Ottawa’s Mayor Signs Anti-Abortion Proclamation, May or May Not be a Tool

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.

The 2008 March for Life protest.

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.

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Carolyn Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, Xtra!, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

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22 Comments

  1. wtf 3.5 million babies. yeah 3.5 million people who could be born into emotionally uninvested/unwanted homes, homes that cannot financially support them, etc etc. harper gets elected and all the crazies come out in full force. christ.

  2. On one hand, I’m glad he publicly said that he doesn’t support this. On the other hand… then why the hell is this now a city policy? I don’t think I even really understand the paper he’s signed. What does this do now aside from make all rational Canadians enraged?

  3. yeahh this is just so insane again.. but the rick mercer tag was awesome again! Rick mercer is amazing its been on my whole life and ive probably watched every episode of this hour has 22 min and the rick mercer report hilarious

  4. Ok, somebody needs to explain this proclamation thing to me, because I’m too lazy muddle through the poor writing skills of many of those on the wikipedia machine.

  5. f**c, I was in Ottawa today and I missed it!
    Also, this city is just so packed with flamingly gay men and dyke on bikes (no, really, there is a chick on a motorbike on every street corner!) that I can hardly believe this is gonna change anything in anyone’s life.

  6. Really? pro life? Um yea, hello fucking insane world. I mean, obviously no one is pro death, but then theres pro choice and pro life. This is why I dont bother with shit like this, I am just pro choice and leave it at that..

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