In the True North Strong and Free

Project Letter to the Calgary Herald

Sean Murphy*

Twelve years ago, an editorial in the Calgary Herald1 expressed hope that a bill proposed by MLA Julius Yankowsky2 would ensure that health care professionals would not be forced to participate in procedures or services to which they objected for reasons of conscience.

The editorial cited the example of coerced participation of nurses in late term abortions at Foothills Hospital3 and the case of Maria Bizecki, a pharmacist facing discipline for refusing to dispense the morning after pill.4 The bill, said the editorial, was “a common sense compromise” that would respect freedom of conscience without preventing access to abortion or drugs. Yankowsky’s bill did not pass, but a common sense compromise was eventually worked out between Ms. Bizecki and her employer, the Calgary Cooperative Association.5

While Ms. Bizecki’s case was grinding slowly forward, she and Professor Donald De Marco met the Herald editorial board. Danielle Smith, then a member of the board, was at the meeting. So was Herald columnist Naomi Lakritz, who, at one point, personally congratulated Ms. Bizecki for her stand.6

Danielle Smith, now leader of the Wildrose Party, appears to be advocating the kind of compromise supported by the Herald when it expressed support for freedom of conscience for health care professionals. Ms. Lakritz, however, seems to have changed her mind.

“The word ‘conscience,’” she writes, “is now being used to advocate doing the wrong thing” – like refusing to dispense the morning after pill. (“Conscience rights is another way of allowing discrimination.”Calgary Herald, 10 April, 2012)

Ms. Lakritz is not alone in this belief. She reports that Alison Redford, the Premier of the province, is actually frightened by suggestions that at least some people in Alberta might refuse to do what they believe to be wrong. We are told that Liberal and NDP leaders also oppose freedom of conscience, and that the Alberta Party leader condemns protection of conscience legislation as “an exercise in exclusion,” a point apparently overlooked by those who drafted Section 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

According to Ms. Lakritz, the Premier believes that suppression of freedom of conscience demonstrates respect for diversity, that people are treated with “dignity and respect” when they are forced to do what they believe to be wrong, and that threatening conscientious objectors with dismissal makes people feel “safe and included.”

We are not told if the Premier and other leaders opposed to freedom of conscience insist that their candidates sacrifice their personal integrity in order to run for office. Nor does Ms. Lakritz tell us if employees at the Calgary Herald must do what they believe to be wrong as a condition of employment or promotion.

She does, however, claim that those who, for reasons of conscience, refuse to provide a legal drug or service act wrongly and dishonourably because they thus treat some people “as though they were much less equal to others.” This is like saying that refusing to sell tobacco is wrong because it treats smokers “as though they were much less equal” to non-smokers, or that refusing to facilitate prostitution is dishonourable because it denies equality to ‘sex trade workers.’ Even if one accepts such a peculiar notion of equality, however, equality is not the only principle relevant to the moral evaluation of an act. Moreover, the mere legality of a product or service imposes no duty to provide it or to affirm its moral acceptability. Ms. Lakritz made this clear when she excoriated Henry Morgentaler and abortion rights groups for suggesting that Catholic bishops should ask people to stop protesting abortions – a legal, tax-paid service.

“[The bishops] are not exactly known for indulging in moral relativism,” she observed.

“What this society needs is more people like them who take a firm stand on issues and do not apologize for refusing to be swayed by whatever current compromise passes for morality.”7

It is a pity that Ms. Lakritz no longer believes this: that she now holds that such people are “truly disgusting,” and that personal integrity and courage are grounds for dismissal in the true north strong and free.

O, Canada.

Notes

1.  “Editorial, The Calgary Herald, April 11, 2000. (Accessed 2012-04-11)

2. Bill 212, Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Amendment Act, 2000.

3. Ko, Marnie, “Personal Qualms Don’t Count: Foothills Hospital Now Forces Nurses To Participate In Genetic Terminations.” Alberta Report Newsmagazine, April 12, 1999

4. Mastromatteo, Mike, “Alberta Pharmacist Vindicated for Pro-Life Stand.” The BC Catholic, 3 November, 2003

5. Gerald D. Chipeur to the Calgary Co-operative Association Re: Maria Bizecki, 19 December, 2001

6. E-mails from Maria Bizecki to the Administrator, Protection of Conscience Project, 10 and April, 2012.

7.  Lakritz, Naomi, “Hypocrite Henry: Morgentaler exercises his own brand of violence.” Winnipeg Sun, 17 January, 1995 (Accessed 2012-04-13)

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