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Focus on the Family Magazine > Public Policy
A Coming Preview?

Several issues that are debated over the airwaves in the United States are already legislated or commonly acceptable in Canada. Here’s a peek at what may be coming down the pike for the United States.

Homosexual Marriages: In 1999 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the legal definition of the term spouse must be broadened to include homosexuals. "Same-sex couples now enjoy virtually all of the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as married couples—the only stipulation being that they must have lived together for one year," reported Susan Martinuk in the June 2000 issue of the Canadian Citizen. "Gay activists have only one conquest remaining: the right to legally marry."

United Nations: "Left-wing activists have been using the United Nations for nearly 20 years to impose their kind of anti-life, anti-family agenda," said Darrel Reid, president of Focus on the Family Canada. "Among the leading agitators in that process are Canadians. The problem is that we send delegates to the U.N. who represent small interest groups."

Freedom of Religion: The Supreme Court is currently reviewing a case concerning Trinity Western International University, a private, Christian institution. The British Columbia College of Teachers has refused to certify the fifth year of the university’s education program because its mandatory Community Standards Statement allegedly "discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation." The code prohibits students from engaging in premarital sex, homosexual behavior, adultery and the viewing of pornography. Without the certification, graduates likely cannot find teaching jobs.

Censorship: The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council regulates the content of radio and television. Under the microscope now are stations that air shows with "abusive discrimination" toward homosexuals, such as programs, they allege, by Dr. Laura Schlessinger. The 30 radio stations that air Schlessinger’s programs must make sure none of her comments of this nature make it on the air. And Focus on the Family Canada cannot air some programs that run in the United States for the same reason. If any station fails to censor and someone complains, the station can lose its license.

As Goes Canada . . . So Goes the United States?
by Andrea Vinley Jewell

Canada, America’s friendly neighbor to the north. Peaceful. Quiet. Neutral. Left-wing liberal.


Americans often think they’re on the cutting edge of social issues, but a look to the north reveals that Canada is a few steps ahead—in the demise of traditional values, that is. Actions by Canadian courts and its various governmental agencies might be a prediction for what families in United States will face in coming years. Might, but not necessarily.

A few major differences between the two neighbors reveal why Canada’s public policy progresses — or regresses, as the case may be — on a faster track.

Passive, activist and extreme—all in one

What are Canadians really like, and how do they differ from their cousins to the south? First, Canadians tend to be more peaceful. Aside from a few brief uprisings, they did not go through revolution, civil war or a fight for democracy as the United States did.

In fact, according to Focus on the Family Canada President Dr. Darrel Reid, when Canada was founded in 1867, just after the U.S. Civil War, its founders determined to avoid similar violence, which they saw as the inevitable result of unbridled republicanism and individualism. "So whereas in your Declaration of Independence it’s ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’ the corresponding values in Canada are ‘peace, order and good government,’ " he said.

In the past these values have tended to translate into a passive acceptance of public policies harmful to marriage and the family, according to Jim Sclater, formerly Focus Canada’s director of public policy. "We just quietly go about our business. We are just a bunch of people who came over on boats from Britain or Scandinavia or wherever for free land, and we’ve learned to get along. We didn’t have any kind of rallying cause."

Thus, when activist governments have introduced radical ideas to Parliament in the past, rarely did anyone raise a fuss — either because they didn’t know what was happening or because they didn’t want controversy. For example, when Dr. Dobson tells his U.S. radio audience to call their congressmen about an anti-family issue, phone calls flood congressional offices; many Canadians wouldn’t consider such a move.

Even mobilizing Canadian Christians on family issues has been tough sledding. "Many churches say, ‘That’s the world. That’s out there. We don’t have to worry about that,’ " Reid said. "That’s why ministries like Focus Canada exist: to speak out on family issues, to educate and mobilize Christians on issues that cut to the heart of our society."

The second difference between the United States and Canada is their respective types of government. "In the States you have two main parties," Reid said. "Canada’s Parliament has five major parties, all of which see the world very differently. This makes it difficult to mobilize public opinion when it matters most."

Two major shapers of Canada’s public policy landscape are the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian court system. Unlike the U.S. Constitution, Canada’s Constitution was rewritten and updated quite recently — in 1982.

A crucial part of this document is the Charter, championed by then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. He believed individual rights should be protected and enforced over group rights, even when they clashed with federal or provincial laws. As a consequence, when a conflict occurs today, judges often make the call.

"Since the Charter came in, we’ve seen a huge shift in influence from our legislatures and elected representatives to the courts," Reid said.

There are a number of parallels with the American situation. "The Charter gives our liberal thinkers, politicians and activists something that can literally trump our laws," Sclater said. "Our Supreme Court can, and does, strike down or order changes to provincial or federal legislation." According to Reid, this represents a worryingly anti-democratic trend, especially when it comes to marriage, family and sanctity of life issues in Canada.

The third factor that sets Canada in faster political motion is the province of Quebec, which is far ahead of the rest of Canada when it comes to radical changes.

The past 20 years have seen a breathtaking political and social upheaval in Quebec. This so-called "Quiet Revolution" has undermined the influence of the church and traditional notions of morality. "Dr. Dobson has said that he fears the United States could follow Canada’s lead in social radicalism. The rest of Canada, it appears, could be following Quebec’s lead. When it comes to marriage, sexual mores and abortion, that’s not reassuring," Reid said.

Glimmers of hope

While anti-family activists have in recent years been astonishingly successful in rewriting Canada’s laws, there are signs that Canadians are waking up to the fact that marriage, the family and traditional morality are under grave threat. As a front-line defender of family values, Focus on the Family Canada, together with other pro-family groups, is sounding the alarm.

For example, Focus Canada was active in the debate over a recent parliamentary bill, introduced by the government, that sought to rewrite 68 federal laws to give same-sex couples virtually all the same rights as heterosexual couples.

"Focus on the Family called on Canadians to challenge the proposed law, demanding Parliament respect the distinct heterosexual nature of marriage, the benefits it brings and its biblical worldview," Reid said. "And grassroots Canadians responded. Members of Parliament were overwhelmed by public concern on the issue."

Still, the results were mixed. "Unfortunately, Parliament proceeded with its legislation, but we were successful in forcing a crucial acknowledgement from the government that this legislation did not affect the legal definition of marriage — that being the union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others," he said. "A small victory, perhaps, but a very important one. And grassroots Canadians made the difference. I believe this bodes well for the future."

There are also signs that the church is beginning to recognize the challenges to the family. According to Sclater, now Focus Canada’s coordinator of church relations and the Christian Citizenship initiative, Christians realize that many threats cannot simply be left at the church door.

"If you live at a corner where cars keep crashing into each other and people are getting hurt, which response will you have? Pull the blinds so you can’t see it, pull up a chair so you can watch it, or phone city hall and suggest there be a stop light. That’s what citizenship is. It’s not spectating. It’s not cutting it off. It’s doing something practical."

Reid said there are clear lessons to learn from Canada’s experience. "Pray without ceasing. Protect what you have. Speak up when precious freedoms are under attack. And perhaps the United States can avoid the rocky path walked by its neighbor to the north."

This article appeared in Focus on the Family magazine.
Copyright © 2001 Focus on the Family. Photo by Ron Nickel.
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