By Jonathon Van Maren
When the debate over Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s bubble zone legislation first came up last year, I pointed out something that the media will never cover: Pro-life activists are routinely subjected to violent threats, physical intimidation, and assault. In fact, if pro-lifers publicized each instance and the media covered these incidents with the same breathlessness as they cover alleged incidents of harassment towards pro-choice people, there would be a regular section of the newspaper simply dedicated to detailing the sorts of things Canadian pro-lifers experience, on campuses as well as in public. Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada even engaged in repulsive victim-blaming, saying that pro-life activists who get assaulted “provoke” those assaults.
The fact is that pro-choice supporters often invent stories in order to justify bubble zone legislation, or simply to try and smear the pro-life movement. On February 1 of this year, for example, a Kitchener newspaper called The Record published an article titled “Local safe zone supporter disturbed by threatening graffiti.” They reported that a pro-choice activist named Sarah Robertson, who often attempts to get in touch with pro-life activists (myself included) had horrible messages written on her hotel room door, including “baby killer,” “baby murderer,” and even “Repent murdering whore or die.” This seemed utterly bizarre—I don’t know a single pro-life activist, or even person, who would say such things, much less utilize such phrases to harass someone and vandalize a hotel.
As it turns out, that’s because Robertson invented the entire story. John Sikkema, the legal counsel for the Association for Reformed Political Action, discovered that this is not the first time that Sarah Robertson lied to the police. In fact, she also lied to Waterloo police about being attacked and having paint thrown in her face, and is scheduled to appear in court on June 1—this is publicly available information. Sikkema wrote a letter to the editor correcting the record and detailing Robertson’s attempts to smear the pro-life movement, but The Record did not publish it. It reads in part:
I spoke to the Ottawa police officer, Detective Coyle, about Robertson’s allegations regarding what happened to her in Ottawa on February 1st. Mr. Coyle said they were unsubstantiated. Yet your paper ran a story by Ms. Weidner in which an activist is the sole source of information for what happened to her. The story contains inflammatory claims about people calling her murderer, threatening her, and citing Bible verses. The narrative this is pushing is that Christian pro-life people are dangerous. This is unsubstantiated and simply irresponsible reporting.
Sarah Robertson is personally connected to Lyndsey Butcher of SHORE, as Ms. Weidner’s reporting acknowledges, yet your paper continues to go to Butcher for comment. Ms. Weidner quotes Ms. Butcher saying “We know we have elements of extremism locally.” This is someone who is lead lobbyist for more censorship zones. It appears Ms. Butcher’s friend Sarah Robertson has been intent on manufacturing evidence for such claims. Your story announcing that the attack never occurred quotes Butcher does not mention her personal connection to Robertson.
Ms. Butcher pressured the Grand River Hospital to request an “access zone” even though the Hospital said it didn’t need one and had not received complaints. Then SHORE put on a show by sharing quotes via social media from people supposedly harassed by pro-life demonstrators. Your paper reported on this without ever raising questions as to the validity of these stories. Why wouldn’t SHORE invite people to complain to the Hospital? Why would you trust an activist organization such as SHORE – which lobbied for the access zone law and has been lobbying for more access zones, including one for itself – to share authentic stories via its social media or to be honest about the number of complaints it receives? Butcher claims there are hundreds. Yet the Hospital received none. How many has your newspaper authenticated?
When the non-attack was alleged to have happened, SHORE promoted the fake story with the hashtag #SafeAccessZone. Even if the attack had happened, the hashtag is a non-sequitur. Assault is a serious criminal offence. A law that prohibits peaceful forms of expression, as Ontario’s does, will not prevent such assaults. Anyone could walk right into an “access zone” and assault somebody, obviously. No, the point of the law is to silence disagreement. Harassment, intimidation, assault (including threats), nuisance, vandalism, and causing a public disturbance are all crimes. Your reporting should stop linking fake accounts of violence or threats of violence to the supposed need for “access zones” (censorship zones).
Please take corrective measures in light of your paper’s reporting to date. For starters, you might disclose to the public that the unsubstantiated claims in the “threatening graffiti” story came from the same person who is now charged with mischief.
Speak to some people on the other side of the issue and you may hear about how this has been Sarah Robertson’s modus operandi and is not limited to these two instances.
It’s easy to understand why Sikkema’s letter remains unpublished—the information he has uncovered conflicts with the narrative that the pro-choice movement would like to promote. The media has available to them all the information they need to prove that Sarah Robertson is not a credible person, and has frequently used outright lies to promote her cause. They have also been made aware of her connections to other abortion activists. The accusations leveled by Robertson at the pro-life movement were serious ones, and it is certain that many people who read the original article took them that way. Correcting the record and exposing the malicious behavior of Robertson is a journalistic duty.
For anyone interested, my books: The Culture War, Seeing is Believing: Why Our Culture Must Face the Victims of Abortion, and How To Discuss Assisted Suicide, are available for sale here.