It has been 20 years since Campaign Life Coalition held a conference in Toronto (not including national and international conferences they co-sponsored), and by all accounts the June 24-25 Toronto Pro-Life Forum was a resounding success.
Over 220 people attended the Friday evening banquet that featured Sun News media personality Brian Lilley as the keynote speaker, while more than 170 took part in the Saturday program featuring nearly a dozen speakers and panels.
Organizers were pleased with the “positive” response of participants, noting that one informed them that he left the conference “renewed and energized,” and CLC national organizer Mary Ellen Douglas told The Interim that one attendee followed her all the way to the train station raving about the event.
Lilley noted that most journalists are not sympathetic to the pro-life and pro-family movement, but that Sun News is changing the media landscape. Lilley, who hosts Byline, a one-hour daily current affairs program and a weekly columnist for the Sun newspapers, has one of the two highest rated programs on the news channel that launched in April. Lilley’s show often beats CTV News Channel.
Lilley noted that he is unabashedly pro-life and that producers have let him cover the issues and feature the guests he wants. He said that weeks before the National March for Life in Ottawa, he worked with Sun News pollster Abacus Data Inc., to develop a series of abortion-related questions to see where Canadians stood, beyond the simple yes-no dichotomy.
Lilley related the challenges the pro-life movement faces by noting the seemingly “contradictory, some might say nuanced” views of Canadians as revealed by Abacus and other recent polls. He said that polling data indicates that Canadians are uncomfortable with abortion, most find it wrong, but that still the majority are unwilling to ban it. Lilley said that he did not think a ban on abortion, or even the unsatisfactory compromise of a gestational limit, could pass Parliament today. Instead, he said, the focus should be on defunding abortion and requiring parental notification as a way of beginning public discussion about abortion.
Without any co-ordination, the unofficial theme of the next day’s speakers seemed to be building a civilization of love. Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes opened the Saturday session with a spiritual reflection and said pro-lifers must love their enemies and pray for them.
Hughes also noted that abortion is not like any other issue: “It is not a battle between two views, but between good and evil.” He said, “the other side wants to kill babies” and that pro-lifers are called to restore Canadian’s greatness by getting pro-life legislation that protects all human beings from conception to natural death enacted.
Nicole Campbell, CLC’s 40 Days for Life Toronto organizer, talked about the importance of front-line work. “It is not enough to be personally pro-life,” said Cambpell, “the public needs to see us.” Campbell added that in doing sidewalk counseling and picketing in front of abortuaries, “we need to show love,” to mothers and fathers, but also the abortion facility staff. “We bring God’s mercy to the culture… not being judgmental and harsh, but loving.” She said that by showing love to the mothers, “you are going to get the babies” saved.
Julie Abernethy and Enza Rattenni of Aid to Women, the Toronto crisis pregnancy centre, told about their life-saving work and affirmed Campbell’s love-the-mother, save-the-baby approach.
Linda Gibbons related the “price she has paid for witnessing for life” and wondered “why are we arrested for using words” to save babies while “abortionists are protected for killing the unborn.” She talked about resisting unjust laws and speaking out against abortion, and insisted “if the pro-life movement is not about love, it is nothing.”
Angelina Steenstra of Silent No More Awareness said that the movement shows love to abortion-minded women by showing them the truth about abortion and persuading them that “abortion is not an easy way out.”
LifeSiteNews.com editor John-Henry Westen discussed how his news site is guided by “truth in love” in its reports on life and family issues.
Alissa Golob, youth coordinator of CLC, talked about how she was called to do pro-life work and how the pro-life message resonates with young people. She said the challenge is to get pro-life youth to take the next step and become politically involved.
Former Liberal MP and current CLC legal counsel Tom Wappel gave his take on the federal election, and reminded pro-lifers that they must remain politically engaged.
CLC Ontario president Mary Ellen Douglas, LifeSiteNews.com director Steve Jalsevac, and Jeff Gunnarson of CLC ’s political desk discussed the Ontario provincial election and a panel consisting of lawyer Geoff Cauchi, retired teacher Lou Iacobelli, and Alan Yoshioka, a representative of Reclaim the Rainbow, which represents Catholics who have experience of same-sex attraction but who remain faithful to Catholic moral teaching, discussed the dangers of normalizing homosexuality in the schools.
Alex Schadenberg informed the conference about recent legal developments, including a case launched by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association challenging Canada’s prohibition on euthanasia and assisted-suicide. Schadenberg said that having suffered a lop-sided defeat in Parliament in 2010, the euthanasia movement has focused on the courts – as opposed to the political process – to effect change.
Hughes said in his closing remarks that there was “positive energy in the room” and urged those who were informed and inspired by the day’s speakers
Earlier this year, CLC Saskatchewan, CLC Manitoba and Campagne Quebec Vie held provincial conferences and CLC Ontario is planning several more local conferences in the Fall including Toronto events geared toward various ethnic groups and CLC Kingston will host a one-day conference on Oct. 29. While nothing is set in stone, a southwestern Ontario event is being planned. The Oct. 1, CLC Sudbury conference had to be postponed.