The author of legislation that legalized abortion in Canada will be the chair of the annual Toronto Cardinal’s Dinner on Oct. 18.

Former Prime Minister John Turner, as Pierre Trudeau’s Justice Minister, wrote and guided through the House of Commons the Omnibus Bill that led to the legalization of abortion and homosexuality in 1969. Catholic pro-lifers are scandalized that for the second time this year, a Catholic organization is using a prominent, pro-abortion former politician as part of its fundraising efforts. Earlier this year, former U.S. president Bill Clinton gave the keynote address at a fundraiser for a Catholic hospital in Hamilton.

Turner is the 2001 Dinner Chair at the $175-a-plate fundraising event, with monies going to the cardinal’s personal charities. It will be held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre at 6 p.m. on Oct. 18.

Fr. Alphonse de Valk, editor of Catholic Insight magazine, told The Interim it scandalizes the Catholic Church and when pro-abortion politicians (or other pro-abortion personalities) are given a forum or are bestowed other honours. “People who know their (abortion proponents’) views are unacceptable” should not invite pro-abortionists to events or honour them, because “their behaviour is a counter-witness to the truth the Church upholds,” he said.

In an exclusive interview on the issue of his chairing the fundraising dinner, Turner told The Interim that he did not liberalize the abortion law. He said that, “I merely put into statutory form what the courts were doing for 50 years – not prosecuting woman who have abortions for health reasons.”

Turner said that abortion laws were not liberalized until the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted in 1982. “You have to blame Trudeau for that,” he said.

Fr. de Valk said Turner is being disingenuous with this line of argument. “The effects speak for themselves,” he said, noting that in 1969, the last year in which abortion was illegal except to save the life of the mother, there were 542 abortions in hospitals. After the passing of the Omnibus Bill, the number of abortions skyrocketed to 11,152 in 1970, 30,923 in 1971 and rose steadily thereafter to more than 100,000 abortions annually by in the 1990s. “There are now two-and-a-half million dead unborn babies because of his legislation.”

It is not lost on observers that Turner seems to be trying to distance himself from the responsibility of the growing number of abortions. During the 1984 federal election campaign, Turner proudly announced, “I am one of the architects of the abortion amendment.” Now, he blames Trudeau and the Charter of Rights. Fr. de Valk noted that such a distancing began more than a decade ago, when, in 1989 during a House of Commons debate, Turner said the abortion issue represents a conflict of two irreconcilable viewpoints. He added, “I believe our duty is not to impose our own beliefs rigidly on the view of others who may strongly disagree.”

The Archdiocese of Toronto was preparing a public statement replying to the reaction against Turner’s role in the Cardinal’s fundraiser, but it was not released by the time The Interim went to press. Archdiocese spokesman Suzanne Scorsone told The Interim the statement “will satisfy everyone,” but would not explain how.

The defence offered in past controversies by organizations that invite pro-abortionists is that as long as they do not address the issue of abortion, there is no harm done. Fr. de Valk said such a response, if that is indeed the line they take, “reduces (proponents’) view of abortion to mere peccadilloes.”

He called upon the former prime minister to admit that he made an error and that his actions were contrary to Catholic teaching.