In this week’s print edition there is a short profile under this byline of Senator Nancy Ruth, the last paragraph of which contains a surprise twist.
Four weeks ago, as is well-documented, Ms. Ruth advised a gathering of aid groups to “shut the f— up” about Canada’s funding of access to safe abortion overseas (in this week’s Maclean’s, you’ll see she admits saying so was a mistake, even if she stands by the concern she was intending to convey). Those comments drew an official rebuke from the Liberal side. But, in a subsequent letter to Liberal critic Anita Neville, the panel that participated in that day’s discussion actually defended Ms. Ruth, as follows.
We are writing in response to your press statement, issued May 3. While we very much appreciate that you took the time to participate in the discussion, we disagree with your assertion that Prime Minister Stephen Harper used Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth to blackmail, bully and intimidate the international development community into toeing the Conservative line about abortion.
While many Canadians share your concern about the narrowing of democratic space to discuss important issues such as women’s rights in our foreign aid and foreign policy, this forum was a brave attempt to address just that.
As you know, this event was actually hosted by Senator Ruth. It was a space provided graciously by the senator to give women’s rights groups an opportunity and forum to discuss critical issues on the status of Canada’s reputation as a women’s rights leader on the international stage. The Prime Minister did not send Nancy Ruth. In fact, as you are aware, she supported the Association of Women’s Rights in Development and other interested groups by hosting the panel on Parliament Hill to ensure the broadest participation of civil society and parliamentarians.
We wish the focus to remain on the important issues raised during the panel: the consequences of Canada’s refusal to fund safe, legal abortion in its maternal health initiative, the troubling degradation of Canada’s reputation as a women’s rights leader and the “charity chill” currently plaguing the sector. The forum was designed to create a non-partisan space for an open and rational discussion of the issue of women’s rights and how Canada can effectively regain its leadership in advancing women’s rights on the global stage. Senator Ruth’s own statement was that women’s groups should not allow these important issues to become a political football and we fear the assertions made in this statement do just that.
We believe that Senator’s Ruth’s comments, while perhaps overly colourful, were made in good faith in the context of a challenging discussion on tactics moving forward. While we may not agree, we appreciate the opportunity to finally express dissent in an open and public forum and we owe thanks to Nancy Ruth for creating that space.