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Speak up if you support the Governor General

When I was putting down roots in Canada, which to me seemed just like the U.S. without race riots, the Vietnam War and Phyllis Schlafly, I thought it was terribly quaint that this well-mannered country north of the border should have awards bestowed and heads of state welcomed by a Governor General representing the Queen. I vaguely understood that the G G might be called upon to perform weightier duties, but exactly what he did (of course it was “he” in those days) concerned me not at all.

GGI’ve grown up a bit since then, and my second country has grown along with me. I have long admired the current Governor General, Michaëlle Jean—immigrant from Haiti, award-winning journalist, multi-lingual student of this dangerous world in which all of us Canadians make our way while extending our hands to others. She has always impressed me as a woman of vision and courage, the kind of pathfinder you’d want your daughter to become. Her quiet resolve was in the spotlight on Canada Day, when she presented the Order of Canada to Dr. Henry Morgentaler, the abortion rights activist whose decades-long devotion to his cause has been repaid with death threats, a fire bombing and a jail term. (Click here for my previous post on this landmark development.) She could have chosen to overrule the consensus from her advisory committee (which reportedly was divided). She did not. Her critics include none other than Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The majority of Canadians are behind the Governor General in their reasonable Canadian way (60 to 65 percent “support or somewhat support” the decision, polls show). Tellingly, there are foes of abortion who view Dr. Morgentaler as a hero to women. To the staunchly pro-choice faction, all this is great news. But let’s not forget that it’s the angry minority who are sending the petitions, organizing the e-mail campaigns and missing no opportunity to display their passionate intensity.

The supporters, by contrast, include “somewhat” folks. Their silent solidarity is often tempered by the uneasy sense that the human complications of abortion—the sorrow, the loss and the agonizing questions over how late is too late—are glossed over by the leaders of the pro-choice camp.

I have been pro-choice ever since my mother told me that a young protegee of hers had just died in a back-street abortion. But the older I get, the more aware I become that there are no simple decisions about life’s great conundrums. Abortion is one of them, as I wrote here two days ago in “A sad, solemn, necessary thing.”  And so, until now, I’ve been one of the silent majority. Then I started thinking about what our Governor General has just done.

Michaëlle Jean is far too intelligent and seasoned not to have known that Dr. Morgentaler’s honour would ignite a holy fire of protest. But it’s one thing to form that thought in the serenity of your office, and another to experience the breathtaking reality of some people’s revulsion when it is aimed squarely at yourself. As former Editor of Chatelaine, I have been the target of a boycott, of petitions sent to our advertisers, of phone calls and letters so venomous that the child in me sometimes wondered, “How can they hate me so much?” (Articles on abortion, along with homosexuality, could be relied upon to spark the most heated complaints.) And what I faced was a piddling fraction of what the Governor General must be facing now.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to send a message of support to the Governor General’s office today. If you think she did the right thing, I hope you’ll take a minute to tell her so. Trust me, your voice does matter. Letters and e-mail (which tends to be printed) speak louder and longer than phone calls—they make such impressive piles. Here’s where to write:

Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean Governor General of Canada

Rideau Hall

1 Sussex Drive

Ottawa, ON K1A 0A1


P.S. For a fascinating glimpse of the private Michaëlle Jean, don’t miss the interview in the summer issue of MORE, by Editor-in-chief Linda Lewis.

Posted by Rona

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