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News - All - 21 May 2019

News Item 87 of 4626 

Miscellaneous: 21 May 2019
Handmaids voice outrage at Oosterhoff event in Grimsby

Protesters hold up signs as Niagara Regional Police Service officers attempt to make room for the truck driving MPP Sam Oosterhoff away from his community coffee event at the Grimsby Legion. - Mike Zettel/Torstar

Inadvertently or not, it appears Sam Oosterhoff has raised an army.

And that army, many dressed in the red cloak uniform inspired by the recent adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, made a show of strength Saturday at what might otherwise have been a quiet community coffee event the Niagara West MPP held at the Grimsby branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.

Dozens of women, men and children parked themselves in front of the legion on Elizabeth Street to protest Oosterhoff’s comments at an anti-abortion rally held May 9 at Queen’s Park, where he pledged to “make abortion unthinkable in our lifetime.”

Those comments, coming on the heels of new legislation passed south of the border in Alabama and Missouri severely restricting and nearly outright banning abortion, sparked outrage. Many took up the hashtag #myunthinkableabortion after St. Catharines Regional Councillor Laura Ip shared her personal experience, using the hashtag on Twitter.

Saturday’s protesters weren't just from Niagara, with many coming from across the GTHA and were mobilized quickly. It was just Wednesday (May 15) that Burlington’s Jennifer Botari invited three friends to join a private Facebook group called "Handmaid's Local 905." By the end of the week, the group had 3,000 members, and nearly a dozen other chapters sprang up across the country.

“In less than three days, we have a movement of thousands that have come out,” she said. “As fast as I can find people to run the locals, we’re bringing them online.”

Botari, who formed the group with high school friend Julie (Fazooli) Marquis, said Oosterhoff’s comments are just the latest salvo in an ongoing, co-ordinated and accelerating attack on women’s reproductive rights.

She scoffed at any claim the fight against abortion is about protecting human life, saying it’s about denying women control over their bodies. And it’s not middle class white women such as herself who suffer the most in this, she said, it’s always marginalized and racialized people who take on the brunt of the impact.

Forced births, she said, disrupt the ability — and, by extension, their families — from bettering themselves.

“It disengages entire populations’ from economic participation, social participation and self-improvement,” she said. “It’s about keeping a subjugated population in place.”

Inside the legion building where snacks had been laid out for registered attendees, things weren’t any quieter.

July Bullis, who registered ahead of time, said there were about 50 people inside, including a few handmaids who managed to get in, and everyone was on their feet.

“There was a lot of anger in the room and people were heckling loudly,” she said.

She said most people appeared to be there to talk to Oosterhoff about his views, including her.

“I can’t stand by any longer. It’s death by cuts,” she said later, adding Oosterhoff has a national plan and its “ugly.”

Bullis said Oosterhoff was standing and talking in a low voice to the people around him. His staff tried to manage the crowd and the questions.

She did overhear one woman explain why she is pro-choice and heard Oosterhoff’s response: “When do you believe life begins?”

At that point another woman screamed that it was at the sperm and when men masturbate it’s mass murder. The crowd roared.

Oosterhoff was shuffled out of the building shortly after. The event was advertised to run from 9-10:30 a.m. But just before 9:30 a.m., he got into the passenger side of a pickup truck as the driver attempted to leave.

The crowd didn’t let him go quietly, quickly surrounding the truck and refusing to budge. Protesters shouted at the two inside the truck, while a topless protester demonstrated outside the passenger door window.

After about 20 minutes, Niagara Regional Police Service officers showed up and formed a blockade in front the truck. They then slowly proceeded, pushing against the crowd in an attempt to clear a path.

Trying to move through the crowd

Eventually, the truck made it through, but not before passing by protesters angrily voicing their outrage.

Botari said she was happy with how the demonstration went, and wasn’t especially upset Oosterhoff didn’t take a moment to address the crowd.

“I don’t have much interest in what he has to say,” she said.

She said it’s important to keep the pressure up, not just with Oosterhoff but with any politicians or candidates in the upcoming federal election who would deny women’s reproductive rights.

Botari said she’s confident they can do it.

“If we can grow an army of thousands in three days, we can grow an army of tens of thousands.”

In an emailed statement, Oosterhoff called the demonstration 'unfortunate.'

“It is unfortunate that a group of one issue activists decided to hijack my community coffee event,” he said. “I always look forward to chatting with my constituents at these events, connecting with them about local issues. Unfortunately, these activists shut down conversations about important local matters like the West Lincoln Memorial Hospital and the regional governance review. The Legion felt it was necessary to call the NRP, and I respect their decision.”

- With files by Karena Walter, St. Catharines Standard

Correction (May 18): This article has been updated from a previous version in which a photo caption incorrectly identified Jennifer Botari.

Mike Zettel -Grimsby Lincoln News/Torstar /AA

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