Police may be putting all Canadian pro-life organizations under the microscope as part of their investigation into the shooting of three abortionists.
A March 4 visit by a police officer to the offices of the North Bay (Ontario) Right to Life organization has left its director wondering if other pro-life groups are in line for investigation.
Julie Duggan of North Bay Right to Life, said a uniformed officer appeared at the office and indicated he was investigating the shootings on behalf of the Crime Stoppers program. The officer requested a copy of the group’s membership list, which Duggan refused to provide.
Abortion-performing doctors were shot and wounded in Vancouver, Hamilton, and Winnipeg between 1994 and 1997. The shootings took place on or near Remembrance Day, and police have speculated that the gunman is targeting doctors who may have committed an abortion on the assailant’s wife or girlfriend.
The latest shooting occurred last November in Winnipeg. At the time, police announced the creation of a special task force to investigate the three shootings.
The North Bay police officer said his visit was part of a concerted police investigation, even though none of the shootings occurred anywhere near the northern Ontario city.
Duggan wonders if other pro-life groups have been asked to surrender their membership lists to police. She is also attempting to confirm if the officer was acting on his own initiative, or was part of a larger police investigation.
“I told the officer that I regarded it as an insult that he would even think of looking among our members for suspects in these shootings,” Duggan told The Interim. “He was polite throughout the visit, and he said he couldn’t force us to turn over the list. He was hoping we would surrender it voluntarily.”
Duggan believes the visit could have been an attempt to intimidate pro-lifers, particularly in light of exaggerated reports in the mainstream media of pro-life violence and extremism.
In Winnipeg, scene of the most recent shooting, police came by the offices of the Manitoba League for Life in mid-February requesting a copy of the group’s membership list.
“We decided it was best to co-operate with the investigating officers,” said Pat Soenen, executive director of the League. “We have nothing to hide and so we thought it best to let the police have what they wanted.”
Nonetheless Soenen is troubled that police would assume the assailant(s) could belong to a mainstream pro-life organization. “I get the impression they don’t even know what they are looking for, but they are under pressure to do something,” Soenen said. She said to date no member of her organization has been contacted by police.
Soenen said Winnipeg police asked her if she knew of any former Manitoba League members who may have left the organization to start up a new group. “The police seem to be working on the American model, in that the violence is committed by some fanatical, quasi-religious organization,” she suggested.
A group identifying itself as the Army of God has claimed responsibility for a number of bombings of abortion clinics and gay nightclubs in the United States.
Ted Gerk, head of the Pro-Life Society of British Columbia, said he knows of no west coast pro-life groups that have been asked to turn over membership lists to police. He said he has received legal advice urging groups not to surrender their lists.
Gerk said any pro-life groups which have already turned membership lists over to police should alert individual members that they may be under investigation.
“I would hope the police have proof that they have also examined the names of pro-abortion groups,” Gerk said.
Meanwhile, John Hof, head of Campaign Life Coalition in British Columbia, recommends pro-life groups refuse to provide their membership lists to police. “My recommendation is to say no (to police) … absolutely not without a court order,” Hof said.
Hamilton, Ontario Right to Life director Jacqueline DeJong reported that her organization has not been approached by police in connection with the wounding of abortionist Hugh Short in late 1995.
Although there is no evidence of pro-life involvement in the three shootings, abortion supporters and an often uncritical media have been quick to blame the entire right-to-life movement for the attacks.
Pro-lifers are concerned that by asking for membership lists, police may be acting under the assumption that mainstream, peaceful pro-life organizations are harboring extremists and radicals within their ranks.
The Interim attempted to obtain an update into the investigation from Winnipeg Police Services. At press time, however, no response had come forward.