Bev Oda

While Bev Oda, the former federal Minister for International Cooperation and head of the Canadian International Development Agency, resigned amidst an embarrassing controversy surrounding her five-star hotel stay at the Savoy in London, England at which she enjoyed $16 orange juice, the real scandal, pro-lifers say, is the financial support she gave to International Planned Parenthood Federation even while the government said it would not promote abortion abroad.

While the media revisited some of the worse spending scandals during Oda’s tenure at International Cooperation and the Heritage Ministry before that, Campaign Life Coalition noted the minister’s “extreme pro-abortion views” often contradicted the Harper government’s stated intention to be neutral on abortion in the international sphere. In early 2010 when Stephen Harper insisted that the Muskoka Initiative to get the G8 to support genuine maternal health including nutrition, education, clean water, and safe deliveries of babies, Oda twice went out of her way to say the initiative would include funding family planning and could include funding for abortion in the developing world. Again, later that year, she said the government would be open to funding abortion as part of the G8 maternal health initiative. Harper had arranged at the G8 summit meeting that Canada’s $1.1 billion contribution would not fund abortion. But Oda told the Ottawa Citizen in regards to helping pay for abortion for women in the developing world, “as long as it is legal within the country and it’s a legal procedure… if we were asked to help in that way, we would do that.”

CLC national organizer Mary Ellen Douglas said that while Prime Minister Stephen Harper claims not to be on either side of the abortion debate, he has “too long tolerated Oda’s promotion of abortion through CIDA.” Douglas called Oda “an abortion extremist.”

Although the federal government ceased funding IPPF through direct grants in 2009, Oda said, in 2011, that Ottawa could renew funding to the world’s largest abortion outfit. She reiterated her “support” for IPPF and said that she wanted to work with the organization.

Last September, perhaps without cabinet approval or even foreknowledge of the Prime Minister’s Office, Oda’s press secretary Justin Broekema, leaked to the press that IPPF affiliates in six countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Mali, Sudan, and Tanzania – would receive $6 million over three years for maternal health, including family planning. The caveat was that it could not be used for abortion and the Ministry noted that abortion was not legal in any of the countries. But CLC national president Jim Hughes noted that “money is fungible so resources given for local Planned Parenthood groups to spend on even legitimate health care – not to mention family planning which could include abortifacient drugs – frees up money to be used for other illicit activities, including lobbying for the liberalization of abortion laws.” IPPF affiliates in the six countries are known to publicly advocate for less strict abortion laws.

Hughes told The Interim that Oda and the press secretary should have been asked to resign in September 2011 when they renewed Planned Parenthood funding. Hughes said, “other ministers were removed for far less arrogance and disobedience, she should have been removed years ago.”

While Oda resigned as both an MP and cabinet minister last month, Broekema remains in his same job with new Minister of International Cooperation Julian Fantino. CLC has not had the opportunity to evaluate Fantino on pro-life issues and he did not respond to the organization’s repeated attempts to get a questionnaire answered in the 2011 federal election or a 2010 by-election.