Six months ago an amendment was passed to Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). It was folded in like whipped egg white to a cake batter, the batter being Bill 122: “An Act to increase the financial accountability of organizations in the broader public sector.” Part VIII of Bill 122 amends FIPPA so that the act “does not apply to records relating to the provision of abortion services.”
Real whipped egg white makes cakes light and fluffy, but these egg whites are puffing many people up with anger. Pro-life blogger Patricia Maloney wrote earlier this month that “it all happened under the radar.” It certainly passed under my radar, because I can’t recall a single media item related to it at the time of passage. Strange in itself, because the media are usually all over any curtailment of the public’s freedom to access information and data of any kind related to public policy.
Maloney only discovered the new amendment when she applied to the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to provide her with abortion statistics. The ministry sent her back the pertinent section 65 of the Act, excluding records related to provision of abortion services. No reply was received from the ministry when asked why such a significant decision was made without public debate.
So in one fell swoop all abortion-related data is secret. Why? If the stats remain available to any citizen who wishes to know them, will it increase the danger of terrorism? Will the economy suffer, toxins fill the air, a pandemic kill off every egg-laying chicken in the nation? I think not. There is more than a whiff of ideology in the air here.
According to McGill bio-ethicist Margaret Somerville, in an article in the Calgary Herald, in the past the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care has refused a request under FIPPA for information regarding OHIP records related to abortion, citing “danger to life and physical safety,” “danger to security of a building,” “endangering the safety of service providers” and a danger of pro-life “violence” if the information were made available. (But on appeal, the Ontario information and privacy commissioner ordered the ministry to disclose the requested information. A similar incident occurred in B.C., after which the B.C. legislature also exempted abortion from disclosure, albeit a narrower exemption than Ontario’s.)
These are weak arguments, the kind of justifications one dredges up to mollify conscience in the act of endorsing an undemocratic action. It could be argued just as easily that releasing statistics on the prevalence of racism or domestic violence or civil disobedience might encourage anti-social behaviour in latent racists, bullies or anarchists.
It seems very clear that the Ontario government has become concerned that pro-life forces have found renewed political strength. What used to be a “settled” question is no longer settled. Many Canadians, for example, are disturbed over the issue of sex selection via abortion of female fetuses. The phenomenon is causing discomfort amongst rigid multiculturalists, some of whom occupy positions of power.
The abortion numbers we already know – over 100,000 a year in Canada, and 44,000 billed-for abortion in Ontario alone in 2010 (we won’t be able to know how many in 2011) – are making it clear that remaining the only country in the free world with no abortion regulations is not possible indefinitely.
What is needed is more public discussion on the issue, not a cowardly clampdown on information that will help guide us in that discussion. Behind Ontario’s Bill 122 is a totalitarian impulse. This undemocratic Act should not stand.
National Post Barbara Kay Jun 5, 2012 – 10:46 AM ET