For most of Justin Trudeau’s first two years as leader, he evaded specific policy questions and offered platitudes that would offend as few people as possible while making his ideas and ideals sound lofty. But on a pair of divisive issues, Trudeau took positions in which he was crystal clear: legalizing drugs and protecting abortion.
When it came to abortion, Trudeau staked his ground early, as an MP. In February 2012 he told Radio Canada in Quebec that he could support Quebec separatism in order to defend abortion rights and same-sex marriage in Quebec. The Dauphin said: “I always say, if at a certain point, I believe that Canada was really the Canada of Stephen Harper – that we were going against abortion, and we were going against gay marriage and we were going backwards in 10,000 different ways – maybe I would think about wanting to make Quebec a country.” In other words, breaking up Canada was something he was willing to do to defend abortion, at least in Quebec. The statement was odious, and unfitting for a man who would within a year seek leadership of a federal party with the hope of one day becoming the country’s prime minister. It was also ridiculous; in 2012 Canada was not on the cusp of “going against” either abortion or same-sex marriage as polls showed support for legal abortion and gay marriage and the ruling Conservatives had avoided wading into such controversial issues.
Once the story broke in English Canada, there was a torrent of criticism. Trudeau initially refused to talk to the media, instead going to Twitter to explain: “Canada needs Qc to balance out Harper’s vision that I (and many) just don’t support.” Again, Harper has avoided talking about abortion and same-sex marriage although he tolerates a sizable social conservative contingent within the Conservative Party caucus, so what vision is Trudeau talking about?
On February 14, some of those socially conservative Tories criticized Trudeau for his comments. Trudeau whisked himself away to the pool microphones after Question Period and dramatically but forcefully insisted: “The question is not, ‘Why does Justin Trudeau suddenly not love his country?’ Because the question is ridiculous. I live this country in my bones in every breath I take and I’m not going to stand here and somehow defend that I actually do love Canada because we know, I love Canada.” He added: “Canadians shouldn’t be asking, ‘Does Justin Trudeau actually want to separate?’ Of course not. But will Justin Trudeau fight with his very last breath to make sure that this Canada stays the Canada that we collectively know it can be? Absolutely.” To watch the video is to see a spectacle of the then goateed Dauphin referring to himself in the first person, dramatically insisting he did not say what he said just days earlier: he’d break up the country over abortion. Indignantly he tried to explain that what he really meant was that he would fight for abortion to his deathbed.
Just more than two years later, as the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, he would illustrate what that meant. On May 7, 2014, the day before the National March for Life which attracts about 25,000 Canadian pro-lifers to Parliament Hill to call for an end to abortion, Justin Trudeau once again addressed a scrum in the halls of parliament. He said that all future candidates for the Liberal Party would have to support a “woman’s right to choose” and same-sex marriage. Paradoxically, the Open Nominations process would ensure this by requiring the green-light committee to disqualify candidates who were pro-life or pro-traditional marriage. The handful of sitting pro-life MPs would be allowed to remain and run again, he explained, as the mandatory pro-choice policy would be grandfathered in, but he did not answer questions about whether or not they would be forced into line on future abortion votes or whether they could vote their conscience or represent their constituents on the issue. Trudeau said, “We [are making] sure that the people who are stepping forward are consistent with the Liberal Party as it is now, as it stands under my leadership and under the feedback we’re getting from Canadians across the country.” Trudeau added: “It is not for any government to legislate what a woman chooses to do with her body. And that is the bottom line.” He said that the Liberal Party was the party of the Charter and therefore would protect abortion even though the procedure is not mentioned in the document his father foisted upon the country nor has the Supreme Court declared abortion a constitutional right.
Brian Lilley, a host at the Sun News Network, noted on his blog Lilley’s Pad, Justin Trudeau had his Charter history wrong. Lilley quoted a letter dated December 21, 1981, from Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister at the time and architect of the Charter of Rights, to G. Emmett Cardinal Carter, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Toronto, and later reprinted in the Ottawa Citizen. It said: “Since the November 2, 1981 Conference of First Ministers, parliament’s authority has been strengthened by the addition of the notwithstanding clause to the Charter. Should a court decide at some future date that sections 7 or 15 do establish a right to abortion on demand, parliament will continue to legislate on the matter by overriding the court’s decision and the specific Charter right as interpreted by the court.” In other words, Pierre Trudeau did not consider abortion to be part of the Charter.
Campaign Life Coalition rated three sitting Liberal MPs as pro-life: John MacKay (Scarborough–Guildwood), Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North), and Lawrence MacAulay (Cardigan), or about one in 11 members of the caucus at the time. CLC’s National President Jim Hughes also noted that it was a dramatic and undemocratic turn for the Liberals, a party that had pro-lifers represent as much as a quarter of the caucus at times under Jean Chrétien and Pierre Trudeau. Hughes told The Interim at the time, “It is terribly troubling and totally undemocratic that members of parliament would not be allowed to vote their conscience on important moral issues.” A few weeks later, Trudeau again clarified his position on the sitting MPs and how they would vote: they would have to back the party line, and MacAuley, MacKay, and Lamoureux all indicated they would fall into line: hardly profiles in courage.
It wasn’t only pro-lifers who criticized the new tact. The CBC reported that former Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, an ordained United Church minister who supports abortion and was considering seeking the Liberal nomination in his old riding of Don Valley West, said he was troubled by Trudeau’s hard-line policy. Oliphant said he had “a concern that people who hold another value or different religious view or whatever would be stopped from running, would not be green-lit.” Oliphant said one of the strengths of the Liberals is that they are a “big tent party.” But the Liberals were no longer a big tent. Former Liberal MP Tom Wappel (Scarborough West and later Scarborough Southwest) wrote in the National Post that he won his riding six times by upholding certain principles, including his pro-life stance, and that he was not alone among Liberals to uphold the sanctity of all human life. Wappel lamented, “People like us, are now, suddenly, persona non grata in the Liberal Party of Canada.”
A few days later Trudeau tweaked his position, noting in a message on the Liberal Party website: pro-life Liberals could run for the nomination, but that they would have to commit to voting pro-abortion if they are elected; “Canadians of all views are welcome within the Liberal Party of Canada,” but the Dauphin maintained that “under my leadership, incoming Liberal MPs will always vote in favour of a woman’s fundamental rights.” He insisted, “When it comes to actively supporting women’s rights, our party must speak with one voice.” CLC’s Hughes said that Trudeau does not seem to understand the contradiction in trying to welcome pro-life voters while excluding pro-life candidates: “Why would a pro-life Canadian vote Liberal when its leader is so adamant that MPs could never represent their pro-life values?”
Numerous religious leaders condemned Trudeau’s diktat. On May 14, Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto issued an open letter to Trudeau, who was raised Catholic, expressing his concern that pro-life individuals would be disqualified from running for the Liberals. Cardinal Collins noted that if Pope Francis, “as a young man, instead of seeking to serve in the priesthood in Argentina, had moved to Canada and sought to serve in the noble vocation of politics, he would have been ineligible to be a candidate for your party, if your policy were in effect.” The Cardinal also noted that Catholics across the country would have difficulty countenancing Trudeau’s policy: “It is not right that they be excluded by any party for being faithful to their conscience.” He also criticized Trudeau for extending party discipline to areas of “conscience and religious faith,” where traditionally MPs are free to vote on legislation as they see fit.
In his memoir Common Ground, Trudeau says that when he meets people who disagree with him on moral issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, “especially newer immigrants,” he refuses to pander to them, but instead says: “We disagree on this, and since we are both arguing from what we regard as our core principles, there is probably little room for compromise. I hope there is enough common ground on other issues, however, for you to consider voting for me.” That sounds so reasonable, but is it? He is suggesting to people that they abandon core moral principles and support his political quest to become prime minister if on other less important issues, they might agree.
Trudeau’s support of abortion knows no limits. When Marissa Semkiw of Sun News Network asked the Dauphin about sex-selective abortions which even the Canadian Medical Association has questioned, Trudeau said: “I will leave discussions like that between a woman and the health professionals that she encounters … I don’t think the government should be in the business of legislating away people’s rights.” Of course, government routinely legislates away people’s rights from seat belt laws to limiting what private health care consumers can access. Is Justin Trudeau going to go full libertarian and vociferously oppose every intrusion into people’s lives as he does any suggestion that abortion can be limited?
Trudeau could not even admit to Semkiw, however, any doubt about abortion even outside of a political context. She asked: “A woman comes to you. She says she’s pregnant with a girl and she wants to terminate the life of the child because it’s a girl. What would you say to her?” Trudeau replied: “My position has been very clear. The Liberal Party is the party standing up for people’s rights. And the Liberal Party will always be the party of the Charter. So we will continue to stand up for people’s rights and not legislate them away.” She followed up: “So to be clear, you wouldn’t discourage her from having an abortion because it’s a girl?” He once again talked about his role as a parliamentarian.
Trudeau doubled down on abortion in his March 9, 2015 speech on the Canadian idea of liberty. Most of the coverage focused on his condemnation of Stephen Harper for fomenting division in the country over Muslim headscarves, but the Dauphin also made an outrageous statement about abortion: it was the greatest achievement in recent Canadian history. He said that women do not have full equality with men, but, “when you take the long view, it is impossible to be anything but awestruck by the progress we have made in creating a society where women are not just included, but vital to our economic and social progress.” That’s true, but his explanation for this progress might be disputed: “One set of policies in post-war Canada generated more liberty for more people than any other. It was the decades-long effort of the women’s movement to gain control over reproductive health and rights. Indeed, let me be perfectly clear on this point. The Canada we know today is unimaginable without widely available birth control and the legalization of choice. Every conceivable measure of inclusion and progress has moved in the right direction since women gained legally protected reproductive freedom in Canada.” It is hard to think of a bolder, more pro-abortion statement than claiming everything good about modern society stems from the legalization of abortion under his father.
He recommitted to defending abortion and his position on not allowing members of the Liberal caucus to be pro-life. He said his violation of their conscience rights was the correct thing to do because the rights of women to terminate their pregnancy exceeded any right of an MP to vote his conscience or to represent his constituents. “Let’s be clear on this,” said Trudeau. “For Liberals, the right of a woman to control her body is more important than the right of a legislator to restrict her freedom with their vote.” He added that anyone who did not like this is welcome to run as a Conservative or independent. Of course, it is not just MPs and candidates who are offended by this policy, but citizens: voters. They have been given a clear signal that not only should pro-lifers reject the party but also anyone who cares about the independence of members of parliament to be free of the coercive hand of party leaders.
This excerpt from The Dauphin: The Truth About Justin Trudeau by Paul Tuns is printed with the permission of Freedom Press Canada Inc.