Poll exposes what Canadians think of moral issues

Is Wynona Ryder, the actress recently charged with shoplifting, more of a moral reprobate than abortionist Henry Morgentaler? A new survey by the Montreal firm Leger Marketing would indicate that most Canadians seem to think so. A greater number of Canadians think shoplifting (89.3 per cent), infidelity (80.8 per cent), hardcore drug use (79.2 per cent), tax evasion (77 per cent), prostitution (68.4 per cent) and alcohol abuse (66.1 per cent) are greater moral evils than abortion (41.8 per cent), homosexuality (32.1 per cent), doctor-assisted suicide (31.3 per cent), pre-marital sex (27.3 per cent), or divorce (22.3 per cent). Conducted between Jan. 8-13, the survey polled 1,519 people and has a margin of error of 2.6 per cent.

Leger Marketing president Jean-Marc Leger told reporters that similar surveys conducted a decade ago indicate Canadians have become more tolerant towards abortion, divorce and homosexuality, while still considering themselves part of a moral society. The latest survey showed 13.5 per cent of respondents think Canadians have a “very strong moral sense,” 59 per cent believe the country has a somewhat strong sense, 20.1 per cent see a somewhat weak moral sense, and 4.9 per cent think it is very weak. Another 7.3 per cent did not know or refused to answer.

Rory Leishman, a columnist with the London Free Press, told The Interim that while he is encouraged Canadians disapprove of shoplifting, the survey results regarding abortion and homosexuality suggest that “self-centred individualist attitudes are becoming more prevalent in society, and respect for Judeo-Christian traditions has subsided.” He adds that this decline in traditional morality is most prevalent among Canada’s intellectual and legal elite. “The courts claim the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to be the highest morality in the country, and found a right to possess child pornography in the Robin Sharpe case,” says Leishman. “If you put the Sharpe case to a popular vote, there’s no way that decision would have been made.”

Still, Leishman worries average Canadians have embraced an unhealthy moral relativism from the elite. Paraphrasing recent comments by former U.S. national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, Leishman says “increasingly, there seems to be a feeling in society that it’s all right to do anything you can legally get away with, and that can only lead to an eventual collapse. We know that sexual promiscuity has led to grief piled upon grief, yet people seem prepared to condone promiscuity.”

Canadian attitudes toward moral issues may not be all that surprising considering what is taught in our schools and universities.

Shannon Bell, a 46-year-old self-described “fast feminist/new socialist,” author of Reading, Writing and Rewriting the Prostitute Body, and professor of political science at York University, claims the survey is “skewed towards the dominant hegemonic discourse,” serves the “status quo in property and gender relations,” and is actually a measurement of “conservative ideology” rather than morality. She believes the questions about divorce and pre-marital sex “privilege marriage,” wonders why Leger did not ask about violence against women, which she believes is “embedded in the nuclear family and heterosexuality,” and is upset Leger Marketing did not “contextualize” the question about shoplifting.

“I think that’s an extremely middle-class and bourgeois question. It doesn’t take into account why a person shoplifts. Do I shoplift? No, but if people steal from me, do I report it? No,” says the professor, adding she recently had a purse stolen from her in a “brilliant act of thievery,” and “some of the greatest philosophers,” including one of her favourites – Jean Genet – were thieves.

While Leishman is troubled by the low priority that Canadians place on the sanctity of life, Bell argues the number of Canadians who disapprove of abortion is “fairly high … that doesn’t seem too progressive to me. Abortion is a woman’s right, it’s part of ownership of one’s body.” Bell says that real morality is all about not harming others, and even argues that pro-life Canadians are “immoral,” because they are “doing harm to a person who has made a choice to have an abortion.”

In spite of the survey results, Leishman says he remains optimistic because “God is ultimately in charge of the universe. Ultimately, there will be a revival (of morality). Whether it will occur quickly enough to save what is left of our civilization, I don’t know.”