Fr. Tony Van Hee, who will receive the Archbishop Adam Exner Award for Catholic Excellence in Public Life, continues to protest outside the bubble zone in downtown Ottawa. Deborah Gyapong

Protesting priest earns award for advocacy

  • October 31, 2019

The Catholic Civil Rights League is honouring an 84-year-old priest who for three decades has been a visible presence in the nation’s capital for his opposition to abortion.

Fr. Tony Van Hee, the Jesuit priest who is a regular presence on Parliament Hill when the House of Commons is sitting, will be presented with the Archbishop Adam Exner Award at a ceremony in Toronto on Nov. 25.

The Archbishop Adam Exner Award for Catholic Excellence in Public Life was established in 2004 and is annually awarded in recognition of outstanding achievement in advocacy, education, life issues, media and culture and philanthropy. The award was named after the archbishop emeritus of Vancouver upon his retirement in 2004.

“We take this opportunity to recognize the persistent and prayerful witness of not only a Catholic priest but an individual who has stood in silent opposition, no matter the weather or other impediments, to the cause of life,” said Phil Horgan, president of the Catholic Civil Rights League.

Van Hee, who has been a priest for 51 years, has engaged in a regular prayerful protest and fast against abortion on Parliament Hill since September 1989, where he takes up his spot near the Centennial Flame from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. In an interview with Canadian Catholic News in July 2018, he called his 30 years of protest the best years of his life. 

Van Hee is currently facing charges under 2017’s Safe Access to Abortion Services Act after being arrested for silently protesting within 50 metres of the Morgentaler abortion clinic in Ottawa. Van Hee wore a sandwich board promoting free speech shortly after the act became law and was arrested Oct. 24, 2018 despite not speaking with anyone or distributing any literature. Van Hee continues his protest, wearing the same sandwich board sign with the words “The primacy of free speech cornerstone of Western civilization” on the front and on the back “Without free speech the state is a corpse,” outside the 50-metre bubble zone.

Van Hee was originally charged with intimidating or attempting to intimidate people within 50 metres of the Morgentaler clinic, but that charge was dropped and replaced with two new charges for informing or attempting to inform a person on issues related to abortion services and “to perform or attempt to perform an act of disapproval” about abortion services. He has pleaded not guilty to both charges.

The League is involved in a constitutional challenge to the controversial law, which has pushed Van Hee’s case to July 2020 to allow time for the challenge.

“I am honoured and humbled to receive the Archbishop Exner Award for Catholic Excellence in Public Life and to be associated with the many much more worthy former recipients,” said Van Hee in a news release. 

Among those who have been honoured with the Exner Award over the years have been a number of people working for the cause of life, including former Campaign Life Coalition president Jim Hughes, Fr. Alphonse de Valk, Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and Dr. Catherine Ferrier of the Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia. Others honoured include Regina philanthropist Frederick Hill; Dr. Andrew Simone and his wife Joan, co-founders of Canadian Food for Children; and Frank Chauvin of Windsor, Ont., who founded Haiti’s first orphanage for girls.

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