Outside of the Montreal courthouse, Geneviève Comtois stood with a sombre expression on her face, dressed in a red cloak and white bonnet, a costume usually reserved for the dystopian television series, The Handmaid’s Tale.
Ms. Comtois’s message, although drastic, was clear: Reproductive rights, like the right to abortion, are no longer guaranteed. “I think just like in The Handmaid’s Tale we feel a little bit overly secure about our rights in Canada and we just cannot believe that it could slip away and be taken away from us,” she said.
Ms. Comtois took her anger over the U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision to the streets on the weekend, alongside thousands who gathered to protest in Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario. The stunning reversal of the landmark 1973 ruling that served as the foundation of abortion rights in the United States has reverberated around the world, with many Western leaders rushing to condemn the decision.
In Montreal, hundreds flocked to the city’s courthouse carrying signs, stickers and loudspeakers in peaceful demonstration against the ruling. Drumming and chanting could be heard from around the block, with several who attended saying they were there as much in protest over the U.S court ruling as they were in support of reproductive rights.
“I have a kid, and I was lucky enough to make that choice,” said Gaëlle Monseur, 23, of Saint-Jerome, Que. “Right now it’s in the U.S., but it could happen here anytime soon.”
While U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito said that Friday’s decision applied only to abortion, others judges on the court writing for the majority said it was a reason to rethink other decisions about reproductive and LGBTQ2+ rights, such as 2015′s Obergefell v. Hodges (which required all states to recognize same-sex marriages), 2003′s Lawrence v. Texas (which struck down laws criminalizing gay sex) and Griswold v. Connecticut (which upheld married couples’ rights to contraception). Same-sex rights and abortion are protected in Canada, but advocates have expressed alarm that LGBTQ2+ rights could be under attack next.
“I think our conservative morality often follows the morality of the States, less to the right, but the further the right goes in the States, the further ours goes too,” said Gabriel Paquette, 24, holding a sign that read “I am trans and I have a uterus!” in French.
This is a protest in response to what they felt have been years of oppressive policies and legislation. “It is about solidarity, it’s about saying no,” they said. “We will not stand for this here in Canada, here in Montreal, here in Quebec. I am somebody who has a uterus and is not a woman. And I also want people to remember that we are part of this fight. We stand with cisgender women, this affects us as well and we need to be included as well.”
Meanwhile, outside the B.C. Supreme Court, dozens of people showed up at a rally in solidarity with Americans on Sunday. Some said they are saddened by last week’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, and are pondering ways to do more to help peers across the border.
“I am brokenhearted for our American sisters who have had a fundamental right, which is reproductive freedom, taken away from them,” said Vancouver resident Lindsay Sutton, who attended the event with her wife and two young children.
“And I, as a Canadian, want to let them know that we fully support them and anything we can do to help, we will do.”
Michelle Fortin, executive director of Options for Sexual Health, a non-profit network of reproductive health clinics and co-organizer of the rally, said people can show solidary by donating to abortion funds in the U.S.
Meanwhile, Ms. Fortin and other sexual and reproductive-health advocates in B.C. are calling on governments to take action on a range of issues that people living in Canada continue to face.
“There are still some things that we can be asking our government to do to ensure equitable access, so we can impact things in the States by ensuring that we solidify access here in Canada,” she said.
Similar sentiments were felt in Toronto, where tens of thousands of people lined the streets of the downtown core to celebrate the 50th annual LGBTQ2+ celebration and the return to an in-person pride parade on Sunday, after a two-year hiatus because of COVID-19.
While some pride marches in the United States are expected to see much more protest than celebration, Toronto’s event continued to be a throng of rainbow-coloured flags, glitter tattoos and elaborate costumes. But last week’s ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade was not lost among those in attendance on Sunday.
“The Roe v. Wade decision really gave me pause for concern because this could be the first step in a long march – and that is my real fear,” said Toronto resident Andrew Elie. “We talk about a swinging pendulum. Well, this pendulum could now be swinging the other way and how far it may swing and how deeply it may cut, we don’t know yet.”
Social-justice advocate Rev. Jeff Rock, who leads a congregation of about 500 parishioners at Toronto’s Metropolitan Community Church, said news of the ruling in the United States was extremely concerning. The church has a long legacy of social justice in the LGBTQ community including being known as the site of the world’s first same-gender marriages in 2001.
During his sermon on Sunday morning – just hours before the start of the Pride Parade – Mr. Rock went off script to address Roe v. Wade directly with his parishioners.
“Unless there are human rights for all of us, there aren’t human rights for any of us,” he said.
“We don’t need to wait until they come after the LGBTQ community and our same-gender marriage rights to fight for women’s reproductive rights. We’re not going to rest on our laurels ... or wait for them to target us as they roll back human rights.”
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