By Deborah Rankin
Another federal election is around the corner and as voters go to the polls on Election Day on Oct.19 many will do so halfheartedly, wondering if they are making the right choice when they cast their ballots. Others will choose to opt out of this hard-won democratic exercise feeling that none of the parties really reflect their views or can be trusted to represent them. That's too bad, but those feelings aren't entirely misplaced. The fundamental rights of Canadians to freedom of conscience, religion, and free speech are under attack in our political system.
Recently the Conservatives dumped their candidate Jagdish Grewal for Mississauga-Malton in Ontario because of remarks he made about homosexuality in an editorial for the Punjabi Post in March saying that his comments didn't represent the views of the Conservative Party of Canada.
The controversy revolves around Grewal's characterization of homosexuality as "unnatural" and his support for so-called conversion therapy as a remedy for youths who experience unwanted homosexual attractions. However, he told CBC News that he wasn't anti-gay and that some media reports had mistranslated the editorial's headline. "I respect them (gay people). I have equal respect for all children of God," he said.
Some people will applaud this decision. Thomas Mulcair, leader of the NDP was one of them, tweeting that his political rival Stephen Harper was right to get rid of Grewal for his "homophobic" remarks. But for citizens who value democracy this is a shocking development. A man has been deprived of his democratic right to represent his chosen party in an election because he exercised his constitutionally protected right to free speech.
Douglas Farrow, Professor of Christian Thought in the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill University downplayed the incident while acknowledging that he didn't know enough about this particular case to comment fully saying, "Most likely it is just party politics, of the "We don't need this headache" variety. That people who won't toe the line on homosexuality are being marginalized in many professions and in politics is certainly true, however; and that is a sign of the decline of freedom, wherever their marginalization is due to that alone, rather than to their professional or political clumsiness or their failure to treat people with respect."
It is important to note that Grewal wasn't justifiably removed as a candidate for the Conservative Party because his comments met any threshold of hate speech. He didn't vilify homosexuals as a group or threaten gay individuals. He has been punished for arguing on scientific grounds against the pro forma acceptance and normalization of homosexuality. Whether his argument is valid, whether this type of therapeutic treatment is effective or appropriate is moot. (The Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity representing American psychologists which Grewal cited stands by it.)
What's at stake is Grewal's right to free speech under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The expulsion of a political candidate by the government simply on the basis of that person's lawful exercise of free speech is chilling and can only lead to more brazen forms of censorship if left unchallenged. Grewal is threatening legal action against the Conservatives if he isn't re-instated as their candidate and against any media outlets which misquote him.
Grewal couched his argument in terms of the legal rights of parent to make decisions that they feel are in the best interests of their minor children. Given the myriad problems that gay individuals face - problems gay activists are continually telling us about although they usually blame society, saying it is "heterosexist" - it can be reasonably argued that parents should do everything within their power to give their offspring an opportunity to work through any confusion about gender or sexual issues in therapy or counselling before homosexual or transgender identities permanently set in.
Why then is the Conservative Party, the standard-bearer for family values, wading into this emotionally charged debate?
This isn't the first time that the powers that be have tried to conform public opinion to a political agenda on a hot-button topic. While Justin Trudeau likes to portray himself as a defender of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms - in contrast to Stephen Harper whom he says disregards it - last year Justin Trudeau did the same thing when he said that no one with pro-life views could run for the Liberal Party of Canada in an election.
The issue first came to light when Gar Knutson, a lawyer and former minister in the Chretien government went to the media after he discovered that his application to run for the Liberal nomination in the riding of Ottawa-Orleans hadn't been processed after 10 weeks (the usual wait time is about 4 weeks). When he inquired about the reasons for the delay he was told by a committee vetting nominees that there were concerns about his pro-life record as an MP, as well as his pro-life activities in his Roman Catholic church, Divine Infant Parish. Knutson subsequently withdrew his application because he didn't want to have to vote against his conscience.
Many polls show that a majority of Canadians cutting across all party lines support some restrictions on abortion while about 30% want it banned. And the Liberal Party has certainly never packaged its moderate pro-choice stance as opposition to free speech. Other things being equal, the rights to freedom of conscience, religion, and free speech are the first rights of the Charter and trump all other considerations.
Trudeau has been keeping a low profile on this issue lately perhaps because of strong criticisms coming at him from all sides. In the spring of 2022 a group of former Liberal MPs denounced Trudeau's undemocratic position in an open letter, imploring him to re-consider his decision banning pro-lifers, while various Catholic bishops suggested that Trudeau could be denied communion if he did not recant. The media also gave the issue substantial coverage.
Media commentator Faith Goldy, a frequent co-host with Conrad Black on theZoomer: Television for Boomers with Zip! raised the issue of whether Trudeau, a professed Catholic, could be ex-communicated from the Catholic Church. On her website Faith Goldy News she wrote that rather than being politically pro-choice, but personally pro-life - as Trudeau claims - he is really a pro-abortion extremist who voted against Bill C-510 (in 2010) which would have protected pregnant women from coercion in abortion (clearly not the same as choice).
In reality, life begins in the womb and not just after birth, but you'd never guess that Trudeau had any inkling of this despite his baby-kissing photo-ops. Image politics being what they are, it remains to be seen whether savvy voters will be able to separate the fact from the fiction on this one once they get to the polls.
One thing is certain: Many people of faith will find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place come Election Day on Oct. 19.
Last Night at the Gayete
The Centaur Theatre's - season is drawing to a close with its final production of Last Night at the Gayety, a musical comedy by Bowser & Blue which runs until May 22nd.