This retelling of the abortion story in Gwen Landolt and Patrick Redmond’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s Great Betrayal brings out both the frustration of pro-lifers and a concern over a missed opportunity to have made a difference in the history of our country. The study concentrates on the intricate interaction of the five players involved in the game as stated in the preface – Trudeau and the Liberals, the Progressive Conservative Party, the judges, Catholic church leaders, and pro-life leaders and activists.
Although we know the ending, the book is an engaging “who-dun-it,” full of personalities, backroom deals, arcane events, and misdirections. The problem was that those who should have seen through the ruse of Trudeau and the ardent “social change” agents misread their true intentions.
It’s a sad story, with tragic results. The book deals with the legalization of abortion and the steady expansion of a woman’s right to control her own body to the detriment of the unborn human being in her womb. There is one unassailable fact: pro-lifers were faithful to their principles and fought bravely in the face of the many forces aligned against them.
Landolt and Redmond present a strong case for the argument that Trudeau played the Catholic bishops for patsies in his drive to secularize and remake the Canadian soul. They recount how much of a betrayal there was and how easily it was achieved through the overly trusting nature of the Canadian Catholic episcopacy and clever political approach of the Liberal Party under the leadership of Pierre Trudeau.
Trudeau, father of the current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was the architect of the modern Canadian secular state. Filled with often contradictory ideas, but able to wend his way into power and influence, Trudeau was hell-bent on dragging Canada into the 20th century progressive fold. He acted in the name of modernization, bringing the laws up to date. The Omnibus Bill therefore can be seen as a social change bill par excellence.
Trudeau foisted upon the nation the concept that officials must not “impose” their “personal morality” via legislation. He believed that law should be separated from morality in a pluralistic society. For Trudeau, federalism was “reason in politics,” an attempt to find a rational compromise between divergent interest groups, in pursuit of the “Just Society,” the common good. But it was the innocent unborn who would pay the price.
Key to understanding Trudeau’s policies was his upbringing, studies (Harvard, Sorbonne, London School of Economics) and the various intellectual mentors that he chose or to which he was exposed. Trudeau’s political philosophy was developed from many sources, from the personalism of Emmanuel Mounier to the socialism of Harold Laski. His international travels also helped form his outlook on politics. Personalism stressed the freedom of the person to live according to conscience, and it meant that the identity of the individual would be one that was chosen, plastic, subject to constant revision. Society must be liberalized, give free rein to and accommodate these individual philosophies.
The book uses copious quotations, arranged coherently, that helps greatly in shedding light on arguments and the motivation of the various players vis à vis specific policies, events, decisions, and political strategems. Trudeau’s great betrayal of the innocent unborn could not have occurred without the active acquiescence, at crucial junctures, of many leaders and the passive resignation of others, both in church and state.
Another important phase of the battle was Trudeau’s drive to patriate the Canadian Constitution with an entrenched Charter of Rights. Many Canadians did not understand the implications of an entrenched Charter of Rights and the pivotal role of a Supreme Court in the new constitutional framework. Pro-lifers were among the few who saw the constitutional change’s serious consequences.
The two sides were unevenly matched in terms of resources. It was the financially strapped pro-lifers versus the publicly funded, deep-pocketed pro-abortionists. Trudeau was fond of using taxpayer money to fund feminist groups and to promote his secular values, new entities like: Status of Women established in 1976; Canadian Human Rights Act, Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal set up in 1977; Court Challenges Program of Canada created in 1978. The latter program only funded left-wing organizations and would have a significant impact in changing Canadian values by using the courts to bypass Parliament.
The authors recount the chicanery surrounding the passage of the Constitution with its entrenched Charter. At the time, Campaign Life Coalition, made a most perceptive presentation to the Special Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons on the Constitution. One of its presenters, Gwen Landolt, one of this book’s authors, explained: “Our concern lies with the proposed entrenched Bill of Rights, which is a sharp departure from the British Parliamentary tradition … The most important effect of an entrenched Charter of Rights would be that it would give rise to a shift of power from Parliament, which is subject to public opinion, to the Supreme Court of Canada, which is not. This shift in power would then open the door to a wide list of areas in which, for the first time, the judiciary, rather than the legislature, will have the final say.”
Despite all the well-reasoned arguments calling for inclusion of the unborn’s right to life in the Charter, the Constitution Act was passed in 1982 without that vital protective amendment. The episode involving Cardinal Emmett Carter in the spring of 1981 was revealing. Apparently he was convinced that the Charter was neutral on the subject of abortion. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops did not oppose the Charter on moral grounds either. In a sort of last ditch effort Campaign Life Coalition took out an election ad in the Catholic Register on April 26, 1981 against the Bill Davis-led Tories, for Davis had been the chief provincial protagonist for the Charter. CLC correctly feared that the Charter would result not only in abortion on demand, but also in same–sex “marriages,” homosexual adoptions and other unsavoury developments.
The book makes for fascinating reading but also retrospective frustration. The crucial battle over the Charter could have been won with greater resolve and better understanding of Trudeau’s real aims of social change, the creation of a secular, planned society. For Trudeau would not stop at the passage of the Constitution Act with its entrenched Charter. He was to make sure that a “correct” interpretation of the Charter would ensue by making the “right” judicial appointments, such as Bora Laskin as Chief Justice.
Even with inclusion of a “notwithstanding clause,” the Charter has proved to be exactly what was foreseen by the pro-life leaders. In the hands of an activist judiciary the Charter has become a scalpel to undermine traditional values and impose on the Canadian public its own version of what is right and wrong. Landolt gave an accurate prescient timetable of what would and did happen by 1989. Through court decisions Canada would have abortion on demand.
Was Pierre Trudeau the creator of the secular wave or was he a master manipulator who was an agent of the “spirit of the times? What is not in doubt is that Trudeau did take advantage of a perfect storm of change, but one should not lose sight of others’ responsibility for lacking the courage, vision and insight in failing to recognize the mortal danger to the true “order and good government” in Canada.
Pro-lifers will find the book an important contribution to understanding what happened and why it happened. It will make excellent summer reading for pro-lifers and the truly curious general public. It helps to shed light on the great betrayal of the innocent at the hands of yet another wolf-in-sheep’s clothing.
Dan Di Rocco is a former educator and current chair of the business board of The Interim.