CTV newsmagazine’s allegations of deception
and manipulation are without foundation

By Tony Gosgnach
The Interim

One building houses a volunteer-driven crisis pregnancy centre, where mothers-to-be are given counselling and as many resources as possible in support of bringing their babies to birth. Right next door is an abortuary, in which preborn humans of five months gestation are regularly killed.

Guess which of the two got to be the victim of a hidden camera “expose” by the CTV newsmagazine program W-Five? If you guessed the abortion clinic, you’re wrong.

W-Five enraged many in the Canadian pro-life community when for five days earlier this fall it sent in a fake “volunteer” equipped with hidden audio and video recording devices to work at Aid to Women, the pro-life crisis pregnancy aid centre located right beside the Cabbagetown Women’s Clinic on Gerrard Street East in Toronto. The program also sent in a woman, falsely posing as being pregnant, who bore recording equipment.

The premise of the subsequent episode, aired on Nov. 5 and titled “The Pretenders,” was that pro-life crisis pregnancy centres distribute wrong information and hide their ethic in order to steer women away from having abortions.

The program used as its centrepiece the experience of “Lee,” a 19-year-old Calgary woman who called the Calgary Pregnancy Care Centre for help after she became pregnant. Even though she was given a brochure that clearly explained the centre didn’t provide abortion referrals, she claimed to W-Five reporter Wei Chen that the centre’s staff “weren’t upfront about their views and the information they would offer.”

The segments aired from the hidden camera at Aid to Women included a clip of director Joanne Dieleman remarking that abortion doesn’t make a woman “not pregnant,” it makes her the mother of a dead baby. Another clip showed an Aid to Women volunteer commenting that when women mistakenly walk into the facility rather than the abortion clinic next door, “We don’t make them any wiser.”

Dieleman, however, was adamant that her centre does not mislead anyone. “We do not lie. I will immediately say, ‘This is not an abortion clinic, but would you please sit down?’ Women ask me if I know where the clinic is and I know … but I couldn’t possibly say because that would make me part of the killing of a baby. We do not apologize. We have no obligation to refer a woman to the clinic next door.”

She added that Aid to Women also makes it clear it is not a medical facility. “When we do a pregnancy test, we cannot make a diagnosis. We say you have to go to a doctor and get it confirmed.”

Dieleman noted it was significant that after five full days of taping, the W-Five spies could only get a couple of lines of material worth airing. As well, W-Five even misrepresented the facts by claiming that pregnant women being counselled were shown pictures of “aborted fetuses” when in fact what was shown was the image of a baby being operated upon in the womb.

She said W-Five in effect stole two videos and a book that were taken by the “volunteer” during his time there but never returned.

Questions of journalistic ethics have been raised. According to the standard journalists’ textbook The Canadian Reporter: New Writing and Reporting, by Carman Cumming and Catherine McKercher, it is legal to tape a conversation in which one takes part, but only as long as it is not broadcast without the other person’s permission. As well, the book notes an “ethical consensus” among Canadian journalists dictates that a journalist shouldn’t lie, steal or misrepresent himself “except in extraordinary circumstances of a kind that would justify civil disobedience”; privacy should be invaded only when it is certain that it is in the “public interest”; and care should be taken to avoid smearing people by innuendo or implying guilt by association.

An ethics code of the Ottawa Citizen from 1994, meanwhile, noted that monitoring or publishing conversations of a purely private and personal nature is improper and may, in some cases, be illegal.

“It’s a smear campaign,” said Mrs. Dieleman. “Look at what they did for several days – lied and pretended, just to get a story. The report calls us names and draws conclusions. They didn’t show anything else in our office, like the baby pictures, posters and furniture. I can’t imagine anyone coming into our office and thinking it’s an abortion clinic.”

She added that Aid to Women can vouch for having many satisfied clients. Many do not wish to go on the public record out of embarrassment for having almost undergone an abortion, but a number are willing to speak, and have spoken, publicly about their positive experiences there.

Dieleman recalled how one distraught post-abortive woman called Aid to Women in a suicidal state, then hung up the phone. Using call tracing, Dieleman had police sent to her apartment, where she was attended to. That woman now comes into Aid to Women and tells others what it feels like after having an abortion.

She also recounted the story of Sarah, a girl who over a year ago mistakenly walked into Aid to Women instead of the abortion clinic and is now the happy mother of a 13-month-old boy.

“We have legions of women that I can tell stories about. People in the neighborhood also vouch that we’re caring. It’s not a debatable thing. Anyone who has contact with our organization knows that (the W-Five allegations) are a crock. That’s what we’re glad about.”

Following the television show, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, a number of whose members perform abortions, and the strongly pro-abortion Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada issued a press release. It warned women to watch out for “fraudulent counselling centres” that potentially risk a mother’s health for the sake of her baby.

Dr. John Lamont, chair of a Planned Parenthood medical advisory board, said the centres misrepresent themselves by not explaining that as an abortion alternative, they do not advocate for abortions. The press release listed five centres that were allegedly fraudulent, including the longstanding pro-life crisis pregnancy organization Birthright.

The inclusion of her group on the blacklist puzzled Teresa Hartnett, the executive director of Birthright’s Hamilton chapter. “Birthright has maintained since its inception over 30 years ago that it helps women in a caring, compassionate and non-judgemental manner,” she said. “Our goal is to offer service to women in distress, not to be coercive, give false information or apply pressure. We have doctors, psychologists and social workers train our people so that the information we use is medically and socially accurate.”

A political element was brought to the controversy when it was reported by CTV that the wife of Alliance party leader Stockwell Day was a founding member and former president of the Central Alberta Pregnancy Care Centre in Red Deer.

Canadian pro-life advocates see the sudden spotlight on crisis pregnancy centres as an offshoot of the U.S. situation, where presidential candidate George W. Bush pledged last year to use the power of the White House to bring positive attention to such centres. His promise was met with attempts by pro-abortion advocates, including the National Abortion Rights Action League, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the National Abortion Federation, to discredit the centres.