OTTAWA—Heartened and emboldened by Canada’s new anti-abortion stand on foreign aid, thousands of pro-life campaigners flooded in unprecedented numbers to Parliament Hill on Thursday, daring to hope that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government will take further steps against abortion at home as well as abroad.
The debate that Harper says he doesn’t want to reopen in Canada arrived literally on his doorstep on Thursday, with high spirits and demands for the Conservative government to do much more to discourage abortion in this country.
Around 15,000 pro-life campaigners, clearly buoyed by what they see as last month’s victory on the foreign-aid front, cheered loudly when numerous speakers talked about the next steps in what one called bringing a “culture of life” to Canada.
“We would like some more courage to do something more in Canada in defence of the unborn,” Cardinal Marc Ouellette, of Quebec City, told the crowd.
Ouellette minced no words in explaining later what he would like Harper to do next: “Reopen the discussion in Canada about this judicial void; there is absolutely no protection for the unborn,” Ouellette told reporters. “The next step should be a reopening of discussion about the legal situation of abortion in Canada.”
Some U.S. pro-life advocates were also on hand on Parliament Hill on Thursday, congratulating Canada for putting in place a foreign-aid policy against abortion that has been championed by Republican presidents, but repealed by President Barack Obama.
“These are tangible, visible threads… we are moving toward a culture of life in Canada,” said Carl Anderson, a former adviser to U.S. president Ronald Reagan as well as to the Vatican.
“Under President (George W.) Bush, we had the Mexico City policy, which prohibited exporting abortion. As you know, with President Obama, he repealed that policy,” Janet Morana, founder of a pro-life group called Silent No More, told reporters in Ottawa on Thursday morning.
“And so we’re very pleased to see that Canada is taking that pro-life stance, meaning they’re not going to export dollars overseas for abortion.”
The rally was a kickoff to what’s called the annual March of Life and organizers of this year’s effort boasted that the strength of the crowds and the cause is rapidly growing in Canada. Some long-time participants said that this year’s turnout was by far the best ever for an anti-abortion rally on Parliament Hill.
The noisy presence was heartily encouraged by the politicians who spoke at the event – a sharp contrast from the advice to “shut the f--- up” that Conservative senator Nancy Ruth gave recently to a group of aid advocates looking for ways to oppose Harper’s decision to block support for abortion in Canadian foreign aid. No one was asking for silence or patience from the massive group on Parliament Hill on Thursday.
All together, about 20 MPs from the pro-life caucus were at the event, most Conservative, but a few Liberals too, including Paul Szabo, Gurbax Malhi and Dan McTeague. All but one of the MPs on the stage – Conservative Kelly Bock – were men. No cabinet ministers, New Democrats or Bloc Quebecois MPs took part in the rally.
Among the crowd, meanwhile, were hundreds and hundreds of young students, bused in by their Catholic schools all over Ontario and Quebec to take part in the event.
Elizabeth Ducklas and Akanksha Zutshi, from the Holy Name of Mary Catholic Secondary School in Brampton, for instance, were two 16-year-olds who were happy to be among the busload who made the trek this week to Parliament Hill.
“I want abortion to be illegal,” said Ducklas, who added that she was pleased by the Harper government’s decision to withhold foreign-aid support for abortions in developing countries. “That’s a first step in the right direction.”
Bruinooge says he accepts Harper’s long-stated refusal to open up any debate over abortion legislation in Canada. Thursday’s rally was purely for information purposes, he said.
“The goal of the pro-life movement in general is to acknowledge that the unborn have value, that they’re human and we as a society need to consider their value. And I think that’s a message that’s beginning to come out,” Bruinooge said.
He would not comment, however, on whether the movement has gained strength because the increasing clout of the Christian right in Canada, as asserted in a newly released book, Armageddon, by Canadian journalist Marci MacDonald.
“In our country there’s a number of faith groups … there’s Sikhs, Hindus that have many similar philosophical viewpoints to Christians, and I think that many people, from various theological communities, suggest various ideas that I think are important to public policy,” Bruinooge said. “On the life issues, I know that not only are Christians generally supportive of pro-life politics, but I know Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists are as well.”
At the rally, Bruinooge particularly singled out the two Sikh MPs who turned out on stage: Liberal MP Gurbax Malhi and Conservative MP Tim Uppal.