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Canadian Pro-Life Apostle in Maximum Security Prison and Only the Poles Seem to Care



Susan E. Wills - published on 01/08/15

How do you solve a problem like Mary Wagner? Is she a criminal or rock star?

Yesterday a rally took place outside the Canadian Embassy in Warsaw, Poland to protest the Christmas Eve incarceration of Canadian Mary Wagner. She is being held in the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton, Ontario, a medium/maximum security correctional facility.

Wagner was arrested for the crime of entering the waiting room of an abortion clinic on December 23—this time, the Bloor West Village Women’s Clinic in Toronto—and quietly offering individual women a rose with a card stating where they could learn about abortion alternatives and asking them if they wanted to talk about alternatives.

Like the US, Canada has “bubble zone” laws where free (pro-life/pro-woman) speech rights are trumped by the right of abortion providers to conduct their grisly business and lie to patients about fetal development and abortion’s impact on women, among other things.

Canadian judges have shown hostility to Ms. Wagner. One Justice delivered a tirade that included “You’re wrong, and your God is wrong!” Another Justice referred to her “very stubborn streak” and turned down her request for public funding of her constitutional challenge, finding that it wasn’t in the public interest to challenge the law defining when a child becomes a human being by presenting scientific testimony demonstrating the humanity of unborn children. The Canadian press has been largely silent about the 40-year-old’s peaceful pro-life witness and imprisonments (totalling over three years).

Wagner is, however, something of a rock star” in Poland. She drew huge audiences and received widespread coverage in the Polish media (both Catholic and mainstream) during a two-week visit last October.

Polish filmmaker Grzegorz Braun directed a documentary about her, which will be shown in the US and Canada in February 2015. The film is titled “Not About Mary Wagner,” to reflect (he explained) her “unwillingness to be in the spotlight.” But in many respects, it’s not primarily about Ms. Wagner anyway. It’s about laws that let doctors kill unborn children with impunity while punishing those who protest such killing, even when they do so peacefully. It’s about a society that is collectively in denial about what happens during and after abortion, that wants only to change the subject and never think about it. And it’s about the cowardice of all of us who know full well that human children are torn limb from limb in these “women’s centers,” and we do precious little about it.

According to “The Interim” ("Canada’s Life and Family Newspaper"), over 15,000 Poles signed a petition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper last May, as Ms. Wagner’s last trial date approached, capping her 23-month incarceration for peaceful pro-life activity. The petition read in part:

While imprisoning a person because of personal convictions violates Article 19 of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” imprisonment for defending human rights violates the very essence of justice.

Article 19 of the Declaration states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas … .

Similarly, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 2, guarantees freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression—not just to believe, according to her attorney, “but also to act, in the free exercise of these rights. Without the free exercise of these rights,” he explains, “these rights are meaningless.”

Wagner has explained that her effort to speak to women about abortion alternatives is motivated by a desire to allay their fears about continuing the pregnancy by offering hope and real alternatives, to spare the lives of their children and spare them the suffering and remorse of having undergone an abortion, and also to challenge the erroneous definition of human being in the Criminal Code, a question that has never been presented to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Wagner contends that Canada’s Parliament exceeded its authority in excluding a class of children (the unborn) from its definition of human being in Section 223 of the Criminal Code of Canada:

(1) A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother, whether or not
(a) it has breathed;
(b) it has an independent circulation; or
(c) the navel string is severed.

A definition based on the scientific truth matters because under the self-defense laws of Canada, one can act, and even use force, to defend only the lives of “human beings” (living outside the mother’s body), but not human beings during the first nine months of their lives from conception to birth.

Mary Wagner was inspired by hearing St. John Paul II in Denver during World Youth Day in 1993, telling youth to not be afraid to witness to their beliefs in public. After college, she took up pro-life work, and later joined a contemplative order of nuns to discern if that was the vocation to which God was calling her. But after three or four years, she understood clearly that God wanted her to continue her pro-life witness in Canada.

Although her incarcerations have not been easy, Wagner described them as “fruitful in many ways, because a lot of people there are hungry for God and are looking to reach out to Him. I was constantly meeting women wounded by abortion and encouraging them to seek the mercy of God,” she added.

She also, reportedly, saw her jail terms as “an opportunity for the Holy Spirit really to be at work in the hearts that are broken, seeking and are open to God. So quite easily prayer groups formed and people asked why I was there, why I was in jail. Immediately, I had the chance to share the truth about the wound of abortion.”

She will have a hearing in court on February 4. Check back for details on how you can see “Not About Mary Wagner.”

Susan Willsis a senior editor for Aleteia’s English language edition.

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