Allowing some individuals to be oppressed and denied their freedom means everyone is put at risk, says a former Member of Parliament who toured the northwest recently.
“It could be them today, but it may be you tomorrow,” said speaker Stephen Woodworth who spoke in Terrace on May 25. “If our own rights and our own freedom isn’t at stake, it is easy to pretend that Canada is still free for everyone — but friends, it isn’t,” he said.
Woodworth was on a cross Canada speaking tour, seeking to motivate people to political activism and looking for support to establish a new organization called the Democracy Defence Initiative.
A lawyer by training and occupation, Woodworth represented the federal Ontario riding of Kitchener Centre as a Conservative from 2008 until being defeated in last fall’s election. He is now semi-retired and living in Kitchener.
In his messages, he highlights three examples of situations which he says demonstrate abusive power in Canada:
The first is the B.C. Law Society denying Trinity Western University in the Lower Mainland the right to run a certified law school in B.C. based on religious and moral beliefs.
Second is the federal government not protecting the rights of doctors to refuse certain work which violates their conscience.
Third is how Parliament denied Motion 312, which Woodworth introduced in 2012 calling for a study on the legal definition of human being.
Woodworth said most Canadians agree that a child is a human being at some point before it is born, but the legal definition is that a child is considered human only when it has fully left its mother’s body.
He said that in all three examples the government is neglecting its responsibility to protect the freedoms of its citizens — freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.
“The freedom to hold one’s own peaceful religious beliefs has special importance for the defence of democracy,” he said. “People who want absolute power, have difficulty when citizens have other sources of loyalty. It can lead you to challenge the authority of people in power. Freedom of religion is a mainstay of democracy because it helps us to limit the absolute power of civil authorities.”
“When we connect the dots on all these abuses of power, which really have been snowballing just in the last five years, I believe we have a worrisome picture,” he said.
Woodworth’s goal is to motivate people to stand up for fundamental freedoms and to connect a team to establish the Democracy Defence Initiative, which will be a non-profit, non-partisan, Canada-wide association with the purpose of uniting and guiding citizens in activism.
Though Woodworth said there are many political activist groups springing up in Canada, there is “no unified, coordinated action directed at raising awareness, and provoking a political response to the erosion of democratic freedoms.”
Woodworth said his work is driven by a passion for justice and freedom built into him from youth. His generation lived after the abolition of slavery, saw the development of women’s liberation, and were still impacted by the memory of World War II.
“I grew up within memory of Nazi tyranny and in the shadow of the totalitarian Soviet Union, where civil authorities penalized the free practice of religion, ordered citizens to ignore their consciences, invented facts, and ruthlessly shut down opposition voices,” he said.
Woodworth said those same things are starting to happen in Canada now, and freedom of speech and conscience and religion are being threatened.
“Those hard fought freedoms that our ancestors sacrificed and fought and died for, are now being taken away from various peoples and groups because they defy people in authority,” he said. “I love Canada, it’s the country I’ve lived my life in. My father fought in the Second World War — he is one of those who fought and sacrificed to preserve our freedoms — and it breaks my heart to see us reverting to darker times.”
It is “an undeclared war on democracy in Canada,” he said. “The time to act is now!”