The chronology of abortion-related violence in Canada begins with the arson at Henry Morgentaler’s abortion clinic on Harbord Street in Toronto during the early morning hours of May 19, 1992. It reportedly caused $500,000 in damage. Witnesses reported that a man and a woman ran down an alleyway near the clinic after the explosion, jumped into a grey, compact car and sped off.
The arson drew massive amounts of news coverage for several days right across Canada. It was on the front page of the Toronto Star for two days and more extensive coverage – mainly pro-abortion propaganda – was provided afterwards on inner pages.
Even before it had confirmed that arson was the cause of the explosion, accusations and rhetoric were being levelled about the incident. “They cannot act by democratic means, so they resort to criminal acts,” said Morgentaler, who himself had been charged with criminals acts numerous times in the past.
“There is no doubt in my mind that these people are out to inflict as much pain and suffering on women as they can …this is terrorism against women.”
“The Harbord Street clinic is not just an abortion clinic to us,” said Judy Rebick, then the leader of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. “It’s the symbol of the struggle of hundreds of thousands of women to win the right to choose, the right to legal abortion in this country.”
Perhaps most disturbing were the vituperative comments of Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno, who levelled accusations against everyone and anyone before she even knew what she was writing about (one might add, that to this day, DiManno still doesn’t know what she is writing about.)
“Make no mistake about it,” she intoned. “There is a direct chain of responsibility between the harsh condemnation of reproductive choice by religious leaders and this weekend’s bombing of Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s Harbord Street abortion clinic.”
DiManno dared to include Mother Teresa as one of the culpable religious leaders.
Of course, time has shown that all of these accusations were too premature, but that doesn’t seem to have bothered the national news media at all. Three years later, police still have no leads in the case, nor do they have any evidence to link the arson to the pro-life side of the abortion issue.
In December, a report by the federal Security Intelligence Review Committee said a source for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service – thought to be Grant Bristow – “believed the bombing of Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s Toronto abortion clinic in 1992 was done by a left-wing activist and designed to make the government take action against the pro-life movement.”
Apparently, the federal government has the name of the activist, but deleted his name from the report.
Remarkably, only the Toronto Star reported this groundbreaking piece of information, although it gave it only one paragraph of coverage. Characteristically, other media outlets ignored it. This is appalling when one considers that the original story of the arson gained many pages of coverage in newspapers right across Canada.
In addition to this, however, news media have neglected to follow up on the new information. For example, why was the identity of the suspected activist deleted from the report? Why is the government not investigating further? These questions beg a response, but they met only with silence.
Another item on the list of Canadian incidents of abortion-related violence concerns charges of assault and contempt of court against pro-life activist Gordon Watson in Vancouver. Watson was given a conditional discharge, with a one-year probationary term, in January on the assault charge (which involved pushing a video camera into the face of a pro-choice person after he had asked her to stop filming him) and is currently appealing a 21-day jail sentence on the contempt of court charge.
What hasn’t been well publicized by the mainstream news media outside Vancouver, however, is the fact that last April, British Columbia Attorney-General Colin Gabelmann swore false information into an affidavit concerning the contempt charge against Watson.
According to the Vancouver Sun, Gabelmann met in June, 1993 with representatives of a Vancouver abortion clinic and took notes of the meeting. In the subsequent court affidavit, however, Gabelmann submitted that he had not taken notes.
But through a freedom of information request, Watson was able to catch Gabelmann redhanded by uncovering two pages of notes of the meeting, one of them in Gabelmann’s handwriting. Gabelmann later amended the affidavit, but not before Watson filed a private information accusing him of perjury and obstruction of justice. A.B.C. Supreme Court Masters’ Chambers judge later said there were no grounds to proceed to trial.
Watson was understandably upset. “We’ve got a criminal justice system that’s corrupt from the highest levels down,” he remarked. “I caught Colin Gabelmann lying to the court.”
Despite this state of affairs, news media continue to emphasize the charges against Watson although the accusations against Gabelmann are obviously of a more serious nature given the attorney-general’s powerful and influential governmental position.
Finally, the shooting of abortionist Garson Romalis in Vancouver last November was another incident which made the front-page headlines across the country. Months later, however, police still had no leads in the case, but that hasn’t stopped the news media from implicating the pro-life movement.
Vancouver police spokesperson constables Anne Drennan, on the other hand, has stressed that the abortion aspect of the incident is only one of many possible angles the police are investigating. “I’ve indicated all the way through this that that (an abortion connection) is not the assumption—it is one of many aspects we’re looking at.”
Drennan added media coverage has made witnesses reluctant to come forth and help produce a composite sketch of a suspect and she also criticized the media for producing reports not based on facts. “From the police perspective, the amount of speculation by the media has blown the incident itself rather greatly out of proportion.”
Both the Vancouver Courier and the Vancouver Sun speculated on links between neo-Nazis, U.S. radicals and Canadian anti-abortionists, but Vancouver police Sergeant Alan Bernard dismissed those notions. “They didn’t get any of that from us. We are not pursuing anything like that.”
It’s worth noting that Romalis is a prominent member of Vancouver’s Jewish community, so it is possible that the shooting was racially motivated—as the Toronto Star reported in December, Canada’s Security Intelligence Review Committee discovered that the white supremacist Heritage Front had a hit list of 22 Canadians—most of them Jews in Toronto—to assassinate.
Nonetheless, the mainstream news media have continued to emphasize an atmosphere of fear and unease in Canada with regard to abortion-related violence. The Hamilton Spectator, for example, ran a series of articles in the week following December’s shootings in Massachusetts which were successively titled, “Abortion Clinic attacks ‘may catch on in Canada’”; “We want protection: abortion rights group fears violence,” and “Abortion doctors more cautious.”
In the past, the Winnipeg Free Press ran a story headlines, “Abortion clinic staff fear for their lives” and in January the Globe and Mail printed an article which quoted the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League (not exactly the most reliable source for such information) as claiming that death threats have escalated in the last year or two.
Mainstream news media coverage of the Ontario government’s court injunction application against pro-life protests in the province has also been misleading. After Justice George Adams came down with a ruling on the matter last August, the Globe and Mail characterized the subsequent injunction as “extensive” while the Montreal Gazette headlined an article, “Ontario judge orders strict limits on picketing by anti-abortionists.”
But a closer look at the reality of the situation reveals that the limits were not as “strict” as the Gazette would have had us believe:
- Ontario’s Attorney General required a 500-foot ban on picketing and counselling at three Toronto abortion clinics. Instead, Justice George Adams granted bans of only 60 and 30 feet.
- The Attorney General requested a 500-foot ban on picketing at hospitals. Justice Adams rejected this request outright.
- The Attorney General requested strict limitations on the use of signs and the word “kills” as well as the names of abortionists. Justice Adams rejected this request also.
The judge also dismissed charges against 18 individuals which included: conspiring to injure, stalking, invasion of privacy, criminal trespass and mischief, causing a disturbance, secondary picketing, inducing a breach of contract and defamation.
Perhaps the media’s attempts to stir up fear and unease over abortion-related violence in Canada is best typified by a lengthy article written by Joan Breckenbridge for the January 28, 1995 edition of the Globe and Mail: ‘The last gasp.’
In her article, Breckenbridge suggested that violence represented “the final of a bankrupt (anti-abortion) quest.” As well, her composition was rife with hyperbole and inflammatory scenarios. Consider the opening paragraph:
“When Dana is helping perform an abortion in the Toronto clinic where she works, her eyes are repeatedly drawn to a nearby rooftop visible through the operating room window. Will a sniper be there one day, she wonders. Will he shoot her?”
Breckenbridge went on to quote hearsay claims from pro-abortionists, including the assertion that a manual outlining covert action against abortion clinics—including how to make plastic explosives and how to put a bomb together—had surfaced.
But what Breckenbridge failed to mention was that the alleged manual was obtained by the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League—hardly a reliable source of information for such a claim.
Her article also contained a number of errors and questionable assertions, including:
- “Certainly, it’s indisputable that attitudes toward abortion are more liberal than ever before…A 1992 Environics poll found that 79 per cent of Canadians feel abortion is a private medical matter between a woman and her physician.” But Breckenbridge failed to mention that the poll was commissioned by the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League!
In contrast, other polls have produced radically different results. For example, an independent Gallup poll conducted in 1993 found that only 31 per cent of Canadians believed abortion should be legal under all circumstances.
And an Environics poll in 1993 found that 74 per cent of Canadians favoured a law requiring women who are considering abortions to get information about fetal development and the possible physical and psychological complications of abortion, while 71 per cent favoured a law requiring that women be told about the option of placing a baby for adoption.
Of course, Breckenbridge neatly ignored these poll results.
- “By all evidence, Canada doesn’t have many Paul Hills, at least in part because Canadians are neither as religious nor as concerned with the concept of individual rights as Americans.” A quick look at census data reveals that Canadians are just as religious as Americans, if not more so, and one has to wonder what basis Breckenbridge concludes that Canadians aren’t as concerned about individual rights.
- “(Abortion-related) Violence is on the upswing in the United States and to a lesser degree in Canada.” We’ve already seen that it’s questionable to what extent violence has risen in the U.S. and it’s irresponsible to suggest, based on verifiable evidence rather than speculation, that there is any violence of any sort in Canada.
It is worthwile to note that this writer sent a letter to the Globe and Mail following the publication of Breckenbridge’s article to take issue with all of there points and to offer a rebuttal of a length similar to the original story. Needless to say, the Globe and Mail ignored the offer.
To conclude our look at the news media, violence and abortion in Canada, we must also take a look at a couple of other incidents which had the potential to cast abortionists and abortion sympathizers in a negative light, but which were never publicized on a widespread basis. These incidents include:
- A series of attacks against Vancouver pro-life Paul Nielsen over a number of years. In 1988, his political campaign office in Vancouver East was firebombed. On October 23, 1993, a military-type smoke bomb was tossed through the front window of his home. And on November 1, 1993, another smoke bomb was thrown into his home at 3 a.m. while Nielsen, his wife and six of his children were sleeping.
A Vancouver police sergeant noted that the latter attack could have proved fatal if the family had not been the object of harassing attacks, including broken windows, for a number of years.
- A Sherbrooke, Quebec couple launched a $205,000 malpractice suit against the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Sherbrooke after their 18-year-old daughter Karine Rivard died on July 25, 1992 from an abortion they knew nothing about. Rivard left behind a six-month-old son. Her father said Karine changed her mind before the abortion and told medical staff she didn’t want to go through with it.
Reasons for Bias:
Perhaps we’ve established by this point that mainstream news media are clearly biased against the pro-life side of the abortion debate, particularly with regard to the question to the question of abortion-related violence.
But this obviously raises the question: why? Is there some kind of planned conspiracy to cast the pro-life side in as negative a light as possible? Or do news media have some kind of vested interest in ensuring that abortion persists in North American society?
The evidence does not suggest affirmative answers to these questions.
Instead, the explanation seems to lie in the orientation individual journalists have towards the issue of abortion. For whatever reason, journalism seems to attract large numbers of people with a decidedly liberal bent towards social and moral issues. Let’s now examine the evidence for this state of affairs.
In recent years, a number of studies have been conducted which unanimously demonstrate an overwhelming liberal bias among journalists and their support for abortion “rights.” The most prominent of these studies was conducted by S. Robert Lichter, Stanley Rothman and Linda S. Litcher for a 1985 book entitled – appropriately enough – The Media Elite.
The trio studied a cross – section of journalists from leading media outlets throughout the U.S. and found that a distinctive characteristic was their decidedly secular outlook on life – half of them had no religious affiliation, while only one in five identified themselves as Protestant and only one in eight as Catholic. Only eight per cent attended religious services regularly.
Lichter, Rothman and Lichter added that the journalists were united in rejecting social conservatism and were strong supporters of abortion, women’s rights, homosexual rights and sexual freedom in general.
Numerous other studies have backed up these researchers’ claims; for example, a massive 1985 Los Angeles Times survey found that 82 per cent of 3,000 randomly-surveyed U.S. journalists were pro-choice on the abortion issue.
And the situation is even worse in Canada. Prominent Canadian journalist Peter Desbarats, currently dean of the journalism school at the University of Western Ontario, concluded in 1985 that there was “no doubt that Canada’s journalistic elite…shows an even stronger left-liberal bias than its American counterparts.”
The public seems to be coming to a general realization of the unreliability of the mainstream news media, however. U.S. News and World Report reported earlier this year that a public survey conducted by the Times Mirror Centre For the People and the Press found that 71 per cent of Americans believe the media “gets in the way of society solving its problems.”
Americans believe that the press is unnecessarily adversarial, negative, insensitive to the people it covers, irresponsible and arrogant, said the magazine: “the public these days does not merely dislike the press – it hates it.”
Perhaps there is hope for us yet.
We’ve seen, then, that there is a decidedly pro-abortion bent to mainstream news media coverage of the abortion issue in North America. The reasons for this have to do less with a conscious effort on the part of the media outlets than with the overwhelming pro-abortion orientation of individual journalists who write the stories and compose the broadcasts, as proven by numerous scientific surveys.
So how are pro-lifers to ensure that the abortion issue receives fair treatment from here on in given this state of affairs? It appears useless to try to change the current system or to influence journalists into being more balanced.
As we have seen, a pro-abortion orientation is built into very fibres and backgrounds of journalists currently in mainstream news media and to attempt to change this would be futile.
Pro-life people and other persons of conscience would be far better off established alternative credible sources of news dissemination which have the capabilities of reaching large audiences. The establishment of a national newspaper, radio broadcast or television news broadcast (perhaps similar to that of Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network in the U.S.) are possibilities.
Such media outlets would ensure that the pro-life view has a fair chance of being heard in the arena of ideas because these outlets would allow at least part of the population to receive the truth about the abortion situation in North America today – a claim which cannot be under current conditions.