Jeff Gunnarson remembers exactly when he joined the prolife movement 32 years ago.
“My wife was pregnant with our first child when I happened across a Life magazine showing the development of the unborn child,” he recalled. “I saw a picture of what my son would look li”ke at three months’ gestation. Tears welled up in my eyes, and I became pro-life at that very moment.”
In 1997, Gunnarson entered the Catholic Church, and the next year, he joined the Knights of Columbus as a member of Galt Council 2184 in Cambridge, Ontario.
Since 2006, he has worked for the Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) — Canada’s largest pro-life political organization and the organizer of the annual National March for Life in Ottawa, among other events. In 2018, Gunnarson succeeded Jim Hughes as CLC’s national president.
Columbia spoke with Gunnarson about his role and the current prolife landscape in Canada.
COLUMBIA: What are some of the greatest challenges to restoring a culture of life in Canada today?
JEFF GUNNARSON: We have been facing major political challenges in Canada for decades, beginning with the deadly 1969 omnibus bill that opened the floodgates to abortion on demand. Over the years, even though the mission to overturn that law hasn’t changed, we’ve had to face other challenges as well: delaying chemical abortions from entering the Canadian market; defending traditional marriage; opposing embryonic stem-cell research; opposing laws that would limit pro-life speech; opposing euthanasia and assisted suicide; promoting conscience rights laws; and defending parental rights and Catholic education from an aggressive effort to impose radical sex education and gender ideology on our children.
All these issues are connected and are rooted in a rejection of God and his plan for mankind. Canadians seem to be drunk with desire for humanism (seeing man as absolute). This is the state religion now; we now worship at the altar of political correctness.
Our greatest challenge is a spiritual one: to re-evangelize the Catholics in the pews and those Catholics who choose to not practice their religion.
This is not the mandate of Campaign Life Coalition per se, but we must do our part to include God in our work. All of our communications and actions are steeped in prayer, hope and trust in God.
COLUMBIA: What have been your biggest goals or priorities since becoming CLC president last year?
GUNNARSON: One of my top priorities has been to keep Canadians engaged, regardless of the many setbacks we face — especially now, with a radically pro-abortion government and opposition party leadership that refuses to open the abortion debate.
For decades, CLC has been in the business of informing Canadians and helping them get involved in their local politics, schools and churches. In order to restore a culture of life in Canada, it needs to be a bottom-up approach. Our team is working at full throttle, and we are making a significant mark in the sociopolitical landscape in Canada.
COLUMBIA: Have there been any notable pro-life victories? What are the greatest signs of hope?
GUNNARSON: We’ve had some pro-life victories in the political realm over the years, which include electing pro-life members of Parliament, provincial legislatures, local councilors and school board trustees. We have also had success in influencing policies at both federal and provincial levels.
In the federal election in October, 69% of our endorsed candidates won. We are several election cycles away from seeing 170 pro-life MPs in the House — 170 are needed to attain the 51% vote ratio to pass pro-life legislation. We work daily toward that goal, and with God’s blessing we will see a culture of life return to our nation.
COLUMBIA: What has been the impact of the National March for Life in Ottawa?
GUNNARSON: The National March for Life is truly a beacon of light and hope in Canada. CLC has been organizing the march since 1998, and every year we are truly amazed by the thousands of people who show up and get involved, not just in the rally and march, but in the candlelight vigil, the Rose Dinner and youth banquet and conference.
The event does different things for different people. For some, it’s a wake-up call to do something for life; for others, it’s an opportunity to network and spend time with likeminded people; for still others, it’s an opportunity to get reenergized for the year ahead. At the end of the day, the National March for Life is crucial to the pro-life movement in Canada as it is a powerful witness of the truth to our government, members of Parliament and all citizens.
COLUMBIA: Have you seen the Knights of Columbus have an impact on building a culture of life in Canada?
GUNNARSON: Most definitely. Beyond the Order’s support of initiatives like the National March for Life, I have seen an intensified effort in recent years on a state and local level. The Ontario State Council, for example, has kicked up its efforts a few notches and it has had an effect on the local councils. Many individual Knights have come forward and helped with the March for Life, Life Chain and 40 Days for Life.
The pro-life monuments that councils erect throughout Canada have also had a huge impact. I am very pleased, for example, with the stand that Knights in Belleville, Ontario, recently took when they ran into opposition for erecting a memorial gravestone for the unborn. This is what we do, and when I see this, I feel proud to be a Knight.
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