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Agree or disagree, let’s keep it honest

Thom Barker
Thom Barker - Submitted

Why do so many politicians feel the need to conflate unrelated things and misrepresent to make their points?

That is a rhetorical question, one that leapt to mind when Doug Ford started blowing the abortion dog whistle, presumably to lock down the far right vote in his bid to become leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. As an aside, isn’t it about time for a name change for that party? There is certainly nothing progressive about it anymore.

In case you missed Ford’s unfortunate utterings of twisted logic and falsehoods, here they are:

“My friends, you have to give a note to your kids when they’re 12 and 13 years old to go on a field trip. You have to approve even getting their tonsils out, but you don’t have to approve and keep secret [abortion] with a 12- and 13-year-old?”

The contention there is any relevant connection between field trip permissions and consent for medical treatment is a non-sequitur fallacy. Field trip permissions are about limiting the liability of schools, school boards and school officials for potential injuries children could sustain from the inherent risks of taking them off the school grounds. Medical consent is about respecting a person’s constitutional right to self-determination.

If there is a connection, it is that Ontario subscribes to the “mature minor” doctrine, meaning a person under the age of majority has the right to prove they are competent to make their own decisions. So, in fact, if a student wanted to challenge it, they could probably also make a case for signing their own permission slips.

Getting back to Ford’s assertion parents have to approve a tonsillectomy, we again find misrepresentation. Children of any age in Ontario—and also British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba—have the right to make all their own medical decisions, not just whether or not to have an abortion,  if they have the capacity to do so.

And that is the key point. It is only if a physician or judge determines they have the capacity to do so. A 12- or 13-year-old does not automatically have the right to approve her own abortion. In fact, the same is true of persons of any age. Until recently we denied the right for persons of any age to end their own life. Now, although euthanasia is legal, a person still has to prove they are competent to make an informed decision.

The question of rights and privileges, and at what age it is appropriate to bestow them, is a legitimate debate. Unfortunately, it becomes very difficult to have even a civil discussion about it when everything a political leader says is logically fallacious or outright false.

So far in this campaign, Ford has also promised to rescind the Ontario sex education curriculum, another far right dog whistle.

Not surprisingly, his claims about the curriculum also fail a basic fact check.

“Grade Two, [Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne] is trying to parade this ideology down our backs about six different genders or ten different genders, I think it’s six different genders and all that nonsense,” he said.

In fact, the “sex education” component of the Grade Two curriculum is about stages of human development and oral health (brushing and flossing). If teachers are teaching something else, that is on them, not the curriculum.

There are three distinct issues here. The first is whether we agree or disagree with a specific policy or law. The second is whether the change we want to make is constitutional. The third is whether we continue to let politicians get away with making fallacious arguments and false statements.

There may well be very good arguments for setting a minimum age at which children can make their own medical decisions, including abortions, but Ford has not advanced any.

Agree or disagree, we are all responsible for keeping our leaders and the debate honest.

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