Ashley Bratcher, who plays Abby Johnson, is pictured in a scene from the movie "Unplanned," the story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director, and her decision to join the pro-life movement. CNS photo/

Two theatres cancel showings of pro-life movie 'Unplanned' after threats

  • July 9, 2019

OTTAWA -- Two independent theatre outlets have cancelled public screenings of the pro-life movie Unplanned after their managers and owners received death threats.

“They were originally going to (screen it) and were able to endure a lot of negative publicity,” said B.J. McKelvie, a Fredericton pastor and president of Cinedicom, the Canadian distributor of the U.S. film about former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson who became a pro-life activist after witnessing an ultrasound-guided abortion. “They got a lot of positive support as well.

“Then things took a turn,” he said. “There started to be more serious threats towards managers and the families of theatre owners.

“There were two that were reported back to me that were death threats," McKelvie said.

Most independent theatres, however, are holding firm to screen the film which was scheduled for release in Canada July 12 after earning about $18 million since debuting in the U.S. in March. About 20 were set to screen Unplanned and McKelvie said on July 8 that he received 10 or 11 requests from independent theatres to run the movie that very day.

“The theatres aren’t scared,” he said. “We’ve got word back, they’re a little concerned about protestors and that.  It’s just a movie and everyone has a right to go see a movie if they want to or choose not to go see it.”

Landmark Cinemas and Cineplex Odeon are also standing firm, allowing screenings in select theatres across the country for a week.

McKelvie said he was shocked by the threats. “I’ve never heard of this before,” he said. “Not in Canada and I’ve been in this industry a long time.”

Salmar Theatres in Salmon Arms, B.C., cancelled the screenings in two of its theatres. The general manager did not wish to comment further, but a board member of the Salmar Community Association told the Salmon Arms Observer the board pulled movie out of concern for the manager’s personal safety.

“We have a track record of showing things from a variety of points of view… we try not to preclude things because of whatever personal opinions may exist on our board or something like that,” Chris Papworth told the newspaper. “What’s different here… certainly in the past, there hasn’t been an effort to dox employees or, specifically, the general manager, by releasing their personal information on social media and then encouraging people to go after them as the one responsible for some heinous act.

“We just aren’t prepared for those levels of hostility towards our general manager,” Papworth said.

McKelvie told Canadian Press July 3 The Movie Mill in Lethbridge, Alta., has also received a lot of threats. But he did not confirm if that was the other theatre company that pulled the film.

Cineplex president and CEO Ellis Jacob issued a statement July 8 saying the decision to screen Unplanned was “a complicated one and it was not made easily or lightly.”

“But as leader of Canada’s largest film exhibition company, I am confident that it was the right decision for us, for you and for our country,” Jacob said.

“When I immigrated to Canada back in 1969, one of the things that I loved, and still love, the most about living here was that we don’t shy away from our differences — we embrace them,” he said. “Canada is a country that believes in and rallies behind freedom of expression, but that isn’t always an easy thing to do and it certainly doesn’t always make you popular.

“In this instance many of us have had to set aside our own personal beliefs and opinions and remember that living in a country that censors content, opinions and points of view because they are different from our own is not a country that any of us would want to live in,” he said, noting the company would screen the film in 14 of its 1,700 auditoriums.

The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) released a statement June 25 calling Unplanned a “dangerous piece of anti-abortion propaganda.”

“The film’s vicious falsehoods against providers could incite hatred and violence against them, including here in Canada,” said Joyce Arthur, Executive Director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada in the statement. “But the film also aims to challenge abortion rights. That’s a non-starter in Canada, where women and transgender people have a charter right to abortion based on their rights to bodily autonomy and equality.”

Alissa Golob, co-founder of It Starts Right Now, complained on Facebook July 4 that CTV and Huffington Post were “reporting fringe abortion advocate Joyce Arthur fictitiously warning threats against abortion providers will happen if the movie is shown in Canada, with zero evidence to back it up.

“Apparently ‘pro-choice’ activists are not in favour of a woman's right to choose to tell her biographical story and the right to choose to see the film,” Golob said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, also condemned the screening on Twitter in a July 6 tweet.

“The arguments made below to promote the film … are not free speech arguments,” Telford said, retweeting a pro Unplanned post by Conservative MP Brad Trost. “The film was being promoted by conservative politicians because it was anti-choice. Nice spin though.”

Earlier, Telford had tweeted the “Controversial anti-abortion film Unplanned to hit more than 24 Canadian theatres, and “this is happening, at least in part, thanks to support received by federal Conservative politicians.”

“This is NOT Canada,” replied Maddie Di Muccio, a syndicated columnist for Troy Media, on Twitter. “One theatre has already received death threats for showing. Shame on you. And I’m pro-choice.”

(NOTE: This story has been updated to correct  the spelling of the independent movie distributor, Cinedicom.)

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