Eloquent Defense of Life Delivered in Canadian Parliamentary Debate

JASON KENNEY

In a debate in the House of Commons Friday October 26, 2001, Canadian Alliance MP Jason Kenney made a spirited defense of the right to life in remarks against euthanasia. Kenney spoke to a private members bill on the issue of lenient penalties for those who claim to murder the disabled out of misguided sympathy.

Mr. Jason Kenney (Calgary Southeast, Canadian Alliance):

Madam Speaker, at the outset, I would like to thank my hon. colleague, the member for Dartmouth, for having brought the motion before the House. I understand it is an issue close to her heart.

It is sometimes difficult as an elected legislator to bring forward positions which may be morally and conscientiously right but which may not be politically right. She certainly has done so in this motion. I commend her for her principle and her courage in so doing.

The motion reads:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should recognize and uphold, in its treatment of requests for the royal prerogative of mercy, the principle that the lives of all Canadians, including the lives of persons with disabilities, must be treated, and be perceived to be treated, equally under the law.

It is quite clear that the motion implicitly addresses the particular situation of Robert Latimer who was convicted of killing his daughter Tracy and is serving a sentence of 10 years. It is also a general application. I do not mean to suggest that it would apply in that case only. It is a general application and a principle that is extremely important.

I regret that apparently a majority of Canadians believe that Mr. Latimer should receive the royal prerogative of clemency and have his sentence curtailed by an executive order of the governor in council, by cabinet. I gather most Canadians believe this because they regard the actions of Mr. Latimer as somehow having been at least morally justified if not morally obligatory, that is to say, to have killed his severely disabled daughter.

I think what the member for Dartmouth seeks to do is to remind us, as parliamentarians and as Canadians citizens, is that we cannot and must not make distinctions between human persons and their right to life. Therein lies the first principle, not just of the motion but of our entire legal structure, legal system and, I would suggest, western civilization. That is to say, the sanctity of human life and the notion that the right to take life can only exist in self-defence, and that to take the life of individuals because of the circumstances of their life, be it their ethnicity, religion, age, social or economic condition or their physical and mental condition is to violate the very first premise upon which a society founded on the rule of law exists. That is the inviolable dignity of the human person.

The first words of our Constitution Act, 1982 read:

Whereas Canada is founded upon principles which recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.

That sentence, so often missed and misunderstood in our jurisprudence and in our public debates, is so central to this premise. What it says is that the rights which we possess, the rights of which the charter speaks, are not rights granted by the state, by a legislature or by a court, nor are they rights that can be abrogated by any of those institutions. Rather, these are rights that are inherent and inalienable in the human person. If they are inalienable, they are and must be granted by a creator.

No man, no parliament, no father, even a father in great emotional turmoil and confusion, has the right to suspend and to violate the inalienable dignity of the human person.

This principle perhaps was most beautifully articulated in the preamble to the American declaration of independence, which is really a foundational of modern liberal democracy, where Thomas Jefferson wrote that:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life-

Men and women have certain inalienable rights. They cannot be alienated by even a grieving father wishing, in his subjective mind, to put a handicapped daughter out of her misery.

While I perhaps can understand to some degree the anguish of some parents of severely disabled children, I also recognize the heroism of many more parents and adoptive parents of severely disabled children who exercise compassion every day, not through the ease of terminating the life of their child but through their compassion of giving themselves wholly to their children.

Compassion is a concept much misunderstood in our public discourse. Compassion does not mean feeling sorry for somebody. It quite literally means, in its etymological root, com-passion. Passion means to suffer with, not to suffer with a disabled person and take away the person's right to life.

The motion and the principle to which it speaks is critically important because, as the parliamentary secretary sort of dodged around, there is a large public movement to seek royal clemency for Mr. Latimer and people who may be in a similar circumstance in the future. Should this or a future cabinet bend to that political pressure, it will, I submit, undermine and unravel the very basis of our jurisprudence, our rule of law and our right to claim we are a civilized society.

At various times in history, individuals, politicians and jurors have sought to make qualitative distinctions between different categories of human beings and to assign to those different categories different degrees of rights.

What comes to mind of course is the infamous Dred Scott decision by the U.S. supreme court in 1857 wherein that court ascribed to African-Americans the status of only four-fifths of a human being and thereby denied them the inalienable rights about which the American declaration spoke.

In the century just passed, what John Paul II has referred to as the century of tears, we have seen one brutal, horrific example after another of state systems, most notoriously the Nazi system, which again made a qualitative distinction between different human beings based on arbitrary criteria, in that case race and religion.

When such distinctions are made, we unleash a juggernaut of violence against the innocent. That is what happened in an isolated example when Tracy Latimer was killed.

Let us not forget that the Nazi movement started its reign of terror and death, not with the execution of Jews in the Holocaust but rather with the eugenics program which sought to eliminate those who were deemed imperfect because of some condition of life, such as being mentally or physically disabled.

Josef Mengele and his evil peers did things to people in a way perhaps much more cold-bloodedly than what Robert Latimer did to his own daughter. They looked at human beings as not being human beings and decided they had the right to remove their dignity that God had granted them. That is a notion we cannot and must not ever accept.

I will close by submitting that we ought to pass the motion and direct the cabinet never to grant clemency to someone who has alienated the inviolable right to life of a person because of his or her mental or physical condition.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Jason Kenney, 37th Parliament, 1st Session Edited Hansard, Number 103, Friday, October 26, 2001.

See the whole debate in the Hansard.

THE AUTHOR

Jason Kenney is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Calgary Southeast. He is currently the Official Opposition's Chief Critic for Finance. Prior to seeking election, Mr. Kenney served as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation, an 80,000 member advocacy organization which promotes fiscal responsibility and democratic reforms. Kenney previously served as the founding Executive Director of the Alberta Taxpayer's Association. Mr. Kenney was also the volunteer director for several non-profit organizations, including the National Foundation for Family Research and Education, the Catholic Civil Rights League and Catholic Charities.

 



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