Ottawa mayor defends Respect for Life Day proclamation

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says his decision to sign a proclamation recognizing Respect for Life Day on the same day as an annual anti-abortion march on Parliament Hill is neither an endorsement nor a reflection of his personal views.

Jim Watson says he would consider 'Morgentaler Day' if it meets policy

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson defended his decision on Wednesday to sign a proclamation recognizing a Respect for Life Day that would coincide with an anti-abortion march.

Watson said proclaiming a Respect for Life Day was neither an endorsement nor a reflection of his personal views. He has also been criticized for choosing to issue a proclamation from National March for Life, which is expecting some 10,000 people on Parliament Hill on Thursday to speak out against abortion.

"If we start saying no based on my own personal views, we're going to be ending up on the human rights commission, and I'm not prepared to bring the city through that," Watson said.

Asked if he would be willing to proclaim a day named after Morgentaler, the prominent Canadian aborition rights advocate, Watson said he would consider it if such a request conformed to the city's proclamation policy.


"I'd seek the advice of the clerks' office and if they bring it forward and it meets the policy, I would," he said.

The proclamation for Respect for Life Day calls on the community to get involved in protecting "the rights of people in Canada, including the unborn."

But Watson said his decision doesn't mean he condones a particular day.

"In my own case I support the woman's right to choose," said Watson. "So these are requests that come in and I think you get down that slippery slope if you all of a sudden start deciding, 'Do I declare this day? Or shouldn't I declare that day?'"

Most proclamations innocuous

The city's policy on issuing proclamations says it is done to allow the mayor to recognize groups and individuals for their contributions to the community, and does not "constitute a personal or civic endorsement."

Most of these proclamations are innocuous, with the mayor recently proclaiming Giant Tiger Day — after the retail chain — and Gloucester Skating Club Day on the same day.

Watson said when the City of Ottawa amalgamated in 2001, a policy was put in place for the issuing of proclamations, to ensure the personal views of the mayor did not colour which proclamations were read.

He said that as long as the proclamation doesn't breach the Ontario Human Rights Code and meets the standards of city staff, he has no issue with reading the statements.

Proclamation doesn't violate policy: Watson

But the city's policy states the proclamations should not be "politically or religiously motivated," and Watson said that criterion is open to interpretation.

"I suppose you could probably claim anything is political to some degree," said Watson. "But I rely on the advice of the clerk's office and the protocol office, they are the one's who prepare these proclamations and I sign them."

"I haven't seen any in my six months in office that appear to breach the Ontario Human Rights Code," he said.

The National March for Life rally will demand the federal government "reopen the abortion debate," according to the group's president, Jim Hughes.

'Dangerous language'

"The National March for Life gives Canadians an opportunity to join together and send the newly elected government a clear message that abortion is an important issue," said Hughes in a statement.

But Melanie Stafford, a member of the Pro-Choice Coalition of Ottawa, said Watson's decision sends the wrong message to women.

"It uses dangerous language around the rights to the unborn, as if the unborn is a separate entity to the woman carrying that pregnancy," said Stafford.

Ambrose Atkins, co-chair of the National March for Life, said he was pleased the group's request for a proclamation was successful.

"It's nice to see that the mayor would issue this proclamation. We're delighted to have it," said Atkins.

With files from the CBC's Kate Porter