Canadian pro-life leaders have demanded a public apology from the Chairman of a Senate Committee which last summer identified pro-life groups a possible terrorist threat.  The Report of the Senate Special Committee on Terrorism and the Public Safety identified “extreme elements of certain anti-abortion groups” in its listing of “those groups that have recently been, are currently viewed to be, or could become sources of domestic terrorism in Canada.”  The separately published Summary of the Report was even more precise, stating that although the major threat to Canadian security is international terrorism, the “secondary threat is from domestic terrorism, particularly from radical right-wing/racist groups, radical “animal liberation” groups and the extreme elements of certain anti-abortion groups.”  The pro-life movement is seeking an amendment to the published report.

The Special Committee of the Senate was appointed in October 1986, and was empowered to “hear evidence and consider matters relating to terrorism as a real or potential threat to Canada and to Canadians.”  From December 1986 until May 1987, the Committee heard testimony from government officials, law enforcement officers, media representatives and many others.

The working definition of “terrorism” adopted by the Senate Special Committee was “…the threat or use of violent criminal techniques, in concert with political and psychological actions, by a clandestine or semi-clandestine armed political faction or group with the aim of creating a climate of fear and uncertainty, wherein the ultimate target (usually one or more governments) will be coerced the terrorists their specific demands, or some political advantage.”

Terrorist manuals and bombs

In the section of the report on “domestic terrorism” in which “extreme elements of certain anti-abortion groups” are included, reference is made to the availability of “terrorist manuals” which provide “down to earth information on terrorist tactics and weapons and can help even the smallest and most poorly financed group attain a reasonable level of sophistication and technical proficiency.”  In this regard, the report continues, “Canadian terrorists follow a common pattern by resorting largely to explosive bombs.  Bombs are relatively easy to manufacture cheap, low-risk and yet quite deadly.”  This section concludes with the statement that the Committee “…is concerned that the rising threat from domestic terrorism, particularly rightwing terrorism, not be ignored.

Following the release of the report in late July, a widely published Canadian Press news story conveniently deleted the words “extreme elements of certain” and reported simply that the Senate Committee said “domestic groups ranging from animal rights activists to anti-abortion groups represent potential terrorist threats…”

Source protected

Alarmed by the implication of the report, Alliance for Life President Heather Stilwell wrote to Senator William Kelly, the Chairman of the Senate Special Committee, requesting the source of the allegations against the pro-life movement during the Committee hearings.  Senator Kelly refused this request, citing the in camera nature of the hearings.  In a letter to Mrs. Stilwell he explained that “…the Report of the Committee was very careful not to associate anti-abortionists per se, with terrorism or potential terrorism.  A careful reading of the Report indicates that the reference…referred only to “extreme elements of certain anti-abortion groups.”

His letter concluded: “I am sure you are aware, however, that incidents of criminal violence associates with extreme elements of certain anti-abortion groups in Canada…can be sourced from the public records.”

Kelly’s letter served only to worsen Mrs. Stilwell’s fears.  Contrary to the Senator’s explanation the “anti-abortionist per se were not explicitly associated with terrorism, the report hade left precisely the opposite impression by omission, as evidenced by the Canadian Press news report.  If no one person or group was named, then any one person or group could be suspect.  Furthermore, the Senator seemed to have publicly documented evidence of acts of “criminal violence” on the part of Canadian pro-life groups of which the movement itself was entirely unaware.

Security agencies consulted

Further investigation on the part of the pro-life movement was based on the following premise: If certain pro-life groups contain terrorist elements (past, present or potential), and if Canadian pro-lifers have been involved in incidents of “criminal violence,” then Canadian security forces must be aware of these active or potential terrorists.  It was presumed that these agencies had information (or a lack thereof) that would be helpful.

The proper request forms were filed with the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) through the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act.  Access was requested to any information contained in the agencies’ files on a variety of national, provincial and local pro-life organizations and pro-life individuals.  Information was also requested under the general heading of “pro-life” or “anti-abortion.”

The response from CSIS was evasive.  Access to the pertinent data banks was refused; the agency would not confirm or deny if any files containing information on the pro-life movement exist, let alone what might be in them if they do exist, for reasons of national security.  This apparently is a standard response to access requests for these particular data banks.

The RCMP however, was more helpful.  They confirmed that no information exists in their Operational Case Records or National Security Enforcement Records on the pro-life movement in general or on the specific groups listed in the Access to Information Request.  As well, no information was found on the pro-life individuals requesting personal information from the same files under the Privacy Act.  If threatened terrorist activities and acts of criminal violence are being perpetrated by “extreme elements of certain anti-abortion groups” in Canada, the RCMP is unaware of them.

American sources

Pro-life Members of Parliament were then informed of the situation and many wrote to Senator Kelly demanding answers.  Kelly’s response to MPs provided two important clues.

As some in the pro-life movements had come to suspect, the authorities, sources and references used to incriminate the pro-life movement were almost exclusively American.  Kelly stated: “…U.S. authorities informed Committee staff that there was an increasing level of criminal incidents associated with the anti-abortion movement in the U.S. and they, along with the Canadian authorities appearing before the Committee, expressed concern that this trend could be replicated in Canada.”

Kelly went on to list “authoritative sources on the incidence of terrorism springing from the anti-abortion movement.”  These included a PhD thesis, a paper presented to the American Political Science Association, and several American magazine articles, including two from Ms Magazine.

The more important information however, was the following, “…there have been several incidents in Canada (which the Committee would characterize as ‘terrorist’) that have been associated with the anti-abortion cause or movement, including but not limited to death threats against Dr. Henry Morgentaler [sic] to that city; two men convicted of assaulting a doctor at an abortion clinic in Toronto in January 1986; the arson of the building containing the Morgentaler [sic] clinic in Toronto in July 1983; and a bombing incident at the clinic in Winnipeg.”

Alliance for Life and Campaign Life Coalition moved immediately to investigate these “incidents.”

The Edmonton Police stated in writing that “a check of our indices reveals that there were no reported incidents of violence or threats against Dr. Morgentaler.

Winnipeg police wrote that “there was not actual incident at the Morgentaler clinic, at 883 Corydon Avenue.  However, there were several bomb threats made by telephone by person or persons unknown.”  These threats were never linked to persons in the pro-life movement.  Further, similar bomb threats were received at the time by the League for Life office in Winnipeg.

The arson incident had already been investigated by Campaign Life Coalition in the wake of newspaper accusations at the time of the fire.  Metro Toronto Police records show that the fire in question was started following a break and enter to the bookstore then located beneath the Toronto abortuary.  The incident had nothing whatsoever to do with Henry Morgentaler or the pro-life movement.

The remaining incident, the conviction of two men on an assault charge is true.  One defendant was fined $150; the other successfully appealed a similar fine and was given a conditional discharge.  In this incident, the complainant, abortionist Robert Scott, was also charged with assault.

Trivial evidence

This last case represents the sum total of “terrorist” activities attributable to “extreme elements of certain anti-abortion groups” in Canada.  Although Kelly maintains that the Committee would characterize this incident as “terrorist” it does not appear to conform to the Committee’s won working definition of terrorism as described above.

The pro-life movement has also noted that members of certain animal rights and ethnic organizations either testified before the Committee or were interviewed for background purposes.  The same courtesy was not extended to representatives of the pro-live movement, who had no reason at the time to suspect that the Senate Special Committee was discussing the movement, and therefore, did not ask to appear before it.

While the precise identity of those alleging terrorist activity in “extreme elements of certain anti-abortion groups” in Canada is still now known, the sources are almost certainly largely American.  Three of the four specific incidents which Kelly uses to condemn the Canadian pro-life movement are false.  Further, the Canadian security forces contacted could provide no records linking pro-life groups with terrorist or criminal activity.  The entire case against pro-lifers seems to rest on one conviction for common assault and a series of American magazine articles and papers.

“To publicly ascribe such a serious offence as existing or potential terrorism on such unsubstantiated and trivial evidence is libel of the worst kind,” said Heather Stilwell.  “We demand a public apology from Senator Kelly.  We are making our case public in the hope that other group of Canadian citizens will ever be subjected to the same treatment.”