PRESENTATION OF THE 1975 PETITION
Arrival 12:15 p.m.
The petition arrived on Parliament Hill in a cavalcade of 10 cars- one for each province, carrying the petitions from that province and flying the provincial flag. The cavalcade, which had toured downtown Ottawa, was accompanied by bagpipes, while 2,700 people looked on, cheering “Vive la vie“, “Love Life” and “One (Un) Million“.
After the 35 boxes had been carried into the House of Commons, there were brief speeches by Dr. Barrie de Veber, president of the Alliance for Life; Gwen Landolt, vice-president of Alliance for Life; Andre Morais, president of Le front Commun pour Le Respect de la Vie; Marie- Josee Longchamps, well- known TV personality in Quebec; Ursula Appolloni, Lib. (York South); Dr. Bob Holmes, P.C. ( Lambton- Kent); Andre Fortin, S.C. (Lotbiniere); and Paynald Guay, Lib. (Levis). Ian Gentles, research director of Alliance for Life, was the master of the ceremonies.
At the end of the ceremony, in a moving moment, the crowd composed of people from every part of Canada, all joined hands and sang “O Canada“.
House of Commons – approximately 3:00 p.m.
Ursula Appolloni presented the petition on the floor of the House of Commons. She spoke representing the 452,367 signatures gathered in Ontario and on behalf of 9 other MPs representing the signatures gathered in the other 9 provinces and the Territories: J.A. Maclean, P.C. (Malpeque) for P.E.I. with 8,843 signatures: James McGrath, P.C. (St. Johns East) for Nfld. With 9,806 signatures; Andy Hogan, N.D.P. ( Cape Breton- East Richmond) for N.S. with 54,044 signatures; Maurice Dionne, Lib. (Northumberland- Miramichi) for N.B. with 41,218 signatures; Andre Fortin for Quebec with 246,625 signatures; W.G. Dinsdale, P.C. (Brandon- Souris) for Manitoba with 36,910 signatures; Cliff McIsaac, Lib. (Battleford- Kindersley) for Sask, with 60,791 signatures; Doug Roche, P.C. (Edmonton- Strathcona) for Alberta and the Territories with 52,948 signatures; and Bob Brisco, P.C. (Kootenay West) for B.C. with 63,873 signatures.
Under the rules of the House, no speech at all may be made by a MP presenting a petition- this would include the reading of a lengthy petition- unless there is unanimous consent of the House. Such unanimous consent very rarely occurs, but it did in this case and Mrs. Appolloni read the petition, which was greeted with enthusiastic and prolonged applause.
EFFECT OF THE PETITION
Members of Parliament
The petition acted as catalyst for MPs with varying concerns about abortion to ask questions of Justice Minister Otto Lang during question period. Among the questions asked were:
Robert Stanfield, leader of the Opposition, asked about Lang’s intention of setting up a parliamentary committee to study the abortion question. Lang replied that he had not as yet reached a decision on the timing or scope of the inquiry.
Doug Roche asked concerning the possibility of charges being laid against therapeutic abortion committees who allow abortions for reasons outside the provision of the Criminal Code. Mr. Lang replied that this was a provincial matter and the MPs should be pressuring their provincial colleagues to get this kind of action.
Paul Yewchuk, P.C. (Athabasca) asked why Lang was refusing to draft some specific rule defining health in the abortion section of the Criminal Code. Mr. Lang replied that there was no need for such a definition because the intention of Parliament was clear that danger to the life of the mother meant a serious danger.
The petition gave the 550 Coalition for Life lobbyists, representing about 200 ridings, a platform from which to educate the MPs they visited that day. One indication of the enormous success of this lobby came from Richard Gwyn’s column in The Toronto Star, referred to above:
Another Conservative MP, who happens to believe in the liberalization of abortion, told me that a personal visit by Alliance for Life (sic) representatives hadn’t changed his opinions but had taught him something he didn’t know that a fetus already has explicit rights in law, such as to share of the inheritance should the father die before the child is born.
The lobbyists, each wearing a red “Love Life” button, thronged all day through the corridors leading to MPs offices.
In the evening, all the lobbyists get together for a wine and cheese party, which, like many of the other events of the day was beautifully organized by members of Action Life. The over 500 lobbyists present heard speeches by Dr. Bob Holmes, Andy Hogan, Doug Roche and a moving appeal to the MPs by Mary Ann Lavallee, representative of the Voice of Alberta’s Native Women Society and of the Saskatchewan Indian Women’s Association (link).
PARLIAMENTARY GROUP IN DEFENCE OF THE UNBORN
At approximately 12:15 p.m., a group of MPs announced the formation of an inter- parliamentary group of MPs from all parties. This group sets a precedent in that there has never been such a group formed of members of different parties. The group is co- chaired by Ursula Appolloni and Dr. Bob Holmes.
Later in the day, Doug Roche expanded on the group during a debate in the House. He read the statement of concern of the group, which includes the following:
INDIAN WOMEN’S ASSOCIATION
The Saskatchewan Indian Women’s Association representing 67 bands of Indian Women in Saskatchewan, and the Voice of Alberta’s Native Women Society have both recently passed resolutions supporting the Committee of One Million Petition.
Below is the text of the speech given on May 29, 1975, by Mrs. Mary Ann Lavalleo, representing the Voice of Alberta’s Native Women Society and the Saskatchewan Indian Women’s Association, at the wine and cheese party of the Coalition for Life lobbyists.
To the Prime Minister of Canada,
The Right Honorable Pierre Elliot Trudeau,
To the Honorable members of the Cabinet,
To the Honorable members of the Parliament of Canada,
It is indeed an overwhelming experience for anyone to stand in these hallowed chambers wherein the laws of our beautiful country are made and to watch Democracy in motion. It is even more overwhelming for me because I am an Indian woman- an Indian wife and a mother. I feel as if I have come home.
At this moment I am filled with awe and an emotion akin to reverence plus another emotion that is at once exquisitely painful and joyful. It is the same emotion which a mother experiences when she sees her baby for the first time. Her hospital room, her own home or her tent takes on the sacredness of a Cathedral.
I have journeyed far to come to this place. I feel as if I am taking part in a Holy crusade and that I am now standing on sacred ground. I came, not in shining armour as the Knights of old but I have come only with my heart to guide my tongue to speak.
I hope that my words will not only reach your ears but your hearts as well. I know too that there are others listening to these words because their echoes still rebound within these walls. I refer to Laurier, MacDonald, MacKenzie King, St. Laurent, Mike Pearson and all those who have left these chambers to sit in the chambers beyond this world.