BTC: Visible minority

If staying in Ottawa for any period of time, one is likely to become well-acquainted with the sole steadfast protester who has worn a yellow groove in the Parliament Hill sod. Located, more days than not, to the right of the eternal flame is a man we’ll call the Loneliest Crusader. Not much of a talker, he lets a few rather graphic posters convey his rather strident objection to the practice of abortion—much to the visible chagrin of school kids who wander by on summer field trips.

Every few weeks or so he’s joined in protest by a small group of elderly protesters who march up and down Bank Street, reciting poetry near where Dr. Morgentaler used to have a clinic. For the most part though, he keeps to himself, pacing back and forth, head down.

Otherwise, protesters on or near the Hill are rare. There’s the guy who walks around wrapped in the flag of Newfoundland. And every so often someone shows up with reports of the coming end times. But aside from the odd organized march, Ottawa is rarely the scene of much righteous indignation.

Anecdotally then, it would seem that abortion remains one of our most divisive debates. The sort of topic that still splits well-meaning Canadians, spoiling dinner parties and generally wounding the cause of national unity.

As noted here yesterday though, that’s not actually at all true. When surveyed last month, a mere five percent of Canadians expressed the view that abortion should be outright outlawed. Forty-six percent would allow it without restriction. The rest fall somewhere in between.

It is but a quirk of the system that the most of those counted among that five percent are either members of the federal Conservative caucus or writing for the National Post.

Screaming the loudest to appear more numerous is hardly a new trick, but the Post’s opinionists deserve special citation for actually pretending to be concerned with statistical justification and popular support. Here, for instance, is a fine bit of journalism from Barbara Kay.

“Given the determination to override Canadians’ clearly expressed will — 92% of respondents to a recent Web-based poll opposed the honour going to Dr. Morgentaler — we must conclude that the committee, or those who prevailed over committee dissenters, believe it is their right to exploit the award as a validation of their own ideological bent rather than its intended purpose of recognizing those whose achievements will inspire others to like achievement.”

One assumes she is referring to the same online poll, conducted through Globeandmail.com, that Douglas Farrow wrote about in the Post a few days ago. And while it’s perhaps a bit much to ask Post columnists to read anyone but each other, one might assume their editors would at least familiarize themselves with the Internet. Specifically, in this case, the myriad ways in which online polls are so easily manipulated (see here, here, here, here and here). 

For sure, if we are indeed headed for a bit of nastiness over Dr. Morgentaler’s appointment, one would hope the press could be counted on to provide some rational, objective assessment. The abiding lesson of the Loneliest Crusader being this: just because you see it, doesn’t mean it’s there.