A pro-life sign is displayed during the 2019 annual March for Life rally in Washington Jan. 18. CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

Herman Goodden: No signs of defeat on path of resistance

  • May 16, 2019

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 to support the largest annual protest in our nation’s capital each year. 

Thanks to a provincial pro-life protest unwisely scheduled on the very same day at Queen’s 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, 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 and the march still took a half an hour to pass by from beginning to end as it made its way through the streets of downtown Ottawa.

It seemed important 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 named Trudeau. Pierre the elder, who scrapped the old restrictions, recognized that “the public is evenly divided on the subject of abortion” and therefore never sought to have it enshrined as a charter right. 

His son Justin, who identifies as a male feminist and a Catholic, keeps erroneously insisting that abortion is a charter right, refuses to allow pro-lifers to stand as Liberal candidates and, in 2018, barred any organization with pro-life views from the government-funded summer jobs program.   

I wanted to stand with the pro-life cause precisely because this matter of private conscience is being held in such contempt by 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 in October and the hope pro-lifers are taking from the climate of Trudeau-fatigue 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. This year their number seemed to be halved and the police did a commendable job of keeping them contained. They were only allowed to hurl their abuse from one cordoned-off area on Parliament Hill and when they took to the street they had to follow about 10 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 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 in near silence which is punctuated by nothing more charged than the recitation of the rosary or gently sung 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 occurring 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 by a group near the front of the march which 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. But no, the march was still moving. And then I could discern with a pang of saddened disbelief that the tiresome first words of unimaginative protesters everywhere — “Hey, hey. Ho, ho” — were being followed by, “Abortion has got to go.”

Thankfully, they seemed to pipe down after 10 minutes and 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.

(Goodden is a writer in London, Ont.)

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