Sex-selective abortion motion blocked again

Conservative MP Mark Warawa has lost his appeal to bring a motion condemning sex-selective abortion to the House of Commons for a debate.

Committee upholds decision not to allow MPs to debate sex-selective abortion motion

Conservative MP Mark Warawa has lost his appeal to bring a motion condemning sex-selective abortion to the House of Commons for a debate. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Conservative MP Mark Warawa has lost his appeal to bring a motion condemning sex-selective abortion to the House of Commons for debate.

The procedure and House affairs committee upheld a decision by its subcommittee that Warawa's motion, M-408, isn't eligible to be debated by MPs, despite the advice of a non-partisan Library of Parliament analyst that the motion was in order.

Warawa has five sitting days to appeal to the House of Commons, but with MPs returning to their ridings for two weeks, that brings his appeal deadline to April 19. He says he'll announce his decision when the House returns on April 15.

The MP for Langley, B.C., said Monday he has the backing he needs to bring the appeal, with the support of five MPs from two recognized parties. That appeal will lead to a secret ballot over whether the motion can be brought for debate.

Warawa said he's "very disappointed" but was going to take a few days before deciding whether to appeal. He can also introduce another private member's bill or motion instead of appealing the decision.

"My grandmother says 'haste makes waste.' I do not want to make another rash, quick, kneejerk decision today," Warawa said, adding he's "happy to be on the team" and denying he had been pressured to back down.

"My conscience is my guide, but I also am proud to be a member of the Conservative caucus," Warawa said.

Debate over freedom to speak in House

Earlier Thursday, the NDP emphasized the need for members of Parliament to be able to speak freely to represent voters as the conflict over MPs' statements continued.

New Democrat House Leader Nathan Cullen was responding to a complaint by Warawa that he had been prevented last week from making a statement about his anti-abortion motion. Warawa said he had been on a list of MPs set to make members' statements, but was removed at the last minute by the party's whip.

Two other Conservative MPs backed Warawa in his question of privilege on Tuesday, a formal complaint to House Speaker Andrew Scheer that his rights as a member of Parliament had been breached.

Cullen urged Scheer to consider what he called the responsibility of members of Parliament to their constituents.

"We have two essential duties: holding the government to account and speaking for those that have elected us to this place," Cullen said.

The NDP opposes any limit on women's right to choose, he said.

"We are clear in our convictions and present ourselves unapologetically and unambiguously to Canadians in that way each and every election. But whether one agrees or disagrees with the member for Langley [Warawa] is not at issue here," Cullen said.

"The issue is the need for members of Parliament to speak freely on behalf of those we seek to represent."

However, other members of the NDP have called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to clamp down on MPs who bring anti-abortion motions and bills for debate in the House.


Cullen pointed to the set of guidelines on House of Commons procedure, which says the most important right accorded to members of the House is the exercise of freedom of speech in parliamentary proceedings.

Conservative whip Gordon O'Connor argued Tuesday that parliamentary whips are like coaches who can choose which players to play, while the Speaker is the referee who can't interfere with coaching decisions.

Cullen responded to the metaphor, but argued what happens in the House is not a game.

"I would simply offer this, Mr. Speaker: that if a coach insists on only sending so-called goons on to the ice simply to pick fights, there is no question that the referee will intervene to give some hope that an actual game might be played."

Conservative MP Kyle Seeback continued the sports metaphor, telling the House no one has ever interfered in his right to speak. But, he suggested, players who don't get their chance may have to make an appeal to the league.

"If you can't at all rise to speak, you certainly cannot enjoy freedom of speech, which is one of the things that we consider to be sacrosanct in this place," Seeback said.

New Brunswick MP John Williamson, who in 2009 worked for Harper as his director of communications, said blocking any MP from delivering a statement is "is a violation of privilege or right" and that the speaker recognizes MPs directly, not via their parties."

"I believe there are limits that have been crossed that involve removing speaking rights and that suddenly now involve veto rights over who is able to be recognized as a member of Parliament," Williamson said.

"This also involves our democratic principles. If we, that is to say, you, Mr. Speaker, reinforce the authority of members of Parliament by reaffirming their right to speak, [and] then your right to recognize them, we will together strengthen democracy in this chamber.

"I propose that ... you yield to no one."