In 1981 the Federal government ratified a United Nations Convention which, if fully integrated into Canadian legislation, stands to change the family both in its legal rights and in its social patterns. Ostensibly this document, The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, is an international agreement to help guarantee equal rights for women. Beneath the surface rhetoric, however, it is clear that the rights demanded, and the assumptions of the kind of the role played by the family, are aimed at providing a homogenous social structure world-wide with no regard to cultural differences and preferences.
The Interim learnt of the Convention’s existence through newsletters from British and New Zealand pro-life groups. They have mounted lobbying campaigns to dissuade their governments from ratifying the Convention. In their analysis, the Convention allows for a socialistic state-controlled view of the family which is completely alien to Western culture. It is also their view that the Convention will be used to further liberalize abortion laws.
This interpretation of the Convention is shared by the International Planned Parenthood Federation. IPPF promoted the Convention as an effective lobbying item for the abortion cause at the International Population Conference in Mexico City last summer. Other pro-abortion lobby groups echoed IPPF’s view of the Convention’s importance. When women from around the world meet in Nairobi, Kenya, this summer, at a conference to mark the end of the international decade for women, the Convention will be at the top of the agenda. Information on the Convention is being circulated to women’s groups preparing for Kenya, although not to the public at large. Delegates will be reporting to the Convention on what steps their countries have taken to bring legislation in line with the Convention. Canada ratified the Convention on December 10, 1981. The fact that there was no public discussion before ratification does not imply an underhandedness on the part of the government. In fact, the federal government does not have to bring forward proposed international conventions for public discussion. Agreement is reached at Cabinet level and assent given through order in council.
As the Convention deals with civil rights, many of its terms come under provincial, rather than federal, jurisdiction. Thus, the federal ratification would be meaningless if the provinces refused to so-operate. However, all provincial governments were consulted before ratification and agreed to bring provincial laws in line with the Convention.
Under the terms of the Convention, ratifying governments are obliged to report progress in legislation at regular intervals. Canada’s first report was published in May 1983. The Report, from the Secretary of State of Canada, begins with an overview of Canada’s policies. In paragraph 4, the Report states, “All governments in Canada have undertaken to give effect to the provisions of the Convention by amending domestic law to make it consistent with the Convention … “ It goes on to pat the government on the back by noting that most of the rights recognized in the Convention are already protected in Canada. In the following paragraph, documenting the history of women’s rights in Canada, the Report includes the adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as one of its “great moments.”
Since the equality provisions (sections 15 (1) and 28) of the Charter only came into effect in April 1985, it is too soon to say how the courts will interpret these two sections of the Charter. It has already been suggested by some constitutional experts that these sections will be used to widen the abortion laws; that they will remove the slight protection women now have in areas such as maternity leave and their rights to financial support from their husbands; that parental rights to protect their minor children (for example, in the case of contraceptive prescriptions without parental knowledge), will be put in the hands of the State.
Canada is obliged to fall into line with this Convention as long as she remains in the United Nations. As will be discussed below, there is a mechanism in place to monitor compliance. While U.N. censure may not be of great concern, the Convention and its regulations should not be dismissed out of hand. By itself, the Convention may not be significant, seen together with the equality provisions of the Charter, it may carry more weight.
The current Secretary of State, Walter Maclean, told Gwendolyn Landolt, legal counsel for R.E.A.L. Women of Canada that one of the major reasons why that organization was denied government funding was because it was perceived that R.E.A.L. Women’s objectives were contrary to both the Charter and the U.N. Convention. The fact that R.E.A.L. Women’s name itself (Realistic, Equal, Active, for Life) endorses and supports the concept of equality between the sexes would presume that only a certain type of “equality” is acknowledged by the government.
As Canada’s May 1983 Report points out, this Convention is considered “unique” among international human rights’ instruments. It does not require states’ party to it to take measures to guarantee specific rights “to all citizens without discrimination.” It “requires a state to take all appropriate measures to ensure that half its population is guaranteed the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on the basis of quality with the other half of the population.” The report’s introduction concludes, “the implications for reporting … are profound.”
Many of the provisions of the Convention are objectionable in that they guarantee a right to equal opportunity in education, an equal right to vote and hold public office, equal opportunity in employment (although it does go further than equal opportunity in employment and endorses “equal remuneration … in respect of work of equal value” which is a very contentious issue), equal rights to participate in sports and recreational activities, and equal rights to bank loans, mortgages and financial credit.
All of these are widely accepted as just, and already legally guaranteed, in Canada today. It should be remembered, however, that this is an international convention and this idea of equality is being promoted as justice world-wide. Therefore, no recognition is given to cultural differences, or individual states’ desires in this respect – what may be termed the “ecology of cultures.” The idea that women world-wide are a homogenous species would surely be offensive to many cultures, not to mention how men world-wide view the issue of women’s rights.
The most alarming areas of the Convention are those which address family issues. Some of the provisions here certainly alter the traditional view of the Canadian family and imply that government control over the family is necessary, and welcome, for women to achieve their true role in society. In an accompanying article, we list the articles which are particularly troublesome.
Even before the Convention addresses specific areas, it sets out the agenda to be followed. In the introduction, it states that a “new international economic order” is necessary to promote equality. It refers to the “social significance of maternity” and asserts that “the role of women in procreation should not be a basis for discrimination but that the upbringing of children requires a sharing of responsibility between men and women and society as a whole.” It goes on to state that “a change in the traditional role of men as well as the role of women in society and in the family is needed to achieve full equality between men and women.”
Taking strong exception to the last statement, the Concerned Parents Association of New Zealand noted:
“This implies that the authors of the Convention had examined and found wanting all forms of family life and structure in all societies everywhere in the world. Obviously this cannot possibly have been so. Firstly, changing the role of women would not necessarily increase the esteem in which they are held. Secondly, concern for oppressed women in say, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist countries should not result in a move to change the status of women in Christian families where, if Christian principles are properly practiced, women are highly esteemed and cherished. The Christian family, based on life-long marriage with the wife valuing her role as mother and child nurturer, is not only the most stable foundation for society but offers women security, protection and freedom within, so long as governments do not prevent husbands and fathers from fulfilling their part.”
New Zealand has not yet ratified the Convention, nor has Japan. Japanese philosopher Michiko Hasegawa has accused the Convention of cultural colonialism for trying to coerce governments into altering their nation’s cultural patterns to conform to certain U.N. standards. She writes, “The cultures of individual nations and ethnic groups merit mutual respect, not arbitrary modifications by outside forces … An attitude that casually calls for modifications by outside patterns without consideration of differences of cultural systems is the epitome of colonialism.”
Family and Youth Concern, a British pro-family group, is lobbying the British Government not to ratify this Convention. So far the British government has only said that, if they do ratify, they will enter reservations with regard to the Royal Family and hereditary titles. FYC said that the U.N. intends to police those countries which have ratified:
“National ratifying the Convention will come under the supervision of a committee of 23 ‘experts of high moral standing and competence’ who will monitor the progress of each country towards its goals. Of the 23 nationals who currently constitute this committee, 14 represent governments cited by Amnesty International for the use of torture, including Vietnam, the Philippines and the Soviet Union …”
At the moment, it is merely speculation as to how the Convention will affect family laws in Canada. It declares that “access to health care services those related to family planning” is a right. It may well be that Canadian courts ruling on the equality provisions of the Charter may allow abortion or demand. This Convention could be used to give added weight to Charter arguments for a woman’s right not to be pregnant.
The IPPF has already interpreted the Convention so as to liberalize abortion laws, as mentioned above. The Convention is pointed to specifically in IPPF’s 1984 report, The Human Right to Family Planning. This report is not available in Canada, according to the IPPF head office in Ottawa. Family and Youth Concern in Britain has seen the report and the following analysis of it is extracted from their newsletter. The report calls for:
– full and free access to all methods of fertility regulation, including abortion and sterilization, for all, irrespective of age or marital status, as a ‘human right.’
– The right of children to contraception and abortion from the age of 10 upwards without reference to their parents.
– Action in violation of the law by family planning associations and other bodies as ‘part of the process of stimulating change.’
– The use of the United Nations convention on Women as a means of coercing signatory governments to implement the above policies.
The first section of the report traces the development of the ‘right to family planning’ through various declarations, from the Proclamation of Teheran (1968) which stated that ‘parents have a basic right to determine … the number and spacing of their children’, to more recent declarations such as the world Population Plan of Bucharest (1974) which stated that “all couples and individuals have the basic right to decide … the number and spacing of their children”. Having moved from parents to individuals, it no longer makes sense to talk of ‘family planning’. This term is in fact used interchangeably with ‘fertility control’ throughout the document, which sums up its attitude more accurately.
Methods of Fertility Control
The report calls for ‘wide availability and accessibility of all safe and effective regulation methods’. (para 41) This includes sterilization and abortion. The report insists that ‘if abortion is denied by national law or by the absence of adequate services, IPPF may have to accept a flexible approach while frankly acknowledging that this is violation of the right of access to a method of fertility regulation’. This goes beyond what most people would understand by family planning. (para 43)
The only references to marriage are negative ones. For example, it calls for the right of a married person to use any method of fertility control, including irreversible ones (e.g. sterilization) without interference from his or her spouse. (para 38 and 39)
A separate section on ‘The Rights of Young People” states that “the right of everyone to have full access to fertility regulation information and services applies equally to young people, including those in the adolescent age group (10-19 years)” (para 46). It goes on to exclude parents from having any rights to be consulted: ‘Parental consent should not be made a prerequisite for the provision of contraceptives’. (para 49)
In view of the above, and the call to governments to ‘ensure that a full range of appropriate fertility regulation services … is made available … to adolescent, both married and unmarried’ (para 46), it is clear that this report goes far beyond the provision of family planning in the context of marriage and family life.
The report clearly advocates breaking the law in order to accomplish its projected ideology. In Paragraph 106, it states, ‘Family Planning Associations and other non-governmental organizations should not use the absence of law or the existence of an unfavourable law as an excuse for inaction; action outside the law, and even in violation of it, is part of the process of stimulating change.’
Clearly the implications of the U.N. Convention are massive. It is a document that should be carefully studied by pro-life activist groups, church leaders and all concerned individuals. Canada cannot withdraw its ratification and it remains to be seen whether or not Canadians have any means by which to protect their cultural family traditions and rights.