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Responses to Ottawa mayor's proclamation of 'Respect For Life' day

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Photo from last year's Pro Choice Presence at the 'March For Life' by Jenn Farr, creative commons
Photo from last year's Pro Choice Presence at the 'March For Life' by Jenn Farr, creative commons

from Pro Choice Coalition of Ottawa:


Mayor Jim Watson's apparently anti-choice proclamation came onto our radar tonight.

It seemed odd. So we googled... The people below explain it best. Below, a few fantastic responses to this debacle. We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

Ashley Hunkin's email to Mayor Jim Watson:

I have lived in Ottawa for over a decade. Every year I am disgusted to see a troupe of teenagers shipped in for a tax subsidized tour of Ottawa for educational purposes, which is an elaborate loophole allowing anti-choice organizers to pad their numbers at the March for Life. Its frustrating to see my money wasted on such a blatant political hysterics, but its never really worried me too much. Even with the padding their numbers are only 12 000, and frankly it doesn't matter. Whatever Canadians think about abortion over and over and over again they have endorsed and supported a woman's right to choose in the case of unwanted pregnancy. The majority of Canadians support a womans right to choose in the same way that they support access to public health care.

They support it for two simple reasons.

Firstly, most of them remember a time in our country when morgues were flooded with the bodies of desperate women who died needlessly as a result of abortion being criminalized. When it was criminalized women died, every single day, needlessly. Real women, not 3 weeks worth of tissue fed and growing inside a womans body. Women, like real live people who had families, histories, and were woven into the fabric of our community.

Secondly, because Canadians recognize that forcing a woman to bear your child is a bit archaic.... not to mention barbaric. Perhaps because the majority of Canadian women will experience some form of gender violence in their lives. And with such a high percentage of Canadians, and such a high percentage of Ottawa citizens knowing on a visceral level what its like to have someone else dictate what happens to our bodies..... well. it gets a little personal.

 No one has the right to dictate what happens to our bodies. Not even a "baby" if you want to throw science out the window and misname an embryo or fetus a "baby". The idea that anyone should have the right to use my sexual and reproductive organs without my consent.... what kind of creep would support that. If I was dying of kidney failure (its possible, as I have a chronic illness likely to lead to kidney failure) I don't have the right to force you to give me a kidney..... even if it will save my life. I don't have the right to force you, with all the power of the state, to compromise your bodily integrity even if it might save my life. Anything else would be insane wouldn't it? We have the right to decide, and should I even be in that scenario I would recognize the GIFT of life implicit in the VOLUNTARY decision of a friend, parent, or other family member to give me a kidney.

I've never had an abortion, but the issue has alot of meaning in my life. I was lucky enough to grow up in a country where it was decriminalized. I was lucky enough to live in downtown Toronto where we had access. It meant that when my teenage friend was sexually assaulted and we were all terrified we had people to turn to, and she wasn't forced to raise a fetus in the bruised and battered organs violated by her rapist. She was able to make a decision about what to do with her body, and having that right was one of the most healing things to happen to her in that time. I've got countless other stories. Friends who were the first to go on to post secondary education who were on the pill but still got pregnant, but decided to terminate so they could finish their education. Your salary is now paid by the taxes that they can pay now that they have the job that goes with their Masters degrees. Or how bout my friend who recently had a beautiful gorgeous baby that she was ready for, and excited for, and had a network of support for. Ask her how amazingly strong and powerful she felt when she brought that baby into the world giving him the gift of life. Ask her how she felt as a 16 year old when she got knocked up because she was never taught how to use a condom in her school (it might encourage the kids to have sex you know).

Having all these experiences makes it a no brainer for me to support my right to choose when and how I have a baby. Which is why when I was a coordinator of the Womyns Centre at Carleton I was ready to defend and make explicit our discrimination policy so that no student funds could go to promote an anti-choice message that seeks to strip women's charter right to equality.

 I was 21 at the time. (how old are you?) I and my colleagues then experienced a barrage of hate from across the country from "life loving" people. We were told that our political futures were finished. We were told that our student's association would be bankrupted by the tidal wave of law suits headed our way. We were also told we would be sexually assaulted, that we deserved to die, and that they knew were we lived. Some of us were listed in blog posts about the top feminists in Canada who must be killed. And as Dr Tiller, and victims of countless clinic bombings across North America would attest to if they were still alive a death threat from the anti-choice movement is no joke. Despite this we hung on and stayed the course, mobilizing thousands of students in support, receiving endorsements from any number of on and off campus groups. We did so because simply put it was the right thing to do, and frankly the majority of our constituents supported the motion. Less then 3 months later our executive slate ran with three of the most recognizable faces of that pro-choice campaign. We ran against a slate of anti-choicers who ran a campaign based on the concept that we were evil baby killing demons. What do you know.... all of us swept through that election. All of us won by a landslide. The majority of our constituents supported us, and the violent bleating and chest beating of the anti-choice movement turned out to be simply a very loud opinion of a very extreme minority of our constituents.

Remember that the next time a tiny minority of people in North America come knocking on your door asking you to endorse something the majority of your constituents disagree with. Remember that the majority of people who come to the March for Life aren't there for the March, they are there because its time off school and they get to shop at the Rideau Centre. Remember that almost all of the people at the March for Life aren't voting in the next mayors race in Ottawa... they are voting for mayors in towns far away.

I'll be voting in the next election, and I can safely say that not only have you lost my vote, you have emboldened me to spend the rest of your term mobilizing voters to vote for anyone but you. And Mr. Watson....... the last time I took anti-choicers on in an election it didn't go so well for them.

Ashley Hunkin
Carleton Womyns Centre Coordinator 2006/2007
CUSA Vice President Student Services 2007/2008
Co-Founder of the Pro-Choice Coalition of Ottawa 2008
Vote Anybody by Watson Campaign Organizer May 2011 and ongoing.

(Come out Thursday to the annual day of opposition of the March for Life, consider Mr Watson's decision to endorse their campaign as a test balloon for future motions on Parliament Hill to criminalize abortion)


Rob Fairchild's letter:


Mayor Jim Watson
c.c.: Cathy Bowles, Chief of Protocol; Lindsay Doyle, A/Protocol Advisor, Office of Protocol

Dear Mayor Watson, Ms. Bowles, and Ms. Doyle,

I am writing with regard to the decision made by the City of Ottawa to proclaim May 12, 2011 as "Respect for Life Day" in recognition of the upcoming March for Life Event.  As a resident of Ottawa, I am very troubled by this proclamation, which is being hailed by pro-life groups as an endorsement of their cause.

I appreciate the fact that the proclamation is not an endorsement by the City of Ottawa or by Mayor Watson. Nevertheless, although Mayor Watson and his spokesman have stated that any request for a proclamation will be honoured if it does not violate the Ontario Human Rights Code, the City of Ottawa's formal policy has additional requirements that must be considered.  The City of Ottawa's proclamation policy states that:

A proclamation will not be issued if the undertakings or philosophy of the group or individual, or the organization they represent are:

  • Contrary to the City of Ottawa's policies or bylaws;
  • Discriminatory;
  • Espousing hatred, violence or racism;
  • Illegal;
  • Not located within the boundaries of the City of Ottawa;
  • Politically or religiously motivated; or
  • Intended for profit-making purposes.

The March for Life is wholly organized by the Campaign Life Coalition, which describes itself as a "pro-life ministry."  It is an avowedly religious group with an overt political mandate - to end access to legal abortions in Canada.  In furtherance of that goal, the Campaign Life Coalition seeks the election of pro-life MPs (and published a list of pro-life and "pro-death" candidates for reference during the recent federal election) and recommends the adoption of incremental anti-choice legislation designed to (among other things):

  • Eliminate publicly-funded abortions; 
  • Recognize the "person-hood" of human beings from the moment of conception;
  • Require women to be shown ultrasounds of their unborn fetus before an abortion can be scheduled;
  • Require parental notification for women under 18 seeking abortions;
  • Require spousal notification for adult women seeking abortions; and 
  • "Restore" Canada's legal definition of marriage to being exclusively between one man and one woman.   

The Campaign Life Coalition provides information to pastors on how to engage in political activity during elections, and offers free, pre-written pro-life sermons and homilies to pastors and priests. Additionally, the Campaign Life Coalition regards Canadian judges who interpret the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in a manner that conflicts with its viewpoints on abortion and homosexuality as being activists who have illegitimately usurped the legislative power of government.  This information is all publicly available on the Campaign Life Coalition's website, at

The March for Life itself is also an overtly religious event. The day before the March for Life includes a pro-life prayer service, a pro-life Mass, and an all-night Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the St. Patrick Basilica. The day of the March itself includes a Protestant prayer service, an interdenominational prayer service, three Catholic Masses, speeches by religious leaders and Catholic bishops, and a closing prayer ceremony.  The sole goal of the March for Life is to express support for the pro-life cause and to call on Parliament to enact pro-life legislation.  While engaging in such activity and speech is certainly the right of any Canadian, it is a divisive political issue whose advocates seek to override fundamental liberties recognized by the courts and by provincial and federal legislatures for many years.

In light of all of this, issuing a proclamation in recognition of the March for Life and declaring a "Respect for Life Day" appears to violate the City of Ottawa's own policy. Accordingly, I do not believe it should have been issued.  It is likely too late to rescind this proclamation, but I urge the City of Ottawa, and the Mayor, to consider the overtly political and religious nature of the Campaign Life Coalition and the March for Life should further applications for proclamations be received.

Finally, I would ask that the city consider reviewing this policy, and examine whether or not proclamations should be issued at all.  Given that proclamations are not an endorsement by the City of Ottawa or the Mayor, their function is limited. Their recipients nevertheless, treat such proclamations as moral victories. As the Ottawa Citizen notes in an article dated May 10, 2011, "[t]he proclamation has been enthusiastically received by the demonstrators planning Thursday’s march."

If the City of Ottawa continues to issue proclamations, however, the proclamation policy should clearly define what does and does not constitute politically and religiously motivated philosophies for the group, individual, or organization requesting the proclamation.  This would provide officials within the Office of Protocol clear guidance with respect to future requests, as well as providing concerned citizens with more information as to how such requests are assessed.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Robert Fairchild


Donnie Northrup's blog post:


RE: Respect For Life Day
Dear Mayor Watson
I am writing as a concerned citizen. The issue that I wish to draw to your attention is the declaration of an Ottawa “Respect for Life Day” that coincides with the largest annual Canadian anti-choice action, the Ottawa March for Life, happening Thursday May 12th. At this juncture, I would like to remind you that under Canadian law women have the right to autonomy over their bodies and their choice to employ a range of reproductive management strategies including abortion. I in no way am accusing you or your office of taking a political stance on the issue, but I do have concern for the type of message your declaration will send.
Declaring a “Respect for Life Day” continues to frame the debate on the terms of those who advocate the criminalization of abortion. By naming the debate pro-life vs. pro-choice, the debate is misrepresented. Pro-life is a personal choice that only pregnant women can make. When moral systems of belief are imposed on others in attempt to limit or influence the choices pregnant women make, the debate is no longer about respecting life and is more accurately described as anti-choice. Further demonstrating the failure of the pro-life rhetoric is that there are initiatives and people who are characterized by both pro-choice and pro-life. For example, a woman may be pro-life, but dedicated to creating better social services so that women with unintentional pregnancies may be prepared to bear and raise a child. The woman in this case would have respect for another woman’s choice but still be dedicated to creating circumstances where more women can choose to carry out unintended pregnancies.
The actions organized for the May 12 March for Life are not pro-life, they are definitively anti-choice. They invoke imagery of murder and genocide to arouse feelings guilt and shame among those who do not share their ideology.  This march is not established out of genuine concern for struggling pregnant mothers and speaking to their needs; it pushes a conservative and criminalizing political agenda that undermines women’s equality.  The declaration of a “Respect for Life Day” privileges the rhetoric of those who seek inequality and a recession of the feminist movement.
Mayor Watson, you are in an office that creates public discourse for Ottawa, our nation’s capital and one of our largest urban centres.  It is inappropriate that such an office would pander to the inaccurate and nefarious rhetoric of respect for life.  I strongly encourage you to retract May 12th’s designation as “Respect for Life Day”, and equally I invite you to join the pro-choice presence at the March for Life; this presence is dedicated to sex and body positive feminist action toward equality.  For more information please see or feel free to contact me personally, and I will ensure you are directed to the right place.
I hope you take appropriate action on this matter and resolution is reached quickly.

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