OTTAWA - A Conservative MP who recommended a Diamond Jubilee medal to a jailed anti-abortion crusader could be breaking the law himself, interim Liberal leader Bob Rae says.
Rae says Saskatchewan MP Maurice Vellacott "crossed the line" last week when he nominated Mary Wagner for a medal commemorating Queen Elizabeth's 60 years on the throne.
Wagner is currently in jail in Toronto awaiting trial after forcing her way into an abortion clinic in August — this after she was convicted in March of committing a similar offence last November.
In Rae's opinion, Vellacott went even further over the line this week when he subsequently issued a news release which disclosed correspondence between himself and Wagner's grateful mother.
The release carried the headline: "Intended as edification and encouragement for others."
"By encouraging others, this could clearly be interpreted as inciting others to break the law, which in itself is a criminal offence," Rae told The Canadian Press.
Rae said it's up to the police to determine whether to pursue the matter.
But he added: "The broader question is this: Does Mr. (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper condone members of his caucus encouraging people to harass women seeking medical services and break the law?
"Whether a prosecution would be successful is not in my purview. But the issue of political responsibility is clear enough."
Vellacott declined an interview. But a spokesman, Tim Bloedow, said the MP was not encouraging anyone to engage in one action or another, but instead was simply "lifting their spirits."
The Supreme Court has set a high bar for convicting someone of inciting or counselling others to commit an illegal act, interpreting incitement to mean "actively inducing" someone to commit a crime.
Bernard Dickens, professor emeritus with the University of Toronto's international reproductive and sexual health law program, said he doesn't believe Vellacott has crossed that line. Nor has he ventured into new territory for a politician in praising someone engaged in civil disobedience.
Dickens pointed out that many Canadians, including politicians, supported Dr. Henry Morgentaler during the 1960s and 1970s, when he openly defied the laws that prohibited or limited a woman's right to choose abortion.
Still, the Harper government has prided itself on its "tough on crime" agenda, cracking down on repeat offenders and those who incite crimes.
Just last week, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney issued guidelines under which he could use proposed new powers to bar foreigners from visiting Canada. The guidelines say the new law would apply to those who promote or encourage terrorism, incite hatred against a specific group or "promote, counsel, encourage or incite serious criminal activity."
A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson dodged repeated requests for comment on Rae's assertion that Vellacott may have broken the law himself by inciting others to harass abortion clinics.
Julie Di Mambro responded by explaining how the Jubilee medals are awarded and then referring to comments made by Nicholson last week, before Vellacott issued his latest news release.
New Democrat MP Niki Ashton would not go so far as to say Vellacott may be inciting others to break the law. But she said it's outrageous that Vellacott has rewarded women who've "broken the law to prevent women from accessing what is a fundamental right."
"Obviously there's multiple standards here," she said of the Harper government's apparent indifference to Vellacott's actions.
In addition to Wagner, Vellacott has also nominated Linda Gibbons — another anti-abortion activist who has been charged repeatedly for encroaching on abortion clinics and harassing staff and patients — for a Diamond Jubilee medal.
In the correspondence released Wednesday, Jane Wagner thanks Vellacott for his "great courage in acknowledging the sacrifice" her daughter has made to save the lives of "babies who are about to be killed" and the mothers "who will be forever harmed by aborting their children."
"I long for the day when Canada once again recognizes the sanctity of human life. Then the babies will be safe and my daughter can come home," she writes.
In response, Vellacott tells Jane Wagner he was "moved to tears" by her gratitude.
"What a precious mother you are to accept the mission your daughter is called to, although your mother's heart misses her dearly," he says.
"When I read those words, I thought of all the 'daughters who can't come home' because they were aborted in the womb and the anguished regret of some of those young moms as they realize that.
"I also thought of those 'daughters who can come home' because of the gentle counsel of Mary, as young women glimpsed a ray of hope, saw through the lie and chose life instead of death for their child."
Vellacott signs off with the closing, "In His Majesty's Service."
The recommendations for a Diamond Jubilee medal go to the governor general's office, but the process virtually amounts to a rubber stamp.
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Peter Van Loan
Where The Parties Stand On Abortion
Here's a look at the official position of Canada's federal parties, and how the controversial debate has reared its head in recent years. <em>With files from CBC</em>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly said that he has no interest in addressing the issue head-on.<br><br>"As long as I am prime minister we are not opening the abortion debate," Mr. Harper said in April 2011. "The government will not bring forward any such legislation, and any such legislation that is brought forward will be defeated as long as I am prime minister." (CP)
NDP leader Tom Mulcair has stated that his caucus is unanimous in its opposition to the private member's motion calling on Parliament to look at whether a fetus is a human being, but he plans to force his MPs to vote along party lines.<br><br>"We're resolutely in favour of women's right to choose," Mulcair declared. (CP)
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae has stressed that the abortion issue is matter of individual conscience. Rae expressed his personal opposition to reopening the debate, but said Liberal MPs will be allowed to vote "their conscience" rather than force them to toe the party line.<br><br>"Our position on reproductive choice, my position on reproductive choice is very, very clear. It has been for decades. The position is it's a person's right to choose." (CP)
Planned Parenthood Funding Controversy
Saskatoon-Humboldt MP Brad Trost tells Saskatchewan's ProLife Association in April 2011 that the federal government has decided to cut funding to the International Planned Parenthood Federation, a decision he says was influenced by anti-abortion supporters.<br><br>"I cannot tell you specifically how we used it, but those petitions were very, very useful and they were part of what we used to defund Planned Parenthood because it has been an absolute disgrace that that organization and several others like it have been receiving one penny of Canadian taxpayers' dollars," Trost said.<br><br>Maurice Vellacott, a Conservative MP from Saskatoon-Wanuskewin, also calls for Planned Parenthood to be defunded.<br><br>Vellacott says the controversy over the funding "exposed the lies and destructiveness of IPPF's agenda."<br><br>"It exposes what this abortion giant is surreptitiously trying to achieve worldwide."<br><br>International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda approves funding. (CP)
'Coerced' Abortion Law
Conservative Winnipeg MP Rod Bruinooge proposes "Roxanne's Law" in 2010, a bill that would penalize anyone who "coerced" a woman into ending her pregnancy against her will.<br><br>"It's not just as simple as feeling pressured to get an abortion; there is a lot of discussion of sex-selection abortion these days, as well," Bruinooge told the Winnipeg Free Press. "It's part of the overall topic of intimidation that goes towards a pregnant woman."<br><br>Bruinooge insisted the bill wasn't meant to force Parliament to wade into the debate banned by Harper, stating that nothing in his bill made it illegal to abort a fetus.<br><br>But the Liberals and New Democrats saw it as a backdoor entry into the touchy topic.<br><br>"How is an abortion bill not an abortion bill?" said then-Liberal MP Anita Neville. "This certainly introduces discussion into the House of Commons and it is a rather sneaky way of doing it."<br><br>Then-NDP leader Jack Layton echoed her concerns. "You have got to wonder what is really going on here."<br><br>The bill was defeated in December of 2010, with 178 votes for and 97 against it. Harper and many Conservatives voted against it and 10 Liberals supported it. The NDP was unanimously against it. (Handout)
International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda discloses for the first time in April 2011 that Canada will not fund abortions in its G8 child and maternal health-care initiative for developing countries.<br><br>Keith Martin, then-Liberal MP who had defected from the Tories years earlier, expressed outrage. "People here are perplexed and wondering why Canada is rolling back the clock and depriving women in developing countries from having the same rights to basic health care and access to abortion as women in Canada," he said.<br><br>Then-NDP leader Jack Layton accused the Tories of putting Canada on side with former U.S. president George Bush, who reduced support for abortion-related aid.<br><br>"It's picking up the banner that George Bush used to carry, and I think that that's not something that would be supported by the majority of Canadians, that's for sure," Layton said.<br><br>On June 25, Canada pledged $1.1 billion to a global initiative on maternal and child health for developing countries - a disproportionately high amount compared to other G8 countries. Canada did not allow for its share to be used in the funding of abortions. (CP)