Prime Minister Jean Chretien may think that “we don’t have big debates on the rights of abortion” in Canada, but some 3,500 people from across the country converged on Ottawa May 13 and 14 to send a message to him and other federal parliamentarians that the struggle to protect human life at all stages goes on.

The Toronto Sun reported May 15 how Chretien boasted to a Montreal fundraising dinner that “we decided a long time ago in Canada (abortion) is the choice of women.” However, if the record-sized crowd and number of MPs present at the 2003 March for Life are any indication, our embattled and controversial prime minister doesn’t have a clue what he is talking about.

This year’s events got under way with a press conference by the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus, which focused on abortion’s harmful physical and psychological effects on women. Angelina Steenstra and “Angela” (who didn’t give her last name) addressed the conference as women who underwent abortions and suffered because of them.

Opening day also saw the staging of a youth conference (see page 20 for details). The day closed with a pro-life mass at St. Theresa’s Roman Catholic church, before congregants and others proceeded to the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights monument for a candlelight vigil.

At the monument, speakers and musicians offered up speeches, prayers and songs for the pro-life cause as participants heard the current pro-life struggle compared to the effort to win equal rights for black people in decades and centuries past.

The second day began spiritually, with an ecumenical prayer service at St. George’s Anglican Church and another pro-life mass, this time at the larger St. Patrick’s Basilica. The mass attracted a standing-only room congregation, and was led by Bishop Paul-André Durocher of Alexandria-Cornwall, along with 14 other concelebrating priests and clergy.

In his homily, Durocher spoke of the need to support single parents, as well as to back a pro-life ethic. He told the story of one young woman in a crisis pregnancy who came to him and ended up having her baby after he lent her his support and encouragement.

“Let us reach out and hold their hands in compassion and love,” he urged, adding that we must all “hear God’s call.”

It was then time to move on to the main event – a gathering on Parliament Hill and march through the streets of downtown Ottawa. Some 22 MPs addressed the crowd on the Hill, more than half of which was made up of youth. Other speakers included Rev. Robert McRoberts, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Bishop Jean Louis Plouffe of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and Jean Migneault, deputy supreme knight of the 1.6-million-member Knights of Columbus Catholic men’s organization.

The march through the streets was marked by colorful banners and flags, and the constant chants of young people, who shouted slogans such as, “We are the pro-life,” and “We love life, yes we do, we love life, how about you?” A moment of silence was observed as marchers walked past Henry Morgentaler’s Ottawa abortuary.

The march energized and invigorated participants such as Richard Thomson, a Grade 9 student at St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Secondary School in Oakville, Ont., who came for the first time with about two dozen other young people. “It was great – the music and marching. I hope it had an impact,” he said. “I’ll be back next year.”

Stephanie Paquette, a Grade 9 student at Holy Trinity Catholic Secondary School in Oakville, Ont., attended the march last year as well, and said the event left her feeling uplifted. “It feels like we made a difference and we get to meet new friends,” she said, adding that she enjoyed dancing to the praise and worship music of David MacDonald on the main stage. She said she’ll also be back again next year.

This year’s March for Life closed with a banquet at the Congress Centre. In addition to keynote speaker Dr. Jack Willke, president of the International Right to Life Federation, eleven MPs attended and gave brief speeches. Hearty applause and standing ovations were given to Elsie Wayne, the Progressive Conservative member of Parliament for St. John, New Brunswick, who had come under fire shortly before for attacking the notion of homosexual “marriage.”

In his address, Willke gave a rundown of the situation vis-à-vis life throughout the world. He noted with satisfaction the gains made by pro-life forces in the U.S., especially since President George W. Bush came to power. But he expressed regret at the lack of pro-life progress in Canada and exhibited genuine puzzlement over Canada’s UN delegation, which he said consistently proposes and supports some of the most radical anti-life and anti-family agendas in the world.

Echoing the long-held views of such pro-life stalwarts as Dr. James Dobson and Canada’s Campaign Life Coalition, Willke closed by asserting that people of conscience must never, ever vote for pro-abortion politicians.

Bill Mullally, a member of the March for Life steering committee and an official with Campaign Life Coalition in Toronto, was enthusiastic after the event was over.

“We have turned a corner and are seeing the fruits of the five previous marches,” he said, adding that this year saw about 1,200 more young people take part. “There was joy and energy, and it was wonderful to see so many MPs. All of it was quite remarkable. People went home with a renewed vigor and enthusiasm. It was a blessed and grace-filled event.”

The only negative for Mullally was the dismal media coverage. The Ottawa Citizen newspaper, for example, ran no coverage of the march but did feature an article on a sick squirrel.