Canada Feb. 2, 2019

Covington clash won’t affect Canadian march: organizers 

By Deborah Gyapong

Ottawa Police keep about 100 counter-demonstrators from the pro-life marchers at last year’s March for Life in Ottawa. Life organizers say they don’t expect the Covington Catholic High School incident to fuel violence at this year’s march May 9. (Deborah Gyapong)

By Deborah Gyapong

OTTAWA—Organizers of Canada’s National March for Life in May are keeping safety paramount, especially in light of an incident at the March for Life in Washington, D.C..

A group of students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky were accused of surrounding an Indigenous American elder leading a religious ceremony and making racist comments and gestures, while wearing red MAGA (Make America Great Again) hats.

A short video of the incident went viral on social media and the narrative was picked up by mainstream media. Prominent Catholic and conservative commentators, including the boys’ own bishop and other bishops, condemned their behaviour. The media firestorm led to death threats, students’ parents being harassed at their places of employment, and other negative effects. 

But additional footage of the events emerged vindicating the boys, especially the young man who stood his ground as the Indigenous elder beat a drum inches from his face. The new footage showed the Indigenous protestor had deliberately gone among the Catholic students who did school chants while waiting for a bus, leading many who had condemned them to apologize.
The incident has chilled many observers, including those in Canada.

“I’m the mother of sons; they were once this young man’s age,” said Heather Candy of Ottawa. “I have found this entire incident quite frightening.”

“I don’t think it would happen in exactly the same way because we don’t do MAGA hats here,” said Candy. “That’s a specifically American phenomenon. But otherwise, yeah, I think there is a certain amount of smearing of social conservatives in this country.”

Matt Wojciechowski, project manager for Campaign Life Coalition, said the march has already been dealing with counter-protestors in recent years. Last year, about 100 counter-demonstrators forced the march to reverse course. The year before, a group of screaming protestors caused the March to re-route. Three years ago, half-naked Femen protestors stormed the steps of Parliament Hill where the speakers, including cardinals and bishops, were standing.

“The cops have taken good steps toward securing the steps, with a double barricade and extra security,” Wojciechowski said. “It’s very hard to pull one of those things again where they storm the steps.”

Many marchers were angry last year when the march reversed course after finding counter-protestors had blocked the route. Wojciechowski said Campaign Life received calls for months afterwards about the course reversal, which he said didn’t make him happy either. “We have the right to march without feeling threatened by anyone.”

But reversing the march was part of contingency planning discussed with the police ahead of time, he said.

“I think the cops do the best thing, to make sure the pro-abortion activists and the Marxists never make it close enough to the marchers to inflict any violence on them.”

Once the march begins, organizers depend on the RCMP and Ottawa police to control the crowds and ensure “keep the crazies away from us so we can do the full route.”

That said, pro-abortion demonstrators have tried to intimidate pro-life marchers. “They will try to provoke them and get a response.”

A few years ago, protestors threw condoms at the marchers passing by, he said.

But just as the Covington students didn’t respond, neither do Canadian pro-lifers, he said.
“Clearly, we should pray for them because they are broken people and very angry.” Most of the thousands of marchers are under 30, many of them families attending with small children and babies in strollers.

“So far I think the March for Life is reasonably safe,” said Suzanne Fortin, a pro-life activist and blogger at and the mother of three girls. “I don’t foresee any violence. I am not concerned about the March for Life being hijacked. I don’t see the potential. The youth who attend these marches don’t normally engage in radical behaviours.”

“I’d be more concerned about Antifa-like strategies where streets are blocked and people are not allowed to proceed,” she said. “The pro-abortion opposition is far more radical and has a far greater potential for violence.”

“You can’t really predict what you’re going to view at the March for life,” she said. “It’s all part of the struggle. We’re there to stand up for life, and sometimes the opposition makes an ugly scene. If it becomes unsafe or very obscene, we can re-think this for our kids, but for now, I don’t think the situation warrants keeping children away.”

Some of the estimated 10,000 to 15,000 pro-lifers attended the 2018 March for Life in Ottawa. Organizers say they don’t anticipate violence this year in the wake of the Covington High School incident in Washington, D.C. (Deborah Gyapong) 

Josie Luetke, 22, who is on the organizing committee for Campaign Life, attended the Washington march with a CLC delegation, riding a bus with about 25 CLC members to and from the March. She heard about the Covington incident on the way home as fellow passengers checked their phones and saw events unfold on social media.

“We hope how they were treated doesn’t deter anyone who’s thinking of attending our March,” Luetke said. “We know in our faith that when we are persecuted, we are most blessed as well. That should offer a little encouragement to not only the Covington Catholic boys but to all pro-lifers who have had to face similar aggression from the public – that they’re just fortified in their effort.”

Wojciechowski acknowledged some principals and teachers from schools as far as seven hours’ drive away  may have second thoughts, but most understand the march, the youth banquet afterwards, and the conference the next day are “a life-changing experience for a lot of these kids.”

“I don’t worry about the turnout as much,” he said. “The important thing is we keep doing this and remain faithful to the cause.

“At the end of the day, the March for Life is more than a protest or a demonstration, but it’s also a celebration of life and our way to evangelize to the public and to the world about the Gospel of Life.”

The Canadian March for Life, which began in Ontario in 1998, is held annually in cities across the country, including Ottawa and Victoria. This year it is set for May 9. 

Canadian Catholic News