a publication of BC's Pro-Choice Action Network
Winter 97/98 Issue
Table of Contents
Two anonymous threatening communications recently sent to the Hamilton Spectator newspaper may represent an important clue for solving the case of the shooting of Dr. Jack Fainman of Winnipeg in November, as well as the shootings of two other Canadian doctors in 1994 and 1995.
Both communications appear to have been sent by the same person. The first missive was a morbid letter sent on Dec. 10 that threatened an outspoken Hamilton-area doctor. It included a copy of a November Spectator article with words highlighted in blood-red ink, such as "shooting to kill," and the doctor's name crossed out. It called one of the police officers investigating the shootings a "pig" and challenged him to "solve the puzzle."
The second package, a 17-page document mailed from the Hamilton area, has greatly increased police concern for the safety of the unnamed female abortion provider. The document compares anti-abortion radicals to an army with a mission, and suggests the next sniper attack on a doctor will be fatal. It makes frequent references to the Army of God, a loosely organized group of radical anti-abortionists in the U.S. that advocates deadly violence to stop abortions, and which wrote the underground manual When Life Hurts, We Can Help: The Army of God. The book details "99 Covert Ways to Stop Abortion," including arson, bombing, use of butyric acid, and vandalism (excerpts are available at http://www.cais.com/agm/main/aog.htm).
Hamilton police have concluded that the sender of the packages is probably not the sniper behind the shootings. However, Inspector Dave Bowen, a member of the national Task Force investigating the shootings, said the latest package represents an escalation of the type of threats against local abortion doctors. Besides the two Spectator packages, there have been other mysterious communications, although Bowen would not provide details.
Dr. Jack Fainman — On Nov. 11, 1997, this 66-year old Winnipeg obstetrician/gynecologist was shot in the right shoulder through the back window of his riverbank home. The bullet missed his heart by inches. Dr. Fainman is currently recovering from his wound, but some bullet fragments will be permanently lodged in his right shoulder. His three adult children have publicly urged other health care professionals not to give in to fear, which is what the anti-choice want, but to continue providing abortion services to women.
Dr. Hugh Short — On Nov. 10, 1995, this Hamilton gynecologist was shot in the right elbow while he and his wife sat in the second-floor den of his home in Ancaster, Ontario. At the time, police did not rule out the possibility that the bullet may have been a stray hunting bullet (a conservation park backs onto Dr. Short’s property), but with Dr. Fainman’s shooting, and the clear pattern that has emerged, this hypothesis is no longer tenable. Dr. Short’s arm was permanently disabled. He never returned to his medical practice, and has since retired (at age 64).
Dr. Garson Romalis — On Nov. 8, 1994, this Vancouver gynecologist was shot through a glass door of his kitchen while eating breakfast. The bullet shattered his thigh bone and severed a major artery, causing Dr. Romalis to almost bleed to death. Since then, Dr. Romalis has had a slow recovery. Although he is now back to work part-time, his leg is permanently damaged and his mobility is limited.
In addition to the shootings, a butyric acid attack occurred at the Edmonton Morgentaler clinic on November 12, 1996. Butyric acid is a toxic, foul-smelling chemical that is very difficult to eradicate once it has invaded a clinic.
A national Task Force has been appointed by the RCMP to investigate the shootings, and possible links between them. The force consists of one investigator from each of the three cities where the shootings occurred, as well as two members of the RCMP. The Vancouver RCMP's E Division is in charge of the Task Force. Inspector George Kristianson of the Vancouver Police Department, who was handling the Romalis investigation, is the Vancouver representative on the Task Force.
The Task Force held its first meeting in early December, at which they began the long process of correlating evidence gathered by three separate police forces. They are also looking at evidence from south of the border, including information on radical militant groups and U.S. violence provided by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. As of mid-January, the investigation is ongoing, but a Task Force representative declined to discuss details, so as not to compromise the investigation.
There appear to be few leads so far in the Fainman case. Winnipeg police reported that canine units followed a trail of footprints from the riverbank near Fainman’s home, to a nearby cul-de-sac. They speculate that the shooter parked a vehicle in the cul-de-sac and walked to the scene of the crime.
In the Short case, Hamilton police recovered a bullet cartridge from a wooded ravine behind Short’s house. The cartridge apparently came from a high-powered rifle. No suspects have been identified and the investigation was at a standstill until Dr. Fainman’s shooting.
Shortly after the Romalis shooting, police released sketches of two people wanted for questioning in connection with the shooting, and identified one suspect, Brian Zacharias. An anti-choice activist from Nelson, Zacharias has run provincially for the Family Coalition party and federally for the Christian Heritage party. No evidence was found when police searched Zacharias’ 20-hectare property, but police sources say Zacharias had been tipped off about the search in advance. In a recent Vancouver Sun interview, Zacharias denied doing anything violent, but did not condemn the Fainman shooting, saying, "I haven’t had the faith to do something like that."
No weapons in the shootings have been recovered, but in the six months before the Romalis shooting, gun stores in Greater Vancouver sold 300 weapons capable of firing the five-centimeter, copper-tipped bullet that tore into the doctor’s leg. Police said the ammunition was comparatively rare, based on a Russian military calibre, and possibly for an AK-47 assault rifle. The case was still open at the time of the Fainman shooting, but was at an impasse.
Police have been reluctant to draw a direct link between the three shootings, or even a link to anti-abortion terrorism in general (until recently), but there is no doubt that the shootings bear uncanny similarities to each other in timing, method, and victim selection:
Perhaps most ominous, though, is the widespread community of anti-choice people who encourage an atmosphere of violence and hate against abortion providers. Christian militia groups in America are strongly anti-abortion and train their members in the use of weapons and military techniques. Other fringe right-wing groups openly advocate violence against abortion providers. Dozens of anti-choice leaders have signed the infamous Defensive Action statements condoning the killing of doctors. Several anti-choice publications provide a nation-wide forum for these advocates of murder.
The fomenting of this atmosphere of violence is the real danger, because it justifies the use of violence to any fanatic or radical who might be listening, regardless of whether that person is a member of an official anti-choice group. Anti-choice rhetoric commonly uses military and other violent terms when referring to the abortion struggle. This kind of public rhetoric, even the rhetoric of people like Mother Teresa and the Pope, fans the flames of dangerous fanaticism, inciting radicals and unstable individuals to act on their beliefs.
However, it is significant that those who carry out anti-abortion violence are often not deranged fanatics acting in relative isolation (the "Lone Avenger" theory). Anti-choice activists who espouse violence, but would not do it themselves, have been known to provide practical assistance to those willing to take the risk, such as supplying bomb-building materials, or suggesting targets.
Because of this network of complicity and encouragement, anti-choice leaders who do not completely condemn the violence without qualification become a party to it. For example, Jim Hughes, president of Campaign Life Coalition, denounced Fainman’s shooting on national TV, then added a qualifier to the effect that since abortion doctors are murdering babies, it’s not surprising that someone would come after them. Then there’s leaders like Betty Green, president of Vancouver’s Right to Life, who actually claimed in public that she’s never heard of a pro-lifer condoning killing, and that it’s really just the sinister "pro-aborts" behind the shooting, "sacrificing one of their own" to get favourable media coverage and make innocent pro-lifers look bad.
Such leaders are either hiding their deluded heads in the sand, or more likely, are lying. After all, our own BC-grown anti-choicer, Gordon Watson (whom Betty Green must know, or at least know all about), extended public congratulations to the unknown criminal who shot Dr. Romalis.
Dr. Fainman’s shooting has resulted in an unfortunate escalation of fear in the abortion provider community throughout Canada. Doctors generally do not want their names used in newspaper and television reports. Some doctors understandably expressed their fear and hesitation at continuing to provide abortion services. In fact, two Hamilton-area doctors have stopped performing abortions. It also came to light that many doctors deliberately take their holidays in November, to avoid the risk of being targeted. More and more abortion providers are taking precautions, often elaborate, to ensure the safety of themselves and their families. This daily need to exercise caution infringes on all aspects of their lives, and can be a severely limiting factor when it comes to simple enjoyment of life. For example, one Vancouver doctor admitted that he and his wife eat breakfast in the dark each morning.
Certainly, these concerns are making young doctors and medical students think twice about providing abortion services. But with the ever-diminishing pool of abortion providers due to retirement, it is critical that doctors not be intimidated by anti-abortionist threats and violence. Women are entitled to this necessary medical service. In fact, abortions should be a routine part of gynecological practice. When you think about it, a doctor who provides reproductive services but won’t do abortions is like a pediatrician who refuses to treat 5-year olds.
When talking with or listening to abortion providers, their courage, dedication, and compassion for women shines through. They don’t perform abortions because of money, prestige, or intellectual stimulation, motives which often drive other doctors. And they certainly don’t do them for notoriety or because they like to live dangerously. They do them because they care deeply about women, and because they remember the bad old days when women arrived by the dozens in hospital emergency wards suffering from botched illegal abortions. In spite of the personal sacrifices that doctors are often forced to make, many say that doing abortions is one of the most rewarding parts of their practice because of the emotional satisfaction received from happy, grateful patients whom they have truly helped.Epidemic of Anti-Choice Violence
The National Abortion Federation (NAF), an American organization of abortion providers, has been tracking and compiling anti-choice violence and clinic disruption statistics for two decades. The table below is NAF’s most up-to-date summary of incidents, up to and including Nov. 12, 1997. The statistics include both American and Canadian incidents, but only for those NAF has knowledge of. Actual incident numbers are most likely higher.
* Stalking is defined as the persistent following, threatening, and harassing of an abortion provider, staff member, or patient away from the clinic. Tabulation of stalking incidents began in 1993.
** The number of arrests represents the total number of arrests, not the total number of persons arrested. Many blockaders are arrested multiple times.The Morgentaler Decision
Happy 10th Anniversary!
January 28, 1998 marks the 10th anniversary of the historic Morgentaler decision, when the Supreme Court of Canada declared Canada's restrictive abortion law unconstitutional, and handed down reproductive freedom to all Canadian women.
The Court ruled on the fate of three doctors on January 28, 1988, including Dr. Henry Morgentaler. The doctors had been charged with conspiracy to perform abortions under Canada's nearly 20-year-old abortion law—Section 251 of the Criminal Code. For Morgentaler, it was the last step in a decades-long mission to bring legal, safe, accessible abortion services to Canadian women. During his struggle, Morgentaler enjoyed many successes, but endured many frustrations and setbacks:
The 1988 Morgentaler decision was a decisive 5-2 ruling, using tough and forthright language to dispense with Section 251 of the Criminal Code. The law was found to be in breach of Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in several different ways. (This section guarantees life, liberty, and security of the person.)
First, as Justice Bertha Wilson stated: "The right to liberty contained in section 7 guarantees to every individual a degree of personal autonomy over important decisions intimately affecting his or her private life. . . . The decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is essentially a moral decision and in a free and democratic society, the conscience of the individual must be paramount to that of the state."
Second, Chief Justice Brian Dickson wrote: "State interference with bodily integrity and serious state-imposed psychological stress . . . constitutes a breach of security of the person. Section 251 clearly interferes with a woman's physical integrity." By this he meant that women's security of person was violated by forcing them to endure prolonged delays in obtaining therapeutic abortions at hospitals. These delays, which served to increase the medical and psychological risks to women, were caused by the mandatory procedures of Section 251. Women had to apply and wait for approval from a 3-doctor therapeutic abortion committee (TAC), which was supposed to base its decision on whether or not the pregnancy posed a risk to the woman's life or health.
Third, the Court looked at the practicality of the law, and found it to be seriously flawed because it presented unreasonable obstacles to women seeking abortions. In practice, TACs at some big-city hospitals would rubber-stamp all applications (using a liberal definition of the word "health"), while many other hospital TACs would refuse to approve any abortions, except in extreme circumstances. Also, during the 1980's, anti-choice activists often succeeded in taking over hospital boards, at which point, they would either disband the TAC entirely, or tighten the controls so that no abortions would be approved. As a result of such problems, the law had resulted in access to abortion becoming unequal, uncertain, and inconsistent from one community to the next. Indeed, for women living in remote areas, abortion was all but unavailable, unless they had the time and money to travel. This unfair application of the law clearly interfered with Section 7 rights and contributed to the ultimate failure of the law.
In spite of the clear decision against the law, however, the Court left open the possibility of re-criminalizing abortion under certain circumstances. It even suggested a framework under which the state could have increasingly greater control over later stages of pregnancy than earlier ones. So it was no surprise when Mulroney's Conservative government introduced Bill C-43 in 1990. Under this bill, the woman's own doctor would bear ultimate responsibility for the decision, with a two-year jail sentence hanging over the doctor's head if the abortion was performed for reasons other than the woman’s health. After significant lobbying by both pro-choice and anti-choice forces against the bill (the anti's thought the new law wasn't strong enough), it was defeated in the Senate in January, 1991 by a tie vote. Since then, no replacement law has been introduced, and the current Liberal government has said they will not do so.
Today, because of the complete absence of any law on abortion, it now has the same status as any other routine medical procedure under the Canada Health Act. And no criminal law is needed, of course, because women don't make casual decisions to abort their 9-month old fetuses, contrary to silly propaganda from the opposition. In any case, no Canadian doctor performs abortions past 20 weeks, except for health or genetic reasons.
Since the Morgentaler decision, more clinics have sprung up across Canada, some of them even funded by provincial governments, including in BC. And Canadian society has become used to the idea of women as responsible moral agents—people who can make their own decisions about whether and when to have children, and who should have rightful control over their own bodies.Protesters Block Clinic
Two anti-choice protesters staged an illegal, prolonged blockade outside the Everywoman’s Health Centre, starting early on Sunday, Dec. 29 (by some reports, on Saturday). Clinic workers arrived at the clinic at 7:00 am on Monday to find the protesters blocking access to the clinic by means of plastic locking devices wrapped across the clinic door. They had also set up a mock daycare in front of the clinic, using children’s clothing and toys.
The protesters, Lane Walker, 34, and Jennifer Ziemann, 25, both of Vancouver, were arrested and charged with contravening the Access to Abortion Services Act, which prohibits people protesting within 50 metres of the clinic. They spent 7 days in jail after refusing to sign an agreement to stay away from the clinic.
According to clinic staff, police action was slow and unresponsive, and put staff and clients at risk. Both patients and staff were forced to wait outside the clinic, alongside the protesters, for a full hour after police were called. Upon their arrival 20 minutes later, the police drove slowly past the clinic and did not return for 10 minutes. Finally, after 30 minutes of hesitation and discussion, they made a decision to arrest under the Act.
It was later learned by clinic staff that both the police and the media had been fully aware of the illegal protest the previous day, but had done nothing to stop the protesters or even inform the clinic. In fact, no clinic staff members were aware of the problem until they arrived at work on Monday morning. The protesters used the media to call for more government money for child services and less funding for abortion clinics.
On Jan. 7, the protesters pled guilty in court. The judge issued a recognizance, which requires them to stay away from all access zones covered under the Act for 18 months.Update on Jim Demers Case
Jim Demers, the anti-choicer arrested for protesting inside the bubble zone at Everywoman's Health Centre in December, 1996, has been convicted. The court found him guilty on December 19 and sentencing will take place on February 10.
The defence argued in court that the fetus is entitled to a right to life under Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but the court rejected that argument. Crown Counsel plans to ask for 1–2 years probation, plus an order to stay away from both Everywoman's and the Elizabeth Bagshaw Women's Clinic. Demers spent 2 or 3 weeks in jail at the time of his arrest, and has been banned from protesting at Everywoman's since then.Abortion Statistics
BC — In BC, the abortion rate has risen from 12,604 in 1991-92 to 15,219 in 1996-97.
Canada — In 1995, about 106,500 abortions were performed in Canada according to a recent federal study, about 28 abortions for every 100 live births. There were 15.5 abortions for every 1,000 females between the ages of 15 and 44. That number was an increase of just .04% from 1994.
United States — In the US, the number of abortions has declined steadily since 1990, but some state figures show that the numbers began rising last year in many parts of the country, for unknown reasons. In 1995, there were 1,210,883 abortions reported in the US, down 4.5% from the previous year, and a 15% drop from the peak of 1,429,577 in 1990. The ratio of abortions to live births and the rate of abortions per 1,000 women has also dropped to their lowest levels since 1975.Can Child Sue Mother for Fetal Injuries?
The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear an appeal of a contentious New Brunswick ruling that said four-year old Ryan Dobson can sue his mother for injuries suffered when she crashed her car into a pickup truck while she was pregnant.
The boy’s maternal grandfather, Gerald Price, had filed a lawsuit on his grandson’s behalf, alleging that the boy’s cerebral palsy was a direct consequence of the accident, which resulted in an emergency Caesarean section. In May, the New Brunswick Court of Appeal said the unprecedented lawsuit could proceed, but emphasized a child could only sue his mother for pre-natal injuries caused by negligent driving. Courts have ruled before that a child can sue a third party for injuries suffered in the womb, but this is the first case to allow a lawsuit against the mother.
The appeal court distinguished this case from situations where a child might sue its mother for "lifestyle choices" during pregnancy, such as smoking or taking drugs. The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case came only a few weeks after its Ms. G decision, in which the court stated that a pregnant women addicted to solvents could not be apprehended and forced to undergo medical treatment.
This unusual case once again sends the question of fetal rights back into the courts. Our sympathies for the child notwithstanding, one of the major difficulties with awarding rights to fetuses is the complex and troubling ramifications this would likely have. Where do we draw the line? Could any woman who suffers injury or illness during pregnancy be subject to legal scrutiny to ensure that the cause was not due to wilfulness or negligence on her part?
A novel way to look at this is to turn the tables and consider the role of fathers. Let’s say an abusive man kicks his pregnant girlfriend in the stomach and injures the fetus. Or an irresponsible father squanders the family’s money on gambling and fails to support his pregnant wife, whose baby then suffers with lasting damage from malnutrition. Could the child later sue the father in either of these cases? Or would the blame tend to shift to the mother? ("She should have left her abusive partner long ago." "She could have eaten better if she tried.") In a society where women are not yet equal, mothers, not fathers, would likely become the scapegoats of fetal rights lawsuits.
All of society, not just women, should take responsibility for making healthy babies. Women and their babies deserve much more compassion and support from government and the society at large (such as the excellent program described in the next article). A "blame and punishment model" that forces women to bear most of the burden for healthy babies, under threat of legal sanction, would only end up punishing the very children the system is trying to protect. All mothers want healthy babies, and the means to raise them well. Society's responsibility is to support them so they can accomplish just that.Support for Pregnant Drug Abusers
The Sheway Drop-In Program in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (449 East Hastings Street, 254-9951) offers pregnant substance abusers a hot lunch, a food voucher, and somebody trustworthy and non-judgmental to talk to. Annette Garm, coordinator of the program, says that such supports are what help women reduce or stop their alcohol or drug abuse while they are pregnant. She says the zero tolerance approach practised by the government often backfires, because when children born drug- or alcohol-addicted are apprehended, the women who lose their children often try to ease their guilt and pain by immediately becoming pregnant again.
"The humanitarian approach works best when you’re dealing with many of the women we serve," she says. At Sheway, women know they’ve got a good chance of keeping their children if they participate in the program. More than 700 women have been counselled at Sheway since it opened four years ago, and statistics show that the number of women whose babies are apprehended after birth has dropped from 26% in 1993 to 20% last year. Women get practical advice on housing and parenting, health checkups with midwives or community nurses, chats with dieticians and social workers, and once their baby is born, visits with an infant development consultant who can assess the extent of any damage to the infant. 70% of Sheway clients are native Indian, and most are young, poor, and unemployed. As well, a large majority have been subjected to sexual abuse, violence, and racism, and have been using drugs and alcohol for years to help themselves cope.
The Sheway program was developed through the Vancouver Native Health Society, has a budget of about $500,000, and is funded by the provincial government, the Vancouver/Richmond Health Board, and the YWCA.
(Source: the Vancouver Sun)Marion Powell Dies
"Mother of Birth Control" in Canada
Marion Powell, a doctor known as the mother of birth control in Canada died on Dec. 21 at age 74 of a massive heart attack.
Born in Toronto, Powell studied medicine at the University of Toronto, receiving her medical degree in 1946. While practising medicine in northern Ontario in the late 1940’s, she saw young women forced to accept multiple pregnancies planned or otherwise at a time when pregnancies often resulted in risk. Later, in the 1960’s, as the assistant medical officer of health in Scarborough, she encountered high school pregnancies occurring because of lack of information, access to professional counselling, and personal choice.
Powell was determined to use her knowledge as a medical doctor to give women a choice. That stand put her in violation of Canada’s criminal law in 1966, when she helped launch the country’s first municipally-funded birth control clinic. It would take another three years before Parliament decriminalized the distribution of contraceptive devices and birth control education.
During her career, Powell was awarded the Order of Canada and the YWCA Woman of Distinction award. She served as president of Planned Parenthood of Toronto and Ontario, and was a member of the board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada.His and Hers Contraception
Two new contraceptive methods are currently undergoing preliminary study, one for men and one for women.
For men, an orally-taken birth control pill has shown promise in a small pilot study. The pill, which contains the synthetic hormones cyproterone acetate and testosterone undecanoate, sharply suppressed the sperm counts of eight healthy men who took two pills twice daily for 16 weeks. There were no significant side effects, and the men’s sperm counts returned to normal within three months. However, much more research is needed to prove the practicality of the drug.
For women, a contraceptive gel that they can smear onto their stomachs each morning or evening is being developed as a cheaper alternative to the birth control pill. The clear, non-sticky gel contains an artificial hormone and is absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin. It then travels to the ovaries where it prevents ovulation. The method is designed to be used in developing countries as a more affordable method of birth control, but it could prove popular for any women who dislike other forms of contraception. The gel is discreet and easy to use. Trials are being carried out in America, Chile, Australia, and the Dominican Republic. The next phase will be extended to Europe.Unpaid UN Debt Over Abortion
Close to one billion dollars owed by the United States to the United Nations is being withheld because of anti-choice activity. On Oct. 13, the US Congress was asked to approve a spending bill that included $826 million (US) owed to the UN. Anti-choice members of Congress derailed the bill by trying to prevent US-backed international family planning agencies from using their own funds to perform abortions or promote liberalized abortion laws abroad.
President Clinton threatened to veto any measure containing anti-abortion language, and the resulting battle led Republicans to leave out all but $100 million of the anticipated $926 million from the $13.1 billion spending measure. The congressional action ruined months of negotiations amongst the administration, congressional leaders, and UN officials. Their efforts were aimed at pulling the United Nations back from the brink of bankruptcy. The United States owes a total of $1.37 billion US, 61% of the total debt owed by delinquent members.
(Source: Vancouver Sun, Dec. 4)U.S. Legal Abortion Anniversary
Our American sisters are having their own celebration this month. January 22 marks the 25th anniversary of the 1973 Roe versus Wade decision, which legalized abortion throughout the U.S. Although women's right to choose is still protected, it has been eroded over the years by various legal and funding restrictions.New Fertility Bill in Works
Health Minister Allan Rock is planning to table new legislation to ban reproductive technologies sometime early this year. A previous bill, Bill C-47, was dropped in April, 1997, due to concerted protests from medical and legal experts, including the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Bar Association.
These organizations condemned C-47 as heavy-handed, simplistic, and dangerous. They warned that instead of protecting Canada's 500,000 infertile couples, the bill could actually end up denying them the one thing they want—a baby.
Bill C-47 would have outlawed paying donors for their sperm or eggs, paying surrogate mothers, diagnostic procedures for sex selection, creation of human embryos for research, some forms of gene therapy, removal of eggs or sperm from fetuses and corpses, human cloning, and creation of human/animal hybrids. (For more information, both pro and con, on this issue, see the Autumn 1996 and Spring 1997 issues of Pro-Choice Press.)
Although no one opposed the ban on human cloning, it was felt that some of the other prohibitions would stunt the growth of genetic research and set back the chances of infertile couples. CMA president Dr. Judy Kazimirski said that Bill C-47 set "a dangerous precedent for criminalizing medical and scientific activities on vague and arbitrary grounds," and was an "unjustified intrusion of the government's criminal law power into the patient-physician relationship."
Some groups, however, supported the legislation. Diane Allen, of the Toronto-based Infertility Network, believes that couples need protection from questionable procedures offered by fertility clinics, and said, referring to surrogate motherhood, "It's a pretty fine line between reimbursement for expenses and a financial incentive."
Health Minister Allan Rock is now attempting to strike a balance by producing a bill that will accommodate the concerns expressed.APEC Protest
Report From the Pepper-Sprayed
by Amanda Camley
Editor's Note: Although globalization is not directly related to the abortion issue, the lack of choices it brings for many of the world’s poor, women included, will cause great suffering. Amanda Camley is an SFU student and serves on the Steering Committee of the BCCAC.
On Tuesday, November 25th, about 2,000 students came together on the UBC campus to protest APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Conference). It was the finale to weeks of ongoing marches, civil disobedience, and anti-APEC conferences put on by feminist organizations, human rights activists, and anti-corporate groups. I attended the UBC protest with my affinity group, which had been planning for several months to engage in civil disobedience at UBC. We felt it was important to take a stand against China’s Jiang Zemin and President Suharto of Indonesia for their human rights abuses, but we felt equally indignant towards the Canadian government for pushing a free trade economy that would only benefit the wealthy and powerful at the expense of social welfare, labour, women, and the environment.
The students gathered at the Student Union Building and were led by women leaders towards the UBC Museum of Anthropology. As we walked, we chanted, sang, and orchestrated a massive symbolic "die-in" to represent the thousands of people who have died because of capitalist economic agreements. Once at the gate, we were met with a violent melee of pepper spray, dogs, roving helicopters, snipers on buildings, and spying undercover Indonesian security officers. When a small group of students walked towards the gate to make a symbolic statement by pulling it down, the police reacted strongly. It was a terrifying feeling, running backwards, hearing screams from students doused in pepper spray, covering my stinging eyes, and coughing. Mass panic quickly spread through the crowd.
After several students were arrested, we called for calm and circulated water bottles (since the police did not provide any, despite their plans to use huge amounts of pepper spray). Many people required medical attention because of the amount of pepper spray and the force used to arrest.
Once again, students peacefully approached the police in small groups, intent on peaceful arrest. International, national, and local news media, who had not been spared from the spray, covered their faces with scarves and prepared with the students for more thick showers of pepper spray. After an hour-long stand-off, police refused to arrest any more students, so we split into three groups and blocked the roads out of UBC. Our goal was to be guaranteed a place behind the security fences, but where delegates would see our signs. However, the RCMP and Vancouver Police would not agree with our terms and attacked the weakest road block with the smallest media presence by spraying students’ backs with pepper spray as they were running away. They also removed protest signs from students who were well away from the security area. Two students had firearms pulled on them and one had deep wounds from a police dog attack.
Over all, 49 people were arrested, including the two Indonesian security officers, who, covered in black face masks, had been taking pictures of students. Recently, all charges were stayed against the protesters, with the exception of human rights activist Jaggi Singh. This confirmed students’ belief that the RCMP’s only intention at UBC was to remove organizers and students who would be displaying signs to the delegates, something Zemin and Suharto had publicly stated as being undesirable.
Since then, several different groups of students have organized with lawyers to bring forward civil charges arising out of the events at UBC, including Charter challenges based on freedom of speech and gender equity issues (women arrestees were treated to discriminatory and unfair treatment while in jail). Although many poorer and politically disadvantaged segments of Canada’s population are quite aware of the violent excesses of police and governments, for most of the students at UBC, it was our first major experience with the government’s use of force to hurt people and arbitrarily block political messages.
When I returned home that night after getting a friend out of jail, I watched the news. I was appalled to hear Chretien mocking the pain and terror we felt with his statement about pepper spray: "Me, I put pepper on my plate." Shocked editors and newscasters suggested Chretien was "out of touch" with the grim realities of free trade and liberalized economics. But Chretien’s statement is perfectly in touch. As was demonstrated poignantly at all of the Vancouver protests, APEC, the MAI, NAFTA, and other liberalizing trade agreements are only about profits, not people.Dissension in South Africa
South Africa's new liberal abortion law has split the country, with many doctors and nurses refusing on ethical grounds to carry out the operation, even though hospitals are overwhelmed by demand.
The Termination of Pregnancy Act was passed by the African National Congress government early in 1997, and allows abortion on demand during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, including for minors. Nearly 13,000 abortions were performed in the first six months at state hospitals. But in many hospitals, where virtually all of the nurses are black, "no one wants to touch it with a barge pole. It goes against their culture," said Dr. Leon van den Berg, a hospital superintendent who keeps two fetuses in a bottle in his office to act as a deterrent. Only three of 300 nurses at his hospital have agreed to take part in abortions.