Tony Gosgnach
The Interim

The Canadian pro-life movement pulled the proverbial rabbit out of a hat when it came time to stage its annual national conference in Montreal this year, Nov. 17-19.

Dealing with both the cancellation of its venue a scarce 24 hours before the conference was to begin, as well as ominous threats from leftist anti-life factions, the three-day event at an alternate location still ended up being a rousing success, with attendance totaling just under the 400 mark – far more than originally predicted – and happy faces all around.

“It was very successful, more than I could have expected,” said a beaming Campagne Quebec-Vie president Luc Gagnon afterwards. “I was thinking we’d have half the participants. Instead, we had double.” His organization acted as host for the conference, which had as its theme, “Life and Family: Source of Hope.” Campaign Life Coalition and LifeCanada served as sponsors.

Gagnon said national media coverage that focused on the Holy Cross Fathers at St. Joseph’s Oratory’s decision to back out of staging the conference may have worked in organizers’ favour, with many people becoming newly aware of the event and making the trek to the new venue, La Bible Parle Protestant Evangelical Church in suburban Cartierville.

The Oratory made the last-minute decision to cancel its involvement out of concern over pro-abortion elements that had been agitating to “abort the conference.” Shadowy – and likely minuscule – groups including “the People’s Potato” and “the Red Panthers” put up a website and planned a series of demonstrations over the course of the three days.

In the end, the pro-abortion elements turned out to be almost laughably small and ineffective.

As guests arrived for a Friday night conference dinner at an Old Montreal restaurant, they were greeted by 20 young protesters in pink balaclavas. Two of the males were dressed as females, one in a miniskirt. A costumed “priest” and “bishop” handed out condoms to restaurant patrons while saying, “The body of Christ,” in sacrilegious mockery of Catholic Holy Communion. Later, they threw eggs at the restaurant’s windows.

They reached the height of their activism when about 40 of them were bused to the church the afternoon of Nov. 19 and went about confronting about a dozen Montreal police officers guarding the church’s entrances.

The motley group, many of whose members were masked and appeared to be part of an anarchist organization, waved banners and signs, banged drums and chanted slogans labelling pro-life advocates “fascists.” One of their banners read, “Ah! If only Mary (the mother of Jesus) had known about abortion.”

Things took a violent turn after one demonstrator spraypainted a church window with the anarchist symbol. Police who moved to arrest the individual were set upon by about a dozen demonstrators, who then pummeled one officer to the ground. Regaining his footing, that officer retreated slightly as other officers threw the spraypainter to the ground and handcuffed him. He laid there for about 20 minutes as an uneasy nose-to-nose confrontation began between police and the demonstrators, who turned their attention from the pro-life conference to the police themselves. They began chanting, “Free our comrade!” and “F—- the police! No justice, no peace!”

The spraypainter was spirited away to a waiting cruiser and transported to a police station for processing. Then, after about an hour of further milling around, as TV crews from major networks including CBC, CTV and Global filmed the scene, the demonstrators decided to leave and walked down the street back to their waiting school bus. Inside the church, personnel from a private security agency maintained a front entrance lockdown, with lights out, curtains drawn and no one permitted to enter or leave the facility. The conference itself was hardly affected at all by the outside commotion, as the main events were all upstairs in a windowless hall.

Several speakers at the conference denounced the “thuggery” and “terrorism” that had been exhibited by opponents, but both Gagnon and Jeff Laurin, senior pastor at La Bible Parle, were unfazed by the developments.

“First of all, we believe in this cause and secondly, we don’t want to be shut up by anybody,” Laurin told the LifeSite News service prior to the start of the conference. “There is a right to speak and to learn and we want that protected.”

The pastor added that he and members of his church were not afraid, despite threatening graffiti that had been sprayed onto his church’s front steps prior to the start of the conference. “If the other side is ‘pro-choice,’ they must let people decide and to do that, we have to be free to speak.”

Laurin was lauded with several standing ovations by appreciative attendees throughout the conference. They saluted his commitment, dedication and courage in agreeing to stage the event with almost no notice and in the face of growing controversy.

As far as St. Joseph’s Oratory was concerned, most conference organizers and attendees expressed disappointment with the Holy Cross fathers for knuckling under to the pro-abortionists’ agitation. They had hoped that the clergymen would exhibit the same kind of courage and Christian resolve that Pastor Laurin and his congregation did. Organizers were contemplating some kind of legal action to recoup financial losses they suffered as a result of the cancellation.

Rector Jean-Pierre Aumont had told a Montreal newspaper that the Oratory is “a sanctuary for peace and reflection, not a place for confrontation … we could not take the risk.” However, Campaign Life Coalition president Jim Hughes characterized the move as “a great capitulation on the part of the Catholic church in the face of opposition to its pro-life, pro-family teaching.”

Controversies aside, a bevy of prominent speakers pleased attendees at the conference, as they examined questions including the physical and psychological impact of abortion on women’s health, the Canadian media, euthanasia and palliative care, stem cell research and the commitment and responsibility of politicians in the service of life and family, among other topics.

MPs Stockwell Day and Pat O’Brien, former Bloc Quebecois MP Ghislain Lebel, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada president Bruce Clemenger, veteran journalist Peter Stockland and Dr. Ian Dowbiggin treated the crowd to insights into their respective areas of specialization.

Next year’s national pro-life conference, with the theme, “Healing Our Culture,” is scheduled to take place in November in Vancouver. Following the intrigue of this year’s event, Campaign Life Coalition B.C. president John Hof is promising a “spectacular” conference – and not just on the protest front, either.