Fr. Tony Van Hee protesting outside the bubble zone in downtown Ottawa. Deborah Gyapong

Peter Stockland: Standing up for life a risky business

  • May 29, 2020

The Sunday New York Times full front-page listing of 1,000 names from among the nearly 100,000 who’ve died of COVID-19 was a bold, imaginative, powerful journalistic gesture.

Is it churlish, though, to say it would have been all that and more had the NYT ever given a nod — never mind a name — to even 10 of the millions of unborn children whose lives have been snuffed out by abortion since its legalization in the U.S. 47 years ago? Or must we simply silently accept that death itself is a matter of “enlightened” political preference in the newspaper’s eyes?

In fairness, the one-eyed blindness of major U.S. media on abortion has hardly precluded a robust debate on Roe v. Wade since the Supreme Court decision back in 1973.

Arcane as that may sound north of the border, its sheer attention to letting all things be heard provides welcome contrast to Canada’s political and institutional imposition of rigid silence on abortion as a matter of public policy. Exhibit A in the imposition will be the cross-examination of octogenarian Jesuit priest Fr. Tony Van Hee as part of the grinding legal process he’s gone through since Oct. 24, 2018.

On that day, Van Hee was arrested by Ottawa police a stone’s throw from Parliament Hill for breaching Ontario’s so-called “bubble zone law” that seals off abortion clinics from protestors. His crime? Holding up a sign that said: “Without Free Speech The State is a Corpse.” An initial charge of intimidation was dropped. Charges of “attempting to inform” and “showing disapproval” were substituted. I’m not making it up.

Yet it is not just public pro-free speech protesting priests who are drawing political and legal ire for daring to address abortion’s policy consequences. As I reported in the National Post earlier this month, a tiny two-person pro-life group called RightNow is under investigation by the Commissioner of Canada Elections for seeking to help pro-life candidates win their ridings in the 2019 federal election.

Alissa Golob and Scott Hayward are two young Canadians who made a conscious choice four years ago to use democratic electoral and parliamentary processes as means of changing attitudes and legislation (meaning the complete absence of it) around abortion. They opted for dialogue over demonstration. They employed political science rather than posters of aborted fetuses.

“We want to work for policies that resonate with Canadians,” Golob told me from Calgary.  “Public opinion is a big part of what we do. We know that while many disagree with us, there are a lot of socially conservative policies that are palatable to the average Canadian. We’re not an all-or- nothing organization. We understand the incremental approach. At the same time, we want to help women in need.”

Having thoroughly checked everything with Elections Canada, RightNow began connecting volunteers with candidates who were pro-life and had a strong chance of winning their riding. The volunteers didn’t represent RightNow. Nor did they raise pro-life issues while working on the campaigns. They were there to help candidates.

In February, however, Hayward and Golob were informed they’re under investigation for “training, organizing and co-ordinating” volunteers contrary to the federal Elections Act.

Golob sees the federal Liberal government’s pro-choice ideology at work — the same staunch opposition to pro-life voices that caused the Canada Summer Jobs fiasco. She and Hayward are adamant they won’t back down.

“If we got discouraged every time we’re attacked, we wouldn’t be in the business we’re in,” Golob said.

Hayward added: “We did everything right. We did nothing wrong. We’d do exactly the same thing again.”

Alas for Canadian democracy, such perseverance might be a two-in-1,000 response. It’s one thing to be kept off the front page of the New York Times. Few make it there anyway. It’s another entirely when your own governments arrest priests and investigate young Canadians simply for pursuing the cause of life.

(Stockland is publisher of and senior fellow with Cardus.)

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