Winnipeg, Canada - Children at a private Catholic school in Winnipeg who attend anti-abortion vigils outside the city’s Health Sciences Centre are receiving community service credits for their participation.
Principal Dave Hood of Christ the King School said Tuesday that joining the vigils is a voluntary and family decision. But he’s considering it as an official school activity as early as next year.
It’s a prayer vigil, Hood said. “We’re not there to block anyone.”
Hood has talked to the teacher responsible for the students’ community service activities, and they’ve agreed that if any kids take part in the vigils, that the time would count toward a student’s community service.
Christ the King School has about 200 students in kindergarten to Grade 8.
Hood said he advised parents in a recent newsletter that the Campaign Life Coalition organizes daily vigils outside HSC.
“I have to tread carefully,” said Hood of the possibility of making attendance at the vigils a formal school activity. “It could happen in years to come.”
“It would be good for some community service for the kids, but I have to feel out the community first.”
Lori Johnson, executive director of the Klinic Community Health Centre and the Sexuality Education Research Centre, calls the vigils a political lobby and argued any school receiving public funding should not be allowed to involve children.
“It would certainly not be allowed in the public sector,” said Johnson, a registered nurse and former longtime school trustee with the Winnipeg School Division board. “That is ill-considered by any school, public or private. It should be at the cost of losing their public funding.”
Christ the King is a funded independent school, which means it receives operating grants from the provincial government at 50% of the per-student rate in Louis Riel School Division, in which the school is located.
“That’s controversial by any estimation. That is shocking to me — that is a step way over the line,” Johnson said.
While acknowledging that Roman Catholic theology opposes abortion, Johnson said that the vigils are a political lobby and no school should be involved in such activities.
Outside school, parents and their children can do whatever they wish, she added.
An official with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority would say only that the hospital respects the right of people to express their beliefs, and similarly hopes those people will respect the rights of patients to come to the hospital freely.
Campaign Life Coalition Manitoba president Maria Slykerman said she was not aware that any school was involved or considering involvement in the anti-abortion activities, but she’s seen an increase in the number of people taking part.
“We have about 350 people involved,” said Slykerman.
There is a vigil each day, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“It’s not picketing, it’s praying, it’s a vigil,” she said.
Slykerman said that the Campaign Life Coalition has not asked schools to get involved, but she’s seen more people coming out.
“I have definitely, yes, especially among Catholic groups.”
Slykerman said that people cannot stand by and do nothing while the hospital performs abortions.
“They realize they’re the ones who have to do something about it — otherwise, they’re as guilty as the mothers who abort their babies,” Slykerman said.