After effectively being barred from participating at a local fair in 2003, a Port Colborne, Ont. pro-life group wasn’t able to file an application to get in this year.

A 12-member committee overseeing the annual Port Colborne Canal Days event had voted last year to not allow the Welland-Port Colborne Pro-Life Association to take part by having a display booth, which was to have included items such as fetal models, brochures, balloons and giveaways such as pencils. The committee said the group’s permit – which it had already paid for – was being rescinded, apparently out of concerns over political fallout and the lack of a policy governing such organizations.

When contacted by The Interim, committee member Gail Todd said the pro-life group was one of three applicants she thought were “not appropriate” and did not fall in line with the event’s marine heritage theme.

“Do you find any marine heritage link with an anti-abortion group at a marine heritage festival?” she asked. “What does that have to do with the marine heritage festival?”

Todd, who is publisher and editor of the Port Colborne Leader newspaper, added that a company was commissioned to solicit vendor booths for the event and submitted to the committee a list of about 220 applicants, from which about 115 were accepted. All of the successful applicants, she said, had a relation to the marine heritage theme.

In a July 23, 2003 column in her publication, Todd had alluded to a “compatriate (sic) from the Dark Side” who kept a motion she had put forth before the committee alive – presumably about keeping out the pro-life group – and who “made it happen.” She then added: “And wouldn’t you know, the pro-lifers are on my tail now.”

Margaret Purcell, president of the Welland-Port Colborne Pro-Life Association, disputed Todd’s contention that her group was kept out of the festival because it was not related to a marine heritage theme.

“That wasn’t the reason at all. There were plenty of things I wouldn’t consider to be particularly marine,” she said.

The pro-life group wasn’t able to submit an application for this year’s event because it was too preoccupied with other demands and the staff member who usually looked after that end of things moved out of town. However, the association did manage to take part this past summer in an even larger festival in Welland, the Niagara Regional Exhibition, which covered the entire Niagara region.

“Our exhibit there went off without a hitch,” said Purcell. “They gave us a bigger site at a cut price to sweeten the deal. We got a lot of passersby and people stopping at our display. The kids brought their parents. The only belligerence we encountered was from grandmothers. But there was nothing bothersome this year at all.”

After “some doing,” the association was also finally able to get back the money it had paid to Canal Days for its ill-fated exhibit there.

Purcell said she doesn’t intend to be caught off-guard again when Canal Days applications come up again. “It’s one nice thing about we Irish – we don’t know when to quit.”

The Port Colborne situation was echoed somewhat south of the border in Kettering, Oh. in September, when a pro-life entry that had taken part for two years in a Holiday Home Labour Day Parade there was denied this year because organizers were banning “political messages.” Parade leader Jerry Long said the Respect Life Alliance’s fetal-development pictures were drawing complaints from onlookers. However, even after the group offered to display only pictures of children and infants after birth, its application was denied.