Just two days after the Immaculate Conception of Mary, people from all over Ontario gathered for an anniversary vigil in Toronto. On December 10, they came to 85 Harbord Street, two years to the day on which the abortuary opened its door for business.
On my way to the 24-hour prayer vigil. The word “morgue,” as in Morgentaler, kept cropping up in my thoughts. So I prepared myself for a wake of sorts.
I arrived at midnight to find a city sanitation crew removing the neatly lined bags of the day’s “waste” from the front of the clinic – though women are ushered through the back door to keep their appointments.
Peering out of the unused front door was a lone video camera, the liveliest thing in the place. It quietly recorded all the familiar movements of the garbage crew. Then it started taping the growing crowd.
In the early hours of the vigil, the camera dutifully recorded the arrival of three vans transporting people from Strathroy, and later more from Windsor, Hamilton, Jarvis, Gannanoque and Kingston. By dawn, Morgentaler’s vigilant video had witnessed arrivals from all over Ontario.
If his machine is an audio as well as a visual recorder, the clinic could now be listening to our hourly hymns, “Be Not Afraid” was frequently sung, and then, every hour on the half hour, they would have the muffled sound of the lonely drummer.
The sign in the clinic front door warns that the camera “sees all.” Since any tax-paying business deserves protection, what better way to ensure proper service then by having the procession of police cruisers dutifully recorded and timed. Unmarked cruisers even seemed to slow down and pause a little longer, perhaps to ensure that they were properly identified by the camera.
Meanwhile, the troops for the unborn taxpayer quickly grew. By 1 a.m. there were 54, with many more arriving all the time. By noon the crowd numbered over 200 people and at one point, there were more than enough people to circle the entire block.
By noon the camera crews were out also. Morgentaler, ever ready to take advantage of free publicity, came out from the abortuary where he and his staff were celebrating their anniversary. While the crowd outside were mourning the babies killed in the past two years, perhaps Morgentaler and his friends were celebrating reaching a landmark of over one million dollars in two years.
Inside the Way Inn, pilgrims gathered to warm up and chat over coffee and snacks. Simple stories of faith in Strathroy, hope in Windsor, prayer in Jarvis and a determination to keep a continual presence on Harbord Street were shared. Regular picketers were strengthened by the many who came to carry the signs and candles through the hours of the night.
Outside, the vigil continued and for the most part people walked in silent prayer or chatted in subdued tones. The focus was the babies, and the mothers who had felt abandoned and pressured into sacrificing them.
And the camera kept rolling. It recorded the prayers and hymns, led by clergymen from many denominations, every hour on the hour. It recorded the joy on Joanne Dieleman’s and Tom Brown’s faces as they realized that their hours of hard work, planning and telephoning, had been effective. And it had an important message to send to the abortuary staff viewing. It reminded them that there will be people there to protest the killing and to try to offer positive alternatives to the clients.
Wayne Constantineau is a freelance writer and performing artist in Toronto.