One person was taken into custody at Powell River Pro-Life Society’s demonstration at Loggers Memorial Bowl on June 23.
Simon Nattrass said he was handcuffed at the anti-abortion event, taken into custody, held for four hours at Powell River RCMP detachment and released without being charged.
In a media release on June 25, RCMP constable Ron Palmquist stated that police received a report of a protest being held at Willingdon Beach that was escalating into a disturbance.
RCMP attended the scene to investigate the matter. During the investigation, Nattrass was arrested for obstructing police during the execution of their duties. He was released a short time later, according to Palmquist. Police continue to investigate the incident.
Nattrass and Erin Innes, both from the Powell River area, had started to pull out some of the 10,000 small, pink and purple flags the pro-life group had put in the lawn at the Willingdon Beach venue. The flags were meant to represent 10 per cent of the 100,000 abortions that take place in Canada each year, according to the society.
The confrontation with RCMP began when Nattrass overheard an officer tell Innes she was causing a disturbance, said Nattrass.
“There's about seven or eight people doing the exact same thing Erin was doing and how come Erin is causing a disturbance and I'm not or they're not?” said Nattrass. “So I posed that question to the officer and he turned and got up into my face and yelled at me to step back, so I stepped back and then he arrested me.”
Pro-Life Society president Sharon Wright said she was present at the confrontation and made the phone call to police.
“I was incredibly saddened because up to that point we had a large number of protesters at the top and the bottom,” said Wright. “We were all treating each other with respect and we were all allowed to be on the beach at that time."
Wright said the actions of Nattrass, Innes and a few other people amounted to violence.
“They were violently ripping up the flags,” she said. “They weren't just casually doing it. There was a great deal of anger in their demeanor and in their words, which is why we ended up having to call the police.”
Wright said the actions of Nattrass, Innes and some of the other pro-choice demonstrators were intentional.
“This is what they wanted because a peaceful protest isn't conducive to making the news,” she added.
There are conflicting accounts from each side as to what happened. Innes said the violence was perpetrated by the pro-life group.
“As far as I'm concerned, what they have to say is hate speech,” she said. “Free speech is when you talk about yourself and your body and your choices. When you're using your speech to try to take away other peoples rights, that's violence.”
Pro-choice demonstrators who lined Marine Avenue and along the pathway in front of Loggers Memorial Bowl holding signs that read “My Body, My Choice,” far outnumbered the handful of anti-abortionists.
Two of those on the side of pro-choice were City of Powell River councillors Karen Skadsheim and CaroleAnn Leishman.
“I don’t blame individuals for wanting to remove the flags if they were upset by them,” said Leishman. She added that if there was a win on the pro-choice side, “it was bringing women and men together who feel passionately about protecting women’s rights. A lot of people took time out of their morning to stop by and show their support for choice and a lot of people honked as they drove past our signs; that’s a win.”
Wright said she thinks the pro-life demonstration was successful in causing abortion to be a conversation in Powell River that is needed.
“I don't think it turned out the way we would have liked because it was sad with the violence,” said Wright. “There's certainly conversation going on that wasn't going on before. Any conversation is a good conversation.”
The demonstration by the pro-life society has been contentious since it was first brought before city council in April. The event was staged in conjunction with We Need A Law, a national organization that advocates for a law governing abortion in Canada.
We Need A Law is backed by an organization called Association for Reformed Political Action Canada. According to its website, “the mission of ARPA Canada is to educate, equip, and encourage reformed christians to political action and to bring a biblical perspective to our civil authorities.”