TORONTO, October 2, 1983. Canada’s largest pro-life rally was held at Queen’s Park in front of the Ontario Legislative Building’s yesterday. A pro-abortion rally held at the same time at Nathan Phillips Square, outside Toronto City Hall, drew 350 people, according to Toronto Police.
Police also estimated attendance at the pro-life rally as 30,000 to 35,000. “Even the Cruise protest wasn’t this big,” said one. Earlier in the week, Jim Hughes, Chairman of Campaign Life Toronto, the political branch of the pro-life movement, had stated that he hoped for 15,000 or perhaps 20,000 people to turn our to protest both the presence of abortion clinics and the continuing disregard of abortion laws in Ontario hospitals.
In addition to protesters from the Toronto area, citizens from all over Ontario came to voice their concern on this issue. They came on their own by auto, bus and train, and in over 200 buses organized by pro-life groups across the province. The largest out-of-town group was from Windsor; they sent thirty-four busloads. Those at the rally were sobered by the announcement that that number represented the number of abortions performed in Windsor in the past year. Sixty different groups had worked for several months to organize the rally. Organizers estimate that two-thirds of the crowd came from outside Toronto.
The day of protest, which began at 2 p.m., was composed of two parts: a rally in front of the Ontario Legislature during which attendees heard from three pro-life speakers, and a march along a 2.4-mile route. It included a silent march past Henry Morgentaler’s abortion clinic on Harbord Street, about five blocks west of the Legislature. The clinic, closed at present, had been operating illegally since mid-June. Morgentaler has been pouted as saying he plans to reopen the clinic in the next two weeks.
Good family feeling
It took over an hour and a half for the long line of protesters to file past the clinic. Over two hundred parade marshals were needed. By the time the first marchers to leave Queen’s Park had completed the 2.4-mile walk, the last groups were only just leaving. In fact, police parade officials had to hold up the front of the line for a few minutes as it turned back on to Queen’s Park Crescent, otherwise the two ends would have overlapped.
“The feeling was incredible,” said one marcher at the back of the line. “When I saw the front come around the corner, all bunched together, so near to us, my heart jumped up into my throat.” Emotion and feeling ran very high at both the rally and the march, but it was neither noisy nor boisterous, gay nor angry.
There was instead a definite “family feeling” and a strong sense of the dignity and the solemnity of the occasion. That feeling overlaid all of the others – the excitement of the crowd at the sheer number of committed people, the grief for the lives lost, the determination to be heard by our legislators and politicians, the anger at the way life is disregarded and discounted, the chagrin at the way pro-life is misrepresented by those in the media and at their penchant for promoting and publicizing death.
A huge vote of thanks and appreciation is owing to Brennan Masterson, the chief co-coordinator of all of the Ontario groups. Recognition is also due to Metro Toronto Police who performed cheerfully and professionally under conditions made unexpectedly arduous by the huge crowd
Speakers at the rally prior to the march included Laura McArthur, President of Toronto Right to Life, Bishop Pearce Lacey, auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, and Chuck Roche, who has been active with the pro-life movement in Ashburn, Ontario since 1968.
Following the national anthem, led by Nihal Fonseka, the rally was opened by a prayer offered by Rev. Howard McPhee of the Christian Action Council, a Protestant pro-life group. After thanking God for His creation, and for making man in His image, Rev. McPhee continued, “Almighty Creator, we are disturbed by the fact that, in recent years, the unborn have lost their status of being in Your image. We pray that you establish justice on their behalf, that you protect the unborn that they might have the status and the privileges other citizens have. We pray, Almighty Creator, that this rally might spark concern for the unborn, that it might rouse those in power to come to the defense of the unborn,”
Bishop Lacey read a message from Cardinal G. Emmett Carter, Archbishop to Toronto. It read, in part, “the unborn child is the most defenseless of all human beings. We have a clear determination not to desert them to those who would terminate life. We are all united in this concern; and we call upon those in authority to enforce the law to protect all persons.”
Bishop Lacey added, citing the Ontario Bishops’ statement In Defense of Human Life, which he co-authored, “A society which tolerates the killing of the unborn humans…promotes progressive in sensitivity to human life. What becomes of the disadvantaged, the unwanted in such a society? If humans cannot be protected before birth, can they be protected after birth?
“We must foster a social environment in which no group is isolated or unwanted,” he added. “We must strive to make it possible for people to live full, human lives. We cannot say, ‘Choose Life,’ unless we put that phrase into action by providing full, tangible support for all women and families who require it, before, during and after pregnancy.
“Your presence here,” he concluded, “is a testimony to your willingness to work for justice. We will achieve these objectives.”
A touching note
Laura McArthur paid tribute to more than sixty groups who had made the rally a success. “This is not the work of one group, but of over sixty groups across the province who put together this tremendous rally. We know why we’re here because we speak for the unborn child.”
Mrs. McArthur read a letter received from twelve young women staying at Rosalie Hall, a home for unwed mothers in Scarborough, Ontario. “We choose life,” the letter stated, “though this is a difficult decision to make. Our average age is seventeen, and some of us have no support from family, friends or father. Some of us could not have had an abortion, and others of us chose not to; but today all of us are glad we did not. We are at peace that we made the decision to choose life. We are sorry not to be with you today; but our hope is with you for the unborn. We are happy to speak on their behalf.” After reading the letter and naming each of the writers, Mrs. McArthur said, “we shall not let you down.”
Mr. Roche called the gathering “the most impressive showing I’ve ever seen in my life, or ever will see.”
“October 1, 1983, will go down in history as the day the enemies of the unborn child were turned back,” he continued.
Mr. Roche spoke against those who are neutral on the issue, and those whom he termed “enemies of the unborn,” “I cannot understand those who claim to be neutral. People can get worked up about possible threats to freedom, but ignore this out-and-out destruction of human life. The war we must wage is the war of truth versus deception: anyone who agrees to an abortion has to have been deceived,”
“today is only the beginning,” Mr. Roche said. “We will not stop until the rights of our unborn brothers and sisters are guaranteed. Evil cannot prosper as long as good people do something about it. We have to make it crystal clear that we are prepared to do something about it. We have started and won our first big victory for life.”
He conceded, “Our reward will be knowing that somewhere down the street or in the park, there is a little boy or girl who would never have seen the light of day if you did not stand up and say, ‘Let them live.’ “The last phrase was picked up by the crowd immediately and used as a chant.
Although the most remarkable contribution was Windsor’s thirty-four busses, most areas sent two (like Collingwood or Haliburton), or one (like Ottawa). Organizers, who were prepared for a maximum of 150 busses, were overwhelmed” by the sheer volume of participants, and so records were kept only up to a point. At the train station, officials of CN and CP were curious to account for the sudden glut of passengers that choked the trains and the stations. People were identified from over a hundred cities and towns in Ontario.
At the rally, Interim distributed 10,000 copies of the October issue – the one announcing the pro-life victory in Ireland.
Among the Right-to-Life and pro-life groups were the following: Coburg, Wallaceburg, Strathroy, Windsor, Bowmanville Concerned for Life, Quinte Region, Essex City, Listowell, Tottenham, Stratford, St. Catharines, Welland, Hamilton, Elgin County, London, Kent, Brockville, Petawawa, Belle River, Mississauga, Burling, Durham Region, CYPLO (Canadian Youth Pro-life Organization), Haliburton, Toronto and Area, Guelph, Sudbury, Renfrew, Peterborough, St. Rose Youth Group (Windsor), Halton, Simcoe County, Woodstock, North Bay, Southampton, Port Elgin, Paisley, Tri-Town, Newmarket, Richmond Hill, Orillia, Barrie, Collingwood, Dunville and Area, Niagara Region, Bothwell, Glencoe, West Lorne, Port Perry, Arthur, Brampton, Kingston, Huron-Perth, Spittsville, Watford and Sarnia.
In addition, various other groups and schools were conspicuous. These groups included: Pro-Vie (Toronto), Bethlehem Lutheran Church, St. Michael’s College School, Don Bosco, Notre Dame, Neil McNeil High School, Loretto Abbey, Loretto College, John XXIII, St. Mary’s Catholic Women’s League, Owen Sound Knights of Columbus, St. Mark’s Church (Stouffville), Waterloo Pentecostal Assembly, Action Life (Ottawa), Canadian Physicians for Life, Hamilton Physicians for Life, Young Canadians for a Christian Civilization, Lutherans for Life, Glad Tidings Tabernacle (Burlington), Knights of Columbus, pro-life Calvinists, St. Joseph’s College School, Cardinal Newman High School, Cardinal Leger High School (Brampton), and Springdale Baptist Church.
Some free snacks were provided by Hare Krishna, whose orange robes added colour to the proceedings.
During the opening ceremonies, Silent Voice provided singers for the hearing-impaired.
The groups, Gabriel, and Paul and Timothy, provided music. A sing-along was led by the youth at the rally.
The closing remarks were made by Mike Luciani of CYPLO.