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We are deeply concerned about recent statements by senior members of the Conservative Party that bring into question your party's commitment to women's reproductive freedom and to the freedoms that Canadians enjoy under the Charter of Rights. We hope that, as party leader, you will shed light on the Conservative position by answering three questions.

1. Would a Conservative government protect a woman's right to choice?

Women have enjoyed the right to abortion for more than 16 years, since the Supreme Court's 1988 Morgentaler decision. But recently Conservative health critic Rob Merrifield called for women to receive counselling by persons other than their physicians before terminating a pregnancy. He said that counselling may be "valuable" for women contemplating abortion because "people who take part in it may only be seeing one side of it." Since third-party counselling already is available to women, we take it he meant that such counselling should be mandatory before an abortion.

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Why have Conservatives singled out this one medical procedure as beyond the capability of doctors to appropriately counsel their patients? Why is this choice beyond the capability of Canadian women to make?

We had hoped, Mr. Harper, that you would have stated that Mr. Merrifield's views do not represent Conservative Party policy, and fire him as party health critic. Instead, you indicated that a Conservative government would put a private member's bill on women's reproductive choice to a free vote in the House of Commons -- but that you have "no intention of discussing the topic during an election."

Yet an election is exactly the time when we need to know. You are on the record as being "pro-life" and believing that abortion should only be permitted in "exceptional circumstances." Canadians have a right to know whether you would vote to turn women who require abortions, and physicians performing them, into criminals.

2. Would a Conservative government uphold the Charter's fundamental guarantees or override them?

Indeed, many Conservative policies view the Charter of Rights not as a fundamental guarantee for all Canadians, but rather as an obstacle to be circumvented in the drive to remake Canada's social fabric. You have regularly indicated a willingness to use the Charter's notwithstanding clause to override Charter rights and to put the state back into the bedrooms of the nation. Canadians respect and cherish the rights and values that the Charter guarantees. Extensive use of the override places rights squarely back where they were before the Charter was enacted: in the hands of a potentially hostile majority.

3. Would a Conservative government respect the Supreme Court, or compromise its independence?

We are also concerned that the lack of respect shown in Conservative members' public comments about the Constitution may extend to the Supreme Court. Your justice critic, Vic Toews, has stated that Supreme Court justices are "political actors" and "politicians." The Conservative Party handbook indicates that, if elected, you would create a parliamentary committee to review every Supreme Court decision and override the court where the committee considered the ruling in error.

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Formalizing parliamentary review would undermine the court's independence and compromise its ability to protect Canadians. The court is one of Canada's most respected institutions. Subjecting its rulings to political approval would upset the delicate balance of power between the Supreme Court and Parliament, the hallmark of constitutional democracy in Canada.

Mr. Harper, you are running to become prime minister, the most powerful office in the land. Where you stand on these fundamental issues will determine the rights and freedoms Canadians enjoy far into the future; they deserve to know your plans. We look forward to your response.

Joseph Arvay; Marc-André Blanchard Karen Busby; Rebecca Cook; Marlys Edwardh; Jean-François Gaudreault-Desbiens; Rebecca Johnson; Anne LaForest; Claire L'Heureux-Dubé; Kathleen Mahoney; David Matas; Ronalda Murphy; Simon Potter; John Rosen; Clayton C. Ruby; Lorne Sossin; Harvey Strosberg; John A.L. Yogis.

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