Jim Watson, the Mayor of Ottawa, has signed an anti-abortion proclamation that uses phrases like “sanctity of human life” and which declared that today is “Respect for Life Day.” In other news, 10,000 people are going to protest abortion in front of Parliament this afternoon. Apparently both of these things happen every year but no one noticed before Twitter.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Watson stated that while he personally does not agree with the statement, his signing it agrees with city policy. According to the Ottawa Citizen, he said:
“I don’t happen to agree with those who (want to) take away a woman’s right to choose. But at the same time, it’s not the mayor’s personal beliefs and hunches that should rule the day.”
He also told the CBC that, “If we start saying no based on my own personal views, we’re going to be ending up on the human rights commission, and I’m not prepared to bring the city through that.”
There are times when you don’t want politicians to cause human rights commissions and times when you do, and it seems a lot like Respect for Life Day would be a good reason to fall into category number two. This is also reminiscent of much of the US’s debate over DOMA — what is considered “beyond the pale” of legal enforcement — certainly you’d want a leader to exercise his personal beliefs if somehow a bill legalizing slavery or making women the property of their husbands came to his desk — and abortion and gay rights are hotspots of contention in this argument.
However, Watson did say that his personal beliefs did not support the proclamation, and that, if everything agreed with policies, he would be willing to proclaim a day named after Dr. Henry Morgentaler, an abortion rights activist who ran a clinic in Toronto, was convicted, and (eventually) had a few laws overturned, Roe v. Wade style.
In 2001, the city of Ottawa created a policy to prevent a mayor’s personal opinions from controlling which proclamations are read. Watson also stated that as long as everything’s legal, he has no problem reading assorted proclamations regardless of which side of a given issue they fall on. Additionally, reading one doesn’t mean the mayor, the city, or anyone besides the people supporting it endorse it. In some ways this is good — if the situation were reversed, it would be a lot more sickening to have politicians’ personal opinions prevent something like Morgentaler Day. Or, as happened before the policy change, to have a mayor refuse to include “bisexual and transgender” in a Gay Pride Week proclamation (which led to a human rights commission complaint against the city).
Respect for Life Day also coincides with the National March for Life, a rally that wants to convince the federal government to revisit the abortion debate. According to the president of the group, Jim Hughes,
“The National March for Life gives Canadians an opportunity to join together and send the newly elected government a clear message that abortion is an important issue. In the past 40 years, over 3.5 million babies have been aborted, and it’s time the Harper government re-opens the debate.”
In an interview with the CBC, Melanie Stafford, a member of Ottawa’s Pro-Choice Coalition, said: “[the proclamation] uses dangerous language around the rights to the unborn, as if the unborn is a separate entity to the woman carrying that pregnancy.”
Proclamations themselves are a little too easy. See also: that time Rick Mercer launched a referendum to demand that the government of Canada force Stockwell Day to change his name to Doris (which, if the Alliance party had formed the government, there would have been an actual real referendum about). They’re also more or less meaningless most of the time. Until they’re about something like this.
Photos of the 2008 March for Life protest are from the Campaign Life Coalition.