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Douglas Farrow.- The Ottawa Citizen, 15 March 2022

In the run-up to the Russian Revolution the Mensheviks were out-manoeuvred by the Bolsheviks. The very labels were a manoeuvre. Lenin's struggle for control of the Social Democrats, who met in London in 1903, was not going well. His faction was too small to win the day. So he engineered provocations that caused the Jewish Bund to walk out and seized on the opportunity to call a snap vote, which he won by a margin of two. Then he labelled his liberal opponents the Mensheviks or minority, and his own radical group the Bolsheviks or majority. It would be a long time before he gained control, but the names stuck.

In “'Family' Heist” ( Ottawa Citizen , February 26), Janice Kennedy detected a similar piece of linguistic skulduggery by those revolutionary groups – American in provenance, not Russian – that seem to be multiplying in Ottawa these days. The word they have purloined is not “majority” but “family,” which they have arbitrarily attached to their own radical model: the triadic model of father, mother, and offspring.

Ms. Kennedy quoted against them the third edition of­ The American Heritage Dictionary , which supplies this definition of family: “two or more people who share goals and values, have long-term commitments to one another, and reside usually in the same dwelling place.” That, she implied, is the traditional meaning, which is being undermined by the bigotry of those whose “slick twisting of perfectly good words … into ugly shapes” is the product of a spiteful and intolerant mindset.

But who exactly is guilty of this charge? In Kennedy's attempt to demonize her opponents she didn't mention that her definition is a secondary one. The primary definition offered by the same dictionary is “a fundamental social group in society typically consisting of a man and woman and their offspring.” The definition Kennedy touts as traditional is not even to be found in the original edition.

Nor does the Oxford English Dictionary offer any support for Kennedy's thesis that the word has been stolen by “ultra-conservative crusaders” who are advancing “agendas dominated by discrimination and an exclusionary world-view.” Au contraire , a stroll through the dictionaries suggests that it is Kennedy who is attempting a word-heist; or, as I would say, playing the Bolshevik-Menshevik game.

A similar heist was performed under the Liberal government, when marriage – after a number of manipulations worthy of the Bolsheviks, including rigged committees and snap votes – was redefined in such a way as to make a change in the definition of family all but inevitable. But since it does seem inevitable, since indeed the courts and policy mandarins are already well down that road, why get all worked up about the new think-tanks forming around Parliament Hill?

No doubt the change of government is worrying, for these think-tanks may actually get a hearing. But there are other worrying developments too. Exactly a month before Kennedy's column appeared, the French National Assembly produced its Parliamentary Report on the Family and the Rights of Childre n. Disconcertingly this document – which was written after extensive consultation in France and after visits to countries such as the Netherlands and Canada – takes a big step back from alterations to the concepts of marriage and family.

The Information Mission that authored the report tells us that it “wanted to begin its work by examining the foundations of the family and considering how it has changed and where it now stands, because it wanted to see France as it is and not as it imagines it is.” (Fancy that! A government bothering to examine the foundations of an important social institution!)

Crucially, it chose “the best interests of the child as its guiding principle.” This principle led the Mission “to affirm and protect children's rights and the primacy of those rights over adults' aspirations.” And that in turn led to its recommending against the redefinition of marriage, against adoption by same-sex couples, and against the utopian re-imagining of the family as simply (to use Kennedy's words) “ the people you love and live your life with, whatever their number, age or orientation. ”

In short, the Parliamentary Report adopts the view that Kennedy is so anxious to subvert. “Marriage,” it says, “is not merely the contractual recognition of the love between a couple; it is a framework that imposes rights and duties, and that is designed to provide for the care and harmonious development of the child.” Neither marriage nor the family can be considered apart from filiation, and “the fundamental principles of the law of filiation … are based on the tripartite unit of ‘a father, a mother, a child'.” The alternative “is biologically neither real nor plausible.”

Quelle horreur ! American fundamentalism in Paris as well as Ottawa! No doubt that's enough to bring out the Bolshevism in the best of us.

Douglas Farrow is associate professor of Christian Thought at McGill University

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