Mayor Jim Watson of Ottawa has come under fire for declaring this Thursday Respect for Life Day in the nation’s capital — an event that will coincide with a large anti-abortion rally on Parliament Hill.
Watson, who describes himself as pro-choice, said he was merely following city policy. The City of Ottawa has issued such a proclamation every year since 2002 without significant controversy. This year, however, the news of the proclamation was eagerly tweeted by pro-life groups and individuals, which prompted a backlash.
“I don’t happen to agree with those who (want to) take away a woman’s right to choose,” said Watson. “But at the same time, it’s not the mayor’s personal beliefs and hunches that should rule the day.”
In recent years, the nation’s capital has also been home to a would-be Shannon Tweed Day paying homage to rocker Gene Simmons’ wife, a former Playboy playmate who lived in Ottawa for a few years (the day was swiftly cancelled after an uproar) and Giant Tiger Day, marking the discount chain’s 50th anniversary.
Municipalities across Canada declare hundreds of commemorative days, weeks and months for every conceivable cause, ranging from the obscure to the contentious.
Although the City of Ottawa’s proclamation policy explicitly states that a proclamation “should not be interpreted as an endorsement by either the Mayor or the City of Ottawa,” that’s not how some are choosing to interpret it. Pro-life advocates have thanked the mayor on Twitter for his “support,” while others seemed stunned that the mayor would sign such a proclamation.
“If I had not proclaimed that day, there would be people asking me the question, ‘Why did you discriminate against this group?’” said Watson. “If a pro-choice group wants to have a day named after them, that fits the policy, they can have a day named after them.”
That could even extend to a Dr. Henry Morgantaler Day. When asked by a reporter if he’d sign such a proclamation, Watson said that if a group applied, he would “seek the advice of the clerk’s office, and it they bring it forward and it meets the policy, I would.”
The mayor also alluded to an incident more than 15 years ago, when then-mayor Jacquelin Holzman refused to include the phrase “bisexual and transgender” in a Gay Pride Week proclamation, a move that sparked an Ontario Human Rights Commission complaint against the city.
Watson said that if he declined to sign the proclamation, he could have risked the pro-life group lodging a complaint.
“I’m not prepared to bring the city through another human-rights trial,” said Watson.