Ottawa police won’t protect abortion clinic despite pleas: Mallick
One block away from Parliament Hill, even as Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai won over MPs in the House of Commons on April 12 by crying out for the rights of girls, a cruel and abhorrent scene was playing out on the street.
If you re in Ottawa, go to 65 Bank St. and see for yourself. Men, and a few elderly women, stand right outside the abortion clinic set up by the late Dr. Henry Morgentaler, all day, every day, and torment those entering.
They wear sandwich boards showing pictures of cut-up bloodied meat and signs saying, Will you support my right not to be killed in the womb? next to photos of fetuses. Holding life sacred, one sign says.
No, they re holding sperm sacred, la Monty Python, and they re still at it after all these years. B.C., Quebec and Newfoundland have bubble zones around their clinics. They are difficult and legally costly to obtain, and the Morgentaler Clinic in Toronto only got its zone after it was firebombed.
But in Ottawa, there isn t one.
The demonstrators are omnipresent and creepy, some unwell, and some threatening. A bylaw says they must be on the other side of the street. But they cross the street and stand next to the clinic doors, harassing patients, their companions, and staff.
Not only do the Ottawa police not enforce the sidewalk bylaw, they react angrily when the clinic reports the infraction. They have threatened to charge clinic staff with obstruction or harassment if they continue to call for help, says Shayna Hodson, director of operations.
Even when helpful Ottawa police officers appear and make promises about safety, they mysteriously never show up again. Contacted by phone and email, Ottawa police did not respond to the Star s questions.
Ottawa police make me respect Toronto police so much on this issue, says clinic owner Arlene Leibovitch. They understand us and that we are part of community services, as they are.
It s a recipe for violence. Hodson is most worried about a young man we ll call N. who seems to follow directions of older protesters like the omnipresent Cyril. N. was arrested on April 5 after he made it into the building.
There is security video of N. holding a large bottle of holy water or gasoline or kerosene? and a rosary, lifting his arms in prayer, kneeling, banging walls and doors, throwing the fluid and screaming at patients and staff, You murderers. The use of accelerants by protesters is increasing. Last week a Toronto church was set on fire by a man using accelerant in a large water-dispensing bottle.
The clinic was evacuated. Later footage showed a security guard lifting N. up and carrying him out of the building. He was arrested and an elderly lady posted bond. He s out.
Hodson says antagonism among Canadian anti-abortionists is rising. Emboldened by Trump who is trying to defund Planned Parenthood nationally and various cruelties imposed on American women state by state, Canada is seen as a lawless land of abortion, Hodson says.
Hodson says the demonstrators on the clinic sidewalk endanger patients. When they re clustered outside the door, she doesn t know if they re domestic abusers waiting for patients to enter or waiting to punish them after they leave. Under Ontario s domestic violence laws, employers have to keep workplaces safe.
Canada no longer has a prominent voice for abortion rights. We need one. Abortion rights are shrinking as the anti-abortionists march, despite the partial access Ottawa has finally negotiated for women in New Brunswick, the (glacial) arrival of the abortion pill in Canada it only works in very early pregnancies and is sparingly prescribed and the fine work being done by Health Minister Jane Philpott. Some clinics are closing because it s too difficult to provide security and insurance and hire staff.
Women will always need abortions, as even the Harper government conceded on the floor of the House of Commons. Yet a few hundred metres away from our Parliament, staff in a small clinic worry that a violent man will make it through three levels of security and throw acid or gasoline.
As I left the Toronto clinic after my interviews, there were two gangly impossibly young girls sitting on the step whispering to each other. It s an old story. One girl needs an abortion; her best friend is there to stick up for her. Every clinic sees these gentle pairings daily.
It wrung my heart. With a feminist prime minister, a gender-neutral cabinet, and good intentions, why are girls like this not protected from harm?