When Societies Confuse Their Heroes and Villains

Image of Malala Yousafzai
Photo: Southbank Centre

When Societies Confuse Their Heroes and Villains


Last Wednesday in parliament there was a beautiful outpouring of affection for Malala Yousafzai, newly bestowed an honorary Canadian citizenship for her bravery and commitment to the cause of education for women.

Her story is inspiring. As a young girl she followed her father’s advice and advocated for education for girls in Pakistan. This went against regional Taliban militants who banned television, music and education for girls.

They targeted her as a result of this, boarding her school bus and shooting her in the face.

She survived, continuing to go to school and defiantly refusing to hide her books under her scarf.

She also continues to speak out for her cause. She said: “I used to think I had to wait to be an adult to lead. But I’ve learned that even a child’s voice can be heard around the world.”

She is worthy of this honour. Senate Speaker George Furey said, “We all aspire to be Malala."


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Isn’t it beautiful when we can all agree on the goodness of actions? We can all see that Malala is a heroine, her bravery a model for girls, for women, for people.

In her home country Pakistan they certainly do not think so! Some there, unbelievably, see her attackers as the heroes.

Cultural blindspots are a strange thing...

This last point left me thinking. We Canadian also get it backwards sometimes. We have some heroines in Canada that are actually treated as the opposite.

Two women whose names you should know are Linda Gibbons and Mary Wagner. They are two pro-life women who believe it is important to speak the inconvenient truth, even when the state powers wish to silence them.

Wagner, a Catholic, goes to abortion clinics and hands out roses with cards or pamphlets, asking women if they are sure they want to go through with it.

She has spent 4 1/2 years in jail for it.

Gibbons, a grandmother who had an abortion herself once and knows the regret personally, paces outside abortion clinics with a sign and hands out pamphlets.

For this she has spent over 10 years of her life in jail.

Read Christie Blatchford's artcile: This woman has spent 10 years and 7 months in jail and no one cares

They are both a picture of what peaceful protest looks like. They act out of true, heartfelt concern for the pain and tragedy cause by abortion.

And for this, in Canada, we lock ‘em up. They are vilified by the state.

We have it backwards. They are the heroines. Why the heck are we treating them as villains should be treated??

Not so long ago abortion was illegal in Canada. Back when we had our wits about ourselves we realized that people matter, even really small ones. Back then we arrested the people who took lives, not the people who swore that lives were precious and inviolable.

Henry Mogentaler is Canada’s crusader of abortion. He made his fortune opposing the state, thrice being charged and once imprisoned for performing abortions in spite of Canadian law.

In 2008, Morgentaler we awarded the Order of Canada. Gibbons, on the other hand, was arrested twice that year. The villain regarded as the hero; the heroine as the villain. 

I met Linda Gibbons once at the March for Life in Ottawa. I thanked her for her witness. She was soft-spoken and friendly, and she asked me to sign a card that she was sending to Mary who was imprisoned. She wanted to offer her encouragement.

Neither of these women should know what the inside of a jail cell looks like.

One can only hope that one day our politicians will have their own moral awakening in this area. A day when politicians will emotionally laud the bravery, steadfastness and courage of Mary Wagner and Linda Gibbons, who peacefully exhorted mothers to avoid a tragic decision.

We recognize the courage and cause of Malala. I pray that Canada will one day recognize her other heroines as well. 

You may also like: Are you also aching for Canada to be better? and One thing I really admire about American politics

Why are we treating our heroines as villains should be treated?? — Josh Canning

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