Philippe, the young founder of Action Vitale, a pro-life student organization in Montreal. --Photo : Joanne Of Arc
Philippe, an 18-year-old student from Cégep du Vieux Montréal who is studying social science, founded a pro-life group called "Action Vitale". Philippe and his group meet weekly near a popular metro station in Montreal to engage with college and university students on the topic of abortion. They hand out black and white flyers that they designed themselves and initiate conversations with by-passers who are open to doing so. They are not paid for their time nor their efforts, they simply do this willingly.
I had the pleasure of attending one of their sessions earlier this year and watching these courageous young men testify about their pro-life stance. To my surprise, several conversations took place and people showed a clear interest in having a dialogue. Among the interactions I observed, one man complimented them on their politeness. These are not aggressive activists, but young, educated men who want to make a difference in Quebec for the pro-life cause.
Philippe agreed to speak with Quebec Life Coalition about his group in an interview. Here's what he shared with us.
Joanne for QLC : What inspired you to start your group “Action Vitale”?
Philippe : It's been a little over two years since I converted to the pro-life position. I have always had this desire to share or talk to people about it. I like to propose activities to others, and I have noticed that this activity has been very fruitful. If there was one specific moment that inspired me to found Vital Action, it was when I saw people in the metro who were socialists and were handing out flyers promoting their position. At that moment, I asked myself: "Why are they doing it and I'm not? I have as much conviction as they do". So that's how Action Vitale was born.
Joanne for QLC : I really like the name "Action Vitale", can you tell us a bit about how you came to choose this name to represent your organization?
Philippe: We were looking for a name for a while and it was dragging on, finally I proposed it to the other team members and it was accepted. I wanted the name to start with the word "Action", as many political organizations start with the same word. Then I was looking for a predicate for the name that would be related to life.
Joanne for QLC : When you say "we", who is it and how many people?
Philippe: At first, it was just me, one Sunday afternoon after mass, inviting several people from my church to go to the metro. I had already printed pro-life flyers. However, almost everyone refused and found the idea unsafe, except for one person, Charlie. So that first Sunday, there were just two of us. Eventually, another member was added, Riccardo. Since then, there has been between 8-10 people participating, but the core of our organization is myself, Charlie and Riccardo.Joanne for QLC : Is your organization classified as a political, religious or humanitarian organization? How do you classify AV?
Philippe: First of all, what we want to do is to raise awareness about abortion and to get people to accept the notion that abortion is murder. It would be great if we could influence changes in law or policy in the future, but we're not there yet. Our main goal would be to bring a culture of life to Quebec. It's not just about banning abortion, it's about changing people's views in Quebec in general. It's still a little too early to classify our organization, that will be determined as we go along.
Joanne for QLC : Tell us about the work of your organization now?
Philippe: Our main activity is distributing flyers near a popular metro station in sessions of about two hours. However, the aim of our work is not only to distribute flyers, but also to trigger debates. The aim is to have discussions with people who take the trouble to stop and listen to us. We ask them questions and try to make them think. In the future we would like to expand our activities, for example on social networks like Facebook.
Joanne for QLC : How is it going so far on the scene? Is there a lot of resistance from people?
Philippe : Those who take the trouble to stop are much more open to discussion than you might expect. We notice that if we are smiling, friendly and ask questions instead of just stating our position, then if we use the Socratic method, people want to talk more. Personally, at almost every distribution, I have at least one or two interactions where I see that people have evolved. They may have moved closer to the pro-life position. We have a few stories of people recognizing that there really isn't an argument for abortion in Quebec and we've seen an evolution in their thinking. It's really encouraging and we see the importance of questions that naturally lead to the truth.
Joanne for QLC : Have you encountered any problems so far? Any examples of hateful actions towards you or your team members?
Philippe : So far, there has been one time when someone was under the influence. Often there are people who are angry with us, they say bad words and leave. Most of the world, it's just people passing by.
Joanne for QLC : What do you think the pro-life movement in Quebec needs?
Philippe: I think that the pro-life movement needs to fight its battle most fiercely in close collaboration with the youth, because they are the ones that are most likely to challenge the established order. It turns out that the established order is currently the culture of death, the one that allows the murder of the most vulnerable. The pro-life movement must be a luminous alternative. The pro-life movement must also not allow itself to be assimilated to the caricature that is made of it: the constant mention of the Christian religion in our arguments does us no favours. Finally, the pro-life movement needs to initiate debate and rational discussion as often as possible, so that the truth shines through on its own in its confrontation with error.
Joanne for QLC : Do you think Quebec is doing well for the pro-life cause so far?
Philippe: No, and that's really unfortunate. Abortion is intrinsically linked to several things in the minds of Quebecers. First, they are really anti-clerical and that's a barrier. Secondly, they see it as something foreign and they have the image of American or English-Canadian conservatives in their minds, they see it as foreign debates that are trying to impose themselves on them. During street activism sessions, we have often been associated with American activists. Third, we recently visited the CCBR (Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform) in Toronto. We saw the infrastructure there and the number of youth involved. We were really impressed and it motivates us to do the same thing in Quebec. But objectively, it allows us to see that there is a gap between the way we defend ourselves in Quebec for the pro-life cause.
Joanne for QLC : Are you ready to become a public figure for this cause?
Philippe: Yes, it's something I like to do and it has naturally borne good fruit so far. And in terms of sacrifice, I don't think it's something I'm going to regret, having given too much to defend unborn children. I am at peace with the notion of sacrifice for this cause.
Joanne for QLC : In conclusion, how do you plan to move forward or grow your movement? Do you have any concrete plans for the future?
Philippe: Growing can mean many things. First of all, promoting our movement as we do now is a priority. We want to target the student population, so we need to find ways to reach them. We will probably make visits to Catholic student communities where we can motivate others to join us. If not, eventually, we want to build a presence on social networks like Facebook. Otherwise, you can also reach us at [email protected]
Philippe and Charlie from Action Vitale, before one of their pro-life sessions.