Organizers say the 2004 March for Life was very much a success after almost 4,000 people descended on Canada’s capital May 13 to once again personally urge federal legislators to recognize the right to life for all human beings, from conception to natural death.

With the theme, “Life Is the Only Choice,” the seventh annual event was marked by several firsts, including the appearances of Evangelical Fellowship of Canada president Bruce Clemenger and the Roman Catholic archbishop of Ottawa, Marcel Gervais, who officiated with about 20 other priests – including Pembroke Bishop Richard Smith – at a pro-life Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral.

In his address to the throngs on Parliament Hill just prior to the March through the streets of downtown Ottawa, Clemenger pledged the commitment of the EFC towards the continuing struggle for human life in Canada. Gervais, at both the Mass homily and in his address on Parliament Hill, focused on the issue of embryonic stem cell research. He outlined the moral objections to using human embryos as research subjects or materials to treat medical conditions. He also pointed out that far greater success has been achieved using non-embryonic sources for stem cells.

This year’s March for Life, which actually encompassed three days of events May 12-14, got under way with a spiritual launch May 12 during a bilingual pro-life Catholic Mass attended by about 300 people at St. Theresa’s church in Ottawa. Father Bob Bedard, founder and head of the Catholic priestly community Companions of the Cross, concelebrated the service with five other priests and wowed attendees with some strong and pointed words about the sad moral state of Canada today.

“We live in a rebellion against God,” he said. “We are a sinful nation.” He added that “there is a war going on” and that Canada is in a “much deeper mess” than even the U.S. “We are redefining everything God has set down … We’ll tolerate anything. That’s supposed to be good.”

Perhaps having in mind the fact that more than 100,000 preborn Canadians are destroyed by abortion every year, Bedard went further and asserted that, “I’m ashamed of my country. It’s barbaric.” He chastised “Catholic” politicians who hide behind the robes of their professed religious faith, yet support great moral evils. With these individuals, he said, “Power comes first. Everything else comes afterwards.”

On the other hand, Bedard offered words of encouragement and hope. “Jesus said, ‘I am with you till the end of time’ … It is the power of God that will do it.”

In addition, he observed that at some point, the abortion industry will simply collapse under the weight of its own evil and corruption. In the meantime, he said, “You and I need to be of good heart and hope.”

Uplifted by that powerful message, the hundreds of people then walked over to the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights monument, where they took part in a candlelight vigil commemorating some two million Canadians killed by abortion since its legalization under the Trudeau government in 1969.

Organized by pro-life young people in the Ottawa area, the vigil featured speeches by Bedard, Rev. Linda Robertson of the Presbyterian Church of Canada, Sebastian Szyszkowicz of Ottawa Youth for Life and Jewish Rabbi Reuven Bulka of Congregation Machzikei Hadas. Layna McIntosh read a poem composed by Emily Oborski, “It Comes With a Price.”

The following morning, about 1,000 people packed into Notre Dame Cathedral for a pro-life Mass, in conjunction with a Christian prayer service held separately at St. George’s Anglican Church. It was then on to Parliament Hill, where participants were greeted by musicians David MacDonald, Ken Wintle and band.

A steady procession of speakers made their way to the podium, including Clemenger, Gervais, and almost two dozen MPs from the Liberal and Conservative parties.

“Let’s not go on killing the children who are our future,” urged Paul Steckle (L-Huron Bruce, Ont.). “We will continue to make (life) an issue.”

“Life is our future,” noted Brian Fitzpatrick (C-Prince Albert, Sask.), while Dr. James Lunney (C-Nanaimo-Alberni, B.C.) congratulated Canadian pro-lifers for being “heroes and champions of truth.”

Paul Szabo (L-Mississauga South, Ont.) got a standing ovation from the other MPs for his valiant efforts against new reproductive technologies Bill C-13, and Dan McTeague (L-Pickering-Ajax-Uxbridge, Ont.) said he and other pro-life MPs are proud of taking the positions they have on life issues.

Pat O’Brien (L-London-Fanshawe, Ont.) said the March for Life is among the largest demonstrations ever held on Parliament Hill – and that doesn’t go unnoticed by the MPs who are not in favour of the cause or don’t attend the event. Tom Wappel (L-Scarborough Southwest, Ont.) urged pro-lifers to make their and others’ votes count in the upcoming federal election, while Cheryl Gallant (C-Renfrew-Nippissing-Pembroke, Ont.) said there was no difference between the barbarity of the beheading of an American civilian in Iraq and the destruction of the preborn in Canada. “Keep up the fight,” she urged.

Jason Kenney (C-Calgary Southeast, Albta) also encouraged pro-lifers to “never give up the fight” and attacked those MPs who say they’re personally opposed to abortion, but don’t do anything about it legislatively. Janko Peric (L-Cambridge, Ont.) and Reed Elley (C-Nanaimo-Cowichan, B.C.) were among the other MPs who addressed the crowd, while Rabbi Bulka and Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes represented religious and pro-life groups, respectively.

Jean Migneault, deputy supreme knight of the 1.6 million-member Knights of Columbus Catholic men’s organization, was scheduled to address the event. Unfortunately, the police started the March prematurely, before the speaking component of the program had been completed.

The thousands of marchers made an impressive sight as they made their way through early afternoon streets in downtown Ottawa. Organized in a file, they seemed to be much larger in number than the actual figures suggested, and it took a fair amount of time for all of them to complete their trek.

A first for the March for Life this year was the presence of two counter-demonstrators, who took up places with a sign at the Sparks Street Mall near the Morgentaler abortuary. The two – complete with requisite skin piercings and spiked and coloured hair – chanted, “Keep your Rosaries off our ovaries” as the crowd marched past them. A pro-life official later commented that the two were “victims of the feminist poison” that has infected Western society.

Back on Parliament Hill, marchers were treated to some more music from MacDonald, Wintle and company, as well as a memorial service for preborn victims of abortion at the eternal flame at the base of Parliament Hill, which was led by clergy of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The first-ever Silent No More event was then held on the main stage. It featured about a dozen women holding signs reading, “I regret my abortion,” who in turn stepped up to the microphone and gave harrowing testimonies about how abortion had impacted their lives in a negative way. Tears were common not only among the speakers, but also among the listening crowd as the afternoon came to a close.

Georgette Forney, co-founder of the U.S. National Silent No More Awareness Campaign, said she had an abortion at age 16 and, “It was awful … My life got taken off track because of the emotional pain.” Angelina Steenstra, of Canadian-based Second Chance Ministries, said nobody told her about the consequences – depression, guilt, shame, grief, anger – she would suffer as a result of an abortion she had after a date rape at age 15.

“Abortion takes the life not only of the child, but of the family,” she said. Other women shared similar experiences.

At the sold out Rose Dinner held later that evening at the Ottawa Conference Centre, Paul Szabo was honoured as this year’s recipient of the Joseph P. Borowski Award, which recognizes the Canadian politician who has most distinguished himself in the political arena for the pro-life cause in the past year.

Szabo was an easy choice in light of his stalwart work against the destructive Bill C-13 reproductive technologies bill, which unfortunately was passed and legalized evils including embryonic research and some types of cloning. In his acceptance speech, Szabo expressed his gratitude to pro-life advocates who were instrumental in drumming up enough support for him to win the Liberal party’s nomination once again in his riding. He pledged his continued support for the pro-life cause in the time to come.

Keynote speaker Sandy Rios, former president of Concerned Women for America, told the 400 people present that there are many parallels between Nazi Germany in the last century and the U.S. and Canada in this one. She noted that we have adopted the Nazi utilitarian ideology whereby a person’s worth is determined by his or her ability to contribute to society.

She also decried the “big business” of killing preborn babies and referred to the fact that the Planned Parenthood organization rakes in so much money, it is able to invest in stocks for the Victoria’s Secret lingerie firm.

“What is legal ceased long ago to be moral,” she said, as she urged pro-lifers and people of conscience everywhere to heed God’s advice to the prophet Ezekiel to tell the truth whether people listen or not. “And as Churchill said, ‘Never give up,'” she concluded. The evening ended with a cheque presentation by the Knights of Columbus towards the costs of staging the March for Life.

The following day, May 14, was taken up by a youth conference. For more coverage, see the separate article in this issue of The Interim.

Bill Mullally, a March for Life co-ordinator with the Campaign Life Coalition national office in Toronto, said virtually every moment over the three days of the March for Life was a highlight.

“We had a story to tell,” he said. “The march continues to grow in importance. The message doesn’t change.”

He noted that media coverage was a little better than in previous years, with cameras from CTV, CBC, Rogers Cable and French-language television stations in evidence. However, despite the fact the march was one of the largest demonstrations ever on Parliament Hill, exposure was sparse – if existent at all – outside the Ottawa area.

A particularly infuriating piece of coverage was provided by Global Television’s National newscast, which had anchor Kevin Newman suggesting that only 800 people showed up on Parliament Hill and that they couldn’t find any MPs to hear their message. Newman also interviewed three MPs who weren’t even present at the march and who spouted an essentially pro-abortion line.