Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Sad Day For Canada

A Symbol of Moral Decay:
Henry Morgentaler's Order of Canada
        To award the Order of Canada to Henry Morgentaler does not much diminish Governor-General Michaelle Jean nor Canada (neither, truth to tell, have much of a reputation to tarnish), but it might make some past recipients — for example, Jean Vanier (1971), or the Salvation Army's Arnold Brown (1982), or the late Cardinal Emmett Carter (1983) — seem to be in rather uncomfortable company. But then, people forget that the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Yasser Arafat.
      In the early 1970s, when I was just beginning my law teaching career, I was scheduled to debate Henry Morgentaler at the law faculty at the University of Ottawa. At the time, I was worried less about the substance of the debate, more about procedural niceties: Should I shake his hand? And how should I address him? To call someone "Dr." whose grisly practice made a daily mockery of the Hippocratic Oath, seemed unappealing. In the event it didn't matter; Morgentaler did not show up, sending a replacement instead.
      Today, such niceties of address and nomenclature wouldn't arise. The Governor-General has chosen to confer the country's highest honour on Canada's most notorious abortionist.
The government so seldom does anything original. The Order of Canada follows the decision by the University of Western Ontario in 2006 to confer an honorary doctorate on Morgentaler. At the time, I wrote that this is what happens when a university loses its way, when it no longer knows why it exists, nor what it is supposed to do. Well, what does awarding Morgentaler the Order of Canada say about Canada?
      It says that the new Canada — the Canada of Michaelle Jean, and Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin (who chaired the selection committee) and the mummers who sat on the committee are as like the old Canada as, in Hamlet's words, "am I to Hercules." In old Canada, Morgentaler was prosecuted and sent to jail for performing illegal abortions. But that was in another era and, as far as I'm concerned, another country - a country as dead as any of the recipients of Morgentaler's attentions.
     The decision to give Morgentaler the Order of Canada was scheduled to be made on Canada's birthday. It would require macabre sarcasm to call this a "birthday" present; so, for this "deathday" present, let me briefly remark on three propositions.
     One, the Canada where I was born, where I was educated and grew to manhood, came to an end at about the time of the Supreme Court of Canada's Morgentaler decision (1988). I do not suggest any cause and effect; that would be to give undue weight to one ludicrous Supreme Court decision, one of many the court has made since judges became infatuated with the Charter of Rights. What I do assert is that the Canada I am sometimes inclined fondly to remember ended at about that time.
     Back then, I wrote articles about the Morgentaler decision in scholarly journals, analyzing the court's ideological motives and its flawed legal reasoning. All a waste of time and paper. Today, I cannot bring myself to re-read the decision or my critiques; abortion no longer seems a subject for scholarly analysis and debate, but rather an evil to be fled from.
     Two, all who are touched by abortion are hurt by it. No winners, only losers. The most obviously hurt, of course, are the children who are not allowed to draw breath. But the women who undergo the procedure, their men and even the abortionist, are also hurt by it.
     Three, while we do not forget the evil functionary, sometimes our remembrance of him is subsumed in the triumph of the victim. Through the centuries Pontius Pilate has not been forgotten, but he is remembered only in the greater drama of Jesus Christ.
    So let it be with Morgentaler. He will not be forgotten, nor should he be, nor the evil he has perpetrated. But the greater story - even in as pathetic a country as Canada - is not his, it is Humanae Vitae (1968) and the final triumph of life over the culture of death.
     The words of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae will be pondered by those who come after us (assuming that there are any) when the Order of Canada has been mercifully and deservedly forgotten. "To [governments] is committed the responsibility of safeguarding the common good … Never allow the morals of your people to be undermined … Never tolerate those practices which are opposed to the natural law of God."
    And - might I add - do not honour men without honour!
Note: Ian Hunter is Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Ontario.