12,500 march for life in Ottawa
Last year’s National March for Life in Ottawa saw 12,000 pro-lifers gathering on Parliament Hill in the pouring rain before proceeding through the streets of the nation’s capital for a one-hour march to witness to the injustice of abortion. This year, with the weather co-operating, a record 12,500 Canadians took part in the 13th annual, and thus far largest, National March for Life. Jim Hughes, president of Campaign Life Coalition, said of the sunny skies and warm temperatures, “This is something that God sent us as a special gift.”
But the larger gift, he said, was the size of the crowd. He thanked the teachers, chaperones and parents who brought the youth that made up the majority of the throng. Hughes later estimated that as many as three-quarters of those who marched were youth.
After thanking people for attending and acknowledging the financial supporters of the National March for Life – which costs more than $100,000 – Hughes said, “Let’s continue to bring life to Canada.”
Along with the record crowd, there were a record 21 MPs attending the pre-march speeches and introductions on the Hill. Former Liberal and independent MP Pat O’Brien, who now serves as an adviser to Campaign Life Coalition and the Knights of Columbus, introduced the MPs, praising their courage to stand up for life despite enormous political pressures to ignore the issue. “These are the kind of MPs that we have and that we need more of,” said O’Brien.
Rod Bruinooge, chair of the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus, thanked the crowd for making the trip to Ottawa and raising the issue. He said it has been a privilege to chair the PPLC for the past two years: “It’s something I really believe in. I believe in the value of the unborn and I’m not afraid to say that.” Bruinooge encouraged pro-lifers to support his private member’s bill to make it a criminal offence to coerce women to undergo abortion.
Conservative MP David Anderson said that in his decade as an MP, “I’ve never seen a crowd this size on Parliament Hill.”
His Tory colleague, Dean Del Mastro, said he’s ready for a real debate about abortion in Parliament. He said, “Maybe the first step is to determine when this place believes that life begins. I’m prepared to put my case forward … I’m prepared to have that conversation. Is the other side?”
Jeff Watson, another pro-life Conservative, said he looks forward to a time when “we will have in Canada a culture that supports life from conception to natural death. We will see that come to pass.” He added, “I think we can all declare together an end to the old debate about abortion and the dawn of a new day in Canada where abortion will be unthinkable. I think we can all say amen to that.”
Other MPs who were present included Conservatives Harold Albrecht, Leon Benoit, Kelly Block, Royal Galipeau, Ed Komarniki, Guy Lauzon, Pierre Lemieux, Phil McColeman, Lavar Payne, Brad Trost, Tim Uppal, Maurice Vellacott, Mark Warawa and Stephen Woodworth and Liberals Gurbax Singh Malhi, Dan McTeague and Paul Szabo.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec City, the Catholic primate of Canada, praised the government’s maternal health initiative at the upcoming G8 meetings, but also called upon the government to do more protect human life at home. “We would like some more courage, some more courage to do something more in Canada,” he said to cheers. Ouellet also praised the pro-life crowd’s “courage to stand up and to speak out for the values of life and family.”
He reminded people that “we pray” because abortion is a “spiritual battle” and a “juridical battle so that’s why we come together and we ask for justice.” He said that he hoped the march would create a “new awareness of the value of life and family” in Canada.
Bishop Nicola de Angelis of Peterborough also addressed the marchers. “Dear friends, and most of all young people, in promoting and defending life, you don’t count your personal costs,” he said. “You are always in the front-line trenches, day by day, bearing witness for the cause of life. May God strengthen you and give you joy in your undertakings.”
Bishop Carl Reid of the Traditional Anglican Catholics said everyone was “here in a spirit of unity to proclaim the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. May we pray that God will extend his blessing to all those people in Canada who do not think about this issue.”
Other prominent clergy present on the Hill included: Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, Bishop Luc Cyr of Valleyfield, Que., Bishop Stephen Chmilar of the Ukrainian Church in Toronto, Bishop Michael Mulhall of Pembroke, Ont., Bishop John Pazak of the Canadian Slovaks of the Byzantine Rite in Canada, Archbishop Brendan O’Brien of Kingston, Bishop William McGrattan, an auxiliary bishop of Toronto, and Bishop Ibrahim M. Ibrahim of the Catholic Greek Melkites of Canada.
Leading the procession through the streets were the Knights of Columbus. Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the K of C, made the trip from the United States to “claim both our great nations for a culture of life.”
The march made its way through the downtown core of the capital and concluded near the West Block after proceeding past Henry Morgentaler’s Bank Street abortion mill, where Show the Truth resumed its annual witness. When the march ended, there was music by David MacDonald, who was joined by about 1,000 youth who swayed and swung their arms to joyous music. That was followed by moving testimonials from women and men of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign. They described how the “choice” to have an abortion led to physical, psychological and spiritual problems.
The march drew what LifeSiteNews.com called “unprecedented media coverage from across the country,” with front-page coverage and large pictures in papers such as the Ottawa Sun, Toronto Star and National Post, while other papers such as the Ottawa Citizen ran their coverage inside. The Globe and Mail used a Canadian Press story and photo. There was live coverage on CTV News Net that included a lengthy interview with Jim Hughes and made the local affiliate and national broadcast of CTV and the CBC.
The Star’s coverage included an estimate of the crowd at 15,000, larger than CLC’s count. Hughes told The Interim that the paper did so as part of ongoing “scare stories in the media about the rise of the ‘Religious Right’ and their claim that Stephen Harper is part of this vast religious right-wing conspiracy.” He said most the media were more interested in tying the march to the government than covering the abortion issue.
Whatever the reasons for the coverage, CLC national organizer Mary Ellen Douglas said the new-found interest in the march was a good thing. “Any time we can get the message out that this is a human being and a human is being aborted, it is positive,” she said.
Also, for the first time the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus press conference got significant media coverage. PPLC chair Rod Bruinooge invited Janet Morana, co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, and Angelina Steenstra, the Canadian co-ordinator of Silent No More, to speak at the Charles Lynch Press Gallery to highlight the harm done to women by abortion.
Steenstra explicitly described her abortion and the aftermath of her decision. “I lived in a prison of self-rejection, self-hatred and self-condemnation,” Steenstra explained, as she “turned to alcohol, drugs and sexual affairs to numb the pain.” It was not until she lost a second child in an ectopic pregnancy – the side effect of her abortion and the pelvic inflammatory disease that resulted from it – did she realize she had to face her abortion decision and seek healing.
Despite the deeply personal stories and non-political nature of Silent No More, journalists from the Toronto Star, CanWest, and Sun Media repeatedly asked the women about their views on the government’s maternal health initiative. Steenstra finally relented and answered, “I am pleased to see the prime minister of Canada using the resources of Canada to promote women’s health by offering real concrete things to women to bring about life and to support life and to encourage life.” Several media outlets including the CBC reported that quote.
Joining Bruinooge, Morana and Steenstra at the press conference, but not speaking, were MPs Stephen Woodworth and Pierre Lemieux. After the press conference, Lemieux told The Interim he joined the women onstage “because what they are doing is extremely important” in telling their stories. “They need support in telling their painful testimonies so that the public can learn about the personal consequences for women and men who are thinking of having an abortion.”
On the evening of the march, there was the annual Rose Dinner and, for the first time, a separate youth banquet. More than 300 people attended the Rose Dinner at the Hampton Inn while more than 700 youth attended the banquet across the hall. (For the youth banquet, see accompanying story by Patrick Craine of LifeSiteNews.)
Silent No More’s Janet Morana told the Rose Dinner crowd that the pro-life side had momentum on its side. She said we can see the “victory we all know there will be one day.”
Deputy Supreme Knight Dennis Savoie recommitted the Knights of Columbus to the pro-life cause, which “is long-standing and we will be in it for the long haul.” Noting the large numbers of people who attended the day’s events, Savoie turned to Jim Hughes and said: “Whatever you are doing, Jim, keep on doing it and the Knights will support it.”
Noting the 12,500 who attended, and the two dinners that evening, Savoie said “there is a reason we talk about hope,” and he echoed Morana’s comments about momentum.
The keynote speaker was Lila Rose of Live Action, a new media outlet that exposes the lies and illegal practices of Planned Parenthood in the United States. She described how going undercover with “police-quality equipment,” she was able to show various Planned Parenthood employees encouraging her to lie about her age, the age of the supposed father and the circumstances of the pregnancy to avoid legal constraints on youth seeking abortions.
She also witnessed PP employees giving factually incorrect information about abortion to encourage women to choose abortion. Now, when she goes into abortion facilities, there are photos with her face on it warning employees that she is a pro-life plant; she has countered their attempts to thwart her efforts by changing the colour of her hair. “Now they have two pictures of me,” she said to laughter from the crowd.
But she also rallied those in attendance with her cry that “our side is the winning side, the side of truth.” Our culture will either change or die, she said, “because society cannot survive without justice.” She said that projects like hers that show the truth about the abortion industry will help turn the issue around. Quoting Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Rose defended supposedly extremist tactics by saying it was time for “creative extremism.”
She concluded by thanking the pro-life movement. “My generation is standing on your shoulders,” she said. “There is no better place to invest your heart, talents and time” than to pro-life. “God will give us victory … but we have to keep up the fight.”
As Jim Hughes told The Interim, the 12,500 at the National March for Life show that “the pro-life movement has a lot of fight left in it and that it is recruiting and ready to do battle in order to give a voice to the unborn until there is legal protection for every human being from the moment of conception until natural death.”