When Juergen Severloh came to the Crisis Pregnancy Centre of Winnipeg on the Saturday morning of March 17, he found the words “Anti-Choice F—ers” spray painted in bright yellow letters over the window of the building, and what he estimated to be at least a gallon of blood-red paint splattered on the walls. Severloh, the centre’s executive director, told The Interim that it was the fourth act of vandalism against the centre in 10 months.
Vandals have also written “Pro-child, Pro-choice” and “Meat Market, Death Shop” on the walls and windows of the centre. Once, the vandalism included the throwing of a rock through the window, attached to a note that said abortion is legal and that the volunteer counselors should “stop slamming your God s— down our throat.” The note was signed, “Fetuses for Choice Coalition.”
This time the cost to clean up and install a security camera was about $7,500, money which Severloh said should be spent on supporting more than 300 women, involving 1,400 appointments each year.
Although the vandalism does upset staff and some of the women who come to the center – exit surveys find that the graffiti makes most women uncomfortable about their visits – it is unclear how it affects their ability to reach women. “It’s certainly off-putting,” he said.
Severloh also said that he and other staff have received numerous threatening phone calls resulting in his family’s removing their name from the phone book and for the family of volunteers to question their loved one’s involvement. Some callers say pro-lifers “have no right to exist” and others warn them to watch their backs.
For Severloh this latest attack was the last straw. He said he reported the incident to the Winnipeg police but after apparent foot-dragging (and at the suggestion of an unnamed police officer) he complained that the crisis pregnancy centre was the victim of a series of hate crimes.
Sgt. Ron Johansson, Diversity Relations Sergeant for Winnipeg Police Services, told The Interim that the case was passed onto the major crimes division, which investigates all allegations of hate crimes. He said, “We take hate crimes of any nature very seriously,” and that “we are actively looking” at the acts of vandalism and threats to the Crisis Pregnancy Centre. He said even if it not determined to be a hate crime, the case will be pursued. He added, however, that such crimes are often unsolved.
Marie-Jo Laroche, executive director of the League for Life, told The Interim that she considers the continuous acts of vandalism and threats to be hate crimes. She said that her organization’s billboards are always vandalized, including a recent one that said, “Save a little someone for the future.”
She said the media is partly to blame for negative feelings about CPCs. She pointed in particular to a W-Five show that aired last fall that left the impression that volunteers at such centres were “incompetent, nasty, uncooperative and untruthful” in their attempts to save unborn babies from abortion. She said such programs are designed to stir up anti-CPC feelings.
Laroche also said that whenever pro-abortionists are victims of crime the whole pro-life movement is impugned, yet there is never a connection made between criminal acts committed against pro-lifers, and pro-abortionists. “Why the double standard?” she asked. “We want to hear the pro-abortionists condemn these attacks.”
Despite an increased sense of insecurity and vulnerability among the staff, Severloh said the attacks strengthens their resolve as they take the lashing out at them as a sign that their efforts to save babies are working. That said, he said that his staff is feeling alone.