The myth of the violent pro-lifers

Pro-life activist Bill Whatcot at a Metro Police station after a June 1999 assault.

Pro-life activist Bill Whatcot at a Metro Police station after a June 1999 assault.

On May 29, Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi announced that the government was planning on implementing bubble zones, or “safe access zones,” around Ontario abortion facilities. Considering that it was calling for something that cannot truthfully be interpreted as anything other than a restriction on the peoples’ right to express their opinion and peacefully protest, the reception to this announcement was quite positive. It seemed that the media had a different interpretation of the nature of this legislation, for all but a few of the articles in the mainstream media determined the call for bubble zones to be justifiable due to “vile abuse by protestors” and “antagonism among Canadian anti-abortionists” (to quote two Toronto Star columns demanding bubble zones).

Ottawa mayor Jim Watson used the same justification in his letter to the Attorney General requesting bubble zones, writing: “I am hoping that you will agree that the concerns that moved the Ontario government to action for the people of Toronto in 1994, are no less pressing than they are today, for the people of Ottawa.” Ottawa’s Morgentaler Clinic is where the bulk of the pre-mentioned ‘vile abuse’ allegedly occurred.

Watson’s mentioning of Ontario’s 1994 injunction, and specifically the claim that it is comparable to the current situation outside Ottawa’s abortion clinic, says a lot about what he thinks is going on there. The 1994 injunction in Ontario was put into place after vandalism, arson, and bomb threats were reported in Ontario abortion clinics. Additionally, there was an explosion at the Toronto Morgentaler abortuary in 1992 during the middle of the night. The perpetrators were never caught, but the prime suspect according to abortuary staff who photographed him was Paul Patten, who was years later found guilty of murdering his parents. However, the officially unsolved explosion undoubtedly influenced the government’s decision to restrict pro-life protesting as well. In fact, Canada’s bubble zones are usually implemented in response acts or threats of violence against abortionists or abortuaries. In British Columbia, bubble zones were put in place after an abortionist was shot by a sniper, and Quebec’s bubble zone implementation was influenced by the 2015 Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado.

There have been no incidences of anti-abortion violence in Canada since the early 2000s, and never has an assailant been linked to a mainstream pro-life group. Most violence committed against the abortion industry is carried out by individuals acting on their own, associated with marginalized anti-abortion groups that espouse violence, or have been personally affected by abortion themselves.

The National Abortion Federation, which keeps an up-to-date list of all incidents of violence and disruption against North American abortion workers, has July 2000 listed as the date of the most recent attack against a Canadian abortionist. Even the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, in a 2006 position paper called Anti-Choice Violence and Harassment, stated that since 9/11 there has not been a single case of violence from the pro-life movement in Canada. While the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) lists the pro-life movement as a source of potential terrorism, they have not offered any evidence that pro-life groups support violent means to ending abortion or recent examples of anti-abortion violence. Indeed, after attacks on abortionists on either side of the border, pro-life groups are unified in their condemnation of murder and assault.

The peacefulness of the pro-life movement is something that the operators of abortion facilities cannot even deny. In a 2012 national study called “Abortion health services in Canada,” written by abortionist Wendy Norman, 74 Canadian abortion facilities were surveyed and were asked to report any harassment they had received during the year. The response was that 49 facilities reported no harassment at all, and 21 facilities reported only picketing without harassment. Out of the 7 other facilities, the most common complaint was that they received harassing emails. Additionally, no Canadian abortion facility had reported a resignation of a staff member owing to harassment.

So, the studies done by abortion advocates show that violence from the pro-life movement in the 21st century has been almost non-existent, and therefore any references to antagonism and growing hostility is simply rhetoric. The story of systemic pro-life harassment is not supported by any evidence.

The same cannot be said of the pro-abortion side. In the 1980s outside the Morgentaler abortuary, a pro-abortion supporter tried to intimidate pro-life activists by toting a rifle near their demonstration. In the 1990s, Robert Hinchey was pepper-sprayed when he did sidewalk counseling in Toronto. In 1999, pro-life demonstrators faced down thugs with Anti-Racist Action who were wielding baseball bats embedded with spikes.

More recently, in 2013, a woman named Faye Arellano was assaulted by a knife-wielding attacker in Toronto while doing LifeChain, a form of activism that does not involve talking, graphic images, or anything more controversial than a placard that says abortion is wrong. The incident did not get reported by the mainstream media.

In 2012, both Show the Truth (in Toronto) and the New Abortion Caravan (in Thunder Bay, Ont.) experienced assaults from individuals upset with their pro-life witness, including being doused with chocolate milk.

When people think of abortion activism-related violence, they tend to think of the dramatic television coverage of Operation Rescue in the 1980s, but most of the violence consisted of police dragging away pro-lifers who blocked access to abortion facilities and who then let their body go limp as to not cooperate with the authorities who seemed to be guarding abortuaries rather than innocent human life.

This activism was deeply rooted in the public consciousness when bubble zones became a tool to prevent pro-life witnessing in the early 1990s and was conveniently used to suppress freedom of speech and freedom of assembly when a handful of abortionists were assaulted (by lone wolves).

If Watson is correct about the hostility of Ottawa protestors being equivalent to the protestors of the 1980s and 1990s, then Ottawa must be hosting an unusually radical group of protestors, with a level of hostility that has been practically unheard of in Canada’s pro-life movement for over the past 15 years. And if these people are such a problem that they require province-wide legislation to be dealt with, then why has there been such a lack of reporting on it?

There were a few articles written about the protestors outside of Ottawa’s Morgentaler Clinic. The first one, an April 19 Toronto Star piece by columnist (and Morgentaler friend) Heather Mallick entitled “Ottawa police won’t protect abortion clinic despite pleas,” brought attention to the topic. The piece mentions groups of protestors crowding around the clinic harassing women, thus breaking Ottawa’s by-law that states that groups of protestors must stand across the street from the facility. It also mentions the acts of two protestors: a young man named Nicolas, and an older man named Cyril who is believed by the Shayna Hodson, the abortuary’s director of operations, to be orchestrating the actions of Nicolas.

According to Mallick, Nicolas had entered the facility multiple times, and at least one time was screaming at the patients and staff while throwing holy water throughout the clinic. Nicolas told Vice in an interview on May 31 that he had been arrested at the abortuary multiple times.

To intentionally act this way, to make the people around you feel threatened and physically unsafe, is of course an inappropriate thing for a protestor to do on both a principle level and a strategic level. But these were the actions of one man – unless of course Hodson and Mallick are telling the truth about the claim that Cyril is orchestrating the boisterous protests.

However, there is good reason to believe that Hodson’s and Mallick’s claims are inaccurate. Cyril Winter has a YouTube video calling out Mallick’s article as libelous. He claims to be the sole person standing by the doors of the facility – which means he is not breaking the by-law, because it only applies to groups – and that he does not initiate talking with the staff or patients, stating: “I wait until they do, and I give them as peaceful a response as I can with loving the babies in Jesus’ name. Mallick could have found out these things if she bothered to interview me.”

In a talk with LifeSiteNews, Cyril commented on the incident with Nicolas. Several days a week for the past six years, Cyril’s been standing outside of the clinic, so he witnessed Nicolas being carried out by police. He called it a sad case that did the pro-life movement no good.

Frank Barrett, a retired RCMP officer who has protested an hour each Tuesday for eight years and successfully lobbied Ottawa City Hall to fly the National March for Life flag in May, told the Ottawa Citizen that Nicolas was the only protestor that he was aware of who was not peaceful. Other than that, he is not aware of any assaults, spitting, or patterns of abuse coming from any of the protestors.

All this is to say that the pro-life movement must be alert about how they are being depicted by the media. Those who are not pro-life will often claim that sweeping bubble zone legislation is necessary to keep violent protestors away, but the truth is that the public has not been shown sufficient justification for the claim that Canada’s pro-life movement is violent, besides a few isolated incidents that the police dealt with. If it turns out that there is a slew of unreported assaults and harassment going on in Ottawa, then the least one could expect is that this hidden harassment would be brought to light before the media started applauding bubble zones and the removal of Charter rights. Sorry to burst the pro-abortion bubble, but it is about time we stop pretending pro-lifers are violent.

We should, however, take note of the violence by abortion advocates, and even more so the violence of abortion itself. The real violence is perpetrated on the 5 million babies by abortion. It is peaceful pro-life witnesses and babies in the womb that need a bubble zone of protection.

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