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.