An open letter to Ron Cannan, member of Parliament for Kelowna-Lake Country
I know you to be a caring father and a decent, principled and compassionate man. But the government to which you belong has recently done something that is neither caring nor decent, principled and compassionate.
On Oct. 4, International Development Minister Christian Paradis announced the Canadian government will not fund international agencies whose programs might allow war rape victims and child brides to obtain an abortion.
Just a few days before, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told the UN General Assembly that Canada condemns sexual violence against women and girls, including forced marriage and systemic rape.
"Forced marriage is rape," Baird said. "It is violence against women. Early marriage is child rape and violence against young girls."
I applaud his stand.
But then, just a few days later, Paradis placed the government of Canada on the side of those committing violence against women and children. He said Canada will not support the victims as they struggle to recover from their trauma. The violators get a free pass; the victims must cope on their own.
You may recall former safety minister Vic Toews challenge to a critic: "to stand with us or with the child pornographers." With this announcement, Paradis clearly declares that Canada chooses to stand with the rapists, not with their victims.
In Canada, abortion is a matter of informed choice. You and I may disagree on the merits of that choice, but it is a choice. In most of the world, it is not.
According to a UN report cited by the Ottawa Citizen, between 250,000 and 500,000 Rwandan women and girls were raped during the Hutu uprising, resulting in a lifetime of torment and about 20,000 pregnancies. During the Bosnian war, about 50,000 women were raped.
The author, Mohammed Adam, a member of the Citizen's editorial board, called the Democratic Republic of Congo the current "heartland of war rape." International agencies estimate about 200,000 surviving rape victims in the eastern Congo alone.
Admittedly, not all those victims will require abortions. Some are too young to conceive. Zainab Bangura, UN envoy on sexual violence in conflict, told the Security Council of visiting a community where "11 babies between six and 12 months old were raped."
In the same area, Bangura stated, 59 children aged between one and three, and 182 children between five and 15 years old, were raped last year alone.
Many adult rape victims will not need abortions either. The rapists have so devastated their bodies - with spears, branches, bottles, gun barrels - that they will never have babies again.
The world was horrified when six young men in Delhi killed a young woman by ramming an iron bar up her vagina. The same brutality is happening every day in the Congo.
"For me, the war never ended, and it never will," said one rape victim quoted by the Citizen.
Said another, "I am a woman without value, they look down on me, are disgusted with me. I am a woman without a future."
Speaking to the UN General Assembly, Baird claimed, "Our interest is the dignity of humankind."
This is dignity?
"According to Save the Children, which has documented the atrocity across continents," Adam wrote in the Citizen, "the most vulnerable are adolescent girls, and pregnancy has become a leading cause of death among girls aged 15 to 19 because of unsafe abortions."
Ron, on your website you champion October as Women's History Month. You praise students who promoted the International Day of the Girl. And you identify yourself as the father of three daughters.
Since you raised the issue, I have to ask - could you honestly tell a woman of your daughters' age that her rape is her problem, that you expect her to live the rest of her life raising a daily reminder of her humiliation and degradation?
I would hope not. But that is exactly what your government is telling raped women in war zones.
On television, I see you sitting behind the prime minister and senior cabinet ministers. You regularly rise to applaud their policy statements.
I don't expect you to reverse government policy singlehandedly. But I challenge you to remain seated when government ministers stand to defend their decision not to fund international agencies who may include abortion in their services to women raped in war.
Stand with the victims by not standing.
I'll be watching.
(A copy of this letter was sent to MP Ron Cannan by email before publication.)
Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist.