Opening up the Abortion Debate in Canada

Well, sadly, it would seem that I was prescient when I wrote Reproductive Rights Discourse on March 18, 2012. In this post, I explored how Canada is affected by political discourse coming out of the United States. In the last 2 years, there has been an assault of biblical proportions on not only abortion but also contraception in the US. Even though Stephen Harper has said he is not interested in opening up the abortion debate he seems willing to let his backbencher Stephen Woodworth do it for him.

Motion 312, put forward by Woodworth, seeks to change the definition of when a fetus becomes a child. Referencing Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada, a fetus becomes a human being once it is born. Woodworth is asking the following questions:

  1. what medical evidence exists to demonstrate that a child is or is not a human being before the moment of complete birth?
  2. is the preponderance of medical evidence consistent with the declaration in Subsection 223(1) that a child is only a human being at the moment of complete birth?
  3. what are the legal impact and consequences of Subsection 223(1) on the fundamental human rights of a child before the moment of complete birth?
  4. what are the options available to Parliament in the exercise of its legislative authority in accordance with the Constitution and decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada to affirm, amend, or replace Subsection 223(1)?

The questions Woodworth is seeking to answer in Motion 312 would fundamentally change how abortion is viewed and provided in Canada. If passed, this motion could mandate all sorts of restrictions on access to abortion.

Now, one might want to ask why Stephen Harper has allowed this motion to go forward. There is no way that Harper the Control Freak would allow anything to go forward without his approval. So even though he says he does not want the abortion debate opened he is allowing just that to happen. He says he will vote against the motion but what does that really mean? By allowing this motion to move forward he is adding to the discourse that seeks to impose severe limitations on a woman’s right to choose. And, as students of discourse theory know, the more we talk about something the more powerful the discourse becomes and before we know it trans-vaginal ultrasounds are the norm prior to abortions in Canada.

Now, lest you think it is only the Conservative party of Canada who is seeking to oppress women let’s take a look at the Liberal Party of Canada. Justin Trudeau has been tweeting, quite proudly, that the LPC will have a free vote on this issue. That’s right folks, the LPC is also prepared to allow their MPs to vote their ‘conscience.’ This pisses me off. A quick scan through the list of MPs indicates 5 of 35 Liberals elected to Parliament are women. When Liberal MPs are allowed to vote their ‘conscience’ 30 men will get to have a say on what women do with their bodies. This is an excellent example of why the LPC is doing so badly in Canada: there is no leadership, no ideology to which people can adhere. It is in these really tough decisions that leadership makes a difference. Bob Rae has an opportunity to show he can lead. Sadly, I think we will all be disappointed.

What I find even more disturbing is the lack of leadership from Justin Trudeau. This is a man who grew up in a political house with one of the best leaders Canada has ever had.[1] He should understand how important ideology is to politics. Did he not learn lessons from his father? He is also of a younger generation than Bob Rae. This does not bode well his future in politics.

Now onto the NDP; Nikki Ashton announced “In Canada, in 2012, a woman’s right to choose is not up for negotiation.’ She confirmed that the NDP would vote unanimously against the motion. Don’t forget that the NDP now has over a hundred members from Quebec where Catholicism still runs deep. Tom Mulcair, unlike the wimpy Rae and Harper, is not allowing his MPs to a free vote. He understands that to do so would be to muddy waters about the real issue, which is safe access to abortion for all Canadian women.

Living in a society where men are the overwhelming decision makers about women’s access to reproductive choice is so incredibly disturbing. This makes it clear that women are still second-class citizens in this country. When men are able to carry a child to term, then perhaps they can have a say. Until then they have no right to force their or their god’s[2] will on women.

[1] I can never decide who was the best leader: Trudeau or Chretien.

[2] Don’t forget, most people who are anti-choice are doing it because of religious doctrine.

Change in language alters opinions: Lessons in discourse from the Occupy Movement

I noticed there was a change in the language as it relates to the Occupy Vancouver protest today. Up until now the individuals at the site had been referred to as ‘protesters’ or ‘occupiers.’ Today the language shifted to now refer to them as ‘campers.’ Calling them campers completely undermines their purpose in protesting and occupying in the various cities.

Since the death of Occupier Ashley over the weekend the City of Vancouver has completely changed their message and tone. On Friday Robertson said that they had no intention of moving against the Occupiers. While they were citing some safety concerns identified by the fire department they were prepared to work with them to clean up the site. Now Robertson is talking about severe ‘life safety’ issues at the site. When he was on CBC’s afternoon show ‘On the Coast’ this afternoon, Stephen Quinn pointed out that the encampment is not much different now than it was at the beginning and that he did not really understand why they had such an issue with the protest now. Robertson had no real answer except to claim those ‘life safety’ issues again.

The city is being even cagier about this protest. In light of the municipal election, Vision Vancouver does not want to be seen as being against the issues the Occupiers are raising. After all, Vision Vancouver is really trying to court that left of centre vote. So Gregor, as mayor, ends up talking out of both sides of his month. On the one hand he is saying the ‘campers’ have to go and then he says that the city will make a stage and PA system available for the protestors to continue the movement. What Gregor Robertson doesn’t get is that he cannot have it both ways. If he moves to clear out the Occupiers he most certainly lose votes.

Clearly the Occupy movement is about much more than camping. However, the act of occupying public space is fundamental to the movement. If they are to make progress on their issues they must be in public space. What the Occupy movement must do is craft the message; they must be in control of the language or they risk having their mission degraded by others.

A little ruckus…

Well it looks like my post yesterday caused a little confusion yesterday. People spend years studying discourse theory[1] and it can be extremely complicated. The thing is that ‘discourse’ or the words we use shape who we are and how we react to people. I am going to try to clarify a few things:

  • Wandering Coyote says she uses the word ‘chick’ in sarcasm or when a woman ticks her off. This is precisely the use of the word that is problematic. ‘Chick’ is a demeaning, derisive and dismissive word. When the word is used it is meant to insult.[2] This is precisely why the word should not be in use. This goes further. When women use it to police other women it can truly take on an ugly form. Just think of how often the appearance of women is debated and discussed. We have all been involved in discussions where we might discuss a woman’s provocative clothing, her choice of shoes or her weight. This policing of women by women is also a by-product of the patriarchy.
  • Sometimes words like ‘chick’ get conflated with other words that have power. Some examples are words like queer and dyke. When these words are used against people they are powerful however when people reclaim they become equally powerful. These words are different from the word ‘chick’ in particular.
  • Christine wonders why I think the word ‘chick’ refers to baby chickens and not other baby birds. The thing is it doesn’t really matter what kind of baby bird women are being referred to when the word ‘chick’ is used a woman is being equated with an infantile bird. Personally, I find this insulting.

Just remember whenever women are devalued and demeaned by the word ‘chick’ it serves to lessen the power of women in our society. At first glance this word may seem innocuous; it is anything but. Use of the word reifies the patriarchy and puts women in a place below men. In the 21st century this is simply not acceptable.

[1] I did my MA thesis on discourse theory.

[2] I am really not meaning to pick on the Wandering Coyote here.

Violence and the ‘Message’

All weekend we have been hearing about David Wayne Bobbitt and the alleged assault he committed by tying a woman up for 12 hours, repeatedly beating and assaulting her while her 2-year old child looked on. He has been described as dangerous someone the public should not approach. With all of the descriptive words the CBC could have chosen to refer to him on the radio, today they chose “Penticton business owner.” When I heard this I was completely incensed that they would dignify him with a respectable title.

As a feminist, I should not be surprised that the patriarchy is alive and well and almost always willing to give the man the benefit of the doubt. Clearly the crimes he is alleged to have committed do not befit the description of ‘Penticton business owner.’ In fact, by referring to him in this manner, the media is minimizing his alleged crimes. He is not in anyway being shamed for what he may have done instead he is a business owner.

When society allows men a free pass to abuse women we all suffer. It also sends a message to other men that nothing really bad will happen to you if you assault your wife or rape a prostitute. This culture we live in is steeped in the idea that women and children are chattel. In fact, up until the last century women did not have rights or legal standing. Even today, although we have ‘equal’ rights in principle things are hardly ‘equal’ when men can choose to physically over power us and do whatever they want to our bodies. Consent? What is that?

It seems like there has been an inordinate amount of violence against women lately. UBC student and Fullbright Scholar Rumana Manzur, beaten by her husband in Bangladesh has now returned to Canada for medical treatment. He gouged her eyes and bit off part of her nose. She will never see again. Another South Asian woman was killed by her husband last week. The Crown had to have murderer Johnson Aziga declared a dangerous offender because he continued to have sex with women without telling them he was HIV-positive.

I wish I had answers and prescriptions for change. What I do know is that we must change the discourse that surrounds women and how some men perceive us. Men must educate their sons to treat women with respect. Men have to learn that women are not there to serve their needs. Women have free will and, like men, can do or wear what they want, go where they please and have the right of agency. Anything less than this is unacceptable.

It’s a Ranty Kind of Day!

At least 3 topics have crossed my mind for a rant today. The first and second topics would have been driving rants. However, there was something much more pressing today. Once again, this rant is courtesy of the CBC and its BC Almanac program.

At the top of the hour, Susan McNamee was interviewing Lembi Buchanan from the BC Coalition for Action on Alcohol Reform.[1] The coalition would like to see the price of 7% alcohol content coolers raised to reflect the alcohol content. The argument they are using is that it is generally young women who are drinking the coolers with the 7% alcohol content while their boyfriends are drinking 5% beer. Buchanan pointed out that women metabolize alcohol differently[2] and the increased alcohol content jeopardizes their safety. She argues that if the price was increased the amount of alcohol consumed by young people would decrease. She also believes that strategic price increases on easy to drink, sweet beverages will reduce binge drinking.

There are an incredible number of assumptions made by Buchanan and her coalition. The idea that young women have no idea that they are consuming more alcohol than their boyfriends is insulting. Does she seriously think they are that stupid?  Almost all of the callers completely disagreed with Buchanan. They cited teenage behavior, correctly pointing out, that teens will continue to drink regardless of the price. Teens continue to smoke no matter how much they cost.

After several callers had disagreed with her she pointed to a study that was done in Saskatchewan. It was at this point it appeared that the real reason for raising the price of the ciders and coolers was to reduce drunk and disorderly issues in low-income housing areas. Apparently, SK has introduced and they noticed, very quickly, that police did not attend as many times for alcohol related issues in low-income areas.

Personally, I find it very insulting that people who are less affluent should not have free access to alcohol. They were certainly not talking about raising the price on wines and spirits that ‘other’ people drink. It would seem that the whole argument about binge drinking and teenage girls was a ruse to further control the poor. Not having enough money in this society means that your power and choices are systematically eroded.

First there is the welfare system, which is incredibly punitive and intrusive. The very act of deciding if someone should receive money from the state involves a great deal of power. The civil servants making these decisions try to be unbiased however it is pretty much impossible.[3] Discrimination against the poor is pervasive in this country courtesy of the ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ upon which this country formed. Many people believe that the poor are not deserving of any kind of compassion and that they just need to ‘pull themselves up by the bootstraps.’ Enter the BC Coalition for Action on Alcohol Reform who now wants to try to prevent them from consuming inexpensive alcohol. Heaven forbid the poor be able to relax and enjoy a drink! Lembi Buchanan also regaled the CBC listeners with tales of her own alcohol assumption, which included frequent glasses of Jack Daniels and wine every night with dinner. I find it interesting that Buchanan consumes copious amounts of expensive alcohol while trying to restrict access to others in a presumably lower socio-economic class. Perhaps she believes that her alcohol consumption is civilized while downing several 7% alcohol vodka coolers.

The bottom line is that income status is irrelevant when it comes to alcohol abuse. Excessive drinking has the same consequences and effects on families regardless of socio-economic class. In fact, they may be worse in affluent families who are trying to avoid the stigma of alcohol related issues affecting their families.

If we, as a society, are to get serious about alcohol reform we need to look at a continuum of care. We need to focus on education and prevention. Children need to understand the effects of binge drinking and parents must ensure that their drinking is not adversely affecting their families. Finally, the government can do its part and raise the price of all alcohol. The money raised from the extra taxes can then be used to fund alcohol treatment programs and other services to assist families impacted by alcohol.

I am unclear what is motivating the BC Coalition for Action on Alcohol Reform. Their lack of website does not help in trying to figure out what they are trying to accomplish. I would also be very interested to find out what is motivating them, who funds them and what they want to accomplish besides controlling the poor. If the callers on BC Almanac are any indication, it seems that people are not buying what the BC Coalition for Action on Alcohol Reform is selling.

[1] I cannot seem to find a website for these people.

[2] She never says how women metabolize alcohol differently.

[3] I worked in a welfare office for 7 years.

The Imposition of Values

I really dislike Christmas. I hate all the pomp and ceremony that only ratchets up proportionally the closer we get to the actual day. Living in Metro Vancouver, which holds the infamous Downtown Eastside (DTES), seems to magnify this problem more. There is no shortage of Christmas activities that cause an exodus of ‘do-gooders’ to converge on the DTES all with their ‘unique’ idea that will make Christmas so much better for them. Quite a lot of these people are coming from a religious point of view and add a dose of proselytizing along with their act of ‘kindness.’

The latest example of this is a group of students who decided to take Christmas cards to the DTES so people living there could send cards home. They were also offered the opportunity to have a picture taken or a video. The students would then go back and try to find the families of the people who wanted to send cards, pictures and/or videos to their loved ones.

This endeavor, while on the surface seems harmless however, nothing could be further from the reality. Clearly, people on the DTES are disadvantaged, some are drug or alcohol addicted and others are involved in the survival sex trade. It is a huge assumption to believe that people on the DTES even want contact with their families. Many people are there trying to cope with histories of abuse, neglect and poverty. In all likelihood, there is a long and complicated history between the residents on the DTES and their families. Even discussing their families or origin may really upset and trigger people. Many families may not welcome contact and many people may not want to contact their families for whatever reason.

The reasons people are living in Canada’s poorest postal code are complex. Really, it is the perfect storm of abuse, neglect, lack of opportunity, economics, mental illness, and many other factors. In fact, many of the charities on the DTES really just perpetuate the poverty and relieve some of the suffering rather than addressing the root causes. I would argue that there is no way that charities can address the root causes of what lands people on the DTES. The problem is that government has been off-loading services to lower levels of governments and charities for two decades.

If we are serious about addressing the issues of the DTES and the social issues present, we must begin to vote for politicians who are actually going to do something. We need to elect leaders who have knowledge of how to prevent some of the issues and experiences that lead to people being disenfranchised. These solutions are not cheap. If we were to get serious, we would be debating policy solutions like a guaranteed income for families with children, increasing childhood education, offering resources to families on the edge without the threat that the ministry might take their children, and inexpensive post-secondary education.

The next time you are about to applaud or participate some great initiative to make Christmas better for the citizens of the DTES think about it. Ask questions about how this will make life better for them and look at the values and discourse that are informing this activity. Most of the time you will find that the only people who are really feeling better about things are the people going to the DTES and providing these services.

If, as an individual, you really want to make a difference start to make noise to politicians about changing the system and investing in services that really make a difference. Volunteer at a detox or a rehab program. If you want to provide comfort then volunteer on a weekly basis rather than just the once a year volunteer stint at the local soup kitchen. If you are creative, make things that keep people warm. New socks are an item that provides a great deal of comfort and prevents all sorts of foot issues for people are homeless.

Perhaps the most important thing for people who want to help on the DTES is to understand the issues. Be aware that imposing your beliefs on people is completely unacceptable. You must meet people where they are and show respect to them as individuals. Try to understand what is important to them and go from there. The population on the DTES is heterogeneous – it is not a one size fits all. If you volunteer there, you need to listen and understand. Then maybe, just maybe, you can become part of the solution.

Our Justice System – Redux

I have a lengthy comment from Mike which you can go and read in the original post. I was going to answer him in the comments section but I think it would be better served as a post of its own. So here goes.

Mike says:
“I don’t think justice was served here, but I disagree with feminists who use such allegorical “evidence” as proof that western political legal system treats women like chattel. Thats quite a stretch. By in large western legal systems take domestic violence seriously.”

It is in no way allegorical. Our laws our based on English commonlaw which viewed women and children as chattel.There is nothing allegorical about that. Altough laws may be updated, here and there, they are still largely written by men for men. The old boys network is alive and well and protects men like Scott Young.

Mike Says:
“People, especially people in power, get away with doing bad and illegal things all the time. Maybe Scott Young knew the right people, had a good lawyer, or just was lucky. By your line of reasoning I could look to OJ Simpson and argue that black people in the US can get away with murdering white people. I strongly disagree with feminists who use incidences like this to push their narrow self-serving agenda.”

Perhaps rich black men do. But this is not about race – this is about domestic violence. There is no ‘narrow self-serving agenda’ here. Unfortunately, the problem of violence against women, in all its forms, is so pervasive that dismantling it would shake our society to its very core. It is seen in the discourse of advertising, our jokes, our culture, our religions, the way we raise male and female children differently. We are not even aware at times when violence is being perpetuated against women. Open your eyes and look around. It is on tv, on the radio, in the locker room and in our homes.

Mike says:
“No society has ever tolerated violence against women. This is feminist historical revisionism. Rapists in medieval Europe were flayed alive (had their skin removed). The ‘rule of thumb’ myth was taken from a misquotation of statement made by a US judge in the 19th century who actually sentenced the male abuser to jail.”

This society sure as hell does!!! It goes on all the time. Many women don’t report rape as they will just be assaulted again when they come up against the male dominated justice system. Forget history, look at the situation today. Look at the murder suicides where men kill their entire families and then themselves. And before you trot Andrea Yates – she was mentally ill and had had so many children and sufferred such horrific untreated post partum depression that she went crazy. What is the excuse of the men?? Look at the honour killings in the South Asian community in BC. I could go on and on. These are not feminist revisionist events. These are real women dying every single day.

Mike says:
“Women are abusers in relationships as well as men. Domestic abuse has less to do with ‘Patriarchy’ and more to do with disfunctional partners and drug and alchohol abuse. Women stalk, kill their husbands and kill their children too. There are bad people of both sexes the same way there are bad people of all races. Just because in general men are capable of inflicting greater injury on women does not mean that men are the only sex capable of commiting evil, or even that society is run by men.”

Yes, some women might hit some men sometimes. Boo fucking hoo. Look at the stats – men kill and beat women at much higher rates then the reverse. Really, this is just a straw man argument to take us off course. Many men are conditioned to believe that they can treat women anyway they want. Furthermore, they have seen that the consequences are a slap on the wrist – conditional sentence with an 8 pm curfew? What the hell is that about? If this is what our justice system is doing to women when we are watching what is it doing when we are not?

Mike says:
“Society does not treat women worse than men. Men have always been the greatest victims of violence in war, genocide, and crime. The vast majority of victims of violent crime (murder and assault) are men.”

Sorry Mike another straw man argument. Who starts the wars? Who keeps them going? Certainly not women. Yes men die in war. But so do women, civilian women. Rape is an instrument of war and I am pretty damn sure that most of the people being raped are not men. Civilian women and children suffer the most in war. The soldiers have a choice. At least in the case of the US – they signed up for it this time. (This of course would be different if concription were in place as it was in other wars). However, the men are still paid to go to war. Even the women working for the international companies in Iraq are not safe from rape. So, tell me again how it is that men suffer? Oh ya, they get to carry big guns, shoot people, and get paid. Sounds like the wet dream of many a teenage boy.