The National March for Life in Ottawa, seen here in a file photo, faces competition from a pro-life march being organized in Toronto for the same day May 9.Canadian Catholic News file photo

Plans for Toronto march raise concerns about split in the pro-life movement

Plans to hold a pro-life march in Toronto on the same day as the National March for Life in Ottawa are raising concerns about a split in the pro-life movement.

The new Toronto march is being organized by a coalition of pro-life groups, including ARPA Canada, its affiliate WeNeedaLaw.ca, the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform and Toronto Right to Life. Campaign Life Coalition has organized the national march since 1998.

“Two competing events in the same region will split pro-life attendance,” said Jeff Gunnarson, president of Campaign Life Coalition (CLC), in a Feb. 4 news release.

“With potentially a much smaller crowd of pro-life demonstrators on Parliament Hill, it could also lessen the impact on MPs who come out to address the crowd, and on all parliamentarians inside the House of Commons.”

Toronto has not had its own separate March for Life in the past. Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto has already confirmed he will be attending the May 9 March for Life in Ottawa.

“The Archdiocese of Toronto is not involved in the organization of any Toronto-based events planned for the same day,” said Neil McCarthy, communications director for the Toronto archdiocese. “His Eminence encourages all those who wish to support the cause of life to join in solidarity on May 9, 2019 in Ottawa.”

Jeff Gunnarson

Gunnarson said CLC received no prior notice of the Toronto event nor was it asked for input. He does not oppose a march in Toronto, but CLC is disappointed it will take place on May 9, the same time as the national march.

But organizers of the Toronto march are determined to have it on the same day, which marks the anniversary of the passing of the bill in Parliament in 1969 that relaxed Canada’s abortion laws. They regard their event as complementary to the national march.

“While many people from around Ontario travel up to Ottawa for the March for Life on Parliament Hill, there has been an increasing call to provide an opportunity for the thousands that can’t make the trip and still want to make sure their voice is heard in defence of the voiceless,” said Mike Schouten, director of advocacy for ARPA Canada and spokesman for WeNeedaLaw.ca

“It is important that our voice is heard in Ottawa, and we encourage those who are able to, to still attend the Ottawa March for Life, right on the federal government’s doorstep. But we are also excited about the addition of an organized march in Toronto, which will increase the number of people speaking out for life across the country.” 

Divisions among pro-life groups in terms of strategy and messaging are no secret, but the annual Ottawa march has brought all the groups together on Parliament Hill, where various groups have freely handed out literature.

WeNeedaLaw.ca, for example, has advocated gestational laws to reduce abortion, something CLC has opposed on principle. 

“The National March For Life is about standing together as one movement against abortion,” Gunnarson said. “The 2019 March is especially significant, not only because it precedes a federal election, but because it marks 50 years since the floodgates to abortion were opened in Parliament.”

Though CLC organizers are involved in marches across Canada at various provincial capitals, CLC has always avoided promoting marches in Ontario or Quebec so as to encourage participation in the National March.

“The largest number of attendees to the annual National March come from the Toronto region,” Gunnarson said.

Mary Helen Moes, executive director of Aid to Women, a crisis pregnancy centre in Toronto, said her organization applauds having a Toronto march, “but we’re still pleading with them to change the date because we want to be part of it” and they have already committed to going to Ottawa.

She said they were blindsided by the decision and forcing people to choose between the marches may end up with many deciding not to go to either one.

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