My Reply to Mr. Woodworth

Mr. Woodworth,

I think you’ve misread what I said. I did not say that a fetus is not a human being unworthy of respect or dignity. I agree that it is. However, you as the sole owner of your body, have the absolute right to deny the resources of your body to any other individual, even if that denial will result in the death of the other person. You cannot be forced to donate a kidney, even if, for lack of your kidney, the other person will die. By insisting that a fetus has equal rights with its mother, you are in essence denying that same bodily autonomy to the mother: the right to deny the resources of her body to another human being. You’re at liberty to believe that to be an immoral choice, just as you’re at liberty to believe that the person who refuses to donate a kidney is making an immoral choice. But our law says that the choice is nevertheless theirs to make, because the dividing line is their control over the resources of their body, irrespective of another person’s need to make use of the resources of that body.

The other issue is the legal definition of a person, which is separate from the moral definition of a human being. When the law describes someone as a person, the law then has certain obligations towards that person, including following up on their deaths. If the law describes a fetus as a person, what happens if the pregnancy results in a stillbirth? Is the mother then guilty of manslaughter because her body or the processes of birth or simple birth defects resulted in the death of her fetus? What you’re proposing – the recognition of a fetus, not just as a human being, but as a person under the law – would logically lead to the conclusion that miscarriages would be followed by a criminal investigation, which indeed has already begun in states where legislators are attempting to use child-protection laws as a back door to criminalizing abortion. How would you propose that the Office of the Registrar-General record a fetus’ existence, since the first legal recognition of a child’s existence is the registration of its live birth? Are there now custody issues involved for a fetus when its mother travels, issues which might further affect her democratic right to freedom of movement and association? Is she a criminal for have a glass of wine or medicating a cold? How exactly would Child and Family Services go about removing a fetus from the custody of its abusive mother?

You’re proposing to add a layer of regulation to pregnancy and birth that could logically lead to the criminalization of, not just abortion, but miscarriage and a whole host of behaviours during pregnancy; you’re creating a bureaucratic nightmare; and you’re still trying to deny that recognizing fetus as legal persons (note the difference between that, and accepting that they are human beings) will perforce have a negative impact on the mother’s human rights and freedoms on any number of levels. I don’t understand how you plan to justify the encroachment on the mother’s rights when you grant the same rights to her fetus.

If your real goal is to provide as much human dignity as possible for Canadian fetuses, I have some good news for you: it’s entirely possible to lower the abortion rate significantly from what it is in Canada. Finland and Sweden both have abortion rates that are about half of Canada’s, which I’m sure you’ll agree means a great deal more dignity for those fetuses. What do they do differently? They have national daycare programs, first of all, so low-income mothers aren’t faced with the prospect of being unable to afford daycare so that they can work, and unable to work without the daycare. They have excellent programs for training young people in jobs, including supports for parents to get that training, so that people have a livelihood with which to support their families. And they have excellent sexual education in schools, on the grounds that people have a right to know how their bodies work and will make much better choices for those bodies when they know all the ramifications. This last is the only one of the three that Canada does an adequate job of.

I also have some bad news for you: the research worldwide indicates that making abortion illegal through any means does not actually result in fewer abortions; it simply results in unsafe, backroom abortions, where women die. If rights are granted to a fetus, the result will be the deaths of about the same number of fetuses, and a fair percentage of their mothers as well. That doesn’t sound like human dignity to me.

Pro-life ought to mean more than pro-birth. It should mean supporting people of all ages to live in dignity. Your government cancelled plans for a national daycare program, cut old-age security for my generation, and is cutting back on EI; these actions do not mesh with a pro-life position that seeks dignity for all.

I appreciate the opportunity to dialogue with you on this matter. Twenty years ago, I believed exactly as you do. Then about four years ago, I found myself in the position where a pregnancy might have killed me, had I not aborted it. I didn’t get pregnant during that period, and I’m very glad I didn’t have to make that choice. But contemplating that possibility led me to change my mind: I believe so strongly in human dignity that I cannot countenance a desire to restrict a woman’s dignity by restricting her choices during pregnancy.


Erin the Optimist


Online voting

I have never supported online voting.  The NDP Leadership Convention’s experience is one of several reasons.

For those who have not read the news, the online vote was subjected to a ddos attack. That’s when thousands of computers are used to deny an online service by keeping the server too busy. (There are other ways to do a ddos attack; this is the one that was used last Saturday.) The result: thousands of NDP voters were unable to vote because they couldn’t get onto the website in the amount of time they had to do so. There are reports of people spending two hours with each round of voting, just trying to cast a ballot. I ended up being very glad I’d voted in the advance poll.

The problem here is that it’s possible the outcome was changed. Since the overwhelming majority of votes cast on the last two ballots were cast in advance of the convention, there was no opportunity for momentum to grow behind a candidate during the convention itself. How might that have been different? Nathan Cullen was thousands of votes behind Brian Topp going into the third round of voting. What if he’d caught up? He would have knocked Topp off the ballot, and then the “anyone but Mulcair” folks in the Topp campaign would have thrown their support behind Cullen. It might have led to Cullen winning. It’s possible it wouldn’t have been enough to topple Mulcair anyway – but we’ll never know.

This was a leadership convention. It was quite clear going into Saturday’s vote that Mulcair had a significant lead. I suspect it would be much harder for party members to accept the results if that had not been the case. In any case, it’s not like this is a general election, right? The right to vote in it was granted by the party, not by Elections Canada, not by democratic tradition. Most parties even now do not have a one-member-one-vote system.

But the fact that the election could be hijacked in this way, causing delay, frustration, and a remote possibility that the outcome was changed, is a powerful argument against online voting in general elections. There is no way to maintain the privacy of the public and make an online election safe from these types (or other types) of attacks at the same time.

If we are to safeguard our electoral system, we must insist that we keep our paper ballots. It’s not perfect – witness the Robocall scandal as evidence – but it’s better than this.

We’ve come a long way, baby?

Over the last few days, some thoughts that surfaced at the convention have percolated.  The beans poured into the coffee grinder when Nathan Cullen brought his wife and two adorable toddler twin boys up to the stage at the end of his speech.  I forgave him quickly for the photo-op; how can one avoid the temptation to show off twin babies, especially when they’re being so well-behaved and cute?

The beans got ground down a bit when Brian Topp brought his family up too.  By the time Mulcair brought his up, I was pouring water into the coffee maker’s reservoir and turning it on.  When Singh rhapsodized in his cartoon intro about his wife, who had given up a career using her PhD in Punjabi literature to come to Canada with him, I nearly threw my mental coffee pot across the room.  His turbaned son playing a Nova Scotian jig on a fiddle was adorable (and musically very talented) and that boy was one of the few people of colour on the stage during the leader’s speeches, but in this respect he was still part of the same trend to photo-op a heteronormative family.

I find the absence of the women from the family photo-op trend to be as fascinating as it is revealing.  Ashton, I believe, could have gone Cullen’s route.  I think that baby I saw her with a few times is hers.  I have no idea whether Peggy Nash has children or is married, because she didn’t advertise either their presence or absence in her political life.  Is this because a man with a family behind him is supported and complete, while a woman with a family behind her is compromised in her time and possibly her values?  Certainly Nash was not above using introducers to address perceived weak spots in her candidacy; one need only look at the three university students who got elected last May in the Orange Crush and introduced Nash on Friday to see that.  (The absence of Ruth Ellen Brosseau from any of the introductions, or indeed any significant role in the convention as far as I could tell, was also telling.  Apparently the beating she took in the media last May actually worked – the party is keeping her profile low.)

There was one other troubling aspect of the family photo-op: it served to highlight the fact that, even in the NDP, the party of social justice and equality, there are no candidates for the leadership who belonged to the LGBTQ community, or at least, none who were willing to photo-op that for Canadians.  I was hearing rumblings of discontent from the people around me.  I was not the only one who did not see their family represented on that stage.  The single woman who moved to Winnipeg because her closest relative, her niece, lives there, pointed out that the emphasis on families was marginalizing to the single and the childless.  It was pointed out over and over again that New Democrats had the most female caucus in history – 40 female MPs out of 103.  It’s dramatically more than the Conservatives, but still well below true equality – and nobody is advertising the number of LGBTQ people in the caucus.

People of colour were conspicuous in their absence.  Martin Singh, who is a Nova Scotian for many generations on both sides of his family, is as WASP as I am, but having converted to Sikhism and married an Indian woman, he represented the immigrant community on that stage.  Niki Ashton highlighted the fact that she was the child of Greek immigrants and speaks fluent Greek, but the days are long gone when Greek Canadians are seen as interlopers.  Nobody looking at her would have pegged her as not Canadian enough.  Again, Nash’s cadre of barely-twenty-year-old MPs included the most visible people of colour with actual election wins under their belts.

I believe the emphasis on families was Jack’s doing, because he was very much a family man himself.  (For the record, I respect the deep love each of the candidates has for their families and I’m in no way knocking that.  It is what it is.)  I also suspect that it was done deliberately to prevent the Right in Canada, as represented by the Conservatives, from usurping the Family Values talking points.  Their Republican counterparts down south have definitely pulled off that coup and it’s been one of the bigger disasters for the Democratic party.  Nevertheless, Jack was fighting for my rights as an LGBTQ person for thirty years before I knew I needed them.  Where was that push at the convention?

If the leadership convention proved anything about the equality agenda, it proved that we aren’t there yet; not in the NDP, and not in Canada.

An Open Letter to Mr. Mulcair

A year ago, I was exactly the kind of voter that you will need to court to win the next election.  I was left-leaning but undecided.  I voted for a different party for each election, based on a complex interplay of reasons; strategic voting, policies, personalities of leaders, and personalities of candidates all played a role.  I was willing to consider any party that might be able to beat the Conservatives, whose agenda I find to be divisive and mean-spirited.

I came to the NDP after the last election for two reasons.  The first, like so many people, was Jack Layton.  In addition to charisma, there was the intense commitment to social justice, and to moving Canada forward while leaving nobody behind.  That, I felt, was the essence of the New Democratic agenda: that gains for our nation were not gains unless everyone benefitted from them.  It stood, and stands, in stark contrast to the radical individualist perspective offered by the Right.

The second reason was the realization that my methods were not accomplishing anything.  I wasn’t working to build anything myself.  I wasn’t throwing in my lot with any one group and working to build it into what I wanted it to be.  I was letting others do the work, and then grazing at their buffet.  I was following in the great Canadian political tradition of the undecided voter. With only a small percentage of Canadians belonging to a political party, and an even smaller percentage participating actively in one, I was in good company.

I decided that this approach didn’t meet either my expectations for myself, or my needs.  I decided not to be the person who let other people decide how she would be governed; I needed, to quote one of the world’s great activists, to be the change I wished to see in the world.  So I joined the NDP.  I got involved in the riding association. I attended the Leadership Convention. I stood in your bleachers on March 24th and cheered and chanted in two languages.  I sang a Habs olé, denying my family’s traditional Maple Leafs roots.  I answered the appeal and went to your call centre to pull out the vote.  I celebrated when you were elected.

And then I watched as the media pundits and bloggers across the country pontificated on the NDP’s shift to the centre and what it meant.  I’m sure, Mr. Mulcair, that you’ve read some of the same articles.  They’re saying you’re moving the party to the centre.  Some are saying Jack did the same thing.  Some are lamenting the demise of a strong left.  I read it all, and I decided that they’d missed something.

In fact, they’d missed something game-changing.

I voted for you because I believe you to represent the left both as it is and as it needs to be to grow.  I felt that you understood what the strong union candidates, excellent and caring people all, did not: that the rhetoric of our unionized past was alienating people who ought to be able to find a home in the NDP.  But a shift in rhetoric does not equal a shift in values.  We can appeal to the social justice voters who do not see themselves in the rhetoric of the unions, but nevertheless have a lot to gain from their tradition: the professional civil service voters, the non-unionized support service voters, the small business owners and family farmers and fishers, and all those Canadians from all walks of life who have lost trust that their government has their back.

I need something from you, Mr. Mulcair.  It’s something I believe you were going to give me anyway, and that’s why you got my vote.

I need you to be the point person for a strong and united left.

I need you to stand up for social justice, not just for the most downtrodden but for the people in the middle who are so often alienated and bitter about politicians, neither far enough down to need a boost nor far enough up to benefit from the cronyism and pandering to big business that have marked our government for my entire adult life.

I need you to be the face of the Left which once ensured that these people would not lose their homes trying to pay for a doctor, and I need you to be the arm of the Left which will ensure that these people will not lose their homes paying for chemotherapy.

I need you to fight for the rights of the employees in offices who are earning the same dollar amount that their parents earned twenty-five years ago, as surely as you filibuster back-to-work legislation for Canada Post.

I believe you will do this.  I have a great love for this country, and great hope for its future.  I am optimistic that together, tous ensemble, we can get the job done.  I voted for you because I believe that you want what I want for this home we both love.

I’m what you need those undecided voters to become.  I’m a supporter who will put my money, my time, and my heart into your cause if I believe in it strongly enough.  I’ve been told you’re a man of your word.  We’re listening.  Will you give us your word?