In honour of the pro-choice, pro-women marchers fighting their way through the streets of Ottawa today in the face of so much bigotry and hatred, I’m reposting a piece I wrote for the Ottawa Citizen a couple years ago. In solidarity, and with a heart full of nothing but love.
Our right to free speech – to voice opinion, passion, and protest in a multitude of ways – is the most beautiful, inspiring, and valuable thing I celebrate about being a Canadian Woman. A very close second to that is our right to safety – the right to hold, embody, perform and voice our opinions and identities without fear of persecution, retaliation, intimidation, or violent threat from other Canadians.
On May 12, 2011, at 2 pm, that second virtue I hold so dear was violated by some individuals exercising their right to the former. While attempting to return to work that afternoon, my path was obscured by a march of people demonstrating their beliefs about abortion. While I am staunchly pro-choice, I respected their right to demonstrate and attempted to cut between the march and the cordoned-off section of Metcalfe Street. Rather than allowing me to slip past the march as I expected with so many demonstrations happening along this strip previous instances, I was confronted by several males wielding placards reading “abortion is murder” and “abortion is a crime”. They carried on shouting the protest songs they had been singing, directly at me and blocked my path. Another young man wearing a black t-shirt reading “pro-life” jumped into my path and began taking pictures of me on his camera.
I have never been made to feel so trapped, so violated, so cornered-in on my own soil. In a moment where I could not defend myself, nor speak my piece against the roar of an increasingly energetic and driven mob, I raised the smallest protest I could muster in a moment of total vulnerability: my middle finger.
And then, all hell broke loose.
The photographer in the pro-life t-shirt closed in, snapping his camera in my face and shouting at me. Two of his friends jumped to his side. Another two fell into step with me, screaming “Stay classy, girl! Keep it classy, lady!” into my ear while others ran to get friends. My path was completely blocked and I was a captive – albeit shell-shocked and coping with anxiety – audience when a police officer came to my rescue to break up the crowd and usher my safely past, where I continued on to work, choking back panicked tears.
To the protesters today: I not only respect, but celebrate, your right to defend your beliefs. However, even leaving my personal (and frankly, oppositional) beliefs at the door, I am deeply, irreparably hurt that your representatives will not return the same respect to me. The efforts of your participants have set your cause back light years and further promote the “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” mob-mentality of the protests that took place today.
Where is the dialogue? The debate? The room for understanding? Until you make room for reasoned discussion, and can ensure a forum where my personal safety and well-being can be considered before assuming blindly that I’m pro-choice and attacking me on that basis, I cannot acknowledge nor approve of your right to voice your opinions in the way that you do.
Respectfully yours, but in solidarity with others that were inconvenienced today,