As many of us expected, organizers for Canada’s National March for Life, an event that was scheduled to take place in Ottawa on May 14, have announced its cancellation. It fell victim, like so many things these days, to the continuing pandemic and the resulting lockdown of much of Canadian life.
All is not lost. The March and its accompanying events will be replaced by a series of online activities. These will include a virtual version of the annual candlelight vigil, pro-life Masses and, on May 14 itself, an online rally with speeches.
The date is significant. May 14 marks the 51st anniversary of the legislation that opened the door to abortion on demand in Canada, setting us on the path to have one of the most liberal abortion regimes in the world.
There is currently no federal criminal law regulating abortion in Canada, meaning that we have a patchwork of operating policies set by individual provinces.
In once-fervently Catholic Quebec, for example, abortion is advertised as being “free, legal and available at any time.” Because only a few Quebec hospitals undertake third-trimester abortions, the provincial government obligingly covers the cost of having the procedure done in the United States.
Truth Stays Home
The cancellation of the actual March is very bad news for the city of Ottawa. Canada’s capital, a community normally known for its mix of partisan politics and personal ambition, will be deprived of this once-annual influx of helpful, good natured and decidedly positive people.
Despite that, Ottawa is itself something of a grudging host. On the morning of the March in 2017, the mayor and City Council intervened to remove a pro-life pennant from City Hall, even though the opportunity to fly your flag is a courtesy routinely offered to the organizers of major events in the city.
In 2018, the prayer vigil on the eve of the March had to compete with noisy and very suspiciously-timed evening roadwork just steps away. The next day, the start of the March was delayed by the appearance of a few dozen protestors strung out across its path. Ottawa’s police promptly endorsed the protesters’ right to block a legally-permitted event, meaning that the March to be re-routed at the last minute.
To be honest, Canada’s National March has always been something of a virtual event, or, at the very least, one that takes place without much public notice. Although the Canadian media reliably descend when even a handful of protesters gather in support of any progressive cause, the annual presence of 15,000 peaceful pro-lifers on Parliament Hill is almost completely ignored and unreported.
And although the national March starts and ends on Parliament Hill, the heart of Canadian democracy, political participation is limited to a few members of Canada’s main opposition party, the Conservatives. But it’s not entirely ignored by the ruling Liberal Party. Members of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), spend the day of the March on social media aggressively celebrating the government’s unstinting support for abortion.
It’s a strikingly negative and unfriendly gesture, conveying the impression that, for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the marchers gathered below his windows are neither worthy of his respect nor do they belong in his version of Canada.
Not that the marchers worry too much about social media. Indeed, pro-lifers seem to be among the very few Canadians who are immune to the dubious authority of the Twitterati.
Katie Telford, chief of staff to the prime minister, found this out in 2019 when she rather self-importantly took to Twitter to encourage Canadians not to see the pro-life film Unplanned. Her preachy overreach appalled Canadians and helped to boost attendance for the film in Canadian theaters.
The government’s back-of-the-hand treatment of pro-life Canadians stands in stark contrast to the tone it adopts in its efforts to engage China’s communist rulers, something that typically involves a soothing mixture of deference and flattery.
Birds of a Feather
It’s a disconcerting truth that, in both Canada and the United States, personal testimony from influential Catholic politicians helped to normalize and advance pro-abortion policies. New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s 1984 Notre Dame speech on “Religious Belief and Public Morality” offered an argument that is in many ways similar to the “I’m personally against it, but …” rationale used by Canada’s former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau when he decriminalized abortion in Canada 15 years earlier.
That both men enjoyed reputations for intellectual and moral seriousness allowed them to get away with an argument that is, on closer consideration, intellectually and morally deficient. The notion that a carefully formed conscience is simply an optional accessory that a politician can obligingly set aside, and not something that defines and necessarily guides us, has provided cover for a generation of Catholic lawmakers. And by advancing a politically expedient line on abortion, it has also enabled the steady expansion of the culture of death in both countries.
By a strange coincidence, the sons of both Cuomo and Trudeau are now presiding over the fulfilment of the agenda that their fathers set in motion. Andrew Cuomo, Mario’s son, famously had the Empire State Building lit up in pink to celebrate legislation that brought New York’s abortion regime to, and possibly beyond, the borders of infanticide.
Not content with simply promoting abortion at home, Justin Trudeau, Pierre’s son, has made the international promotion of abortion an important element of what he refers to as his “feminist” foreign policy. Indeed, when President Trump withdrew U.S. funding for international abortion programs, the younger Trudeau eagerly volunteered Canadian tax dollars to replace it.
Regrettably, the steady coarsening of Canadian life continues. In her recent announcement about assistance to help developing countries respond to COVID-19, Canada International Development Minister Karina Gould explained that the package would also include measures to support “sexual and reproductive health and rights,” which is bureaucratic code for abortion. Sadly, no Canadian media, beyond our struggling pro-life outlets, commented on the terrible irony inherent in a Canadian “gift” that offers healing to one vulnerable population and death to another.
Although it’s easy to feel discouraged by the hostility of what passes for the great and the good in a now deeply secular Canada, the pro-life community is remarkably resilient, even in the face of the added challenges posed by this season of pandemic. Perhaps they know something that others don’t.
In the 17th century, French Recollet missionaries named St. Joseph the patron saint of Canada. As I prepare to participate, even if only virtually, in this year’s March for Life, I am struck by how apt this is, and of how much my beloved but increasingly hard-hearted country needs the patronage of the quiet, humble and ever-faithful protector of the infant Jesus.
Please keep Canada in your prayers!
David Mulroney was Canada’s ambassador to China from 2009-2012.
He served as president and vice-chancellor of the University of St. Michael’s College from 2015-2018.
For more information on Canada’s National March for Life: marchforlife.ca/