When Canada was about to celebrate its first centennial, a collection of legislative proposals was being considered by the federal government. In 1967, under Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, early drafts designed to legalize divorce and remove birth control from the Criminal Code were being developed.
The omnibus bill that was ultimately approved by Parliament also dealt with matters such as abortion and homosexuality. At the time, Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau explained that the changes were meant to bring “the laws of the land up to contemporary society.”
Research Co. and Glacier Media ask Canadians every year about their moral views on 21 different issues. More than five decades have passed since the laws of the land changed, and most Canadians are not personally dejected by many of the practices that are no longer illegal.
More than two-thirds of Canadians consider four activities as “morally acceptable”: •contraception (75 per cent, down one point since we last asked in 2021);
•divorce (73 per cent, down four points);
•sexual relations between an unmarried man and woman (69 per cent, down three points) and;
•having a baby outside of marriage (69 per cent, unchanged).
Two other issues are slightly more controversial in the minds of Canadians. While 59 per cent of the country’s residents believe sexual relations between two people of the same sex are “morally acceptable” (down three points), more than a quarter (27 per cent, up three points) consider them “morally wrong.”
The proportion of Canadians who express moral misgivings about homosexuality rises to 36 per cent among respondents of South Asian origin, to 39 per cent among those of East Asian descent and to 41 per cent among Conservative Party of Canada voters in 2021.
In a recent countrywide poll, we learned that Canadians maintain a high level of support for both the continuation of same-sex marriage (66 per cent) and the decision to ban the practice of “conversion therapy” at the federal level (62 per cent). Still, when looking strictly at personal morals, acceptability of same-sex relations is lower when compared with how Canadians feel about divorce and birth control.
More than half of Canadians (53 per cent) recently told us that they are not particularly keen on a new debate about abortion. When asked about their moral views on pregnancy termination, 55 per cent of Canadians (down two points since 2020) think it is “morally acceptable,” while 29 per cent (up four points) consider the practice “morally wrong.”
Again, the biggest differences are related to politics and ethnicity.
Abortion is “morally acceptable” for majorities of Canadians who voted for the New Democratic Party (NDP) (71 per cent) and the Liberal Party of Canada (60 per cent) last year, but only 47 per cent of Conservatives share this point of view. While 65 per cent of Canadians of European heritage have no moral qualms about pregnancy termination, the proportion falls markedly among East Asians (50 per cent) and South Asians (39 per cent).
Other topics related to the “bedrooms of the nation” are decidedly more divisive.
Fewer than a third of Canadians believe pornography (31 per cent, unchanged) and prostitution (30 per cent, down three points) are “morally acceptable.” Fewer feel the same way about polygamy (19 per cent, unchanged), married men and/or women having an affair (16 per cent, down two points) and pedophilia (four per cent, down one point).
On prostitution and pornography, the gender gap has remained consistent. Almost two in five men find each issue acceptable (38 per cent and 37 per cent, respectively). The numbers are significantly lower among women (23 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively).
There was no change when Canadians assessed the acceptability of using stem cells obtained from human embryos (55 per cent), suicide (18 per cent) and cloning humans (12 per cent).
On issues related to animals, few Canadians morally accept practices such as buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur (36 per cent, down two points), using animals for medical testing (25 per cent, up one point) and cloning animals (19 per cent, unchanged).
The needle moved on the moral appropriateness of gambling (52 per cent, down five points). The death penalty, which has remained a contentious topic over the years, is seen as “morally acceptable” by 40 per cent of Canadians (up one point) – including 57 per cent of Conservative voters.
Two other issues deserve a special mention. The federal government will have to figure out a way to discuss the reach of legislation that allows physician-assisted death and address the opioid crisis in a way that goes beyond the photo-op.
Now, more than three in five Canadians (61 per cent, down four points) believe physician-assisted death is “morally acceptable,” but only 18 per cent (down two points) feel the same way about using illegal drugs.
Canadians continue to look down at people who choose to use illegal substances. This partly explains why proposals to decriminalize all drugs for personal use have not been supported by a majority of the country’s residents.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted from May 7 to May 9, 2022, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.