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Kelowna mayor refuses to back down over anti-abortion proclamation

Despite a call from a national pro-choice organization to do so, Kelowna's mayor says he has no intention of rescinding a proclamation he issued for Kelowna Right To Life's upcoming Protect Human Life Week at the end of September.

Walter Gray said Wednesday morning that to rescind the proclamation— the fifth in a row issued by a Kelowna mayor (Gray and before him Sharon Shepherd)—would open him up to an accusation of discrimination.

"And there you go, 15 years ago all over again," said Gray who was found guilty of disrimination against local gays and lesbians by a B.C. Human Right Tribunal in the late 1990s when he was mayor and dropped the word "pride" from a Gay Pride Day proclamation he was asked to sign.

Kelowna Right to Life has not said it will launch a human rights complaint if the current proclamation is rescinded, but executive director Marlon Bartram said such a move could be taken if Gray capitulates to growing pressure being put on him by the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.

Earlier this week, the coalition wrote to Gray demanding the proclamation be rescined and calling it "highly inappropriate," "deeply offensive," and a move that would make women feel disrespected and intimidated.

Gray said issuing the proclamation is not an endorsement of Protect Human Life Week or Kelowna Right To Life's anti-abortion goals. It is simply an announcement of an upcoming event in the community.

But Kelowna Pro-Choice chairwoman Ruth Mellor disagreed, saying the proclamation signifies support.

"It says the city is involved," said Mellor, who added she would support Gray doing what he did after running afoul of the human right tribunal 15 years ago—stop issuing proclamations all together.

"I would support the dropping of proclamations," she said. "But I'm sure that would anger Kelowna Right To Life."

Bartram said if the city pulls the proclamation after controversy cancelled the flying of his group's flag— and all non-governmental flags from now on over City Hall— that could be grounds for his group to launch legal action.

Calling the pro-choice groups' actions "bully tactics," Bartram said he is not surprised that after the flag flap an attempt is now being made to have now have the Protect Human Life Week proclamation rescinded.

"I think they see it as a momentum thing," he added.

The Abortion Rights Coalition Of Canada's letter, signed by a individuals and organizations from across the country including five individuals from Kelowna, calls the city's proclamation "an implicit endorsement of the Kelowna Right To Life Society's opposition to safe and legal abortion for women."

Canada does not have any law limiting abortion and in B.C. it is considered a core medical service and is funded through the medical services plan and provided at hospitals across the province, including at Kelowna General Hospital.

While Mellor said her group has no intention of asking for a pro-choice proclamation, it does plan to talk to the Gray about the matter.

If it cannot persuade him to rescind the proclamation, she said her group will likely drop the issue as it does not want to further publicize Kelowna Right To Life's planned week.

Meanwhile, the city says proclamations serve a community interest in officially recognizing the diversity in the community and the work done by non-profit groups.

"As the B.C. Human Rights Commission has established, a proclamation is a service provided by the office of the mayor, not an expression of the personal views of the mayor. The commission has also established proclamations cannot be selectively issued, but must be available to all groups that conform to the application process," says a prepared statement on the issue.

"Council acknowledges the potential for contradictory or controversial proclamations, but these proclamations are not intended as an endorsement of one view over another. They are issued upon request to groups seeking awareness of their cause and to promote a climate of understanding and mutual respect where all are equal in dignity and rights."

it goes n to say Kelowna city council is comfortable supporting citizens’ right to proclaim opposing points of view, as long as it’s done respectfully and does not espouse racism, discrimination, violence, hatred or political organizations.

In Kelowna, groups that request the proclamation provide sample wording or key facts about the organization and the cause or event.

Since becoming mayor last year, Gray has issued more than 50 proclamations for different groups and events.

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