Canadian Minister for the Status of Women, Rona Ambrose
Francophone Canada has always been, let’s say, a little “different” compared with the anglo majority, but, as someone of French extraction living in Montreal, I strive for a balanced view of the nation. My morning routine includes an attentive perusal of four newspapers: the National Post, the Globe, and the Quebec papers La Presse and Le Devoir. It is always interesting – and sometimes fascinating – to witness the differing perspectives.
Last week, however, following the Canadian Parliament’s vote on a motion concerning the life of the unborn child, the difference made me ashamed of our leading French papers. The Post‘s editorial, It’s no crime to debate abortion was a breath of fresh air in contrast to the closed minds reflected in the Francophone mainstream media on Motion 312.
Two powerful pro-choice organisations — the Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ) and the Fédération du Québec pour le planning des naissances (FQPN) — dictated the French media reports. Like a lackadaisical high school student, the papers limited themselves to regurgitating the two organizations’ joint press release.
This was nowhere more evident than in the relaying of opinions on the federal Status of Women minister, Rona Ambrose, who voted in favour of the motion calling for a committee to examine the definition of when a child becomes a human being:
“It is expected that the Status of Women Minister would take care of women’s interests,” affirms Alexi Conradi, President of the FFQ. “By voting for the committee to study the status of the foetus in the Canadian code of criminal law, [Rona Ambrose] has denied this responsibility because this motion has no other interest than to open the debate on abortion once again.”
“To choose to pursue a pregnancy or not is a woman’s fundamental right. By endorsing a project leading to give a juridical status to the fœtus in the criminal code, the Minister testifies her incapacity to assume her role.” says Sophie de Cordes, coordinator of FQPN.
“We don’t trust Ms. Ambrose anymore. By refusing to defend the fundamental right of women, she has no more legitimacy. Therefore, she has to resign from her functions.”
No more legitimacy? Resign from her functions? I have no problem with them offering their opinions, but what I do have a problem with – to the point of finding it disturbing – is the thoughtlessness with which these sentences were repeated in countless articles and op-eds.
A case in point: La Presse, drawing his title from the press release cited above “Mme Ambrose, partez!” (Mrs Ambrose, Leave!), Hugo de Grandpre merely echoes it as well as the explosive reactions the recent event has set off. His piece contained not a single personal comment that opens the door to a reflection; if you were hoping for food for thought, you would certainly stay hungry.
“Worrisome Tenacity” is one of Friday’s editorials in Le Devoir.
“Stephen Woodworth, the backbencher author of Motion 312, has a tenacity which is … worrisome. All of those who defend women’s right to choose, won in an intense struggle, shudder each time we try to open a door which we thought was well protected. The number of attempts to pierce this door betrays a firm will to conquer it, sooner or later.”
“[Ambrose’s] vote is revolting, as conservative as the Minister of Status of Women might be. The ensuing upheaval following this affront to women illustrates to what extent Ms. Ambrose has broken the link uniting her to the group (women) she is meant to represent and defend against all those who intend, officially or unofficially, to remove their rights. This provocation bordering on treason is worrisome.”
Lise Payette, Quebec’s somewhat passé feminist icon, writes in her weekly column in the same publication:
“The legislators are so distrustful of woman that they want to intervene in their decision-making process: they are ready to question women’s freedom, their capacity to make decisions concerning themselves, their capacity to explain their judgements. …
“[O]nly prehistoric men are unable to understand what women go through when choosing to abort. But of course, among Canadian conservatives, prehistoric men are not lacking. Men are always, as if by chance, in the first ranks in the combat against abortion, in all the countries of the world.”
And then comes her religious revulsion:
“Men, through the multiple religions that they have developed, have always ensured that women were at the lowest part of the ladder, obedient and silent. They have kept the best roles for themselves. Some of them have nevertheless changed with time. They have become more sensitive to women’s demands and also more just. The old guard is still there and they have found refuge in the Canadian Conservative Party. We have to set the clock on time.”
While she might represent some francophone women from her generation who have fought for abortion rights, Ms Payette’s rhetoric is so drenched in visceral loathing of men that it impedes any opening of the mind to any other view of reality.
Unfortunately, Quebec media is far from recognizing Rona Ambrose’s or any other MP’s right to vote according to their conscience, making the hope for a rational discussion on this issue nearly impossible. Francophone media should learn from their anglophone counterparts, at least recognizing what is at stake: an ideology’s attempted sabotage of free-thinking.
Monique David is a Montreal writer. An earlier version of this article was published in the National Post.