By Mike Williscraft
Attendees to Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff’s “Community Coffee” session on Saturday went in with questions and departed with others.
Oosterhoff said the 9 a.m. the meeting was to be an opportunity for him to stay in touch with constituents, but it did not work out that way after the meeting was shut down about 9:10 a.m.
Oosterhoff outraged many earlier this month stating at a pro-life rally, “We have survived 50 years of abortion in Canada and we pledge to fight to make abortion unthinkable in our lifetime.”
Saturday, he said his event was “hijacked” by single-issue protesters, mostly organized from outside the Niagara West Riding.
Many of the protesters were clad in garb suited to the TV series “The Handmaid’s Tale”.
Not everyone agrees with Oosterhoff’s assessment of the morning’s events, including Judy Bullis of Grimsby, who attended the session with two pre-teen grandsons as she hoped to give them a civics lesson in how government works.
“It was not just a hijacking by one loud group (Handmaids). They most certainly were outside there and loud and angry. But his (Oosterhoff’s) folks inside were as loud and controlling as the counter-arguers. Both groups heckled out anyone who spoke and Oosterhoff spoke in such low tones that no one could hear,” said Bullis.
“Make no mistake, his supporters were as loud and vociferous as those who do not support him.
While Oosterhoff stressed he had no problem with people protesting and having opposing views to his own, he did say he had hoped protesters would remain outdoors and not take over the meeting.
“That is not what happened. In the Legion basement, the protesters were loud and demanding unreasonable explanations,” said Oosterhoff.
Bullis said one of the attendees wanting an answer was a woman who spoke “passionately and articulately” about a serious situation her daughter had with childbearing.
“The crowd became somewhat quieter as she spoke. She spoke for a lengthy period, not all could hear. She stood right in front of Oosterhoff, who maintained his hands-folded posture as he appeared to listen. She pushed him for a response, said Bullis, noting she like many, recorded that exchange on her phone and noted the crowd constantly heckled throughout the event demanding Oosterhoff respond.
When he did reply, “Tell me, when do you believe life begins?” asked Oosterhoff on Bullis’s video.
Bullis was not impressed.
“This is what our elected official chose to ask after being asked to confirm his stand. No answer; just a religion-based question. Not unexpected by anyone, but the voice of a woman screaming above the others, rose above it all as she shouted, ‘It begins with the sperm so when you guys are masturbating it’s mass murder’.”
“To be clear, the result of that comment spurred on shouts of agreement so Oosterhoff was not in that room besieged by those against him, believe me. It was a room full of anger on both sides of the spectrum.”
As tensions rose, Oosterhoff decided enough was enough and the remainder of the meeting was cancelled as he departed.
Bullis decided the same as the meeting degraded and language got out of control.
“(Protesters) were not interested in hearing what I had to say. They were there to prove a point. The Legion people called the NRP when things escalated. That was not the time or place in that context,” said Oosterhoff.
Regarding context, Oosterhoff was asked why, as a provincially elected official, he was making abortion a topic of debate at all. Abortion is considered to be in the federal jurisdiction and already decided in Canadian law.
“It’s always been an issue for me,” said Oosterhoff, noting he has spoken about abortion before.
“We need to create a culture of life: one which has support for mothers, support in different kinds of situations, and make it so that (abortion) is not necessary, unthinkable.”
When asked if the rights of a fetus should override the rights of a woman to choose what happens with her own body, Oosterhoff said, “The question is, when does a child become a child and protected under law.”
As for the constituent coffee meetings, Oosterhoff said he will continue with the regular sessions.