March for Life national event under review in light of COVID-19

By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

[Ottawa – CCN] – There will be a national March for Life event on May 14, but whether there will be an actual march through the streets of the nation’s capital and a rally of thousands of pro-life Canadians at Parliament Hill on that day is still to be determined.

Organizers of the largest pro-life event in Canada each year have cancelled indoor events surrounding the March for Life, and are making plans to hold an online event in case the actual rally and march planned for May 14 have to be cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Right now, public health officials are pleading with Canadians not to gather in large groups to help stop the spread of the deadly virus.

“There will be a March for Life on May 14 no matter what happens,” said Debbie Duval, national capital organizer for the Campaign Life Coalition. “Whether it will be like past years or not, we don’t know yet. We are monitoring the situation.”

Duval said if the rally and march in Ottawa are called off for public safety reasons, the national March for Life could become an online event.

“We still have the event booked,” Duval said. “We are keeping our eyes and ears open to what is happening with other outdoor events at that time in Ottawa and what the health authorities are saying. We are working on a possible online solution if the march has to be put off.”

The Ontario provincial government has declared a state of emergency to try and slow the spread of COVID-19, which has killed thousands of people around the globe.

The Ontario government’s emergency declaration, which prohibits all organized public events of more than 50 people in the province, is in effect until March 31 at this point but can be extended for an additional 14 days. If after such a two week extension the province wants to maintain emergency measures in place, it could be extended further through a vote in the provincial legislature.

All provincial governments and the federal government say they will do whatever is necessary to slow the spread of the virus in Canada, and have taken measures to shutdown public events across the country.

“We are acting on the best advice of our Chief Medical Officer of Health and other leading public health officials across the province,” said Christine Elliott, Ontario’s Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.

“We know these measures will affect people’s everyday lives, but they are necessary to ensure that we can slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect our people,” she said.

The Campaign Life Coalition has been organizing the national March for Life in Ottawa since 1998, and when the 2020 event was first set for May 14 a press release stated that “pro-lifers will rally in front of our Parliament building and march through downtown Ottawa, demanding that our political representatives fight for the right to life of every human being.”

But a statement released by the Campaign Life Coalition on March 19 said that organizers are heeding public health warnings and were cancelling a number of indoor events associated with the March for Life gathering in Ottawa. That means that a candlelight vigil for victims of abortion that was slated for May 13, a rose dinner and youth banquet set for May 14 and a youth conference on May 15 have been called off.

According to the Campaign Life Coalition, last year more than 31,000 Canadians participated in the national and associated provincial March for Life rallies.

The Coalition’s Duval said rescheduling the event until the fall would be difficult because a lot of those who attend the event are students bused to the rally from the Greater Toronto Area.

She said with school closures associated with COVID-19 and students already having missed a lot of classes because of strike actions in the education sector in Ontario this year, asking teachers and students to attend a rally next September or October would be difficult.

Duval said that at this time there is no set date for when a decision on cancelling the march and rally in Ottawa must be made, although she said a decision would likely be announced by the middle of April. Duval said if the march and rally in Ottawa are cancelled it will be announced on March for Life and Campaign Life Coalition websites, and she urged those who were planning to attend to monitor those sites for updates on the march’s status.