Toronto’s first Operation Rescue of 1989 was marked by episodes of violence by pro-abortionists, excessive police force against some of the rescuers, and an unprecedented number of arrests. Latest police estimates put the number of arrests at 200, all pro-life rescuers.
The three-day rescue in Toronto on January 12-14, was Canada’s contribution to the International Days of Rescue called by American Operation Rescue leader Randall Terry of Binghampton, New York.
The object of a rescue is to save lives non-violently by pro-lifers blocking clients’ access to the abortionist. All those participating in rescues pledge beforehand both to behave in a completely non-violent way and not to retaliate to any provocation, verbal or physical.
The three Canadian rescues, led by Anne Packer and Kurt Gayle, were held twice at the Morgentaler abortuary on Harbord Street and once at the Robert Scott abortuary on Gerrard Street.
On Thursday, January 12, the rescue began well before daylight. Just over 100 people gathered at a downtown hotel for prayer and instructions before being bussed to the Morgentaler abortuary.
Arriving around 7:30 a.m., the rescuers were able to block the front stairs and occupy the forecourt to the abortuary, successfully blocking access to the building by sitting or lying down, even though half a dozen or so pro-abortion women were back, the gates had been locked and the area was deserted. Even so, rescuers stationed themselves in a line before the gates, further blocking access from that direction.
Upwards of 70 people had pledged their willingness to risk arrest. They were the ones who sat before the entrances. The 35 or so who stood around them acted as moral support, vitally important to such an action.
By 8 a.m., two policemen attempted to clear the stairs by asking the rescuers to move. Their requests were ignored and the two police found themselves standing among the rescuers, just in front of the pro-abortion women, fore the next several hours.
It appeared a stalemate until a dozen or so pro-abortionists arrived and began the kind of harassment which was to become standard behaviour throughout the three days.
The pro-abortion “forces” were led by a handful of pimply-faced, longhaired, disheveled-looking young men. Together with a handful of young women, they raised a barrage of insults, obscenities and blasphemies, trying to goad the rescuers into responding.
Most of their chants and insults are too obscene to print. The noise level was consistently loudest when rescuers prayers or bible readings were taking place. At times, prayers were drowned out by cries of Bull_____ and a monotonous chant, “Sexist, racist, anti-gay, born-again bigots go away.”
This first day, the police appeared reluctant to intervene, thus infuriating abortion supporters who waded in and started to pull the rescuers away from the steps. It quickly became apparent that the rescuers were in real physical danger as the pro-abortion youths attacked.
Eventually, a squad of police pushed their way into the crowd. Two young female rescuers barely escaped striking their heads on the concrete when they were thrown off the steps by police. Another rescuer, wearing several layers of heavy clothing, was bitten on the arm by a pro-abortionist so strenuously as to break the skin.
By 11 a.m., police had managed to clear a pathway to the front door and a small group of women, heads covered, were led into the building by a larger group of escorts. As these women went in to have their babies killed, the pro-abortionists broke into a frenzy of cheers and screams of joy. Many of the rescuers stood with their heads bowed in prayer, tears streaming down their cheeks.
Five rescuers removed from the area by police were later released without being charged.
On day two, the target was the Scott abortuary. Rarely picketed by pro-lifers, the staff at Scott’s was totally unprepared (Instead, the pro-abortionists were all waiting outside Morgentaler’s which appeared closed for the day).
Once again, the rescuers arrived before daybreak, and quickly secured both front and back entrances to the building. Police and pro-abortionists soon turned up. Obviously fearing a resumption of the previous day’s violence, police moved in quickly to clear a path through the rescuers.
Although police were heard to tell each other to “go easy on the women,” some of the men were treated quite roughly. A few were dumped into the street several times, or had their coats and shoes torn off, or were dragged through mud puddles. Two here hauled roughly across the street to waiting police cruisers.
Day two saw the building opened earlier than was Morgentaler’s the day before. The few women escorted into the abortuary seemed to be there more for show, more to score points with the media than anything else. Later on, when the “clients” were escorted out, the uncaring attitude of the abortionists towards the women was quite obvious. (See accompanying story.)
No rescuers were arrested this day. However, one, Dr. John Lukenda of Sault Ste. Marie, was charged with assault. He had reached behind himself and held on to the nearest pair of legs as police were attempting to drag him away. Unfortunately, the legs belonged to an abortuary employee who claimed physical injury and laid a complaint.
When the weary rescuers arrived once more at the pre-dawn downtown meeting place, they were thrilled to find a room packed with new faces. More than double the numbers arrived for the Saturday rescue than the weekday ones, and 178 people agreed to accept arrest if necessary.
There was no attempt to make a surprise arrival. Both the police and the abortionists knew where the rescue would be and were in place well before dawn. The rescuers, however, followed the same pattern. The back gates were locked but unguarded and one group stationed themselves there. A larger group walked to the front, and unable to occupy the front steps, sat down in front of the roughly 7a5 abortionist supporters. Two other groups sat down at the ends of the barricades which had been erected to create a lane way to the building.
The rescuers sat stoically and quietly in spite of continuous verbal abuse and physical assaults from the pro-abortionists who continuously pushed and shoved against them. Many endured great discomfort as they sat with knees pushed painfully into their backs, or with boots kicking them in the back or pressed down on their hands. Most prayed quietly, despite the chanting and caterwauling and howls of derision.
Some, Catholics and others, noticed that praying the Rosary seemed to provoke the loudest and most blasphemous insults and screams. Many of the pro-abortionists adopted a high pitched and long-drawn-out howl – like animals baying at the moon – on such occasions. Father Ted Colleton tried to conduct a prayer service once the building was open. It was inaudible, even though he was using a powerful sound system.
The police and the pro-abortionists had obviously coordinated their activities beforehand. Around 9 a.m., just as a fleet of taxicabs arrived at the building, police moved in to clear a way. Each cab disgorged a woman whose face was covered, surrounded by several escorts. They were quickly hustled into the building.
As before, a frenzied cheer went up as the women went in. The chant, “the people have spoken, our clinic will stay open,” was screamed over and over. Again, the pro-lifers prayed and cried in compassion and frustration.
Although spokesmen for the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics insisted that all scheduled “clients” had entered the building and that it was “business as usual,” it is quite unlikely that these claims are accurate.
An experienced pro-life activist has been at the “safe house” where the women had gathered for their cabs. He recognized many of the faces and believes that some of the “clients” were phonies paraded for propaganda purposes.
Shortly after the women had entered the building, police moved in and began dragging rescuers off into paddy wagons. The majority of the rescuers refused passively to cooperate with the process, and were dragged along the street. All were photographed before being shipped of to any one of four police stations.
While police took away those closest to the building, others sitting at the ends of the barricades, crawled down the street to sit in front of the building. In all, some 200 rescuers were arrested. No pro-abortionists were arrested.
Both organizers of the rescue, Kurt Gayle and Anne Packer, were arrested, as were several clergymen. These included Father Ted Colleton of the Holy Ghost Fathers; Rev. Ken Campbell of Choose Life Canada; Rev. Fred Vaughan of Beulah Baptist Church; Rev. Callum Beck, pastor of Keele Street Church of Christ; Rev. Ralph Rutledge and Rev. Rick D’Orazio, Pastor and Minister of Volunteers respectively of Queensway Cathedral; and Pastor Antonwicz from Brampton.
Those arrested were released after a few hours detention. Although some were warned they would be charged if they went back to Harbord Street, the rest were released unconditionally.
Two of the clergymen are considering laying private charges against the police. Rev. Antonwicz needed one stitch to close a cut over his eyes. Another clergyman needed three stitches to close a gash on his cheek, received when he was thrown into a fence.
Babies Were Saved
Although it is impossible to state categorically the number of babies saved during the three days, sidewalk counselors did manage to talk to some of the couples arriving on Thursday and Friday. At least two couples left the area and a third couple took pro-life information.
Pro-abortion statistics from the United States indicated that if women fail to keep their appointment, between 20 and 25 per cent of them would not make another. On all three days, it is quite possible that many of the supposed “clients” were in fact pro-abortion supporters masquerading for the cameras.
On the Friday, when the rescue was at the Scott abortuary, Morgentaler’s appeared closed. Unfortunately, it opened the following Monday, usually a day when it is closed.
A Sense of Repentance
Rescue organizer Anne Packer, said that she was overwhelmed by the number of pro-lifers who sacrificed their time and comfort to join the rescue. “So many people,” she said, “came in a real spirit of repentance, determined to do something to atone for their previous silence on the issue.
Most of the other rescuers similarly downplayed their discomfort. Many of them said that if they could save lives, they felt privileged to be in the rescue.
At the pre-rescue meeting, organizer Kurt Gayle told the crown that this rescue would be the only one where the pro-abortionists would have prior knowledge of the vent.
“This is the best they’ll get,” he said, adding that it had been necessary to spread the word widely this time so that as many as possible could be given the chance to join. In future, he noted, rescues would be organized very quietly so that the pro-abortionists would not have the opportunity to organize.
Media reports, as always, focused on the violence of the rescue, not bothering to clarify from which direction the violence came. Such misrepresentation does not bother Ann Packer who says, “God doesn’t read the Globe and Mail, nor does He listen to the CBC.” And, she believes, most people can see through the media bias to the truth.
Laura McArthur, president of Toronto Right to Life Association is also critical of the media coverage. “If operation Rescue was as it is portrayed, in the media, I couldn’t support it,” she said. But since she knows the principles and so many of the people involved she has no hesitation in supporting it. She added, “It takes a great deal of courage.”
In B.C., Heather Sitwell, President of Alliance for Life, told the Interim: “Operation Rescue will be the turning point of the Pro-Life Movement in North America. Not everyone who is pro-life will feel called to be a rescuer but the social tensions being created adds a new and vital component that has been missing. Now the entire continent is becoming aware that what the issue is really about is the killing of unborn children.