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ARCC News and Activity Report
June 2008 to October 2009

The following covers some events and initiatives that ARCC has been involved in since June 2008.

Dr. George Tiller was brutally murdered on Sunday morning, May 31, while acting as an usher at his church. Members and Board members of ARCC were involved across the country organizing and participating in vigils or rallies, which were held in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Fredericton, and Vancouver. ARCC issued an immediate press release on May 31st mourning and condemning the murder. We were also very active responding to the media, posting on blogs and listservs, and sharing information about this tragic event across many communities. Many valuable discussions occurred within the pro-choice community on issues such as the need to speak out more to defend women and abortion rights and access, including later abortions, and people did a lot of internal reflection on the meaning and value of their work in abortion provision. If any silver lining came out of George’s murder, it was our strong recommitment and dedication to women’s right to abortion, better relations with law enforcement and better response from them, a deeper public understanding on the seriousness of anti-abortion violence and terrorism in North America, and greater understanding as to why women need abortions, since many of Dr. Tiller’s patients spoke publicly about their catastrophic pregnancies and the wonderful care he provided to them.

Norma Scarborough – One of the great matriarchs of Canada’s pro-choice movement passed away on April 2 at the age of 82. Norma Scarborough of Toronto began her abortion rights activism in 1974, for the Doctors for the Repeal of the Abortion Law. She became nationally prominent as a member of CARAL’s founding executive, and served as CARAL’s president from 1980 to 1984. She was tireless, well-informed, good-humoured, level-headed, and a respectful consensus-builder. ARCC made her an honourary lifetime member shortly after we were founded, and we also created the Norma Scarborough Society to recognize those who sustain ARCC with annual gifts of $1,000 or more. She strongly supported the work of ARCC and was very happy when we started up. Norma will be sorely missed.

Henry Morgentaler’s Order of Canada – On July 1st, media coverage broke that Dr. Henry Morgentaler was going to receive the Order of Canada. A firestorm of media followed, with the anti-choice movement enraged about the award. But even after all their pickets, demonstrations, petitions, letters, and phone calls, Governor General Michaelle Jean thankfully stuck to her guns, and the Order of Canada was given to Henry on Oct 10 at a ceremony in Quebec City. This honour was a long time coming and extremely well deserved. ARCC contributed to the positive media about Henry’s award, and we also initiated a strong and successful campaign asking people to send letters of support to the GG, to counter the flood of anti-choice mail she was getting. Ironically, in the month before the July 1 announcement, ARCC was involved in helping to spearhead another Order of Canada nomination for Henry, which proved unnecessary because OCAC’s previous nomination had been amended, resubmitted, and accepted by the OC committee.

Bubble Zone Law: On September 4, 2008, the BC Court of Appeal upheld the bubble zone law in British Columbia. BC is the only province to have a provincial civil law, called the Access to Abortion Services Act, that prohibits protests outside clinics and the homes and offices of providers. Two protesters convicted under the Act almost a decade ago, argued that the bubble zone law violated their Charter right to freedom of expression. However, the Court said that although the law does indeed limit free speech, a woman's right to enter the facility unimpeded is more important. Women seeking abortions are a vulnerable group, and they are entitled to seek necessary medical care in an environment of privacy and dignity, which justifies the limited infringement of protesters’ freedom of speech. The protesters applied for an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, but the Supreme Court recently denied the appeal without comment, which means the bubble zone law now stands as fully constitutional. For this reason, ARCC is exploring the need for, and feasibility of, enacting bubble zone laws in other provinces that may need them, based on BC’s successful law.

Bubble Zone Survey project - To that end, ARCC has recently taken on a pro-bono law student from UBC to do some research. (A national group called Pro-bono Students Canada has chapters at many universities across Canada.) The student is contacting clinics across Canada to survey them on the level of anti-choice protests they experience, the response of law enforcement, whether they have a court injunction or other legal remedy to help them and how well that’s working for them, and their opinions about the need and effectiveness of a bubble zone law for their province. The student will prepare a report for us with findings and recommendations, and the project should be completed by spring 2010.

Pro-Choice Student Network project - ARCC is expanding our Pro-Choice Student Network project to the next phase. Last year, we recruited a student from Simon Fraser University to create a great handbook on how to set up a pro-choice group on campus. We have now found a UBC Women’s Studies student for the next phase of the project, which is to actually help more campuses do this. The student is networking and organizing to help establish groups on a few campuses across Canada. Further, ARCC has partnered with the Ontario Federation of Students to create and distribute a pro-choice toolkit for students, which includes a handbook for starting a pro-choice group on campus, educational info, Q&A’s about common questions and misconceptions on abortion, buttons and posters, rally chants, a list of pro-choice films, and lists of community health centres for women and pro-choice groups. Check out our new Student Resource Page! http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/student.html

University of Calgary – In February, a media storm erupted when the University of Calgary charged six anti-abortion students with trespassing. The charges stemmed from a November display on campus of graphic photos of alleged aborted fetuses, juxtaposed with photos of genocide victims.ARCC issued a press release supporting the university’s actions, because the students had deliberately risked arrest by ignoring safety restrictions on where and how their display could be set up. The issue was not about the students' freedom of expression rights being denied. It was about protecting public safety. Further, ARCC was active in promoting the rights of student unions at campuses to deny funding and official club status to anti-choice groups for safety reasons, but also because student unions generally have policies supporting human rights, which include the fundamental right of women to access abortion. ARCC also wrote an open letter to Alan Borovoy, the General Counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, refuting his position supporting funding and club status for anti-choice groups on campus. We did some media around this issue, and helped some student groups directly by sharing information and strategies.

Bill C-484 - The "Unborn Victims of Crime Act" finally died when the election was called last September. But Harper's opening salvo in the pre-election campaign was to distance his government from the bill. The 10-month long, ARCC-led campaign against the bill drummed up wide-ranging opposition, forcing the government to recognize the problems with it and back down. The Conservative Party did pass a resolution at their fall convention to re-introduce Bill C-484 (or a bill like it), but we still have not seen anything. Meanwhile, ARCC has decided to keep our online petition going, since it may still be usable if/when the bill is re-introduced. http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/oppose-bill-c-484.html  It currently has 15,873 signatures.

Don’t Play with Women’s Rights campaign. In September 2008, along with other pro-choice groups and women’s rights groups across Canada, ARCC helped plan and coordinate events across the country related to the fall 2008 election. The campaign was called “Don’t Play With Women’s Rights”. It was originally meant to protest Bill C-484, but after the election was called and the bill died, we revamped our plans to be about the election and the Conservative government’s bad record on women’s rights and reproductive rights. A variety of successful events were held in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver.

Post-election - ARCC updated its list of anti-choice MPs after the election last winter, and this is on our website (http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/list-antichoice-mps-nov08.html). We continue to keep it updated, for example, after a by-election or when we receive info about the abortion stance of an MP. Currently, 39% of all MPs have an anti-choice stance (68% of Conservatives and 25% of Liberals), but 21% have an unknown stance.

40 Days for Life – This event occurred during the fall of 2008, Sept to Nov, and there were also anti-abortion vigils in Ottawa and Halifax, as well as Toronto. Also, the 40 Days for Life group got a parade permit for a protest in front of the Morgentaler Clinic in Ottawa on Mother’s Day 2009. Along with activists in Ottawa, we responded by organizing a letter-writing campaign to the city and police to request that the permit be revoked. Although that did not happen, the result of our actions was that the clinic established better relations with law enforcement and better response, and we also helped the clinic feel less isolated simply by reaching out and offering assistance. We also connected them to local student activists in Ottawa, who have been instrumental in pro-choice organizing in Ottawa. This fall, 40 Days for Life held vigils at 8 clinics in 7 Canadian cities, including Halifax, Fredericton, Montreal, Ottawa, Kitchener, Toronto, and Winnipeg. Two clinics in Toronto were targeted. Several pro-choice counter protests took place, including at Women’s Care Clinic in Toronto and the Morgentaler Clinic in Ottawa, and pro-choice escorts were available to help patients access the clinics safely. ARCC members helped coordinate and participate in protecting the clinics.

Report from New Brunswick - The past year has seen little movement in Dr. Morgentaler’s efforts to force the Province to pay for abortions performed at his clinic in Fredericton. In August 2008, the Court of Queen’s Bench decision granted Dr. Morgentaler standing to move forward with his lawsuit against the province.  As expected, the province further delayed any proceedings by appealing the decision.  They lost but made noises about taking it to the Supreme Court of Canada.  After dragging its feet as long as possible, we were encouraged to learn this summer that the province will not appeal to the Supreme Court.  This clears the way for a trial.  However, a trial will be costly and in Dr. Morgentaler’s words, will only serve to further delay justice for the women of N.B.  This summer the second “Art Auction for Choice” was held and $2,500 was raised for the Morgentaler Defense Fund.  The art auction serves two purposes: to raise money and to hold a public event that is proudly pro-choice. On the political front, ARCC moved quickly, nationally and provincially, to call for former Minister of Health Michael Murphy’s resignation after he attended an anti-choice rally last spring.  Speaking in his official capacity, Murphy announced publically that he is “not entirely comfortable” administering the province’s discriminatory law with respect to abortion services.  The section of the Medical Services payment Act he refers to states that only hospital abortions that have the approval of two doctors and deemed to be medially necessary will be covered by Medicare.  We were pleased to see that a number of citizens also wrote letters to the editor condemning Murphy’s views.  Murphy did not, of course, have to resign but he does ironically have a new post as the Minister of Justice. ARCC is looking forward to working with Pro Bono Students of Canada at the University of New Brunswick.  The project is to develop a brochure clearly explaining women’s right to abortion, how it is abused in NB, and actions they can take to express their concerns.  We hope to also include PEI (where there are no abortion services) in this project.

Report from Quebec - On September 28th of 2008, pro-choice activists in Québec staged a rally and protest march of 5,000 people to protest Ken Epp’s “Unborn Victims of Crime Act”, as well as the ongoing threats to clinic access across Canada.  A year later, we are still recoiling from the latest threat against access by the Quebec government itself, in the form of Bill 34, and the Health Minister’s insistence this past August that new standards declared in this bill, which were inappropriate for most abortion procedures, would be nonetheless applied across the board.  Though the pro-choice community, the Fédération du Québec pour le planning des naissances, ARCC-CDAC, and other NGOs were gearing up for a mobilisation against the Bill, M. Yves Bolduc, the Minister of Health recanted. Though we breathed a sigh of relief, it remains clear that our political representatives here still don’t get it.  The traditionally strong pro-choice elements of Quebec society remain vigilant. The extensive analysis by the FQPN of this latest threat to women’s choices underscores the government’s “flagrant disregard” for women’s rights to access, as well as the ministry’s failure to listen to numerous pleas from local groups.  It appeared that the newspaper reports this summer had greater impact than our appeals.  Fortunately, CDAC-ARCC remains in close contact with the FQPN and other women’s groups, all of whom are understandably vigilant.

Report from Ontario - There were demonstrations successfully held in both Toronto and Ottawa concerning Bill C484. A lot of media was done as well on behalf of Ontario Coalition of Abortion Clinics (OCAC) and ARCC. ARCC information was distributed at York University in conjunction with pro-choice student groups during disputes with the anti-choice.  We also took part in pickets with ARCC information with University of Toronto student groups in opposition to the GAP- the Genocide Awareness Project - as well as educational sessions. At many high school classes, ARCC newsletters and literature were given out. There was an organized pro-choice presence at Women’s Choice Clinic in Toronto during the 40 Days for Life and we provided escorting for patients at the Cabbagetown Clinic through the summer.

Report from Alberta - In September of 2008 an ARCC member and some staff and students at the University of Alberta reported as deceptive an anti-abortion advertisement claiming that “95% of women who had abortions said they were wrong.” Advertising Standards Canada forced Edmonton Pro-Life to provide evidence for this statistic, which it did. This evidence was equally false and new complaints were lodged. These posters are no longer on display in Edmonton. ARCC spokeperson Lianne McTavish was interviewed about the false advertising for the Edmonton Journal (June 2008), and CBC Radio-Canada (francais), for both radio and television (April 2009). Reactions to the inaccurate posters encouraged two University of Alberta students to found Voices for Choices, a new pro-choice group on campus. This group has written letters to the editor, mounted a pro-choice poster campaign across campus, and organized informational booths in the Student Union Building, successfully countering the inaccurate posters and “Life Week” of the small but visible anti-choice student group. ARCC has offered support for events this group might suggest, has donated NB Rebelles buttons to the group, and is speaking at various venues.

Media work – We regularly respond to media requests for interviews, as well as issue press releases and we publish articles, op-eds, and letters to the editor. Since last June, we have issued 8 press releases on various issues, and a variety of articles on our webpage, our newsletter, and in newspapers. To give just one example, we had an op-ed published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Feb 4: “The abortion debate is over and done” which responded to anti-choice MP Rod Bruinooge’s call to re-open the abortion debate, after he became the new Chair of the Parliamentary Pro-life Caucus. After his initial bluster about re-opening the debate, little has been heard from Mr. Bruinooge. We also do public speaking at various venuesWe have 8 national media spokespeople across the country, who have been active responding to media requests, writing letters to the editor, and speaking at events, vigils, and demonstrations.

Other – ARCC continues to participate in occasional teleconference calls with other leading pro-choice groups in Canada, including NAF, CFSH, and CFC. We regularly receive requests for help or information from the public, students, researchers, and our members, which we respond to as best we can. We have also participated in research surveys or offered help to researchers for their projects related to reproductive rights. We continue to publish our newsletter, The Activist/L’Activiste, and the fall issue came out in October. The newsletter is edited and produced by a dedicated crew of volunteers in New Brunswick. ARCC also continues to successfully operate and maintain its website, and also our 3 listservs for members. We recruited a new Treasurer in February, who we also appointed to our Board.