Op-Ed

Cyril Winter spent much of his time protesting outside the Bank Street abortion clinic. Photo: Parker Townes.

Story downplays Winter’s graphic images, negative impact on civilians

Last weekend, the Ottawa Citizen ran a story about a man who spent much of his time protesting outside the Morgentaler Clinic on Bank Street. The piece is somewhat framed as an obituary for the man who recently died of cardiac arrest, and shows far too much grace to a man who spent much of his life terrorizing women and people seeking abortions.

The article by Kelly Egan paints Cyril Winter as a man who passionately defended his views, and spends very little time discussing what those views were: that women shouldn’t have the right to control their bodies. Egan describes Winter as “a kind person,” and “a rebel.” However, his protesting on Bank Street is reflective of the fact that he really was not a kind person, and displaying the graphic images that he did, such as those portraying fetuses, is beyond rebellion and the average protest. 

Abortion became legal in Canada in certain cases in 1969, and was fully legalized in 1988. There is limited political support for repealing abortion laws, and even federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has said his party doesn’t want to reopen political debate on the issue. There is little political support for the ideas that Winter supported, and frankly no amount of support can justify the methods he employed while protesting.

This story isn’t about protesting abortion, but the fact is that the Citizen shouldn’t have run a supportive obituary of this man. The article would have readers suspend their personal opinions to see Winter as someone who stood by his beliefs, no matter how harmful these beliefs were. The story even presents Winter as someone who should, in a roundabout way, be thanked, since his constant protesting helped usher in the “bubble zone” law, that forces protesters to stay 50 metres away from the doors to abortion clinics.

Winter’s potential role in enacting any type of legislation around abortion protesting is not a cause of celebration or commemoration. His role was not positive, and his presence outside the clinic was a source of distress for many. That an old man believed he had any business so aggressively protesting an issue that didn’t affect him should be a source of frustration or exasperation, not lead to a generous exploration of the man’s private life.

The Citizen’s story spends less than three paragraphs describing Winter’s views and his protesting method, not even bothering to directly quote the director of the clinic. The remainder of the story contains quotes from his brother, another protester on Bank, and the director of an anti-abortion organization, hardly an even portrayal of the man.

What the Ottawa Citizen did when running this piece was reward this type of behaviour and support it. They are telling their readership that if you spend your free time standing outside a clinic holding up graphic images portraying fetuses, you too can get your own glowing obit. We as a city deserve better from our largest daily paper, don’t we?