Organizers of this year’s annual March for Life in Ottawa are optimistic that the 2003 event will remain an important symbolic gesture in defence of the sanctity of human life. At the same time, organizers hope for an increase in numbers over last year’s effort.

Scheduled for May 13-14 in downtown Ottawa, the National March for Life marks the 34th anniversary of the passage of the federal government’s omnibus bill that legalized abortion in Canada. This will be the sixth such march organized by Campaign Life Coalition and the extended Canadian pro-life community. The theme for the 2003 march is, “Life is the Only Choice.”

Bill Mullally, a public affairs official with CLC and a member of the March for Life organizing committee, said this year’s gathering will include participation by Archbishops Marcel Gervais of Ottawa and Archbishop Terrance Prendergast of Halifax. Archbishop Gervais will celebrate the May 14 pro-life Mass, and attend the banquet at the Ottawa Congress Centre that evening.

“We are edified and pleased that Archbishop Gervais will be taking part in this year’s march,” Mullally told The Interim. “We hope his involvement will be symbolic of the kind of church leadership we need.”

Mullally said March for Life officials hope to see a doubling of last year’s turnout, which was estimated to be 2,500 people. “Our objective is to see at least 5,000 turnout,” he said. “We realize it’s a busy time of year, especially for students and young people, but we have listened to the people and scheduled events in the middle of the week to allow more people to take part.”

Mullally expressed hope that church leaders and officials with the Ottawa Catholic school boards will do more to support the 2003 March for Life. He said students and church leaders in the United States have been key to the success of the annual rally for life in Washington, D.C. each January. “We’re hoping the hierarchy of Ottawa-area school boards will follow Archbishop Gervais’s example,” he said.

Whatever the eventual turnout, March for Life organizers believe the symbolism of the event is of prime importance. “Numbers are not of major importance,” said Wenda Hartlin of CLC’s Ottawa office. “There are marches and demonstrations in Ottawa on a regular basis. Some have as few as a hundred people and some have 10,000. To us, the numbers are not the goal. We want to let the government know that the issue has not died. Now with Bill C-13, the value of human life is again being debated,” she told The Interim.

The 2003 rally opens May 13 with a youth conference at St. Joseph’s (Catholic) Church, featuring former Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day, the Chastity Challenge Team and CLC researcher Hilary White. A candlelight vigil, commemorating the entire human rights movement, is scheduled for the evening of May 13.

The second day of the March includes a Catholic Mass at St. Patrick’s Basilica, a simultaneous Christian prayer service at St. George’s Anglican Church, followed by the actual march from Parliament Hill through the streets of downtown Ottawa. The event concludes with a banquet at which Dr. John Willkie, president of the International Right to Life Federation, will be keynote speaker.

Mary Ellen Douglas, national organizer for Campaign Life Coalition, said the March for Life remains an important public witness against the abortion-contraception mentality. “This is an important opportunity to place the issue before the public,” she told The Interim. “The March for Life gives Canadian pro-lifers the opportunity to do something positive and active to show their opposition to the killing of the pre-born. Bringing the demonstration to the steps of Parliament gives a firm message to the politicians that we will never accept the killing.”

March for Life organizers hope that in addition to drawing a higher number of participants, the 2003 event will also attract more attention from the mainstream media, which in the past has tended to ignore pro-life activities.