On March 5, Parliament passed the Second Reading of Bill C-484, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (injuring or causing the death of an unborn child while committing an offence) aka the Unborn Victims of Crime Act. Bill C-484 is a very dangerous piece of legislation for women. Should it become law, personhood will be granted to a fetus and that would provide solid groundwork for the re-criminalization of abortion in Canada. And, according to Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada / Coaltion pour le droit a l’avortement au Canada, “it could also criminalize pregnant women for behaviours perceived to harm their fetuses.”
When Harper and his nationalist Stand Up for Canada campaign landed the Conservatives with only a minority government in the 2006 election many, including me, breathed a sigh of relief. At least they didn’t get a majority, we all said. But Harper had done his homework. He knew he would have to work differently from any minority government in Canada’s history. And he did. His study of Stalin helped him to maintain extreme control over his caucus, to exert some control over the already right-wing bias in the media and to govern by stealth. The attempt to censor film arts confirmed for me that his ideology is what I would call a soft fascism. As a writer, I go to the dictionary to help me decide language use. The American Heritage Dictionary‘s definition of fascism is the one I mean when I say it is a soft fascism that Harper has brought into Canada.
But it is the Dictionary.com Unabridged definition that more clearly spells out the components of fascism. With the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the North American FTA already in place and the Security and Prosperity Partnership underway, corporatist control of economics is proceeding. Control of the media and the caucus as well as socioeconomic control have been key components in Harper’s soft brand of fascism. The incrementalist nature of his governing has been most evident in his measured and consistent attacks on women’s human rights. Within a few short months in office, Harper radically altered Status of Women Canada (SWC). Prior to the Harper attack, the SWC had played a key role within government and within Canadian society in securing such things as parental benefits and women’s reproductive freedom. But Harper’s removal of the word equality from the SWC mandate and the change to funding guidelines ended that kind of work. His attack meant that even the most broad-based, community-oriented and democratic women’s organization would be ineligible for funding if it engaged in any form of lobbying, whatsoever. Feminist blogger, April Reign, cited Tom Flanagan on the cuts to SWC:
Flanagan calls funding cuts to Status of Women Canada and the elimination of the Court Challenges Program a “nice step,” asserting without equivocation that Conservatives will “defund” all equality-seeking groups – with feminists at the top of the list. He goes further, clarifying that Conservatives also plan to choke-off these groups’ supposedly privileged access to government by, for example, denying “meetings with ministers.” But for strategic reasons, Flanagan notes, this will all happen incrementally. To avoid the perception of mean-spirited retribution, he says, “incrementalism is the way to go.”
Women’s groups such as the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL) have closed their doors. Others have scaled back their operations to a bare minimum. Harper’s attack has effectively silenced the voices of feminism. With the media and society under control, the Opposition parties out of control, and Harper definitely in control, Bill C-484 found a most welcome environment. It is now much more unlikely that women’s organizations would be able to defeat C-484 if it becomes law.
Few saw it coming. But those who did acted as best they could to sound the trumpets. Before C-484 made it to Second Reading activity increased but it was not enough to stop the legislation from moving forward. Four brave Conservative MPs voted against their government while 27 Liberal MPs and 1 New Democratic MP voted with the government. 10 Liberals, including Stephane Dion and former Prime Minister Paul Martin, were not present for the vote. Nancy Karetak-Lindell was apparently caught in an Arctic storm. Martin was simply MIA. But Dion was at Stornoway for his wife’s International Women’s Day party! Apparently, his support for women’s rights only goes so far. As one wise blogger said, The Liberals failed to stand up against the Conservative agenda they warned us against.
There is still hope that Canadians can defeat this regressive bill. It now moves to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, where there is an even split of Committee members who voted for and voted against it. Once the Committee is done with it — if they don’t throw it out — it would go back to the House for Third Reading where, by then I would hope, enough Liberals have been brought into the House of Commons and onside to defeat it. Or, in the event that an election is called, C-484 will die on the Order Table.
Many fear that with the Liberals in shambles the Harperites would easily win a majority government. I disagree. I believe that Harper’s brand of fascism will not be tolerated by Canadians.
This post would not have been possible without the good work of the women and men at Bread and Roses, Birth Pangs, and the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, and dedicated activists too numerous to mention.