The totalitarian ethos is alive and well when opposition parties are reluctant to oppose, lest they be branded insufficiently ideologically pure
All fundamentalisms have a totalitarian impulse, and secular fundamentalism is not immune. Canada has its share of secular fundamentalists infected with that impulse.
Much attention has been given to the face-covering law passed last week in Quebec. This week, Ontario will pass a law limiting protests against abortion that merits similar attention. In both cases, disproportionate measures are employed to limit freedoms, not to address a pressing public policy issue but as a form of official denunciation, backed by the fierce power of state coercion. One of the signs that totalitarian winds are blowing is when political dissent disappears, with the opposition parties in full cahoots with the government.
The niqab ban law in Quebec, Bill 62, borrows from European countries, where social stresses associated with mass Muslim immigration have included regular violence and even terror attacks. Even in such circumstances it is hard to justify such an intrusion on personal liberty, all the more so religious liberty. But such circumstances do not prevail in Quebec, and what is proposed by the government is much more a matter of expressing disapproval of a minority religious choice, indeed a minority choice within the Muslim community itself. It is not the government’s place to express such disapproval.
Canada has its share of secular fundamentalists
Quebec’s governing Liberal Party has the support of the province’s opposition parties. The totalitarian ethos is alive and well when opposition parties are reluctant to oppose, lest they be branded insufficiently ideologically pure.
The same dynamic is at work with Ontario’s recently-passed Bill 163, which the opposition parties worked with the governing Liberals to fast-track into law. Particularly disappointing, though true to form, is Patrick Brown, leader of the Progressive Conservatives, who is busily preparing himself to be premier by adopting as many of the policies of the incumbent as his principles will allow. To date, his principles have proved remarkably capacious.
Particularly disappointing, though true to form, is Patrick Brown
Bill 163 prohibits protests at abortion clinics. This was already accomplished for decades by means of a temporary injunction, which were first granted when Bob Rae was premier of Ontario. But now the Wynne government wants to make it a matter of statutory law.
What does the Bill 163 prohibit? Impeding access to the clinic? Assaulting abortionists? Threatening clients? It does rather more than that, all of which is already prohibited by law. It will be an offence – with a fine of up to $5000 and six months in jail – to stand within 50 metres of a clinic and “continuously and repeatedly observe” it for the purpose of dissuading an abortion service provider from providing abortion services, even if the person says nothing, offers no literature, carries no signs. It will be illegal to silently hold a sign, or to hand out a brochure. It will be possible to be arrested for faxing a letter to a pharmacy, seeking to dissuade it from selling abortion pills. It remains legal to fax a letter encouraging it to sell abortion pills.
Indeed, the act makes illegal any “act of disapproval concerning issues related to abortion services, by any means, including oral, written or graphic means” within 50 metres of a clinic (or other permitted distances, not exceeding 150 metres). As written, having a conversation a few blocks away from an abortion clinic that the state deems insufficiently enthusiastic about abortion could make you liable to prosecution.
It will be illegal to silently hold a sign, or to hand out a brochure
Canada already has the world’s most extreme abortion license, with abortion on demand legal for any reason at any time. But the totalitarian impulse seeks to enforce approval, or at least criminalize dissent. How far does Bill 163 reach? The police could arrest you if, a block down from an abortion clinic, you wore a t-shirt saying, “Canada should adopt Sweden’s abortion laws.”
Will it happen? Likely not. Just as it is unlikely that a daycare will refuse to return little Muhammad to his niqab-wearing mother next week, after she has been picking him up there for several years. But the law permits it. And it is considered politically disadvantageous to dissent from the secular fundamentalist orthodoxy.
A wise citizen is wary when all parties in the legislature agree upon something. Usually it’s time to watch your wallet. And your fundamental freedoms.
By Father Raymond De Souza