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Debate on abortion rights erupts on Parliament Hill, Poilievre vows he won’t legislate

A Conservative government led by Pierre Poilievre would not legislate on, nor use the notwithstanding clause, on abortion, his office says.

Facing political pressure to clarify his stance as anti-abortion protesters gather on Parliament Hill for an annual rally, Poilievre spokesperson Sebastian Skamski denied suggestions from the federal Liberals and New Democrats that the federal Conservatives were leaving the door open on the issue.

“A common sense Conservative government will not legislate on abortion and therefore would never use this section of the Constitution pertaining to this matter,” he said.

His comments came in response to Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth Marci Ien questioning whether Poilievre’s recent comments on the notwithstanding clause, coupled with Conservative MP Arnold Viersen raising an anti-abortion petition in the House of Commons, was an indication of where the party was headed. 

“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time. If it’s a woman’s right to choose today what is it tomorrow? … This is, as I see it, a slippery slope,” Ien said to reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday.

Ien was accompanied by fellow Liberal cabinet ministers Mark Holland and Patty Hajdu, who on the eve of the “March for Life” event also expressed concern about the Conservative party’s opposition to the first phase of pharmacare, which intends to provide no-cost access to contraceptives.

Skamski called the ministers’ comments “outlandish” and said they “show the true desperation of Justin Trudeau and his flailing Liberals.”

Pointing to commitments Poilievre made during a party leadership debate, indicating he believes in “freedom of choice on the issue,” he accused Ien of “spreading misinformation.”

Questions around Poilievre’s plans to use the notwithstanding clause cropped up last week after he said, during a Canadian Police Association event, that he would make his criminal justice proposals constitutional “using whatever tools the Constitution allows me to use.” 

The Liberals questioned whether this could lead to Poilievre using what’s supposed to be a measure of last resort in other circumstances. Skamski said that wouldn’t be the case.

The clause, otherwise referenced as Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, allows the federal Parliament or provincial legislatures to pass legislation that overrides certain Charter-established rights and freedoms for five-year periods.

When asked about Poilievre’s stance, Ien denied suggestions her party was fearmongering on the issue, saying Canadians should know “who we’re dealing with.”

“It’s one thing to say, actions speak louder than words,” she said.

Abortion has been a longstanding wedge issue in Canadian politics, and with duelling pro-choice and anti-abortion demonstrations taking place on the lawn of Parliament Hill, debate on the issue erupted inside the House of Commons on Thursday.

“Reproductive rights are under attack… It’s no coincidence that on the very day that Conservatives including Pierre Poilievre have voted against free contraception, a Conservative MP stood in the House to present a petition that violated the right to access abortion care,” said NDP MP Leah Gazan, noting it is not the first time Conservative MPs have pushed these issues in Parliament. 

“It’s also the Liberals who in spite of being in power for almost eight years continue to deny the right to access a safe, trauma-informed abortion. And I say that because right now in New Brunswick, there is not one single abortion clinic. It’s one thing to get out here on the mic and grandstand about how you support reproductive rights. It’s another thing to honour access to those rights,” she said. 

In one exchange with Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland accused the Official Opposition of readying to “tear up the Charter of Rights.” Scheer shot back that the Conservatives would take no lessons from a government that’s “trampled” free speech.

Viersen was one of two Conservative MPs who spoke at the protest focused on pushing for the federal government to provide legal protection for “the preborn.”

Speaking to the crowd adorning signs such as “pray to end abortion” and “choose life,” Conservative MP Cathay Wagantall said: “We in the House as Conservatives stand for equality between men and women, from the instant of conception.”

On the other side of the lawn, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh came out to support those holding signs that read “abortion is health care” and “never again,” next to a drawing of a clothes hanger. 

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