Canada Day 2013: “sing God save the land we love the best”

July 1, 2013

For the tenth time in this blog’s history: Happy Canada Day!

Today is the 146th anniversary of Confederation, and, as usual, Canadians temporarily cast off their restraint and display unbridled patriotism. This is, of course, most evident here in the nation’s capital, where the streets surrounding Parliament Hill become one very crowded block party for the day, culminating in a stage show and the annual 10 pm fireworks. The first Canada Day I attended, back in 1995, featured performances by Burton Cummings and Spirit of the West. This year, though, it’s Carly Rae Jepsen and literally no one else I’ve ever heard of, so I think I’ll skip the stage show (though I do have an invitation to see the fireworks from a well-situated downtown balcony).

This is also the 140th anniversary of Prince Edward Island, which joined Confederation on July 1, 1873—the eighth province or territory to do so. In honour of the anniversary, I devote this year’s customary patriotic song to PEI’s provincial hymn: “The Island Hymn.”

This song dates back to 1908. The lyrics were written by Lucy Maud Montgomery, best known of course as the author of Anne of Green Gables, that quintessential Canadian redheaded orphan:

Fair Island of the sea,

We raise our song to thee,

The bright and blest;

Loyally now we stand

As brothers, hand in hand,

And sing God save the land

We love the best.

Upon our princely Isle

May kindest fortune smile

In coming years;

Peace and prosperity

In all her borders be,

From every evil free,

And weakling fears.

Prince Edward Isle, to thee

Our hearts shall faithful be

Where’er we dwell;

Forever may we stand

As brothers, hand in hand,

And sing God save the land

We love so well.

The music was composed by Lawrence Watson specifically for this hymn. I’ve heard one recording of “The Island Hymn,” and in my opinion, the lyrics deserve better. In fact, when I first read the lyrics, I mentally matched them to “Olivet,” the Lowell Mason tune to which “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” is usually sung. “The Island Hymn” was officially declared as PEI’s provincial hymn in 2010.

2013 is also a sadder milestone, as it marks the passing of Stompin’ Tom Connors at the ripe old age of 77 in March. Connors was a Canadian patriot, with many of his best-known songs referencing Canadian culture, history, or folklore. Appropriately for today, his first single, and arguably his best-known, was “Bud the Spud,” a lighthearted ballad about a PEI potato trucker who raises the ire of the police.

This being my 10th Canada Day blog post, I thought it only fitting to go out with a twofer. Happy July 1, everyone.

Previous Canada Day songs:

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Carleton U.: where the stupid goes in before the student goes out

January 23, 2013

Oh, not again.

I have lost count of the number of times this has happened, but yet one more time, Last Chance U. has beclowned itself thanks to the authoritarian moonbattery of its student leadership.

Arun Smith isn’t a member of the Carleton University Students’ Association, but he could have been. Last year, the “seventh-year human rights student” ran for election to a councillor’s seat from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS). In his candidacy video, he promised to create “inclusive, open spaces that are safe spaces, where every voice is empowered and every student’s voice is heard.”

Fast-forward to Monday, when the Carleton Students for Liberty erected a “free speech wall”—basically a freestanding plywood wall covered with paper—in the Unicentre to promote the free competetition of ideas.

Some time between November and Monday, Arun Smith must have had a change of heart about inclusiveness and hearing every student’s voice, because he took it upon himself to destroy the wall, then boast about it in a ponderous manifesto on Facebook with the byline “Arun Séamus Surinder Smith.” I’m guessing either that his parents didn’t contemplate the implications of his given names’ initials, or that they can see the future.
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Why I love Ottawa (or, Shaken, not stirred)

June 23, 2010

Amongst the best reasons to live in Ottawa:

  • Beautiful, historic buildings, like the neo-Gothic edifices on Parliament Hill.
  • It’s the only place in Canada where national news and local news are almost always the same thing.
  • Occasional sightings of various heads of state (Hu Jintao is in fact arriving in Ottawa today).
  • Lots of beautiful parkland.
  • A massive street party every July 1.
  • Regular earthquakes for your comfort and entertainment.

After today, I join the elite few who have stood within a stone’s throw of a 5.0-magnitude eathquake’s epicentre and lived to tell the tale. No damage – just a glass that fell off my desk and didn’t break. Plenty of excitement.


This is my home: Canada Day, 2009

July 1, 2009

Today is Canada Day: the 142nd anniversary of Confederation. (This, for the record, makes Canada 103 years and 5 months older than me, give or take a week or two.) As always, Ottawa is Celebration Central, and Canadians and tourists alike shed their usual reservedness for one day of overt patriotism.

Every Canada Day, I post the story of one Canadian patriotic song. Since right now I’m caught in the middle of a week of Canadian hits of the 1980s, it seems fitting that this year’s song also fit that theme.

During Vancouver’s centennial year in 1986, the city hosted the 1986 World Exposition on Transportation and Communication – better known as Expo ’86. This was the second time a World’s Fair was held in Canada, the first being Expo ’67 in Montreal, during the Canadian centennial year. Expo ’86 had pavilons from more than 50 nations, most of Canada’s provinces and territories, and many corporations, and was attended by numerous VIPs, including Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Margaret Thatcher, and then-U.S. vice president George H. W. Bush. Despite losing more than $300 million, it was considered a resounding success. After the fair was over, much of the land was redeveloped into parkland and condominiums, and a section of it is now being turned into the Olympic village in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Vancouver-based, avant-garde composer Bob Buckley penned a theme for the Canadian pavilion: “Canada: This Is My Home.” The song is nothing profound: it’s simply a stirring, sentimental piece about how wonderful it is to live in Canada, “from sea to sea.” Naturally, it’s bilingual (and since my French is barely passable, please excuse any mistakes in the transcription, I’ve done my best):

From sea to sea, a tapestry of colour, shapes and sounds

We’re a people bound together by the visions we have found

From place to place, face to face, we share this common bond

It’s a feeling lying deep within, where only dreams belong

Et quand on partage un rêve on va beaucoup plus loin

Viens plus loins, prends ma main, tout un pays se rejoint

This is my home O Canada

This is my home O Canada O Canada

Je découvre avec moi des splendeurs et des coeurs

Des façons de vivre et des pouvoirs createurs

It’s here where you realize the heart and home are one

Canada, Canada, we’re your daughters we’re your sons

This is my home O Canada

This is my home O Canada O Canada

On est chez nous Ô Canada

Chez nous partout Ô Canada Ô Canada

This is my home

O Canada, this is my home

Chez nous partout Ô Canada Ô Canada

On est chez nous Ô Canada

This is my home O Canada O Canada

This is my home

Since Expo ’86, the continuing popularity of “This Is My Home” has made it practically an unofficial national anthem. I’ve heard it performed live twice on Parliament Hill on July 1 (and probably only missed it the other times).

Once again: Happy Birthday, Canada.

Previous Canada Day songs:


The morality of abortion, part 1: Opening statements

March 14, 2009

I’ve put this off longer than I originally intended (life’s like that); but, as almost always, better late than never. A couple weeks ago I briefly summarized the debate between Andrew Sneddon and Stephanie Gray that took place at the University of Ottawa. Here I intend to go over the debate in more detail and in four parts, starting with the two 20-minute opening statements.

Opening statement: Andrew Sneddon

Dr. Sneddon won the pre-debate coin toss, and spoke first. Here is a summary of his opening statement:

The title of the presentation was, “Why I am Pro-Choice and Why I Should Thank My Mother.” Sneddon began his argument with a “change in topic”: suppose that he needs a kidney, and the only compatible donor in the world was his mother. Does he have a right to it? Pregnancy and abortion are tricky issues, but not absolutely unique: they are relevant and similar issues [similar to the kidney-donation problem, I assume he meant.]

The question to be resolved is: Is elective abortion a wrong act (i.e. is it morally impermissible)? There are two positions: first, that the fetus has no moral standing, in which case abortion is permissible. This, Sneddon said, is closer to the truth, but he was not going to defend it since it was hard and he is lazy. Second is the position that the fetus does have full moral standing, and therefore the right to life. Nonetheless, in the latter case, abortion is still widely permissible.

To return to the kidney case: clearly he has no right to his mother’s kidney. It is her right to give it away, but before that he has no right to it. By parity of reasoning, a kidney donation is analogous because:

  • it concerns the relationship between mother and child
  • both mother and child are full members of the human community
  • both cases require use of the mother’s body to survive
  • his right to life and need for her body do not grant him a right to use that body to save his life against her will

There are three potential disanalogies. The first is location: the fetus is within his mother’s body, while the kidney patient is outside it. This is not a relevant disanalogy. The second is the intentional participation of the mother; obviously in the vast majority of cases she conceives intentionally. This is not relevant either: intentional participation is not transferable; for example, if he opens his door to let fresh air into the house, that does not give a trespasser the right to enter. The third is the difference between “killing” and “letting die.” Not donating a kidney is not killing, but letting die, whereas abortion is killing. This is an important distinction. However, it is not necessarily a moral difference, and there is a lot of philosophical literature on it, for example discussing passive vs. active euthanasia. Killing and letting die need to be evaluated on the same grounds; the cases of a needed kidney and pregnancy shouldn’t be considered differently. However, even if killing is unjustified, that doesn’t mean that the anti-abortion case is vindicated: the fetus still has no right to use his mother’s body.

Is it justifiable for a mother to disconnect herself from the fetus and let it die? Yes, on the grounds of the mother’s bodily autonomy, widely recognized as a right in philosophy and democratic society. There are two domains where this must be considered: the wide world, where claims must be evaluated against other claims; and within oneself, where one has a different standing with respect to himself and with others. A person is not merely a bundle of resources; his right to autonomy is absolute within the confines of his person.

Therefore, abortion is permissible, and nothing further needs to be addressed.

Opening statement: Stephanie Gray

Ms. Gray began by asking: Is denying someone use of a uterus analogous to denying someone use of a kidney? Only if, in the latter case, you also decapitate and disembowel him.

She began with a story about a little girl named “Gabi,” who was born with no ability to feel pain, and whose parents must take great pains to protect her from self-harm as a result. Because she lacks this fundamental ability, is Gabi therefore not a person? Of course not. The question is, what is she? If she is a human being, Gabi’s parents have a special responsibility to meet her basic needs that they do not have for other members of society. Similarly, if the unborn are human, then the mother also has that responsibility to provide for them.

To consider another case, take that of Penny Boudreau, the woman in Nova Scotia who strangled her 12-year-old daughter Karissa in early 2008. We all agree that the murder of a daughter by her own mother is a highly immoral act, because of the special relationship that should exist between them.

Consider some of the “hard cases” of rape, poverty, or birth defects: we would not kill a born child for the crimes of his father, nor do we kill born people as a solution to poverty, nor do we kill disabled people. And if we can establish the humanity of the unborn, then we cannot justify killing them because of rape, poverty, or disability either.

In the case of a 20-year old, he may have been born 20 years earlier, but he was conceived 9 months before that – and that was the time when his biological identity is established. At fertilization, the unborn are alive, and unlike a sperm or an egg, we are now dealing with a whole being. The unborn is human, because the laws of biology dictate that like beget like. Fertilization produces unique members of the human species.

There are differences between the born and the unborn, but they are not relevant: size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency. These differences also change between birth and 20 years of age, but we wouldn’t permit killing someone because of them; there are certain obligations that parents have toward their children. From fertilization onward, the changes that occur in a person are not a change in nature, but a change in appearance and ability. It is not where we are that makes it wrong to kill us, but what we are.

[At this point Ms. Gray showed a short video of an abortion in progress, citing the need to see what it is that the debate is over. She prefaced the video with an appropriate “content advisory” as well as a quotation from pro-choice feminist Naomi Wolf: “How can we charge that it is vile and repulsive for pro-lifers to brandish vile and repulsive images if the images are real? To insist that the truth is in poor taste is the very height of hypocrisy. Besides, if these images are often the facts of the matter, and if we then claim that it is offensive for pro-choice women to be confronted by them, then we are making the judgment that women are too inherently weak to face a truth about which they have to make a grave decision. This view of women is unworthy of feminism.”]

Murder is wrong: not because the victims are well-educated or feel pain, but because they are human. When did they become human? After that point, it is wrong to kill them.

I’ll comment on Stephanie’s argument first, since I obviously take her side. There was nothing in it that I disagreed with, specifically. My feeling now is that it may have lacked somewhat in cohesiveness, but I’ll concede that might just be me trying to make sense of my hastily written notes two weeks after the fact. One place where we would definitely do things differently would be the number of anecdotes: she uses two, whereas I would probably use only one, reserving the rest of the time to give my opponent more arguments to deal with.  However, that’s a question of style, not so much substance.

These two opening statements felt an awful lot like I was watching two different debates, because they differed so much in approach. It’s to their credit that when Stephanie and Dr. Sneddon interacted, they did so directly nonetheless.

If you’re reasonably familiar with the major arguments surrounding the abortion issue, you may have recognized Dr. Sneddon’s opening statement as a variation of philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson’s famous “violinist” argument, first published in 1971. Suppose you were to wake up and discover yourself sharing a bed with, and your kidneys hooked up to, a famous violinist. He has been in an accident and needs to share your kidneys for nine months to survive. Are you obliged to give him the use of your body until he recovers? No, argues Thomson, and similarly a woman cannot be compelled against her will to provide the use of her body to a gestating fetus.

This is actually one of the more sophisticated pro-abortion-rights arguments. One thing it does is to grant the full humanity of the unborn – as did Dr. Sneddon, making this the first abortion debate I have attended where this was assumed by both sides. So Thomson and Sneddon have both spiked the pro-lifers’ biggest gun and shifted the focus of the debate onto different territory – such as the right to bodily autonomy.

But there is where the argument starts to fall apart. The right to bodily autonomy was simply asserted, but never proven: a woman has the right to abort a fetus because it is inside her body and making use of it. But suppose that instead of getting pregnant, she stole a priceless diamond ring by swallowing it. Does the fact that the ring is inside her body give her any rights over the ring, to do with it as she pleases? Of course not. And if she has no rights to dispose of a thing, how can she have such rights over a person? Ah, someone might counter, she doesn’t own the ring. Well, I would take it as axiomatic that you can’t own a human being. Otherwise, the argument against slavery starts to fall apart as well. Bodily autonomy obviously ends where someone else’s body begins. The fetus is not her body. As Stephanie argues, the unborn are living, genetically distinct, whole human beings with the intrinsic capacity to develop into functioning, mature, born persons. It comes down to the identity of the unborn after all: what it is determines what you can do with it.

Of Sneddon’s three possible disanalogies, I concede that the first, location, is not relevant. Where you are does not determine what you are. In the second, however, there is a relevant disanalogy. Granted, opening your door doesn’t mean you consent to a trespasser entering your home. Thomson also uses this analogy, in an attempt to argue that consent to sex doesn’t imply consent to pregnancy. But this is bizarre. Women (apart, I assume, from the occasional hotel heiress) do not sit around with their legs open so that random male passers-by can impregnate them – or for sperm (“people seeds,” as Thomson calls them) to waft along in search of a uterus to take root in. Men weren’t fish, the last I checked. Sex takes a certain amount of co-operation to achieve. The majority of sex is consensual, and the natural consequence of sex is pregnancy. It is, and hence most people come about as the natural consequence of a consensual act. It’s absurd to think you can divorce acts from consequence. Sneddon tries, too hard, and fails. At best, you can use this argument in favour of elective abortion because of rape. But to borrow from Sneddon’s trespasser analogy: suppose you open your door and invite a stranger into your home for dinner, after which he refuses to leave until you threaten him, and he puts his foot through your television on the way out? Obviously you bear at least some responsibility for the damage because of your naïveté.

Sneddon then tries to minimize the difference between “killing” and “letting die.” At one point he referred to abortion as disconnecting the fetus from the mother and letting it die. I can make the distinction easily enough. When a sick or injured person cannot survive in his natural environment without artificial help, and that help is not taken, that is letting die. When a  person with no life-threatening sickness or injury is forcibly removed from an environment that sustains him, that is killing. For example:

  • Refusing treatment for terminal cancer is letting die.
  • Being dragged out of your stateroom and thrown overboard in the middle of the ocean is killing.
  • Succumbing to a fatal illness because a compatible kidney donor could not be found is letting die.
  • Poisoning to death or dismembering a fetus in the uterus, then extracting the corpse with surgical instruments, is killing.

When I was in school, I came only a few credits short of a minor in philosophy, so I have to admit I was surprised at Dr. Sneddon’s rather pronounced lack of rigor when drawing some of these important distinctions.

Next came the cross-examination period, and I hope to continue with this analysis shortly.


The campus abortion debate, and how it should be done

February 28, 2009

It was my pleasure last evening to attend a debate, in the Arts Building at the University of Ottawa, on the morality of abortion.

I found out about this debate only a few days before, thanks to a blog post at ProWomanProLife. Then, I almost wasn’t able to go: after taking a hard fall on some ice on Thursday night, I was almost too sore to move on Friday. Meanwhile, the weather turned from nice to less nice to quite nasty in only a few hours. But by the evening, I felt limber enough to walk down to the campus – and in fact hardly noticed the soreness on the way home.

I was glad I made it out. The debaters were Stephanie Gray of The Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, which she co-founded along with Jojo Ruba, and Dr. Andrew Sneddon, professor of philosophy at the U. of O. I’ve seen Jojo debate a number of times, so I was interested in seeing his colleague for a change. As I have noted numerous times previously, a male pro-life advocate does give any campus womyn who show up an opportunity to point out, albeit fallaciously, that since men can’t get pregnant they have no business bringing their opinions to the table. When a woman takes the pro-life side, she spikes that particular gun. (I also had a chance to say hi to Stephanie briefly afterward, and she feels as well that the campus feminists are often more reluctant to beat up another woman.) And, of course, given the history of controversy over pro-life clubs in Canadian universities in recent years, there was also the possibility of some disruption, and I certainly didn’t want to miss out on any train wrecks.

But no train wrecks were in evidence. The lecture hall in the Arts Building, which nominally seats 200, was packed out to overflowing. The opening and closing comments by the organizers acknowledged that a crowd of this size, eager to hear a debate, proved that abortion in Canada is not the settled issue many of its advocates claim it is. Moreover, the university was to be commended for its commitment to academic freedom by hosting the debate, and all involved for proving that it could be held civilly and respectfully. These remarks drew long and loud applause: the SMU shouters with their “symbolic action” and “personal autonomy” three weeks ago do not represent the mainstream of student thought.

Dr. Sneddon began the debate with his 20-minute opening statement. He chose to argue the case for personal bodily autonomy: he acknowledged that the unborn are fully human beings with the same moral standing as born persons. Nonetheless, if he were to need a new kidney, his mother is not morally obliged to provide him with one; similarly, since she has autonomy over her own body, she would not be morally obliged to provide her fetus with the use of her uterus. Stephanie’s argument was from the humanity of the unborn: that from conception we have a genetically distinct, whole human being and by virtue of having brought him into existence, we have a responsibility to care for his basic needs. Just as we find it abhorrent when a mother neglects or even kills her young children, we should be equally abhorred when she neglects or kills her unborn children.

I wasn’t sure how I liked the remainder of the format of the debate. There wasn’t a rebuttal period, and instead of what I would call a proper cross-examination, one debater had eight minutes to present questions, and the other then had nine minutes to answer them. I’ll note that Dr. Sneddon posed fewer questions and had all of them answered, while Stephanie posed many questions and had some answers deferred (and at least one not answered at all). The debate then ended with 5-minute closing statements and a Q&A. I made several pages of notes during the debate, and I will go into more detail about their respective arguments in future posts.

I was impressed at the even match of the two opponents. Too often, the pro-choice debater has come to the debate armed only with political rhetoric and anecdote, and the debate seems lopsided. Dr. Sneddon, on the other hand, had a well-prepared moral argument for his position that he was ready to defend – although I did not find it convincing, for reasons that I will get into later. And as professional philosophers are wont to do, he was sometimes a little more circumspect about his arguments than the situation would have demanded. In the end, I feel Stephanie won the debate by about half a length, primarily because of her greater focus, clarity, and conciseness, as well as her better preparedness to answer questions.

As much as I enjoy seeing people like Jojo, Stephanie, or Scott Klusendorf give some Planned Parenthood spokeswoman a sound drubbing, it was nice to see a more level playing field, and hence a good fair fight, last night. Kudos to University of Ottawa Students for Life for organizing this event and making it a success, and if they have another, I’ll be sure to be there again.


About 1 hour to the Messiah’s Second Coming

February 19, 2009

Ottawa has been singularly honoured by hosting Barack Obama’s first state visit. Air Force One is flying; Messiah 2.0 is coming on the clouds at this very moment.

I can feel the hopenchange already. Maybe I’ll even catch a rainbow.