Ten years ago, when I was 28 years old, I was named interim Interim co-editor and three months later the editor-in-chief of Canada’s pro-life and pro-family newspaper. During my tenure as the longest serving editor in the paper’s history there have been changes, both cosmetic and philosophical. Rather than being a paper that published pro-lifers who wrote, we became more a publication that published pro-life writers. We have conceived our mission to be more journalistic than activist – reporting on the dots of life and family issues, but letting you, the reader, connect them and make your own conclusions on how to use that information. We have eschewed polemics in favour of reporting and analysis. This shift had already begun under my predecessor, but was accelerated. To some degree every publication becomes a reflection of its editor, and I was trained and educated as a journalist and I have suffered a life-long addiction to newspapers and magazines.
Those substantial changes began immediately, and stylistic ones followed shortly after. Less than six months after becoming editor we changed the fonts and column sizes and in 2006 we decided that because newspapers, like books, fairly or unfairly, are judged by their covers, to remove stories from the front page in favour of a full-page graphic promoting the top or feature story in the paper. Some months this is easier to do than others.
Just as the paper has changed, so has the culture we cover. And like the paper, the culture is, in many ways, unchanged. It depends on the issue and the angle.
In 2001, the joke about a gay couple saving themselves for marriage was funny; same-sex “marriage” was barely a mainstream topic, with Parliament overwhelmingly passing a Reform Party motion in 1999 reaffirming the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, but by 2004 the Ontario Superior Court ruled that this definition of marriage supposedly violated the Charter rights of homosexuals and a year later Parliament voted to change the legal definition of marriage. Polls showed the country slightly opposed same-sex marriage in 2001 but was evenly divided by mid-decade, and that now only a third of Canadians are opposed. Changing laws changes attitudes, and not always for the better. South of the border, the shift has been slower, but steady.
There is always a cause that pushes the moral envelope. Special rights for homosexuals were enacted in hate crime law and new rights for people who identify as transgender and transsexual were passed in the House of Commons last December, but were never considered by the Senate. Drug legalization had its day, but has not been seriously moved forward, Vancouver’s Insite clinic notwithstanding. No doubt it will make a return visit in the future. Prostitution restrictions were thrown out by an Ontario Superior Court judge last year; the Ontario Court of Appeals is currently weighing the issue and it will almost certainly end up in the Supreme Court of Canada within a year or so. Likewise, there are legal challenges in British Columbia against restrictions on polygamy and euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide.
As the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition’s Alex Schadenberg has explained, the euthanasia movement has been roundly defeated in Parliament (by a five-to-one margin in Parliament last year), so they have turned to the courts. I must admit that in 2001 I would have predicted that Parliament would have considered and either narrowly passed or defeated a bill to legalize euthanasia. In 2001, public opinion was behind convicted child murderer Robert Latimer as he had just begun to serve his 10-year sentence for killing his daughter Tracy; in 2008 he was granted day parole and last year he was set free. Thus far, the courts have resisted eliminating protection for the sick, disabled, and vulnerable, but who knows how long that will last.
In the month I became editor, embryonic stem cells were the big story. President George W. Bush announced a life-affirming compromise, banning the creation of new embryonic stem cell lines during my first week as editor. In the next year, Parliament began debating the issue here in Canada and Liberal MP Paul Szabo played a game of poker that prevented the Chretien government from even trying a vote for nearly two years on the controversial legislation that permitted the destruction of embryos for research purposes; it would eventually pass. The first issue for which I was responsible (August 2001) featured a cover story on an organization that sought to counter embryo research by fostering the adoption of human embryos created through in vitro fertilization. A decade later, the promise of embryonic stem cells has proved elusive and adult stem cells have been used successfully in hundreds of clinical trials; still, there is a powerful lobby for more funding of ESCR, despite its failure to provide the miracle cures promised ten years ago, but the issue no longer garners big headlines.
Of course, abortion continues largely unabated. In 2001, there were about 100,000 surgical abortions and today there are about 100,000 surgical abortions. Formal collection of abortion stats has ended, but that does not make the issue go away.
During the 2000 federal election, Prime Minister Jean Chretien said that Canada had social peace on abortion. It was his way of saying we do not – and should not – discuss the topic of abortion. It was, effectively, a shrug at the massive number of abortion deaths occurring in the country and he was both right and wrong to make his assertion. Right, because politically the A-word is avoided at all costs. There is a form of censorship in the political sphere; pro-life candidates are often afraid to clearly articulate their views and abortion only rears its ugly head when it can be used to bludgeon conservative politicians, and often only in code (for the past five ellections “hidden agenda” has meant abortion). With a few rare and courageous exceptions, politicians generally duck the issue and the media (again with exceptions) seldom covers abortion unless it can score points against religious zealots and right-wing politicians.
And yet, the issue did not go away. The pro-life movement is not only still alive, it is thriving. There are more young people standing up for life. On university campuses across the country, young people are standing firm against tyrannical student unions and university administrations to defend life, and even when faced with serious repercussions including being arrested, they do not back down.
Or just look at the National March for Life in Ottawa. In 2001 there were 3,300 people at the March. It has grown each and every year since and in 2011, more than 15,000 pro-lifers crowded, Parliament Hill and the streets of the nations capital to witness to the injustice of abortion. Furthermore, there are now regional marches for life in most of the provincial capitals.
Polling data is mixed, but at the very least it shows opposition to the status quo of abortion for any reason, at any time up to the moment of birth, paid for by taxpayers. There is, at least, unease about the broad abortion license in this country, although few people understand all the implications of Canada’s (lack of) abortion law.
And that is why The Interim is so important; by informing the pro-life movement about life and family issues, you can turn around and share that information with others and together we are educating a nation.
I began working with The Interim as a writer and editorial board member in May 1998 and three years later I was the paper’s editor. It has been a privilege serving the pro-life movement and tremendous responsibility putting its paper together every month for the past decade. I hope that I can continue doing so for a very long time.
And so that last sentence is not misunderstood, I should make clear what The Interim – and by extension, the pro-life movement – is. We are not about merely opposing abortion. We do not want only a law that outlaws the killing of the unborn, or that protects the vulnerable from euthanasia. We want to celebrate a Culture of Life. Even if abortion were banned, there would need to be a pro-life movement, and a pro-life paper, upholding what is good and right and beautiful. While the paper has gone through changes – and will do so again in the future – our fundamental mission to remain faithful to God and be a voice of moral sanity, has not and will not change.