The 12th National March for Life took place on May 14, but more than 850 students were still going strong the next day at the Youth Conference organized by Campaign Life Coalition. As the busses unloaded and participant packages were given out, the organizers soon realized they had surpassed their expected number of attendees, making this the largest year yet.
As the students settled in for the day, the first session was introduced: “Canadian Politics: How to Get Life Issues on the Radar Screen.” They were greeted by Conservative MP Pierre Lemieux and Liberal MP Paul Szabo. Lemieux was clear that when it comes to politics, the voice of young people is very important and much needed. Szabo highlighted the importance of pro-life supporters meeting with their MPs and getting to know them personally.
The students were given four workshop options in two sessions before lunch. Their choices included “Pro-Life 101” with Frances James McManamy, a workshop that provided them with the knowledge, scientific evidence and logical arguments necessary to explain, teach and justify their pro-life beliefs to their friends and classmates.
For the more politically minded, there was, “Politics, Moral Beliefs and Reconciling the Two” with Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and Fr. John Lemire of Priests for Life Canada. Lemire gave a motivational talk about youth involvement in politics, while Schadenberg spoke about private member’s bill C-384, which seeks to legalize assisted suicide and was recently introduced by Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde.
Two tangible action items the students were able to participate in were receiving a postcard to be sent to their MPs, opposing the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide, and signing and promoting a petition to protect from internet predators people who experience depression or mental illness.
With media playing a significant role in the formation of young people and our culture, a third option for a workshop was, “Not For Us, But Not Necessarily Against Us: Pro-Life Tactics in the Media,” with John-Henry Westen, editor of LifeSiteNews, and Rory Leishman, a columnist for the London Free Press. The workshop focused on bias and censorship in the media regarding the pro-life message. Westen and Leishman indicated an effective way to combat these phenomena is writing short letters to the editor, in one’s own words, to encourage better reporting.
Knowing that many students were ready to make an impact, but were looking for direction on the best way to do so, organizers presented a fourth option: “Pro-Life in Action: How You Can Make an Impact in Your School.” The speakers for this session were Kathleen Dunn, founder of a pro-life club at Bishop Tonnos Catholic Secondary School in Ancaster, Ont., along with Natalie Fohl, president of McGill Choose Life, and Daniel Gilman, vice-president of Ottawa U Students for Life.
Dunn focused on how to start a club in a high school, while Gilman and Fohl provided many concrete ideas on activities to promote the pro-life message in a high school or on a post-secondary campus. These ideas included poster campaigns, baby showers, information tables and hosting a guest speaker.
The closing session was, “Human Rights, Abortion and the UN: What You Need to Know,” with Samantha Singson of the UN-based Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. She opened the students’ eyes to a side of the United Nations most people don’t even know exists. She informed them that there is a push to create a universal right to abortion on demand and encouraged them to demand accountability from governments, especially regarding foreign aid and funding. Finally, she counseled them to stay informed and spread the word.