International conference features wide array of speakers

More than 325 people from Canada and abroad participated in the international pro-life conference, Building a Global Culture of Life, in Ottawa Oct. 29-31 and organizers are pleased with the results.

John Smeaton, executive director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children in the United Kingdom, had to deliver the welcoming remarks when Dr. Jack Willke, president of the International Right to Life Federation, was late for the conference. Smeaton said, “The most important achievement of the pro-life movement in Canada, in Europe, and in the world, is that we exist.” He added, “What’s most important is that our pro-life movement is well-established and it’s growing.” He described the role of the pro-life movement as one in which it passes on the message of “unchanging truths” so future generations can defend life, marriage and morality.

Despite difficulties such as speakers missing – or almost missing – their presentations due to problems with flights from Europe and the United States, conference chair Karen Murawsky said the event was a tremendous success. She also noted that it was the first major pro-life conference in the nation’s capital in more than three decades.

Monica Roddis, interim head of LifeCanada, said that 2010 was a great year for pro-life, noting legislative victories on euthanasia and maternal health and hailing Rod Bruinooge’s private member’s bill outlawing coercive abortion.

Bruinooge spoke about his bill, C-510 and the opposition to it, while Campaign Life Coalition advisor and counsel Tom Wappel, a former Liberal MP, encouraged grassroots pro-lifers to get involved in politics at the riding level where they can have the most influence in the selection of candidates.

Lia Mills is the 14-year-old girl who, as part of a school assignment, chose to write a speech about abortion in Grade 7. She was urged not to pursue that topic and was threatened with disqualification, but pressed on and later released the video on YouTube where it has been viewed more than one million times. She has since released more videos of pro-life arguments, including one just days before the conference on the difference between a human being and a human person.

Mills described to the conference the hostility she faced after posting the pro-life speech on YouTube, which included death threats against her and her family. She said that while human beings naturally wish to avoid conflict, “the truth is that as pro-life people, even if we are Canadian, we cannot avoid conflict, but (we must) embrace it in the right way.” She said, “My family and I have learned to embrace conflict.”

Rebecca Richmond, executive director of the National Campus Life Network, discussed the conflict on university campuses where student unions and administrations are trying to censor pro-life clubs. Richmond noted the October arrests at Carleton University as the students attempted to erect a pro-life display. Richmond said it is “essential to have the (pro-life) message on the campuses” because “The majority of abortions are performed on university-aged women.” She also noted that universities are “where our future leaders in our country are being formed.”

Catholic novelist and painter Michael O’Brien told the conference that pro-lifers can spread the message by simply being “who you are. You are already a light to the world. You are already the salt of the Earth.” He urged pro-lifers to take “the blows you receive from people who attack you … and convert those blows into a prayer for those who are striking you.”

That message was echoed by Faytene Kryskow of MYCanada, an evangelical youth group in the nation’s capital. She said having considered the question “Who’s setting the tone, who’s setting the standard,” in Canada, she realized that a corrupt media and education system was. She said, to change the moral direction of our nation, “we need to begin to wake up, get out of the pews, and begin to be the salt and light … to begin to disciple our nation.”

Rev. Johnny Hunter, the self-described “pastor to the unborn” and president of Life Education and Research Network, the largest African-American pro-life organization in the United States, noted the devastation caused by abortion in the American black population and said that the black community is “fighting this thing differently” as he highlighted the new film Maafa 21, an audacious expose on the genocidal effects of abortion.

LifeCanada presented its annual Mother Teresa Award to Heather Stilwell, the noted pro-life activist from Surrey, B.C. She has been involved in almost every major pro-life organization in Canada, at one point serving as Western vice president of CLC and served as leader of the Christian Heritage Party. She also fought for pro-family values as a school board trustee in Surrey and was involved in a legal battle that went to the Supreme Court over the issue of books in elementary schools that promoted homosexuality. Stilwell is undergoing treatment for breast cancer that was diagnosed in 2008. She attended the conference in a wheelchair, dutifully attended to by her daughter Elizabeth. Receiving the award, Stilwell vowed to continue battling against abortion until the day she dies.

The conference was hosted by Campaign Life Coalition Ottawa and so-sponsored by Campaign Life Coalition, the International Right to Life Federation, LifeCanada, and