Justin Trudeau will not let the concerns of religious leaders influence his stance in favour of abortion, stating there is no room for compromise in the Liberal Party's position in favour of women's rights.
Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast called for a meeting with Mr. Trudeau to discuss the Liberal Leader's pro-choice position, but Mr. Trudeau insisted that personal rights take precedence over the personal views of new Liberal MPs.
"I have a lot of respect for his eminence and for any leaders within the church, but I do want to highlight that he has a very different role than I do," Mr. Trudeau said as he campaigned in the by-election in Scarborough-Agincourt.
"My role is to stand up and defend all Canadians, and my role in terms of that is separate from any personal, religious views. That is one thing that I'm glad to be able to emphasize, that the Liberal Party is the party of the Charter and we stand up and defend personal rights," he said.
Reclaiming the vote of Catholics is a key goal for the Liberals in the 2015 general election, after polls showed a clear shift in their support to the NDP in Quebec and the Conservatives in the rest of Canada in recent years.
Still, Mr. Trudeau, who was raised as a Catholic, rejected a new law to deal with specific issues such as late-term abortions.
"Canada has a status quo that I don't want to re-open. … What I have demonstrated with my steadfastness on this issue is that the Liberal Party will not vote against a woman's right to choose. And that is what I am strong on," he said.
Mr. Trudeau announced two weeks ago that except for sitting MPs who oppose abortion, all Liberal candidates have to agree to vote in favour of abortion rights if they are elected to the House of Commons. The policy has been severely criticized in anti-abortion quarters, including by some Liberals who lamented the past practice of treating abortion as a matter of conscience and allowing free votes in the House.
Archbishop Prendergast was quoted in The Catholic Register this week as calling for a meeting with Mr. Trudeau, after warning the Liberal Leader against taking a position in contradiction with the teaching of the church. Archbishop Prendergast was in Rome and could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Mr. Trudeau sought to reassure Liberal members this week that his party is open to people of all views, pointing out that his father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, was a devout Catholic who nonetheless legalized divorce and decriminalized homosexuality.
"Canadians of all views are welcome within the Liberal Party of Canada. But under my leadership, incoming Liberal MPs will always vote in favour of a woman's fundamental rights," he wrote to party members on Monday.
The Liberal Party has asked all potential candidates whether they would agree to vote in favour of abortion rights as part of the process by which they receive a "green light" to run in party nomination battles.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau attended the campaign kick-off for Arnold Chan, the recently nominated Liberal candidate for the June 30 by-election in the riding of Scarborough-Agincourt.
Mr. Chan, a long-time Liberal Party member and one-time senior adviser to former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty, stood by Mr. Trudeau's position on pro-choice, saying he has been consistent.
"He's made it clear that we are the party of the Charter. That there is a clear decision under the Supreme Court reflecting the importance of a woman's right to choose," Mr. Chan said. "Since I already am an individual who believes in a woman's right to choose, the issue really wasn't a concern for me."
Lawyer David Bertschi, who is running to become the Liberal candidate in the riding of Ottawa-Orléans, said some Liberal supporters have been raising "concerns" about the party's new policy on abortion.
"Generally, in Orléans, you're looking at a microcosm of the country," said Mr. Bertschi, who is pro-choice. "I can tell you that residents have called me and discussed the matter with me, and we've had good, open and honest discussions about it."