Daytime passersby at the busy intersection of Helmcken Road and Island Highway in View Royal have likely noticed a group of sign-carrying demonstrators lately.
Members of Choose Life Victoria, they’ve joined the latest 40 Days for Life vigil. The group has reconvened at the site, as they have since 2011, to shed light on the fact medical and surgical abortions take place inside the Vancouver Island Women’s Clinic nearby, and to inform women considering such a step about options to ending their pregnancies.
The pro-life group has come under fire in past, from those who argue they are not observing the legislated “bubble zone” around the clinic, to residents of the housing complex across Helmcken Road who say the protesters’ presence is affecting their quality of life.
The fact this group, and those who oppose their beliefs, is free to stand on a street corner with signs implicitly bringing attention to the activities of a specific business, or individuals who would use it, is an example of the right to free speech we sometimes take for granted.
With that right comes a responsibility in a civil society to undertake public activities in a civil way.
That’s not to say some heated discussions won’t take place, especially on a topic as controversial and polarizing as abortion.
Protesters of all kinds are aware that as soon as they step into a public space and hold up a sign that they’ll be a target for those whose beliefs are in opposition. Some of the latter might choose to have a respectful conversation, while others’ discourse is limited to shouting insults from a passing car or engaging in such passive aggressive actions as writing lewd graffiti on a sidewalk or leaving garbage or manure in the path of protesters.
People can think what they want; we all have that right.
If we choose to go public with our beliefs, whether it’s in a newspaper editorial, standing with a sign, or voicing opposition to a stated opinion, we need to be prepared to have some form of conversation about it.
But that discussion needs a level of civility and respect befitting the value we place on the ideal of freedom of speech itself.