Radio Freethinker

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Posts Tagged ‘Abortion’

RFT Ep 254 – No Bananas Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 27, 2014

Download the episode here! 


Too big to jail

GM Fine

In the wake of revelations the GM executive knowing allowed a car to go into production with a defect that would kill people…and no one charged? Well, there seems to be two legal system, one for you and me and one for corporations (and the rich). We get put into jail, they get a fine and have go back to doing what they do.


<note: at the end of this segment I confused two issues, one the call to arms is a thing in the USA…check it out here.

And my Canadian call to arms was actually meant for the “media consolodation” segments, you can be active here.>

Further Reading:



Thoughts about being neighborly in a global community from a Prairie Correspondent.


UnFair Election Law

Fair Elections Dragon

Just days away for become the law of the land, we look and what was change and what we lost.

Further Reading:

Media consolidation


Canada has the highest levels of media concentration in the world, we also have the most vertically integrated media in the world. We look at how this harms society and what we can do the fix it!

Note that Corus is controlled by Shaw, so Shaw really has a 32.3% share.  Giving the Big 3, a 75% share. Source CRTC

Note that Corus is controlled by Shaw, so Shaw really has a 32.3% share.
Giving the Big 3, a 89% share.
Source CRTC

Further Reading:

And what one media source was reporting on this? You guessed it the CBC

Justin and the Pope

Justin Trudeau exercises dictatorial powers to deny an anti-abortion candidate from running as a liberal, he then get threatened with excommunication for his “pro-choice” views…so, we are left wondering is religious people should be banned from public office?
Friday, May 23, 2014
Further Reading:

“Yes, We have no more bananas”

It is likely that with a decade our beloved proof of god, the Cavendish banana will be on the verge of extinction…how did it happen and what can be done about it? Plus, why doesn’t banana pudding taste like bananas?
Further Reading:

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Moral Dilemma – Brain dead pregnant mother

Posted by Don McLenaghen on January 22, 2014

images (2)

I heard a sad but ethically and philosophically interesting story the other day. It seems that a mother to be, a Marlise Muñoz suffered a major stroke that has left her brain-dead. The hospital has refused to turn off life support, even after the urging of the woman’s spouse and parents who stated that she explicitly stated she did not want to remain on prolonged life support if she was ever to be found in the state she was now in…i.e. brain dead with no hope of recovery.

The reason the hospital gives for not turning off life support is a Texas law that prevents them from doing so if the person in question is pregnant.

At the time of her stroke, Marlise was 14 weeks pregnant. She is now 19 weeks. It is legal, if almost impossible to get an abortion in Texas prior to the 24th week. But is this an abortion?

The now single parent of a 15 month old, seems to see it that way. I will not try and get into the mind of the bereaved spouse, but because he is pursuing legal actions, his conviction that his life would be better and that honouring what he sees as his departed wife’s wishes to be primary…well, I trust he is doing what he sees as right.

I am a strong supporter of women’s choice…thanks to global overpopulation, I would even say I am pro-abortion. That said, I would think it wrong for anyone other than the woman to make that choice. It seems obvious that Marlise is incapable of giving consent, so calling this an abortion somehow seems wrong.

One could make an analogy to the mentally challenged who may have an abortion forced upon them by a guardian…but from what I can find out, a guardian may prevent an abortion but not authorize one. So, again it seems unclear at best, if the spouse can make the hospital abort his brain-dead wife.

That said, I have often argued that until a certain magical point, a fetus is just a tumor…not a person at all and thus, the woman’s rights take precedence. But in this case…well, she is for all intents and purposes dead. Dead people have no rights…so does this mean that, tumour or not, it’s living and thus now takes ethical precedence?

Well, maybe. Now comes the cost-benefit argument. Yes, life is theoretically priceless, but for those, especially in the USA, who cannot afford that medication, operation or treatment and are left to die…well, could the resource be better used?

That said, this leads to the opposite problem. What if the hospital wanted to turn off life support?

How much money should the hospital spend…money that could be used to save other patients…how many resources should be expended to quote, ‘save this one possible life’? What if the father insisted ….

The reality of the situation is that the likelihood that this potential life will be born healthy…or born at all, is pretty slim. At the end of the day, there is greater probability of a still birth or a child with severe birth defects.

From the research I did, and this is based on cases where the mother was within a month or so of viability.

What is viability you may ask? Most physician hold that at least 24 week is the earliest a fetus can be deemed a baby…i.e. can be removed from the mother and kept alive. The cases I checked out used a 25 week marker.

So, it’s not that simple. There is a parallel case in England where a brain-dead woman, 15 weeks pregnant, gave birth to a health child at 27 weeks. That said, another women in 2005 was kept viable…it seems wrong to say alive when all that was alive was a uterus…anyway, that child died 5 weeks later.

It’s an ethically tough question. Less obvious as a regular abortion case or even euthanasia plea. Ultimately, in my humble opinion, the three things should be given weight…

1)      What is the likelihood of delivering a healthy child…if the odds are greater than, oh I don’t know 60%…seems like that takes precedence?

2)      Will the resource used to keep the mother alive, likely cause the death of another? If keeping one person alive (mother or fetus) results in the death of 2 or more others…well, then pulling the plug seems prudent

3)      How much anguish will it cause the survivors? If the other questions seem unanswerable or a tossup, one should take into consideration that the surviving spouse may not have the resources to take care of the potential child…especially if it may likely be a special needs child…or that the idea, to them, that their loved one is being tortured by remaining on life support…then pull the plug.
Conversely, if the survivor sees this a one last way to keep a part of their spouse alive…to turn tragedy into a future, then keeping her alive seems valid.

What are your thought? Share them in our comments section.

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RFT Ep 240 – Polar Vortex Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on January 14, 2014

Download the episode here! 


Don’s Rant:

Don’s Rant’s about the cold snap, what is a polar vortex and why this is NOT proof the climate change is bogus.

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Moral Dilemma’s –

Abortion vs. Euthanasia – a spouses dilemma

In a new segment Moral Dilemma’s, we discuss the sad case of a pregnant woman who suffered an aneurysm and is now brain-dead. Now there is a legal fight between the spouse who wants to honour his dead wife’s wish to not be kept alive via extraordinary means and the hospital that is legally bound to keep her on life support as long as she is pregnant.

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Fukushima, Chernobyl and Nuclear power or Fossil fuels – which is deadlier?


Which is deadlier nuclear power or fossil fuel? We first examine Fukushima 1000 days later. We compare Fukushima to Chernobyl…which was worse? and finally which is actually a greater danger to the global health – nuclear power or fossil fuel.

Here is a panel of Simon Fraser University professors assembled on Monday, April 11 at the Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue to discuss the ripple effects of Japan’s nuclear crisis.

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Skeptic Highlights –

Sexism, Capitalism & the Fight for Liberation

When: 11:30am until 12:30pm – Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Where:  Room A218, Langara College
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The Revolution Will Not Be Circumcised

When: 5:00pm – Friday, January 17, 2014
Where:  Buchanan A104, UBC
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January Skeptics in the Pub Downtown

When: 7:30pm until 10:30pm – Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Where:  Railway Club’s back bar
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January Café Sci: Fluviatili Pisces Diversi

When: 7:30pm – Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Where:  Railway Club’s back bar
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Radio Freethinker Episode 213 – Drone Strike Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on June 4, 2013


This week:
– Micheal Douglas blames oral sex for his cancer…was he right?,
– Humanist report – In praise of Morgentaler,
– Super-computers discover HIV’s protein secrets
, and
– A skeptical look at drones

Download the episode here!


Michael Douglas blames oral sex for his cancer…was he right?

1176390605_1461Michael Douglas made headlines this week when he claimed that oral sex caused his throat cancer. Well, as it turns out he may be right. One cause of cancer is HPV or Human papillomavirus. It is widely know to cause cervical cancer. What is less well known is that is 90% of Anal cancers are HPV caused and 2-2 % of oral cancers can be traced back to HPV.

Douglas praised oral sex and vows to continue the practice. This has a secondary important because many religious conservatives are attempting to block the use of a vaccine that could wipe out HPV because they are worried such a vaccine could promote promiscuity…and TEENS HAVE SEX!!!! Risking your child’s life over a religious conviction…if there was a vaccine for such lunacy!

Find out more:

HPV causes of cancer

HPV causes of cancer

Humanist report – In praise of Morgentaler

Ian Bushfield joins us again for another Humanist Report.

gallery-hm-01In the wake of the death of Henry Morgentaler last week, we discuss his role in improving the health and safety of women in Canada, his fight against the legal and political systems of Canada and how Morgentaler is at the heart of the Humanist movement in Canada.

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Super-computers discover HIV’s protein secrets

ku-xlargeScientists are focusing on attacking HIV via targeting its viral casing or capsid. The capsid is critically important for HIV replication, so knowing its structure in detail could lead us to new drugs that can treat or prevent the infection. The precise structure—how the thousands of copies of a protein (p24) actually meshed together to form the capsid—remained a mystery

Enter, Blue Waters…a $108 million supercomputer at the University of Illinois. The computer has 49,000 AMD CPUs and can handle one quadrillion floating point operations every second.

Blue Waters solved the problem and the results were publish this week in Nature.

This discovery could lead to an entirely new suite of treatment alternatives and could finally outpace HIV’s ability to rapidly evolve resistance to current enzyme-based medications.

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A skeptical look at drones

web-tueedcar12co1Ethan takes a look at drones and the ethical, technical and philosophic arguments why we should be afraid…very afraid. Turns out, its not the drones that are the worry but the governments that use them.

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Skeptic Highlights

Celebrate World Oceans Day

Join the Vancouver Aquarium and WWF-Canada on June 8 for fun activities and to learn how you can make a difference for the health of our oceans. Rumors are there will be cake!

Full scheduled of the days events here.

When: Saturday, June 8, 10am – 5pm

Where: Vancouver Aquarium

Cost: Included with purchase of Aquarium entry

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When Dogma Kills

Posted by Ethan Clow on November 26, 2012

Here’s a sad example of the harm of religious dogma. By now you’ve probably heard of the death of Savita Halappanavar. We discussed this story on Radio Freethinker last week.

Savita was dentist who lived in Galway, Ireland and was 17 weeks pregnant, she went to the hospital after experiencing back pains, she was found to be miscarrying. After some time in agonizing pain, she asked for the pregnancy to be terminated,  she was refused because quote “because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told, “this is a Catholic country”.”

She had to suffer through 2 and a half more days of agony until the fetus died and was removed. Savita was then moved to high intensity care, where she later died of septicaemia.

What moves this beyond the realm of terrible tragedy is the statements from Savita’s husband, Praveen, who said that when they learned that the baby was dying as a result of the miscarriage and after being informed that there was nothing they could do to save the baby, Savita asked for an abortion. But the hospital staff refused, saying the baby would die naturally within a few hours.

But that’s not what happened, instead the trauma continued for days. Even when Savita became critically ill, the staff still refused to abort the pregnancy.

Because of Ireland’s anti-abortion laws, two lives were lost and a family was destroyed.

Not only is abortion illegal in Ireland, it’s illegal for doctors to tell patients about their abortion options in other countries, it’s also illegal for people to travel to another country for an abortion. The only way an abortion is legal in Ireland is if it’s necessary to save the mother’s life. However the wording of the laws have been kept intentionally vague to prevent doctors from administering abortions.

Despite the fact that in 2010 European Court of Human Rights judgment demanded Ireland clarify the status of abortion in Irish law.

The abortion laws in Ireland are directly tied to the nation being a stalwart “Catholic” and “Christian” nation. The regressive views of the Catholic church on abortion have been well documented in the past so we don’t need to spend too much time rehashing them. The implications of these abortion laws is a demonstrable affront on the autonomy of women in Ireland and access to medical treatment that the rest of the population enjoys. It should also be noted that the hospital was in fact, a Catholic hospital.

Getting back to the situation in Ireland, Savita’s death has sparked international outrage and protests in Dublin. One Indian newspaper went so far as to suggest that the hospital murdered Savita.

Large protests, occurring twice over the span of 3 days in Dublin have reignited the debate over abortion and according to some reports, have pushed the public opinion to having a more liberal view of abortion. Seeking to address international criticism, Ireland announced its fact-finding investigation would be led by Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, a Sri Lankan-born expert on maternal care who is head of obstetrics and gynecology at St. George’s Hospital in London

However, the reality is that any review could take months, and the Irish government is in no hurry to address its antiquated laws on abortion.

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Radio Freethinker Episode 190 – Killer Energy Shot Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on November 20, 2012

This week:
Women’s issues in the secular movement,
Ireland’s ‘pro-life’ laws kill,

– Rogue Planet found, and
– Killer Energy Drinks – is Caffeine toxic?

Download the episode here!

Women’s issues in the secular movement

We have special guest Free Thinker, Stephanie Van Dyk from UBC’s Freethinker’s club talk about the club and the impact the ‘women’ and ‘skepticism’ debate has had on our local club .

Find out more:

Ireland’s ‘pro-life’ laws kill

Over 20 years ago the Irish Supreme Court made abortion, under curtain conditions, available to women in Ireland and yet the Irish government has not altered any of its laws. This purposeful neglect result recently in the death of a women who died because she was refused a abortion on a miscarried pregnancy. She was told “this is a catholic country” and we don’t do abortions here. We discuss the history, politics and ethics of the Irish position on abortion.

Find out more:

Rogue Planet found

Scientist have discovered a rogue planet…that’s cool and we talk about the science and wonder of the news.

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Killer Energy Drinks – is Caffeine toxic?

There has been much reporting in the news about how teenagers have been dropping like flies..why? They drank energy drinks. We talk about the real risks behind caffeine poisoning, the hype over energy drinks and the need to better education to ensure people now how to mix caffeine, alcohol and recreational drugs.

Find out more:

Skeptical Highlights:

NerdFest: A Night of Medieval Fantasy

This event will be a fun filled night of medieval fantasy with some of the best Vancouver has to offer. A variety show consisting of stage performers, live music, magic, sword fighting, short films, and even a costume contest.

Highlights include live music by local folk-metal band Scythia, belly dancing by Mahsafoun, burlesque by Precious Metal, fire dancing by Vespor Sephony, weapon-arts demonstration by Western martial-arts school Academie Duello and Vancouver Traditional Martial Arts Academy.

Vendors of all types will be setting up booths selling their goods and services that will bring out the nerd in us all. This is an annual event and something not to be missed!

Date: Friday, Nov 23, 2012, 6:00 pm

Location: Biltmore Cabaret – 2755 Prince Edward, Vancouver

Admission: $15

End of Life Care – Assisted Suicide

Assisted suicide is a sensitive issue being challenged in the Canadian courts on multiple levels. Is it moral to assist in the death of another person, or is there neither a time nor a place for such things? If it is conditionally moral, then what are those conditions?

The UBC Freethinkers are hosting a night devoted to the topic with an opportunity for discussion and Q&A. We are very excited to have three guest speakers for the night coming from a diverse background to aid in the discussion.

Date: Wednesday, Nov 21, 2012, 5 pm

Location: 221 West Mall Swing Space – UBC – 2175 West Mall

Admission: by donation


Russel Ogden – Sociology and Criminology — Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Will Johnston, MD – Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
Dr. Scott Anderson – Department of Philosophy — UBC

Science of Harm Reduction Drug Policy by Dr. Thomas Kerr

Friday, November 30, 2012
Room A102 of Buchanan Building, Block A, 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver

Dr. Thomas Kerr is Co-Director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE), and an Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of AIDS at the University of British Columbia.

Harm reduction drug policy has become a politically polarizing issue, which often leaves the science behind the rhetoric. With recent court challenges over Vancouver’s safe injection site, Insite; society must become scientifically informed on what strategies are effective in treating addiction and improving public health.

This talk will take place in room A102 of Buchanan building block A at UBC. There is a suggested donation of $5 to $10.

Check out the FaceBook Event

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Is gender selection wrong?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on February 10, 2012

An editorial in a major Canadian journal urges doctors to conceal the gender of a fetus from all pregnant women until 30 weeks to prevent sex-selective abortion by Asian immigrants.

“Female infanticide happens in India and China by the millions, but it also happens in North America in numbers large enough to distort the male to female ratio in some ethnic groups,” said the editorial by interim editor-in-chief Rajendra Kale.
The article published int he Canadian Medical Association Journal cites US census data from 2000 that shows male-biased sex ratios among US-born children of Asian parents, and a study of 65 Indian women in the US from 2004-2009 that showed 89 percent of them terminated pregnancies with female fetuses. That strikes me as an extremely small sample size, I mean how many “Asian” women got pregnant between 2004 till 2009…millions I suspect; 65 people seems easily prone to ‘outlier’ effect. But, that is not important to this post. I am more interesting in the general question – is gender selection wrong?

Canada in 2004 outlawed fertility practices that would increase the likelihood that an embryo will be a certain sex, or that would identify an in-vitro embryo by sex for any reason other than to diagnose a sex-linked disorder or disease Kale said the Canadian medical establishment needs to go further, and make express rulings that would ban fetal sex disclosure before seven months, when it is too late for an abortion.

Alexia Conradi, head of the pro-choice Women’s Federation of Quebec, agreed that abortive sex-selection is “unacceptable,” but questioned the motivation of those who support formal measures to prevent it.
“Any types of restrictions on abortion are met with skepticism by the pro-choice community generally,” she said. “A more appropriate intervention with sex-selection is to do more education, especially if we are talking about son preference, rather than seek to limit women’s choices or access to information.”

Okay, I understand that pro-choice people would be suspicion of any attempt to limit abortion; but the fact remains abortion IS legal in this country…more specifically, it is seen as a medical condition and a matter between patient and doctor.

So, my question is; if abortion is legal then why is gender selection wrong. I grant there is a ‘smell-test’ failure here; I feel it’s wrong but I fail to see the stronger argument why? Some will argue it is discriminatory against women. And that would be true if it’s a ‘post-birth’ child; however the argument that justifies abortion is that although we may say a fetus is a potential person it is NOT actually a person…so the argument saying it is discrimination against women seems to fail because in the say way it is NOT actually a women.

Now some have argued that although technically it’s not a ‘crime’ against the female fetus instead the practice propagates in society a devaluing of women in general…that if female fetus’ were deemed disposable that mentality will pollute the general culture and women (real women) will be devalued. That it is the secondary effect that must be prevented and thus limiting women’s right to choose…their right to even know the gender…should be abridged.

I am also uncomfortable with the fact that this seems close to legislating morality. We atheist often criticize and condemn the religious types for trying to legislate morality (such as banning same-sex marriage) but how is this different? One could argue that its like racism or the civil rights movement of the 60’s; but gender selection is not a major issue in Canada as a whole and the law would apply to everyone. Racism was (and still is) a institutional and ingrained aspect of our society requiring legislation of morality because it was so lacking in the society…I don’t see the parallel, maybe its appropriate for India or China where these are systemic and major issues.

If we accept this legislation, it will of course have secondary effects. We are saying that women cannot be trusted with this power over their own bodies…does this not also devalue women? I am unsure where I stand on this. I accept it has a bad smell to it and yet i think I cannot morally or logically say I think gender selection, in itself, is wrong although I trust myself not to fall into the traditional conservative mentality that would make me wish to abort a daughter and would advise my friend likewise.

Your thoughts?

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Protests in Spain over Pope’s visit and Abortion Forgiveness Week

Posted by Ethan Clow on August 18, 2011

The Pope just can’t get a break. You’d think that when visiting a predominantly Catholic country like Spain (the Catholic population of Spain is 94%), he would be greeted with cheers and adulation. Not protests and snarky atheists.

But protesting is what a large group of Spaniards are doing.

The Pope is in Madrid to celebrate World Youth Day (WYD), which is a Catholic festival for youth, which is August 16th to the 21st. Organizers of the event expect up to a million people will join in the celebration which will culminate in an open air mass by the Pope on Sunday.

However, large numbers of people in Spain aren’t too happy about this. A large percent of the dissatisfaction comes from the huge cost of the event. The 15-M Group in Spain, an anti-austerity spending group which takes issue with spending cuts so social welfare and anti-democratic actions.

“We are not angry about the Pope’s visit, which some will agree with and others won’t, but rather over the financing of it with public money, especially at a time when many services are being cut because it’s necessary to curb government spending,” 15-M said in a statement. – source

Event organizers are stating that most of the money for the event is being funded by the pilgrims themselves, nevertheless, in a Spain that is facing serious economic hurdles, a visit by the Pope is not what people consider prudent economic planning. Apparently people have been carrying banners that read “The pope travels, the pope pays”. Critics of the visit have put the cost of the whole event around 100m euros ($144m) but that hasn’t been confirmed by the government.

In addition, there are a number of the other groups protesting the Pope’s visit, including large groups of Gay Rights activists who oppose Catholic ideology.

According to this BBC article reports how protesters have been clashing with the pilgrims in Madrid’s Sol Square, there were also reports of protesters clashing with police, although I haven’t heard too much in terms of violence.

Protesters fill much of Madrid's landmark Puerta del Sol square/Susana Vera

The Police in Spain did arrest a young man from Mexico who was allegedly planning to gas the anti-Pope protesters.  The man was a chemist student and had made several threatening remarks online and was found in possession of “two notebooks with chemical equations not related to his studies and a computer “allegedly used to recruit on the internet”, police said.” –source

Whether the threat was real or not remains to be seen. However, it does point to the extreme tension the Pope’s visit is provoking.

Along those lines, there is another issue I’m sure many are upset with. The Pope has offered a six-day abortion forgiveness option. In the divine wisdom that only the Vatican could come up with, over 200 confessional booths are being set up in Madrid for women who have had abortions. Of course, one must thank the Catholic Church for this, after all, abortion is a sin worthy of excommunication and you know what that means. Hell. Forever.

You really have to hand it to the Catholics. For a religion that’s leadership is exclusively male, they sure know how to respond to a situation that they lack the necessary organs to even experience.

In an article on Slate Magazine by Amanda Marcotte, a very good point is made. This is a very expensive abortion get-out-of-hell-card. For Catholics in America, Canada or elsewhere, to get your forgiveness you need a last minute ticket to Madrid, find accommodations, food, and not to mention, forget about whatever was going on in your life right now, because you have to go to Madrid to be forgiven! Of course an less expensive option would be to stop being Catholic. That doesn’t cost anything.

I shouldn’t need to point out the huge hypocrisy of the Catholic Church holding women to some higher standard about what they do with their bodies when they can’t even control the pedophilia within their own organization. Maybe that’s why the Catholic Church hasn’t been able to stop these sexual predators, a few moments in a confessional booth appears to be the perfect cure for anything bad. “Are you sorry that you raped that child?” “yes” “Are you going to do it again?” “No” “Good, I’ll send you to another parish.”

I wonder if the Catholic Church has a special dispensation for women who were raped by clergy or those within the church? Surely they don’t have to be forgiven for having an abortion? Surely these poor women wouldn’t have to fly all the way to Madrid to be “forgiven” for removing the off spring of a rapist?

I’m sure any moment now the Catholic Church will make such an announcement.

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Why should I care about the Supreme Court?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 18, 2011

Supreme Court of Canada

Where does it fit in?

Although established at the inception of our nation, the original the Supreme Court of Canada was not supreme; in fact until the British Privy Council was abolished in 1949 it was last court of appeal. There was a sort of limbo for our legal system until the repatriation of our constitution in 1982 at which point the court truly was supreme. Since 1982 not only does the Supreme Court rule on the letter of the law; they also interpret the meaning of and implementation of the Constitution and Charter of Rights as well as a unique role of answering ‘reference questions’. Reference questions occur when the Governor General (on the behalf of the PM) asks the court if a proposed law would be constitutional or not; a prejudgment of law as it were.

Why are they important?

Although parliament may make law, how that law is actually enforced in our country or IF it is allowed to remain a law at all lies in the hands of the Supreme Court. One great example was the legality of Abortion; for decades the Supreme Court upheld limitations on abortion however in 1988 the court struck down our laws and to this date we have no law on abortion…we are one of the few countries that treat abortion as a purely medical matter between doctor and patient. Similar landmarks occurred with regard to the recognition of Aboriginal rights or the definition of hate speech and the limitation of free speech.

Who are they?

Currently there are 9 members of the SC of C. By law, 3 must be appointed from Quebec, by tradition 3 from Ontario, 2 from “the West” and 1 from the Maritimes. For a case to be heard by the court, it must first be approved of by a committee of at least 3 justices. This means that before any case even reaches the Supreme Court it must first be approved by a this committee; this is the first opportunity for the ideology of the justices can influence the way our constitution and laws are implemented.

Once a case is approved, it is then heard by any from 5 to 9 judges unlike the American Court there cases are heard by the complete 9 court members. At the moment, of the 9 justices 6 have been appointed by the Liberals and 3 by the Conservatives however in the next 4 years, 4 more members are to be replaced due to forced retirement and that does not include those who quite for other reasons. This point is brought home by the recent announcement of Justice Louise Charron who is retiring early for personal reasons. At present these retirements will allow Harper to appoint at least 7 of the 9 justices.

How are they appointed?

First, there are two parts of our Canadian constitution – legislative and convention. The legislative are those parts of our constitution that are written down…such as the Constitution Act of 1982 or our Charter of Rights and Freedoms…they are physical documents that set down in words the rule of law. Another part is the convention part…those procedures that are followed not because they are prescribed in law but by tradition…they have always been done that way.

An example of this is the Governor General does not HAVE to sign a bill into law; there is no legal requirement or a legal means for the Parliament to sidestep the necessity of the Royal Assent. However, by convention the GG has never refused to give consent to a bill passed by Parliament although one Lieutenant Governor did refuse to sign three laws in 1937 that he felt were unconstitutional; a belief that was upheld by the Supreme Court/Privy Council.

The appointment of Justices to the Supreme Courts largely falls into the convention part of our constitution. Technically the GG appoints them on the advice of the Privy Council…in fact they are selected solely by the whim of Prime Minister. However by law[1] they must be members of the Bar (i.e. lawyers or judges) and by convention, the PM selects the Justices from candidates presented to him by a judicial advisory committee of the provinces ‘due’ a justice (to maintain the balance mentioned earlier. For “the west”, each province rotates, so one justice comes from BC, the next from Alberta…etc.; this also occurs in the Maritimes).

There have be over time many complaints about the power invested in the PM to “stack the deck” with ideologically friendly justices, that there was no input from the Parliament in the appointment and there was a lack of transparency in the process. In response to these criticism, Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2004 attempted to set up a committee to review nominees however this process became politicised when the Conservatives on the committee refused to sign off on the report from the committee because they felt the powers they had were insufficient; desiring a system that emulated the process in the USA where justices must be voted on by the senate prior to appointment…a process that is now considered a hyper-partisan inquisition. In response, the process was amended so as to allow the committee to select the “top three” candidates from a list of 7, one of which the PM would then select. Once in power, Harper did set up a review committee for his first nominee but quickly abandoned the idea and appointed the nominee of his choice stating that the process was too slow and political.

Lesson south of the border

caveat – it has been brought to my attention that the following paragraph is presented in a less than flattering light with some literary and political licence. As my readers probably know by now my political leanings are a little left of extreme left, so in my discussion of the US Supreme Court, I hope you will understand that I believe what I am writing to be honest and fair is not exactly balanced however one may wish to read it with “a grain of salt”[2]>

After years of lobbying and concerted effort the American Supreme Court has become what appears to be the judicial branch of the Republican Party promoting a right-wing corporatist agenda. For example, Clarence Thomas[3] and Antoni Scalia[4] have been noteworthy and active participants at a number of Neo-con gatherings with Thomas’s wife being a lobbyist for the prominent Tea-party group[5]. Having successive far right justices being promoted to the court (Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito being the worst with John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy not much better), the current court has become infamous for its patrician decisions including what has been called the Supreme Court coup d’état of 2000, the Citizens United case and many more. Don’t get me wrong, with the possible exception of the ruling on the “Florida Election Recount of 2000”, the courts are not ‘creating’ law but how they interpret laws and how they word their verdicts have wide ranging implications. My point is to show why and how the justices are important.

Let’s take a look at judicial philosophy; in the US there is a debate about how the constitution should be interpreted (one I am sure will become common here). On the one side you have what are called “living constitutionalist”, who believe that when the constitution was written the authors accepted that as time changes the interpretation of the constitution would change…that like a living creature the constitution (and the law it would give rise to) would evolve. A great example is the status of African Americans and their civil liberties. As society changed so did the depth and breadth of civil liberties.

On the other hand there is what is called Literalist or Originalist. They hold that what is written is written in stone, which comparing the constitution to a ‘living creature’ one would have to be, using the words of Justice Scalia, an “idiot”[6]. To them it is from the original meaning of the words used and not the intent of the founders, which should form the basis of interpreting the constitution. For example, capital punishment has been largely banned from civilized countries because it is seen as ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ and therefore a violation of civil rights. Justice Scalia would argue that capital punishment, at the time of the writing of the applicable part of the constitution (8th amendment), was not seen as cruel or unusual punishment therefor it does not violate civil rights and should therefore be legal[7].

Who is on the court can have a huge impact not only on what they rule but on what they see as their powers of interpretation…the very philosophical foundation of the rule of law.

Beyond how the constitution or laws are interpreted, the scope of the ruling can also have a wide ranging impact. In the US (they tend to provide more colourful, extreme and clear examples) the case of Citizens United was to determine that a third party could release a documentary about Hilary Clinton during the Primaries in the US. Clinton got an injunction because of the bias nature of the film, Clinton argued it was actual political advertising and as such violated electioneering laws. The case in the narrow sense was an issue of broadcasting rights but out of character for this court, Chief Justice Roberts decided to rule on an issue not actually part of the plaintiffs case; that being the financing of the film. This was unusual because the plaintiff (Citizens United) had already abandoned facial complaints[8]. In a landmark decision the Roberts case essentially struck down election advertising rules.

Who is on the court can have a huge impact not only on what they rule but on what they see as the question.

In Canada, our constitution is seen differently than the American one. We follow, for now, a doctrine of interpretation called Living Tree Doctrine or Doctrine of Progressive Interpretation. Lord Sankey stated: “The British North America Act planted in Canada a living tree capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits.” This means that the Constitution cannot be interpreted in the same way as an ordinary statute. Rather, it must be read within the context of society to ensure that it adapts and reflects changes.

Why should skeptics worry?

The worry we may have is that as PM, Harper has shown signs of being both extremely controlling and dictatorial. A number of political commentators have expressed concern and surprise at the level of control Harper has maintained over his party and the level of contempt for parliament in general. Remember the Conservatives were convicted of contempt of Parliament in part for lying to parliament and in part for refusing to provide government information to committees over public policy. In articles written in the Globe and Mail[9] and the National Post[10], concern was raised over the possible radical direction the court may take on if Harper’s selection, for the Supreme Court of the land, should be of a similar ideological mind as his own.

IF the fears that he does have intention, now that he has a majority to promote a neo-con agenda, the Supreme Court may be the only restraining force left in the land. Now although personally I find most of the conservative government’s policies wrong, many of them are open to valid debate this is not why I fear what Harper may do to our judiciary; what I worry about is the likelihood that Harper will take his tendencies to ideologically dictate political policy to the judiciary and that some of those ideologies should be of concern not just to leftist but skeptics in general. Some issues that may be of concern: Harper seems to be a Climate Change Denier, there have been many members of his party who wish to put restriction on marriage and abortion based on religious grounds, G20 has shown that there is a lack of respect of political and individual rights, and with his conviction of contempt of parliament and election fraud one must wonder where he may lead the country in the future.

As skeptics we must remain informed, aware and poised to action. We should insist that appointees to the Supreme Courts…any court…should base their decision on law or on science based principles…and not on political ideology or religious theology.

Upcoming cases…

Charter of Rights – Reasonable limits prescribed by law [11]

Legality of the Safe injection site – Does the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act violate the Charter of Rights because enforcement has grossly disproportionate effects on addicted persons

Hate Speech –

The Christian Truth Activists distributed four flyers in the mailboxes of various homes in Saskatoon and Regina in 2001 and 2002. Four persons who received the flyers filed complaints alleging that the material in them “promotes hatred against individuals because of their sexual orientation”. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission held the pamphlets, which referred to “sodomy marriage” and graphically described sexual behaviours in a derogatory manner, was hate speech.

The Christian Truth Activists argue first it does not count for it does not single out a group based on sexual orientation but a sexual behaviour and that further that IF the law does apply to sexual behaviour, then the definition of sexual orientation is overbroad in its definition.

Environmental Law[12]

Abitibi-Bowater Inc. has argued that a statutory duty to remove environmental contamination may be extinguished under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act like a commercial debt. Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act is a Federal Act that allows financially troubled corporations the opportunity to restructure their affairs to avoid bankruptcy. The Government of Newfoundland issued several environmental protection orders for Abitibi to clean up land it had contaminated by its large scale industrial activities. Abitibi argued that when it filed for a restructuring it freed itself of the obligation of the clean-up orders. The court must determine if government orders are legally equivalent to ‘commercial debit’ claims.

Intellectual Property[13]

Bell Canada argued that providing previews consisting of excerpts of works is fair dealing for the purpose of research that does not infringe copyright.

Some commercial internet sites that sell downloads of works allow users to preview the works. A preview typically consists of an extract taken from the work, for example a 30-second extract of a musical track, streamed online and accessible to consumers. On October 18, 2007, the Copyright Board of Canada decided that royalties should be collected for these communications.

Charter of Rights – Freedom of conscience and religion[14]

Mandatory attendance to an “ethics and religion” class – Ethics and Religious Culture program became mandatory in elementary schools. Based on the experience of an older child, a family requested an exemption for the course because serious harm disruption caused by forced, premature contact with a series of beliefs that were mostly incompatible with those of the family, as well as the adverse effect on the religious faith of the members of this family. The school board refused to grant the exemption.

[5] The consulting firm she set up in 2011 was Liberty Consulting; previously she was employed by Tea Party-affiliated Liberty Central and earlier by the right-wing Heritage Foundation.

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