Letter to Prime Minister Regarding the International Conference on Population and Development

Monday, June 28 1999

The Right Honourable Jean Chrétien
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

Within a few days, representatives from Canada will meet with delegates from other nations of the world for the June 30 to July 2, 1999, Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).

The Bishops of Canada wish to encourage your government to look at the fundamental causes of problems in population and development, and not short-term or short-sighted solutions that fail to get to the heart of the question.

We believe that population issues are essentially questions involving human development and education. In fact, our conviction is that Western international development strategies often fail precisely because, in concentrating so exclusively on economic and material factors, they at times tend to overlook fundamental ethical and cultural values, including the rights and responsibilities of the individual person, the singular importance of his or her family and community, and the natural environment which sustains us all.

Furthermore, we maintain that development will succeed only when it is based on respect for the whole human person. The Cairo Conference on population and development five years ago recognized that women must be full and equal partners in development, enjoying equal opportunities in education, primary health care, career choices and employment opportunities in order to meet their basic needs. It is our hope that a vision of the whole human person will also inform the 1999 Special Session on population and development, and not a narrow focus on what is simplistically referred to as reproductive health.

With specific respect to family planning, we make our own the words of Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (no. 91): “Governments and the various international agencies must above all strive to create economic, social, public health and cultural conditions which will enable married couples to make their choices about procreation in full freedom and with genuine responsibility.

Finally, at the same time that we encourage your government in its international endeavours toward “a more integrated, sustained and harmonious approach to population and development” (as had been indicated by the Canadian representative at the March 1999 ICPD preparatory meeting), we would respectfully note that Canada and other developed nations also need to resolve their own development problems, including homelessness, child poverty, abused women and marginalized Aboriginal Peoples.

In sharing with you our conviction that population issues can be effectively addressed only from the perspective of human development and education, we on behalf of the Catholic Church in Canada renew our commitment to continuing to work toward the common good by respecting each and all human life and at the same time safeguarding the integrity of creation.

Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, for considering our concerns on this matter.

+ Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte
Archbishop of Montreal
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

CC: Honourable Lloyd Axworthy, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade