The Kelowna Right to Life Society is considering its options - including protests and demonstrations - after city councillors rejected a proclamation for Protect Human Life Week.
Pro-choice advocates are overjoyed and promise to use their success in Kelowna to educate other cities.
Marlon Bartram, the society's executive director admitted Tuesday, he was "somewhat surprised" by city council's decision.
"They had granted our proclamation for five years in a row. We didn't change the wording of it; we didn't change the application process; everything was running smoothly for five years. Then, all of a sudden, they decided that we don't meet their guidelines."
A year ago, Mayor Walter Gray signed the proclamation, but the city declined to fly a pro-life flag at City Hall. Pro-choicers objected to the proclamation, collected more than 600 signatures on a petition and held a five-day protest at City Hall.
"I know they did experience a lot of pressure from pro-abortion groups, not only here in Kelowna but across Canada. Perhaps they were influenced by that somewhat," said Bartram.
"We haven't decided what our response will be. Everything is on the table (including a protest at City Hall). We are seeking advice from different people here and there. We did ask the city to reconsider their decision for this year, but I'm not holding out much hope that they are going to change their mind."
The society will proceed with Protect Human Life Week with or without the blessing of the city, he said. The first event is a Walk for Life fundraiser at Mission Creek Regional Park at 1 p.m. on Sept. 28, a two-kilometre walk along the Greenway followed by a picnic in the park.
"Anybody in Kelowna who wants to make a stand for human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death is certainly welcome to come out and join us for the afternoon," he said.
The city's new proclamation guidelines include the stipulation: "Proclamations will not be approved if they serve to benefit personal, private or commercial interests, cover matters of political controversy, ideological or religious beliefs, matters of individual conviction, or that advocate against human rights and freedoms under existing Canadian laws."
Local pro-choice activist Dianne Varga and Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, commended Gray on his decision this year.
"We're glad the mayor recognized that this proclamation would continue to divide the community because of its controversial anti-abortion message," said Arthur.
"The proclamation could not be justified from the point of view of policy," added Varga, noting the city's proclamation policy states that an organization's objectives and activities must benefit the community as a whole for any application to be approved.
"Just last week, the Kelowna Right to Life Society displayed graphic photos of aborted fetuses outside a high school (Kelowna Secondary), much to the dismay and anger of students and other members of the community. The activities of this organization clearly divide the community rather than bringing people together."
Proclamations are meant to promote awareness of causes that have significance to the city and civic initiatives. The anti-abortion cause of the Kelowna Right to Life Society fails to meet this criterion, said Varga.
"Although the wording of the proclamation may have sounded harmless, anti-abortion groups can and do exploit official declarations," said Arthur, arguing cities must look critically at the groups behind these requests.
She pointed to an incident in August when Regina declared European Heritage Week which the mayor immediately rescinded after discovering a white supremacist group was behind the request.
"The underlying intent of the Protect Human Life message is instantly recognizable by women who are aware of right-wing attacks on their rights," said Arthur.
"The main purpose of the Kelowna Pro-Life Society is to
oppose abortion. The organization has used proclamations in the past as a vehicle to challenge women's right to access safe and legal abortion, and thereby women's basic
legal rights and equality. The mayor was right to deny the group its proclamation this year because it amounted to discrimination against women.
"All cities across Canada need to respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and human rights codes by not approving cloaked messages from groups seeking to overturn those rights," added Arthur.
In an earlier statement opposing the proclamation, Varga described the society's display graphic photos of fetuses at KSS and other actions as "disgusting, fanatical, offensive and inappropriate."
"While it's legal for them to have done so, it does give a clear indication of the extremist nature of this organization. It's been 40 years since abortion was legalized in Canada and the majority of Canadians support a pro-choice position. Yet the anti-choice movement continues to employ this and other shock tactics to try to move public opinion."