A so-called documentary by the CBC on anti-abortion violence covered a legitimate news topic. But it went too far and was completely unfair when it characterized Canada’s pro-life movement as complicit in attacks on abortionists.
The Jan. 19 National Magazine focused on two American pastors, Matthew Trewhella, founder of Missionaries to the Preborn, and Michael Bray, a pastor in the Reformed Lutheran Church, who refuse to condemn violence against abortionists.
The documentary, entitled “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” and hosted by the CBC’s Carol Off, made much of these two men’s refusal to condemn such violence, and featured a speech by Trewhella to the U.S. Taxpayers’ Party. That speech, out of context, seemed scary. Trewhella talked about Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms, and the importance of militias.
Trewhella told The Interim that Carol Off asked questions about his views on the militia movement for about half the interview. He says he told her the militia movement and the pro-life movement are not connected, and that he could imagine no scenario where they would work together. None of this aired in the 30-minute piece.
The CBC also interviewed Jim Hughes, president of Canada’s Campaign Life Coalition. He was asked about the Missionaries’ participation in last summer’s Show the Truth tour in Ontario, which CLC supported. Hughes explained that the peaceful Show the Truth strategy is worthy of support, regardless of whether it is also used by a group which is not consistently pro-life. Unfortunately, his strong denunciation of violence – “We’re here to serve God and do His will, not to play God” – wound up on the cutting-room floor.
Moreover, contrary to the claims of the CBC, CLC did not invite Trewhella and his group to Canada. CLC hosted a workshop in support of the Show the Truth project, and it happened that the workshop was attended by several Missionaries. (The annual Show the Truth tour, which consists of displaying pictures of aborted babies at busy intersections, is similar to the Missionaries’ Freedom Tours in the U.S.)
Apart from that, CLC’s connection to Matthew Trewhella and the Missionaries to the Preborn is a figment of the media’s imagination. Trewhella told The Interim he never spoke with Jim Hughes until they met briefly in mid-1998, after CLC said it would help Canadian pro-life activists to promote the Show the Truth project.
Hughes told The Interim the issue of Trewhella’s refusal to condemn Paul Hill after Hill killed a Florida abortionist in 1995 was brought to his attention by a journalist last summer. Hughes inquired about the allegation and was convinced that Trewhella had recanted. If Hughes knew Trewhella still refused to condemn the killing of abortionists, “things would have been different. I wouldn’t associate CLC with those who refuse to condemn violence.”
The CBC did refer to CLC as “moderate,” but seemed nonetheless to link the organization to fringe groups. Some viewers felt that the whole pro-life movement was being implicated in the violence by the documentary’s reference to a “network of support for those who commit violence.” Critics say that the media need only show the slightest link, no matter how far-fetched, between those who advocate violence and those who peacefully pray outside abortuaries, and the damage is done.
Scott abortuary manager Maria Corsillo provided the clip to link the peaceful pro-life movement and those who support violence. “You can’t just somehow drop out of sight … Someone has got to be hiding him, helping him,” she said.
She went as far as to say that those who picket abortuaries are responsible for violence against abortionists. “When you put out a sign in front of a doctor’s office that says, ‘Doctor so-and-so kills children by abortion,’ what exactly is your purpose?”
“Our purpose is to speak up for those who have no voice,” responded Hughes, reflecting on the broadcast. “The fact is, abortion kills children. The truth doesn’t kill; abortion does.”
This basic pro-life response, however, was not included in the documentary. With the constant flipping back and forth visually between Trewhella, Bray, and peaceful pro-lifers praying and holding placards, the connection was clear: the peaceful protester is part of the “network of support” for those who advocate violence.
The CBC completely ignored the strong condemnation by pro-lifers of the murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian in October. The 30-minute documentary featured less than two minutes with Jim Hughes, but included three anti-abortion activists who do not condemn violence, the wife of a Toronto abortionist and abortuary escort Joan Clark.
In its “expose,” the CBC seemed to go out of its way to represent peaceful pro-lifers as part of the “underground” network of support. But when it gets a fact as simple as misidentifying the Toronto office of CLC as the “headquarters of the pro-life movement in Canada,” when it is in fact only the political branch of pro-life activism and education, everything the documentary “uncovered” becomes suspect.