Former Prime Minister’s legacy is abortion on demand
and judicial activism
By Mike Mastromatteo
A newspaper article in the fall of 1999 listed Pierre Elliot Trudeau as the most influential Canadian statesman of the twentieth century. The article was prompted by the former prime minister’s 80th birthday, and by the frenzy of list-producing that accompanied the arrival of the year 2000.
While these lists are by nature subjective, there is little disagreement among pro-life supporters Trudeau’s contribution to the pro-abortion cause in this country. Trudeau, who died Sept. 28 at the age of 80, is universally viewed by pro-lifers as having opened the floodgates of abortion in this country.
As prime minister, Trudeau, along with another Catholic politician, justice minister John Turner, ushered in the 1969 Omnibus Bill that legalized abortion in Canada. The bill allowed a hospital abortion committee of three doctors to approve a woman’s request for an abortion on the grounds that continuing the pregnancy would harm the woman’s physical or emotional health. The bill was promoted as a “compromise” between the traditional prohibition of abortion and the emerging demands for “choice” and “safe” abortions.
As pro-lifers predicted in 1969, it became a rubber stamp for abortion on demand and led to a spectacular increase in the number of abortions in Canada. Even so, Trudeau’s government ignored a petition signed by one million Canadians – the largest in the country’s history – asking for the restoration of legal protection for unborn children. In 1988, Trudeau’s few procedural restrictions on abortion were overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada as a violation of women’s rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – another gift of Trudeau to the nation – and Canada has been without any legal protection for the unborn since.
As justice minister and later as prime minister, Trudeau also presided over the legalization of contraception and homosexual acts, and liberalized Canada’s divorce laws.
In political terms, admirers say Trudeau made significant contributions to Canadian unity through the extension of French-language rights and multiculturalism. A large number of ordinary Canadians – and certainly almost all the media and academic elite in the country outside of Quebec – also praise his patriation of the constitution from Britain in 1982, and his “crowning achievement,” the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He is also credited by leftists with having increased Canada’s stature on the international stage, even though for a champion of “human rights” he was strangely blind to the atrocities committed by dictators in China and Cuba, whom he admired and befriended.
Yet his stand on moral issues, particularly abortion, posed serious problems for Canadians concerned with the right to life. Roman Catholics were especially disappointed with Trudeau’s ushering in of legal abortion in Canada. As a practising Catholic, Trudeau claimed to take his faith seriously. Yet when it came to the issue of abortion, he chose to separate his faith from his public life. His oft-repeated phrase, “the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation,” was emblematic of his approach to these issues.
Moreover, his Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been used to promote the extremist, lawless, status quo on abortion since 1988, and has been the chief tool of the homosexual lobby to win special privileges – including “spousal” status for homosexual couples – in Canadian law. In the view of many conservative Canadians, and virtually all pro-life and pro-family leaders, Trudeau’s Charter is also responsible for the usurpation of Parliament’s democratic authority to make law by the unelected, unaccountable judges of the Supreme Court of Canada.
In a December, 1999 opinion column for The Interim, David Dooley, professor emeritus of English at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, summed up the Trudeau Liberals’ contribution to the late 20th century’s slippery slope. “The 1969 abortion law, one of the most significant pieces of legislation to appear in Canada in the twentieth century, a bill which overturned our traditional understanding of justice, came into being through Catholics denying their own faith and through intellectual errors resulting in catastrophic moral decisions.”
Trudeau was born Oct. 18, 1919 in Montreal. The future prime minister’s early years prepared him for some form of public life. His father had become a wealthy man in the 1930s and the family toured Canada and Europe throughout the Depression years. In 1940, Trudeau began studying law at the University of Montreal. As a student, he was required to join the Canadian Officers Training Corps during the war, but like many Quebecers, Trudeau was opposed to conscription.
After graduation in 1943, he passed his bar exams, and entered a Master’s program at Harvard. In 1946, he travelled to Paris to study at the Ecole des sciences politiques, and then to Britain to study at the London School of Economics. In 1948, Trudeau went on a backpacking tour of Eastern Europe, the Middle and Far East. He returned to Canada in 1949.
Trudeau’s early career in public life began in Ottawa where he worked as an advisor to the Privy Council before returning to Montreal to practise law. He began supporting labour unions, especially during in the famous Asbestos Strike in the 1950s, and criticized the repression of the Union Nationale under Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis. With other outspoken intellectuals, Trudeau started the journal Cité Libre as a forum for secularist ideas. In 1961, he began teaching law at the University of Montreal.
By 1965, with the Liberal Party searching for potential candidates in Quebec, Trudeau and two of his colleagues, Jean Marchand and Gérard Pelletier, were invited to run for the party in the federal election. They won their seats, and in April 1967, Trudeau became minister of justice. Within 12 months, he had reformed Canada’s divorce laws and paved the way for the liberalization of the laws on abortion and homosexuality.
When Lester Pearson resigned as prime minister in 1968, Trudeau became the front-runner. He subsequently won the Liberal leadership convention and immediately called a federal election. “Trudeaumania” dominated the 1968 election, and Trudeau captured an easy majority over a befuddled Robert Stanfield. One of the most important bills passed by his government was the Official Languages Act, guaranteeing bilingualism in the public service.
Trudeau’s efforts to repatriate the Canadian Constitution and to impose the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 are often cited as the high point of his political career. The Charter, with its effect of subjecting Canadian law to a “human rights” standard, effectively made unelected Supreme Court justices superior to Parliament. Pro-lifers charge that not only did this open the door for “judicial activism,” it also bred cynicism among the electorate as to Parliament’s ability to reflect the will of the majority.
As REAL Women of Canada president Gwen Landolt noted in The Interim in December, 1999, “The Charter eliminated the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty which had been a fundamental principle of Canadian law. In a short time, our appointed judges became social engineers – accountable to no one – who happily re-interpreted legislation according to their own biases.”
Trudeau gained some sympathy for the dignity with which he faced his former wife Margaret’s escapades in the late 1970s. Nonetheless the “Philosopher King’s” record of opportunism, cynicism and unfulfilled promise soured Canadian politics for years to come.
The media coverage in the days following Trudeau’s death was almost unanimously laudatory. But in the end, pro-life Canadians will remember Trudeau most of all as the father of abortion in this country, a brilliant and talented man who wasted his abilities on an evil agenda. As Catholic Insight editor Fr. Alphonse de Valk noted more than 20 years ago, “The 1969 amendment to the Criminal Code is undoubtedly the worst law ever. It symbolizes Canada’s participation in the new holocaust, now numbering 60,000 per year. The amendment’s own cruel irony is most evident when we remember that its sponsors intended this law to be restrictive; in reality, it opened the door to abortion on demand.”
The latest statistics at the time of Trudeau’s death indicate that over 110,000 preborn Canadians are killed by abortion every year, and that almost two-and-a-half million children in the womb have been killed since 1969.
In a press release the day after Trudeau’s death, Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes said, “May God have mercy on his soul.”