December, 1999 to December, 2014
The Protection of Conscience Project celebrates its 15th anniversary in December, 2014. The formation of the Project was one of the eventual results of a meeting in Vancouver with British Columbian Senator Ray Perrault1 in the spring of 1999.
Senator Perrault wished to continue the work of retiring Liberal Senator, Stanley Haidasz, whose protection of conscience bill was stalled in the upper chamber.2 Among the experiences that spurred Senator Perrault to continue Senator Haidasz’s work was an encounter while going door to door during an election campaign. A nurse, in tears, told him that she had quit work after 15 years because she was required to participate in abortions, and could no longer do so in good conscience.
The meeting was sponsored by the Catholic Physicians Guild of Vancouver. Most participants were physicians or pharmacists. They spoke of their growing concern that they would be penalized or forced out of their professions if they continued to practise in accordance with their religious or moral beliefs. It became clear that these health care professionals had come to recognize the growing threat to their freedom to serve their patients without violating their personal and professional integrity. This was a key factor in the establishment of the Protection of Conscience Project nine months later.
While the meeting in 1999 was called by a Catholic organization, the Protection of Conscience Project is a non-profit, non-denominational initiative that does not take a position on the acceptability of morally contested procedures like abortion, contraception or euthanasia: not even on torture. The focus is exclusively on freedom of conscience and religion.
The Project is supported by an Advisory Board drawn from different disciplines and religious traditions, a Human Rights Specialist and an Administrator, all of whom serve without remuneration.3 It was conceived as an initiative rather than an organization, association or society; it has no ‘members’ or structures of an incorporated entity. This ensures that the time and energy that would otherwise be needed to maintain corporate structures is spent on more immediately practical work. The name originated in a comment made by Iain Benson, then Senior Research Fellow of Canada’s Centre for Cultural Renewal, now Senior Resident Scholar, Massey College, University of Toronto.4
“We don’t need another organization,” he said. “We need a project.” [Full text]