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Catholic Vancouver July 14, 2018

When ‘democracy fell short’ in Powell River  

By Agnieszka Ruck

Pink and blue flags are seen as part of a peaceful pro-life protest in Powell River. Counter-protesters arrived with their own signage and police were called after some became violent. (We Need A Law photo)

Powell River Mayor Dave Formosa called it “a terrible morning when democracy fell short.”

A pro-life demonstration in his city was forced to shut down when counter-protesters began tearing up the display June 23. Formosa, who had spoken in favour of the pro-lifers hosting this event, was disappointed not everyone in his community allowed them to have their voice.

“This is a democracy and they have an ability to speak. I’m sick and tired of Christians always getting the wrong end of the stick,” he told The B.C. Catholic.

About 25 volunteers had put up 10,000 small pink and blue flags at Loggers Memorial Bowl June 23. The flags were meant to represent 10 per cent of the 100,000 abortions that happen in Canada each year.

The event happened to coincide with the day a ship was being sunk to create an artificial reef, so many locals passed by the flags on their way to watch from Willingdon Beach. Some stopped to talk to the volunteers, and others came with counter-protesting signs.

Formosa, himself on the way to the ship sinking, shook hands with some pro-lifers as he passed the display. He also greeted a handful of counter-protesters, though he felt a handful looked “intimidating,” wearing hoods covering their faces.

He wasn’t around when a few counter-protesters started tearing the flags out of the ground.

“We get different groups that come before our city council, and we give pretty well everybody ... a right to speak,” he said.

The pro-lifers had obtained a permit from the city and had paid the rental fee, just like any other non-profit that sets up a display in Powell River, he said. Unfortunately, those who resorted to violence “are not as tolerant for others as others are for them.”

The RCMP arrested one person and released him four hours later without charges.

Not all those opposed to the display came to deface it. Mike Schouten, the director of We Need A Law and a participant in the display, said some distanced themselves from the violence.

“The majority of them didn’t join. They said: ‘we didn’t agree with you, but we wouldn’t do this, either. We came as a silent protest, but this is crossing the line.’”

He added that it was “encouraging” to have “that level of support” from the mayor.

Still, the group decided to pack up early before anyone got hurt.

Formosa doesn’t believe the counter-protest would have become physically violent, and he said he would welcome pro-life displays in his city again.

“Certain people feel really strongly about their beliefs” and have a right to peacefully express them, he said. Formosa will be present when city hall raises a pride flag in August, allowing LQBTQ+ members in his community their own moment to speak.

Though the pro-lifers in Powell River had the support of their mayor, they had to jump through several hoops even before they got their flags in the ground.

They initially applied for a permit to hold a display in the park, but the recreation director sent them to city council, worried about the controversial nature of the topic.

The group made a presentation to city council (a step most groups don’t have to take), and councillors including Karen Skadsheim and CaroleAnn Leishman were opposed to the idea (and were later seen protesting the display).