MP Maurice Vellacott Tom Hanson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

MP Vellacott lauded, and vilified, for awarding medals to pro-life activists

  • October 26, 2012

OTTAWA - A Conservative MP who came under fire for awarding Diamond Jubilee Medals to pro-life activists who have served time in prison has garnered plenty of support from those who see the activists as prisoners of conscience.

MP Maurice Vellacott awarded medals to Linda Gibbons, who has spent almost 10 years in jail over the past 20 years for quietly praying outside an abortion facility despite a temporary injunction forbidding it, and to Mary Wagner, who has been in and out of jail for counselling women inside those facilities, usually with pamphlets and roses.

Some mainstream media reports have accused Vellacott of awarding convicted criminals. Even Liberal Leader Bob Rae weighed in, telling journalists, “It’s bizarre in my view to be giving medals to people who are in jail for harassment or for causing mischief or for breaking probation.”

Representative of pro-life organizations, however, applaud the awards and find the criticism hypocritical.

“You cannot give the Order of Canada to someone like (abortionist) Henry Morgentaler and complain about this award,” said Catholic Civil Rights League executive director Joanne McGarry. Morgentaler also spent time in prison, sentenced to 18 months for illegally performing abortions outside a hospital. His defiance of the law led to Canada’s abortion laws being struck down.

McGarry said the women have faced jail time to witness, often silently, to the pro-life cause. Their protests represent “a civil rights issue,” she said, and represent “considerable bravery” on their part.

“This is about the right to peaceful protest,” she said. Vellacott “should be commended for putting their names forward.”

“Mr. Vellacott is a very courageous and free man, an MP who perfectly illustrates the unity of life which should characterize all the baptized,” said Catholic Organization for Life and Family director Michele Boulva. “He is giving us a wonderful example of what it means to transform the world with Christ. It's all about being faithful to who we are, be it in the private or public spheres of our lives.

“None of Christ's followers should leave their Christian identity at the door of their workplace. On the contrary, our beliefs and our values should permeate all our choices and decisions,” she said. “That is exactly what has happened here: Mr. Vellacott has decided to award a Jubilee Medal to two admirable women who are not anti-abortion, but pro-life, and who are trying to speak up for the voiceless. Congratulations, Mr. Vellacott.”

Priests for Life Canada board chairman Fr. John Lemire said his organization was delighted to hear of the awards.

“Mary Wagner and Linda Gibbons aren’t seeking media attention,” he said. “They are unsung, uncompromising pro-life heroes on the street corners, quietly praying and reaching out to women to try to speak the truth in love.

“All that they’ve done is be that quiet, peaceful, witnessing presence, never looking for recognition or reward. Aren’t those the people in society we really want to honour?” he said. “We think it’s a hopeful sign in our country when some MPs are working towards a culture of life and recognizing those unsung heroes.”

Vellacott did not back down in the face of mainstream media criticism. His office issued a statement after his awards were compared with those of Justice Minister Rob Nicholson who gave his awards to victims of crime. Nicholson faced questions about Vellacott’s awards from journalists.

"Unlike the justice minister, Vellacott was unable to award these medals to the victims of crime, because these baby victims are dead, so instead the award to those 'heroines of humanity' Mary Wagner and Linda Gibbons who are trying to protect defenseless, voiceless human beings in the womb from butchery and death, and trying to let vulnerable women know that there are other options and support and adoption possibilities," the statement said. "It's what you would expect in a caring compassionate society.

"It's a pretty upside down world when we honour abortionists like Henry Morgentaler for killing over 5,000 babies and imprison precious women, like Mary Wagner and Linda Gibbons, who try to save babies from such savagery. They are the real heroes of humanity," the statement said.

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