By Agnieszka Ruck, The BC Catholic

Standing up for life in front of the B.C. Legislature.

The smoky air and smoldering wreckage of a downtown fire didn’t cloud the spirits of more than 2,000 pro-life activists in Victoria May 9.

A fire ignited in the old Plaza Hotel, just around the corner from Centennial Square (the staging area for the annual March for Life) May 8. Poor air quality and closed streets led to the City of Victoria asking organizers to call off the “march” portion of the pro-life demonstration the next day.

They did, and the thousands of activists from across B.C. and even Washington State took alternate routes to arrive to a pro-life rally in front of the B.C. Legislature building. Despite the last-minute change in plans, the number of activists on the lawn was about the same or a little higher than last year.

While the fire received significant media coverage, this pro-life event held on the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of abortion in Canada earned only a short mention in the Victoria News.

“The mainstream media ignores this annual march, the largest gathering of people here year after year, and tries to make us believe that we are a fringe minority,” said Natalie Sonnen on the lawn of the B.C. Legislature buildings.

Sonnen is the executive director of LifeCanada, a national association that supports pro-life initiatives and commissions polls on Canadian attitudes toward abortion. They released a survey that day revealing Canadian law is out of sync with Canadian ideals when it comes to this issue.

“Only two per cent of Canadians support sex-selection abortion. Sex-selection abortion is legal in Canada and usually targets baby girls,” she said. “Only 16 per cent, that’s less in two in 10 Canadians, said that any reason for abortion is acceptable. But that is the current policy in Canada.”

Additionally, while Canadian law places no time restrictions on abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy, only 20 per cent of Canadians polled supported abortion after three months.

“When respondents are writing in a national poll, without anyone looking over their shoulders,” said Sonnen, the majority support restrictions on abortion that don’t currently exist.

Other speakers at the March for Life rally in Victoria included longtime pro-life activist Stephanie Gray, who has spoken on the topic internationally including at Google headquarters, and 18-year-old Autumn Lindsey, a young spokeswoman for Students for Life America.

“We have the science behind us,” Lindsey told the crowd. “Thirty years ago, sure, somebody could have said ‘it’s a clump of cells.’ It’s not. Life begins at conception and that is scientifically proven and undoubtably true.”

Lindsey became a pro-life activist at age 16. “I had a choice. I could be mad and do nothing, or I could be mad and do something. I decided to speak up. I had no platform and I had no idea what I was doing, but because I cared about this issue, I used my voice in the way I knew how,” she said.

“We cannot just care, because then nothing changes. If we don’t talk about it and make ourselves known, nobody will know where we stand.”

Several politicians attended the B.C. march, including Rod Taylor of the Christian Heritage Party, and Liberal MLAs Rich Coleman and Laurie Throness.

“For too long, politicians and their political advisers have tried to avoid any honest discussion about the value of human life, about when human life begins, about the competing human rights of the pre-born child and the woman who finds herself facing an unplanned pregnancy,” said Taylor.

An estimated 100,000 abortions take place in this country every year. “That is the equivalent of the population of one federal riding,” said Taylor. “That’s the equivalent of 4,000 classrooms of children taken away from us every year, and 4,000 teachers out of a job. Every pre-born child deserves an advocate in the House of Commons, in the B.C. legislature, and in the legislatures of every province across this country.”

The Liberal MLAs also stressed the value of having a discussion on life issues and urged especially the young people to be politically engaged.

“We have a right to life. We have to value life at all ages,” said Coleman. “The fact that somebody wants to do things with the right to life at the end of life or the right to life at the beginning of life is totally, totally wrong for me.”

Throness called the pro-life movement a positive one. “You care about every person in B.C., every age, any ability, any ethnicity, social background, any orientation, from conception to natural death. Life means life for everyone, and that’s a wonderful thing. You are all about hope.”

The downtown fire completely gutted the century-old Plaza Hotel. Bishop Gary Gordon of Victoria said he was grateful to the City of Victoria for issuing the air quality warning, even though it led to a cancellation of a portion of the march. “I thought that was a beautiful thing. Our local government is concerned about our wellbeing.”

About 10 police officers and four security guards were seen standing around the perimeter of the March for Life to maintain peace.

Eight counter-protesters mingled with the crowd, holding signs with messages including: “Birth workers support choice,” and “Pro-my-life, Right to self-determination.”

Pro-lifers hosted demonstrations simultaneously across the country May 9; an estimated 1,500 people turned up for a similar March for Life in downtown Edmonton; several hundred participated at Queen’s Park in Toronto; and thousands, including several Canadian bishops and ex-Planned Parenthood worker Abby Johnston, gathered for the same cause at Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Read more about the March for Life in Victoria here.