As I’ve been squirreled away at home writing a bunch of holidays have been going on: St. Jean Baptiste, which has become a nationalist holiday for Quebec, and July 1st and 4, the nationalist holidays for Canada and the U.S. Quebec City also had its 400th anniversary. A couple years back I noted the slight weirdness of July 4th <a href=”http://superbon.net/?p=380″ target=”_blank”>not being a holiday anymore</a>, though that was easy for me to get used to.
This year I stayed away from any big celebrations or events and took advantage of the time to write afforded by quiet at the office. Which is still going pretty well even though the office is no longer quiet, thanks for asking. But we did walk around the neighborhood on moving day (aka Canada Day) and give thanks we weren’t moving.
One of the things that happens on Canada Day is the announcement of new inductees to the Order of Canada. The Order is “Canada’s highest civilian honor and recognizes a lifetime of outstanding achievement.” I think it’s like knighting or something, except it’s controlled on our side of the Atlantic. I don’t really know its origins. Anyway, among the people named this year was a Montreal doctor named Dr. Henry Morgentaler, <a href=”http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/capress/order_of_cda_morgentaler” target=”_blank”>who has spent his life doing everything he can to insure women the right to safe abortion.</a>
To me, this is a no brainer, but it has of course led to lots of outrage from pro-lifers, as well as equally foolish columnists who say that they’re not against abortion, but that since he’s controversial , he shouldn’t be given the award, since the Order brings us all together. Others who have contributed far less to Canada are complaining that they have been overlooked for their politics. Which as far as I can tell is a pile of nonsense. People who do important things, really important things, will often have opposition. It’s easy to get behind Terry Fox, but it’s hard to stand up for a woman’s right to choose. As with same-sex marriage, I think this is a case of the losing side giving a particularly loud howl before its final gasp. In other words, I think there is much less controversy about abortion in Canada than the last week of newspaper coverage would lead one to believe.
But anti-abortion forces are still pretty effective, even if they are a minority: there are parts of the country where it is still difficult to find someone to perform the procedure, even though it is completely legal, and there is a particularly insipid bill before parliament that is clearly designed as a front for future anti-abortion legislation (it would render the murder of a pregnant women a double murder, including the fetus). The problem with such a law is that it actually does nothing to help deterrence or law enforcement or promote public safety. It simply changes the law to set a legal precedent.
All this is to say that Morgentaler’s work was clearly important and that it’s not finished. Although I’m still figuring out what I think about rituals like the Order of Canada (this country seems to have a very large number of prizes and honors) I am proud and pleased that it would select Morgentaler over someone blander, less controversial, and who has done less to improve the lives of Canadian women. If this is a partisan act by the Order (I think it is objectively the case that women’s lives are better when the state doesn’t treat them like baby machines), sobeit. It would be just as partisan — only much more pathetic — to not award him the honor out of fear of controversy.
For the 4th of July <a href=”http://www.sivacracy.net/2008/07/whatever_happened_i_apologize.html” target=”_blank”>Siva Vaidhyanathan</a> wrote about his family’s immigration to the US and how important it was to be American, and I think there is something about being an immigrant that allows one to see what is special about one’s adopted country that the natives miss (no doubt I take many things for granted about my U.S. citizenship that Siva does not about his, given that his family still has its immigration in recent memory). I’m not quite ready for something as misty about my adopted home, but but I will say that it is wonderful to live in a country where controversy about abortion (or the death penalty, or Iraq, or socialized medicine, or public funding for higher education) is the exception, rather than the rule.
1. Someday I will write something that articulates how insipid I find centrism as a political ideology. Whatever the possible positions on an issue, the idea that they can be lumped into two and the position “inbetween” is automatically more “reasonable” and “not controversial” is one of the great ideological hoodwinks of our time.