Wednesday, March 29, 2023

The Chantal Daigle Affair | Lightning in the Supreme Court

In 1989, when a 21-year-old woman wrote abortion rights history in Canada’s highest court, because of her fight to no longer give birth to the son of a violent husband, the journalist Mary Tison was at the forefront. A memorable story of the day.

Posted yesterday at 10:00 am


Located near the Parliament of Canada in Ottawa, the Supreme Court of Canada is almost a haven of peace and serenity. The huge vestibule of the hall is sober and elegant. The main platform, covered in black walnut boards, melts with beauty.

And on August 8, 1989, this most worthy institution was the scene of a real twist, in a turn that stunned judges, lawyers and journalists. On this day, Chantale Daigle must petition the Supreme Court to overturn the ban on abortion.

The case is so urgent and important that Chief Justice Brian Dickson recalled several judges from vacation to present a full bench to hear arguments from both sides.

It is a cold morning. In the clip, in front of the Supreme Court, several dozen anti-abortion demonstrators are already with their names. A few words catch the eye: “Donate for the baby of Chantale and John Guy.” Front, stuffed, stroller.

We journalists prepared us, we could read everything about the case.

We know that those who are not married well have difficulty. Rather, it is about a woman who fears the power of her husband and who does not want him to act in her life, wants to play the role of a common child under the pretext.

So the message and the gifts that are offered seem completely disconnected.

The Chantal Daigle Affair | Lightning In The Supreme Court

PHOTO Archives Press

Chantal Daigle, in July 1989

Chantale Daigle is not present in the market, which is quite a surprise. In the Supreme Court, we discuss the interpretation of the law, especially when debating the law. Things have already been decided.

Jean-Guy Tremblay, a tall man, is still in the room, carefully observing his lawyer, Me Henri Kelada.

Chantale Daigle’s lawyer, Me Daniel Bédard, Val-d’Or, is inexperienced. He represented the girl in the process, but never pleaded before the Supreme Court. The constitutionalist Robert Décary came to lend a hand.

Morning, Me Bédard presents a solid argument. Then it’s a break. We take this opportunity to try the president of the Campagne Québec-Vie, former diplomat Aegidius Grondin. He leads the charge for the abortion movement. He speaks in the heat of the questions of women who “give birth”. An expression normally reserved for our ani- las. We do not know whether it is simple stupidity or a contemptuous way of looking at women.

The hearing is scheduled to resume at 2 am, but there is a delay, which is rare in this institution. When at last he resumed his proceedings, Me Bédard rose, looking mad.

He announces, in an uncertain voice, that he has just learned that Chantale Daigle had an abortion in the United States a week ago. The clap of thunder could not have been more important. We do not believe our ears.

The judges retire immediately, then return half an hour later to ask the lawyers whether to proceed with the case.

Me Kelada claims that it has to be terminated because this is a “private matter”. Ms. Daigle advocates for the cause of the prosecution because it is a common interest: other women to find themselves in the same situation as Chantale Daigle. In addition, Ms. Daigle is charged with contempt of court.

The judges retire to deliberate and debate among themselves, so that finally they return to hear the case and continue.

At the end of the day, they have a plan in place, and they reject the famous order that prevented Chantal Daigle from having an abortion.

At the entrance of the building we surround Jean-Guy Tremblay to receive his reactions. A reporter asks him a little awkwardly if he still loves Chantale Daigle. Lord Tremblay glared at him. “How can you ask me? She just killed my child,” he bursts out before leaving the scene.

We were taken aback by the aggressive tone of this response. The journalist will admit to the questioner a little later that, for a few seconds, he was afraid.

We never thought that such a day would live, especially in a sober place, which is the Supreme Court.

Abortion in Canada in seven days

Before 1969

Inducing abortion is a crime. The maximum penalty for a doctor (or anyone else) who helps a woman terminate her womb is life in prison. If the woman was caught, she was sentenced to two years in prison.


Peter Elliott Trudeau is amending the Criminal Code to authorize doctors to perform abortions, but only under certain conditions: the pregnancy must threaten the health or life of the woman. The council must also approve the policy. In all other circumstances, abortion remains illegal.


Doctor Henry Morgentaler is accused of performing legal abortions. He was acquitted of his rights, but the cause was appealed. Both the Quebec Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada overturned the judge’s decision, and Henry Morgentaler ended up in prison.


Henry Morgentaler was again prosecuted for procuring abortion services. The case goes all the way to the Supreme Court. This time it concludes that the abortion provision of the Criminal Code violates a woman’s right to “life, liberty and security of the person” under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The law against abortion is repealed. No other law supersedes it, so abortion becomes legal. It is now a state funded medical service. But accessibility remains uneven, especially limited in the Atlantic provinces.


A real legal battle rocked the country with Tremblay v. Daigle cheese Despite decriminalization last year, Jean-Guy Tremblay obtained a provisional injunction from a Quebec Superior Court judge preventing Chantale Daigle from having an abortion. The case goes to the Supreme Court, which rules that only a person has constitutional rights, and those rights begin at the time of birth. In short, that the fetus has no legal status in man, and that the father has no right of dominion over the fetus.


A bill introduced by Brian Mulroney’s government to re-criminalize abortion is on the table. Attempts are being made to restrict the process to women whose pregnancy threatens their health. The next year the bill died in the Senate. Since then, other courts have tried to limit women’s right to abortion, but all these legal initiatives have failed.


The debate was revived during the leadership of the Conservative Party. Candidate Leslyn Lewis made the ban on certain abortions a central element of the campaign.

Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia

Silvia Galipeau Press

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