it is interesting to see how the events of my life passed close to the events written about in this book.

While he was Minister of Highways, Joe became aware that the provincial health care system was paying for abortions. He had had no interest in this issue prior to this new knowledge and, when he became aware of it, his life took a huge turn and he began to dedicate all of his energies into the pro-life cause. In 1971, he resigned from his position as MLA because of the government funding of abortion.

During his early married life, Joe had ceased to practise his Catholic faith. He took issue with the church's teaching on contraception. As he said, "my wife and I are young and we just can't have all those kids". So he left the church. In later years, however, he made a trip to Portugal and visited Fatima, coming back a changed man and a devout Catholic. After that trip to Fatima, he rarely missed daily Mass and he was an ardent promoter of the Catholic faith.

Concurrent with this turn of events, Joe had taken an interest in health foods and he and Jean opened a health food store in Winnipeg in 1977. It must have been one of the first of its kind and it was the family's livelihood, with Jean managing the store while Joe became more and more active in the pro-life movement.

In 1978, Joe hired Morris Shumiatcher, a lawyer who was pro-life, to launch a lawsuit on behalf of the unborn child at Queen's Bench in Regina. As with many such court cases, the lawsuit sat idle until finally the court granted jurisdiction to hear the case. During the wait, Joe had lost his car and had numerous other financial penalties imposed on him by the government, plus he spent more time in jail for contempt of court because he refused to pay a fine to Revenue Canada. He clocked up quite a lot of time in jail.

During the waiting period for this trial, Trudeau "brought home the Constitution" as our historians like to say. One of the key results of this move was that the unborn were given no protection under the Charter of Rights. This was despite assurances by Trudeau to the Catholic bishops that the unborn were protected under the Charter. There was a flurry of correspondence between religious leaders and the government with the Catholic bishops of Canada alternately rejecting the Charter and then finally accepting it, something that has since proven to be absolutely the wrong move on behalf of the unborn. As Gwen Landolt perceived so accurately, the real danger of the Charter was that it gave the Supreme Court the ability to legislate by court order. This effectively took away the ability of the House of Commons to be the final voice on any legislation. The Supreme Court of nine judges could rule by fiat.

It was at this point that Joe began to fast seriously and regularly to protest the lack of protection for the unborn child that was inherent in the new Charter of rights. He fasted weekly, at one point he engaged in an 80-day fast, only to stop when asked by the Papal Nuncio who was instructed by Pope John Paul II. At this point, Joe had lost 50 pounds, which he never regained.

The trial called upon numerous medical witnesses, including Bernard Nathanson and the doctor who discovered the chromosome that caused Down Syndrome. All of the medical witnesses attested to the fact that the unborn child was indeed a human being and the argument over whether or not said child was a "person" with rights was a philosophical red herring. The other side presented no witnesses but simply made the case that the pregnant woman had the right to do with her body whatever she wished.

Joe lost the case and he appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. During the long wait for that case to be heard, Henry Morgentaler decided to challenge the abortion law by opening and operating illegal abortion clinics in Toronto and Winnipeg. He was charged and taken to court for his illegal activities. What is interesting is that Joe's case before the Supreme Court was delayed just long enough for Morgentaler's case to be heard first. Of course, we all know the result of Morgentaler's case; he won, and the judges' decision on Morgentaler took away the core of Joe's case which was defending the rights of the unborn child.

One thing that is astounding to me is that the Supreme Court judges, in their ruling on Morgentaler, cited the Powell Report. This was a report commissioned by the Premier of Ontario and it was written by a pro-abort woman whose bias was obvious. However, the crucial item of interest here is that the report was not entered as evidence into the trial, yet the judges used it as a key point for their ruling.

The justices, so it seemed, had relied heavily on a document that had not even been formally accepted by the Court. But Landolt was willing to give them the benefit of due process: she combed through the dockets of the case, searching for a notice of motion that would state the Powell Report had been adduced as evidence, but in vain. The findings of Marion Powell were used "to knock out the abortion law" yet no one else was privy to its assertions; the Crown was given no opportunity to read or refute it. 
Powell's effort was, in Landolt's blunt phrase, "totally one-sided crap" that relied upon, among others, Henry Morgentaler as an authority. 
After Joe got the news that his case had lost, he tried to maintain a positive attitude towards the pro-life cause, but the tremendous disappointment that he had suffered took its toll. Five years later, Joe was diagnosed with bladder and prostate cancer, and within a year he was admitted to palliative care at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg and died shortly thereafter.

I find this passage particularly touching:

For months after his death, his wife Jean found his rosaries, hanging on trees, on fence posts, scattered over the property at La Salle. Joe always wanted to have a rosary handy with which to pray as he walked in the cool of the evening - Jean gathered up hundreds and passed many of them on to fellow pro-lifers.

Joe Borowski was a real hero in my books. He had the courage of his convictions, and gave up much for the cause he pursued. Material wealth, career, and ultimately his health, he sacrificed all the worldly goals that most of us hold dearest in our lives.

The book served two purposes for me. It gave me a real in-depth look at the life of this Canadian pro-life hero. And it gave me some small insight into the Canadian political process. I have to say that I am left wondering how these events played out; who was whispering into whose ear to bring about the pro-abortion decisions that came down? I have heard it said that Chatelaine magazine and the Globe and Mail played a huge part in forming public opinion on the abortion issue and I wonder which feminist voices influenced the men who held power in the country at the time. I have no doubt that this was what was going on, but who is going to write that part of the story?

There are rumours that Morgentaler was black-mailing certain members of Parliament and in this book, it is stated that he actually announced that he had aborted the child of the wife of a provincial attorney-general. Who is covering up the real story behind these political machinations?  Because Laurence's book succeeds in showing that this was indeed a corrupt process, the passage through the courts of the complete undoing of any abortion law in Canada.

I think of Joe Borowski who gave his life up for this cause. After his court case was finished, Joe said that all that remained for pro-lifers to do was to engage in non-violent civil disobedience. He was influenced by reading about Gandhi's success in India. Today, I think of two other people who are doing just that:  Linda Gibbons who has spent more than ten years in jail for protesting silently outside abortion clinics in Toronto and Mary Wagner who has spent three or more years in jail for going inside abortion clinics to counsel women not to abort their children.

Is there any man or woman in Canada, smart enough and with enough money (Joe's case cost him more than $800,000) to launch a case against the Supreme Court for the mistrial that they conducted?  Or should we join Linda and Mary on the sidewalks and get arrested? If we do nothing, nothing will happen. And that is the sad state of affairs in Canada thirty years after Joe Borowski lost to the culture of death.