OTTAWA, ONTARIO – Though my legs and lower vertebrae sympathetically throbbed at the prospect of spending another 16 out of 24 sleep-deprived hours sandwiched into a chartered bus barreling back and forth between London and Ottawa for the National March for Life, I thought it was important on several fronts to lend my support to the May 9, 2019 edition of what is the largest and most under-reported protest of any kind to visit our nation’s capital each year.
Thanks to a provincial pro-life protest unwisely scheduled on the very same day at Queens Park in Toronto, I was concerned that the numbers would be down for the national gathering. Though neither organizers nor police issued a head count for this year’s rally, I would say that any depletion from last year’s estimate of 15,000 was slight. Once again the lawn outside Parliament during the pre-march rally was pretty well covered by attendants and the march still took a full half hour to pass by from beginning to end as it made its way through the streets of downtown Ottawa.
I felt it was particularly important to do what I could to keep those numbers up this year because 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of abortion’s legalization in Canada. As one large homemade sign at the protest succinctly put it: “May 14, 1969: Canada’s Day of Infamy”. It so happens that this entire 50-year span – during which Canada has dismally distinguished itself among civilized nations by having no legal regulation of abortion whatsoever – has been bracketed by the prime minister-ship of Catholic men who share the last name of Trudeau. Pierre the elder who scrapped the old restrictions, at least had the honesty and decency to recognize that “the public is evenly divided on the subject of abortion” and therefore never sought to have the ghoulish procedure enshrined as a charter right.
His terrifyingly shallow son Justin – a walking contradiction who identifies as a male feminist as well as a Catholic – keeps erroneously insisting every chance he gets that abortion is indeed a charter right. It’s almost as if he believes that saying it as often as he can will magically enact some sort of fiat. While he may not be able to single handedly change the country’s constitution, the supine party he leads did allow him to arrogantly bar pro-lifers from standing as Liberal candidates and, in 2018, he was able to introduce a new proviso which barred any organization with pro-life views or affiliations from partaking of tax dollars which are doled out in government-funded summer jobs programs.
In his single-minded devotion to the advancement of abortion in every situation, Justin seems just a tad obsessed. In a special meeting with the American vice-president last week to discuss our newly overhauled continental trade pact with the U.S. and Mexico – a meeting that took place at a time when the Canadian economy is hardly flourishing – he insisted on hectoring Mike Pence on an issue that falls well outside of his bailiwick. Alerting the press beforehand that he was gravely concerned about a handful of American states whose legislatures have passed bills that seek to restrict abortion procedures to the first trimester, Prime Minister Happy Socks denounced our major trading partner for “backsliding” on women’s rights.
Like many others in attendance, I wanted to stand with the pro-life cause precisely because this matter of personal conscience is being held in such contempt by the current occupant of the highest political office in the land. What I hadn’t anticipated was how much of the commentary I heard – public and private – would be focused on the upcoming federal election this October and the hope which pro-lifers are taking from the climate of Trudeau-fatigue which is now sweeping the country.
I also wanted to attend so as not to give counter-protesters from the Coalition to End the March for Life any sense that their vulgar signs and bully-ish tactics were intimidating us. Last year about a hundred counter-protesters squared off against us in the street and caused the 150-times-more-numerous pro-lifers to improvise an alternative route for the march. This year their number seemed to be halved and the Ottawa Police did a commendable job of keeping them better contained. They were only allowed to assemble and hurl their abuse from one cordoned-off area on Parliament Hill and when they took to the street, they had to follow about ten minutes behind the last of the pro-life marchers in a group that was similarly cordoned off by 20 police officers on bicycles.
In a day and age when so many public demonstrations are marked and marred by bellicose taunting and in-your-face tactics, the March for Life has always distinguished itself by the sober and respectful decorum of its participants. Traditionally we march along in near silence which is punctuated by nothing more charged than the recitation of the rosary or singing of hymns. Reminding us that we were here “to build a bridge of trust and touch the hearts” of those who don’t yet share our views, Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto presided at the packed pre-rally Mass at St. Patrick’s Basilica (one of many such services taking place in downtown churches that morning) and told us, “This is not a rally where we fire slogans such as those who fire slogans at us.”
And so I was disappointed this year by a group very near the front of the march who apparently didn’t get the Cardinal’s homiletic memo. Indeed, when I first heard the volume and tone of their chanting from a block and a half away, I wondered if the counter-protesters had once again found some way to elude the police and head us off in confrontation. But no, the march was still moving. No one was impeding our progress. And then I could discern with a pang of saddened disbelief that those tiresome first words of unimaginative protesters everywhere – “Hey, hey. Ho, ho” – were being followed on this occasion by, “Abortion has got to go.”
Thankfully, they seemed to pipe down after the first ten minutes and I am happy to report that theirs was the only jarring and unworthy touch I detected all day from a determined resistance movement which 50 years on, shows no signs of discouragement or defeat.
(A shorter version of this column appeared in the May 19, 2019 edition of The Catholic Register)
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