canadian politics

Fredericton Morgentaler Clinic Forced To Close. How You Can Help.

Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton photoby Jarrah Hodge

Today the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton, New Brunswick announced it will be forced to close its doors at the end of July, after a 20-year long battle with the provincial and federal governments to get the funding it should be entitled to under the Canada Health Act.

This will seriously jeopardize the already limited access to reproductive health care in New Brunswick and PEI, putting lives at risk.

Activists are already starting to organize to call on the provincial and federal governments to save the clinic and deal with some of the larger issues that have led to this situation. Here at Gender Focus we know how important these services are to people in Atlantic Canada and we’ll keep you posted on how you can show your support.

Here are three things you can do right now:


  1. Sign the Change.Org petition calling on the government to fund services at the Morgentaler Clinic
  2. Tweet a message of support using the #NBProChoice hashtag
  3. Write a letter to your Member of Parliament (find out their contact info here). You can use this sample letter drafted by a local activist and former clinic volunteer, but if you can, it’s best to rephrase  in your own words so your MP knows you care personally about this issue enough to take the time to write.

4. (Added April 11) Take a picture of yourself with a message of solidarity for the NB Pro Choice Tumblr.

And keep checking back to our website for updates and more ways to help. Another good resource to stay up-to-date is the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada site.

Here is the press release from the clinic with more of the background:


From the moment Dr. Morgentaler announced his intention to open an abortion clinic in Fredericton, the provincial government planned to thwart his efforts.  The premier at the time, Frank McKenna, stated that: “if Mr. Morgentaler tries to open a clinic in the province of New Brunswick, he’s going to get the fight of his life.” Subsequent New Brunswick governments have continued to block access to abortion services in New Brunswick.

Dr. Morgentaler was immune to their threats.  He had already survived jail, threats against his life and the bombing of his Toronto clinic.  The actions of the N.B. government only served to strengthen his resolve to ensure that New Brunswick women would have access to safe abortion care in his clinic and that no woman would be turned away regardless of her ability to pay.  The Morgentaler Clinic opened in June, 1994 and since then has provided abortion services to more than 10,000 women in a non-judgmental, evidence based, and professional environment.

The main obstacle the New Brunswick government created for New Brunswick women who needed to access abortions was, and still is, Regulation 84-20, Schedule 2(a.1). It states that an abortion will only be covered by Medicare if:

  • It is performed in a hospital by a specialist in the field of obstetrics or gynaecology and that
  •  Two doctors have certified in writing that the procedure is ‘medically necessary’.


Note:  The federal government or the courts have never defined what ‘medically necessary’ means, other than the circular definition in the Canada Health Act – “medically necessary is that which is physician performed”.  The provinces decide what is medically necessary under the Act, by creating a list of insured services, which are then automatically deemed medically necessary.  With respect to abortion it does not mean ‘only if there is a threat to the mother or the foetus’.  New Brunswick acknowledges that abortion is a ‘medically necessary’ procedure by permitting abortions in some hospitals.  The same definition applies to clinics.

The practical consequence of this regulation is that, unlike in any other Canadian province with stand-alone clinics, abortions provided at the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton are not funded by Medicare. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics 1 Comment

Celebrate Young Feminists in Vancouver on April 13

Event photo for April 13 event with Niki Ashton

by Jarrah Hodge

It’s  not uncommon for me to hear older activists express a combination of relief and disbelief when I openly identify as feminist. There seems to be a feeling out there that my generation, the “millennials”, aren’t embracing feminism. While there are certainly women of all ages who don’t identify as feminists and there is work to be done to bring more people into the movement, I think there are a lot  more young feminists than you might think. Just check out the “Feminists of Generation Now” Pinterest board for a collection of examples.

Young women who embrace feminist principles are also working hard on the front lines of related social justice movements like movements against colonialism (like #IdleNoMore), the environmental movement, the anti-poverty movement, anti-racist and immigrant rights movements, even the labour movement.

NDP MP Niki Ashton is the Status of Women Official Opposition Critic and she’s organized an evening in Vancouver on Sunday, April 13 from 7-9 p.m., to celebrate some of the work young feminists are doing in our communities. I’m thrilled to be speaking as part of the program along with Lily Grewal, activist and candidate for the Vancity Board of Directors; and Hawa Y. Mire, storyteller, writer and strategist.

Come out and join us for a fun evening of conversation at the Fairview Pub. See the Facebook event page for more info, RSVP to and I hope to see you next weekend!

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics Leave a comment

Status of Women Committee MPs Study Eating Disorders

Canada's House of Commons library roofby Jarrah Hodge

On February 10 I had a unique opportunity to speak to the House of Commons Status of Women Committee on eating disorders, media and gender. The committee, which is made up of Members of Parliament from the major parties, had recently voted the following:

“It was agreed, — That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the Committee conduct a study of eating disorders amongst girls and women, including the nature of these diseases, what treatments are providing the most relief to patients and where they are available, how family physicians can learn more about eating disorders and how to treat them, what roadblocks exist to better serve girls and women with eating disorders, and what resources relevant stakeholders need to improve the lives of these patients.”

Basically, the committee is studying eating disorders, particularly among Canadian girls and women, and considering potential service gaps and areas for improvement.

My name was put forward by NDP Status of Women Critic Niki Ashton. Given that I’m not a doctor and there were many clinical experts and people with personal or family experience already speaking, I thought it made most sense for me to bring in feminist analysis of how media images of women factor into eating disorders.

Over the weekend leading up to the appearance via videoconference, I had a lot of help getting a firmer understanding of the situation facing people with eating disorders in Canada, and the research that has been done showing links between media and eating disorders, and the potential for media literacy education to help with prevention and treatment. Many members of the Women, Action & The Media (WAM!) Vancouver listserv shared their ideas and resources, but I owe particular thanks to Sharon from the fabulous website Adios Barbie, Kalamity from Fat Panic! Vancouver, and Angela from Project True.

With their help, I put together a 10-minute opening statement, which I will paste below the jump along with links to my references, since those don’t appear in the online transcript. On at the same time as me was Wendy Preskow, founder of the National Initiative for Eating Disorders, who told the heart-wrenching and powerful story of her daughter’s struggle with bulimia and getting the care she needs. After our statements, the committee members asked us questions. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics, Pop Culture 1 Comment

This December 6th, I Remember, And I Am Angry

candleby Jarrah Hodge

Each year I write a message on December 6th, the National Day of Action and Remembrance on Violence Against Women. Today we remember Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Klucznik Widajewicz, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, and Annie Turcotte, who were gunned down on this day 24 years ago in Montreal, simply because they were women participating in a man’s world by studying engineering.

We also remember the many, many women in our own communities and around the world who have been the victims of gender-based violence since then, as well as those who have faced it and survived, and those who continue to face it every day.

It always makes me tremendously sad.

This year, though, I am equally angry.

I am angry violence against women is still so much a part of our world.

I am angry when I think about those women whose particular voices are often silenced and stories of violence not told: indigenous women, racialized women, trans women, elders, and women with disabilities.

I was angry this past Tuesday in the House of Commons public gallery as I watched a Conservative MP make a statement on the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence and seeing many of her colleagues stand and applaud the sentiment, even as their government still refuses to call a national inquiry into the more than 600 cases of missing and murdered indigenous women over the past 20 years.

I am also angry that the Conservative government couldn’t give us legislation to fight “revenge porn” (sharing intimate images without consent) that wasn’t part of a hidden agenda to expand police powers and fight cable theft.

I am angry that the B.C. government is still dragging its feet on implementing all the recommendations from the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry Report and is forcing Pickton’s victims’ families to continue to wait for compensation.

So I note this is a day of action as well as of remembrance, and we can’t wait any longer for the action.

Groups like the Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses, the Canadian Federation of University Women and the Canadian Labour Congress are using today to call on our federal and provincial governments to work together on the UN recommendation to establish a National Action Plan on Violence Against Women and Girls by the year 2015.

“While there are many worthwhile initiatives current underway in our communities, Canada must work with provinces, territories and other stakeholders to adopt a comprehensive and coordinated approach to address the root causes of gender-based violence. This is why we are calling on all federal political parties to support the creation of a National Action Plan on Violence against Women and Girls”, said Susan Murphy, CFUW President.

The Canadian Labour Congress’ statement says an action plan is needed to provide a “proactive, comprehensive approach to a systemic problem.”

If you take one action today, let it be this:

Visit the YWCA’s Rose Campaign site and send a message to your Member of Parliament that calls on them to support a National Action Plan on Violence Against Women and Girls, and a national inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women. Better yet, if you have time, take some of the key information, draft a message in your own words, find your MP’s email, and send it to them directly.

Image on YWCA Rose Campaign postcard to MPs

Image on YWCA Rose Campaign postcard to MPs

And if you’re able to do more, check out the YWCA’s December 6th toolkit (pdf) for a range of actions to take, from small to large, and a list of other resources to pursue.

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics 2 Comments

Woodworth’s New Motion is Not About Abortion, and I’m the Queen of England

Photo of the Canadian Parliament buildingsby Jarrah Hodge

MP Stephen Woodworth must think we’re stupid. After introducing and failing to pass M-312 last year and insisting it wasn’t about abortion, he’s got a new motion now calling for the legal recognition of “the equal worth and dignity of every human being.” And he’s saying this one isn’t about abortion, either, even though his media release about the new motion was called “M-312 – Next Steps”.

“Only in a bizarro-world Canada would my motion be considered controversial,” said Woodworth in his press conference.

This is kind of like the Finance Minister introducing a budget and then saying it has nothing to do with money. The fact is there would be no reason to propose this law if you weren’t trying to get at reproductive rights. And in the time since M-312 failed, Woodworth has remained focused on anti-abortion activism. The only thing he’s distanced himself from is the actual word “abortion”.

He started by vowing to undertake a cross-Canada tour to, as LifeSite News put it: “promote respect for the unborn”. The Campaign Life Coalition. On January 1st “Canada’s Family and Life Newspaper” The Interim named Woodworth their Person of the Year, saying:

“[Campaign Life Coalition representative Jim] Hughes told The Interim that Woodworth deserves to be named this paper’s Man of the Year because he challenged an unjust law, inspired the pro-life movement to action, and refused to back down when the going got tough. “We need more MPs who are willing to lead on important issues.”

For background, part of the Interim‘s mission statement is “to report and comment on the many offences against human dignity our society has experienced: abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, contraception, sexual promiscuity, the decline of the traditional family, and the rise of radical environmentalism and animal rights agendas that put non-human matters at the centre of public concern.”

This March he used his International Women’s Day statement to take a passive-aggressive dig at the lack of legal protections for fetuses. In June he spoke to the Catholic Civil Rights League (which basically argues for some Catholics’ civil rights to refuse to recognize others’) to argue the pro-life movement needs to distance itself from the word “abortion” in order to “win hearts and minds” so it can, eventually, outlaw the thing . Hence his new motion. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics Leave a comment

Women’s Forum/Forum Des Femmes Afternoon

Uppala Chandrasekera and Gwen Haworth

Uppala Chandrasekera and Gwen Haworth

by Jarrah Hodge

The afternoon of Women’s Forum/Forum Des Femmes 2013, hosted by MP Niki Ashton in Ottawa, started out with a panel on “The Politics of Advocacy”.

NDP MP Mylene Freeman moderated the panel, which included Vancouver-based film director and screenwriter Gwen Haworth, Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada activist Peggy Cooke, health equity advocate and social worker Uppala Chandrasekera, and Laurie Alphonse of DAWN-RAFH (Disabled Women’s Network Canada).

It was fascinating and inspiring to hear from four very different women talking about how they got involved with different issues in their communities. Gwen Haworth kicked off the panel talking about her work as a filmmaker (most notably on She’s a Boy I Knew, which documented her family’s reaction to her transition from male to female) and activist on trans issues.

She said for her, one of the biggest goals is for all of us to make room for LGBTQ youth in our communities. She is always looking for change that can happen from micro levels up to the level of overarching government policy.

“Bill C-279, which would add gender identity protections to the Human Rights Act, would go further than you know in helping end LGBTQ homelessness,” Haworth said.

On activism, Haworth said, “Activism rejuvenates me and activism depletes me.” She said she finds it more energizing to do things that are pro-active or front-line work rather than work that pits individuals or groups against one another.

Uppala Chandrasekera focused on the issue of mental health, noting that not addressing mental health issues has a human cost, but also an economic one. She also spoke strongly against the stereotypical and stigmatizing ways many people still think of mental illness.

“We have to move beyond characterizing people as being either mentally healthy or mentally ill anymore,” she stated, while also urging the audience to recognize “there is no one mental illness”.

Chandrasekera said her goal is making sure people with mental health issue have access to basic rights and dignity: social inclusion, freedom from discrimination and violence, and access to economic resources. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics Leave a comment

Women’s Forum/Forum Des Femmes Morning

MP Niki Ashton at the podium for Women's Forum 2013

MP Niki Ashton kicks off Women’s Forum 2013

by Jarrah Hodge

Women’s Forum des Femmes kicks off in the Government Conference Centre just across from Parliament Hill, with Official Opposition Critic for Status of Women Niki Ashton welcoming us “fellow feminists”.

I can tell it’s going to be an awesome day. The room is full of over a hundred women from diverse backgrounds, but a large portion are young women. Ashton announces most of the people speaking today (like me, later in the afternoon) will be Canadian feminists under 40.

Ashton characterizes the situation facing young women in Canada, saying young women are working hard but losing ground. Especially young indigenous women, says Ashton.

But she also says young women are responding: “Young women are using the arts, scholarship, the blogosphere and their voices to fight back.”

“Idle No More is a clear example of how indigenous young people, and particularly young women are changing Canadian history,” she adds.

She finishes her introduction with an outline of the day’s goal: “to build solidarity and strengthen our connections, and in doing so we will send a message that women across generations, regions, and communities are strong in their demands for justice and equality for all of us.”

Erin Marie Konsmo

Erin Marie Konsmo

The first speaker up to the stage was the amazing Erin Marie Konsmo of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. Her talk is called Beyond a Triple Bottom Line Approach: Reclaiming for our future generations: Resisting Environmental Violence Through Reproductive Justice.

Konsmo began to elaborate on a theme that will be touched on throughout the day: the interconnectedness of struggles for control of land and control of bodies, particularly women’s bodies. She said the Canadian government and extractive industries have often seen women’s bodies and land as empty things available for laws to be put on.

“Our bodies are not terra nullis [empty land],” Konsmo stated

“I propose a new equation. We must have self-determination of our bodies and also self-determination of our lands,” Konsmo proclaimed.

The interconnectedness of colonial exploitation of land and women’s bodies has a long history, including forced-sterilization of First Nations people and sexual abuse in residential schools. Because indigenous women live with the legacy of colonial violence and appropriation of land, Konsmo says violence prevention and sexual health strategies must include discussions of the land.

To conclude her talk she highlighted some of the unique ways indigenous women and youth are connecting the discussions about liberating the environment and their bodies. NYSHN’s Environmental justice for Metis Women and Youth program, for example, uses sexual health education and the arts to talk about how reproductive violence is connected to the environment.

She also talked about work to support indigenous youth who are two-spirited, queer, trans or gender non-conforming, who face immense amounts of violence, to develop leadership positions in their communities.

“As a young indigenous woman I know that many body contains story of the land…I also know and experience a sexual and gender identity that comes from specific histories of the land and where I come from. These identities are older than the LGBT movement and…were made illegal…your feminisms do affect the land,” she reminds, and adds, “The work you do as a feminist…impacts indigenous people.”

The next panel looked at “Canada’s Inequality Action Plan”, and included moderator Karen Galldin, Shannon Phillips of the Alberta Federation of Labour;  Janice Makokis, a lawyer and Idle No More activist; Denise Hammond of the union AMAPCEO; and Sarah Kennell of Action Canada for Population and Development. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics 1 Comment