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Twenty somethings head two of country's most prominent groups
BY MIKE MASTROMATTEO
TORONTO—The appointment of a 23–year–old Ontario woman to head the Toronto Right to Life Association underscores a new youth movement in Canadian pro–life circles.
Emma Maan of Georgetown, northwest of Toronto, was named president of the organization Nov. 4. She succeeds June Scandiffio, a Toronto high school teacher, who had led the organization since 1991.
Founded in 1971, the Toronto Right to Life Association is one of Canada' s leading pro–life groups. It concentrates primarily on education, public speaking, school presentations, and the collection and distribution of pro–life literature and audio–visual material.
Maan' s appointment comes just a year and a half after the selection of then 23–year–old Michelle Lavergne as executive director of the Winnipeg, Manitoba–based Alliance for Life association. Alliance for Life is a national association with pro–life representation in each Canadian province.
“I really didn' t think I had a chance when I applied for the position in July,” Maan said in an interview. “I was interested in a leadership opportunity, but I was certain the board of directors would opt for a president with more concrete pro–life experience.”
Maan' s rise to prominence at Toronto Right to Life coincides with a new confidence and dynamism on the part of Canadian pro–life students. The Ontario Students for Life organization (OSFL) continues to attract new recruits among high school students, while the National Campus Life Network (NCLN) is busy spreading the right to life word in Canadian colleges and universities.
In the United States, organizations such as American Life League (ALL), Collegians Activated to Liberate Life (CALL), and others have recently stepped up efforts to reach out to prolife students, and to involve young people in decision–making and leadership. Many veteran pro–life campaigners believe the energy and dedication of young people is a positive sign in encouraging a respect for life attitude in the future.
Although she has been active in pro–life efforts since age 8, Maan admits she has much to learn as a leader of a respected front–line organization. She is hoping her public speaking skills, and an ability to “think on her feet,” will leave her in good stead for the president' s role.
Maan paid tribute to former Right to Life presidents, adding that the association has earned “an enormous legacy” of pro–life leadership.
Not surprisingly, her counterpart Lavergne, the Alliance for Life executive director, fully supports a move to younger pro–life leaders.
“As long as the next generation of leaders can count on the cooperation and experience of their predecessors, they deserve a chance to make their mark,” Lavergne told the Register. “It brings out a positive aspect of pro–life work to support younger leaders.
”So long as these younger leaders have the encouragement and support of their older colleagues, they generally possess the tools to do the job. The news media as well might be more open to younger people heading up pro–life groups. Although the transition to new people can present some difficulties, it also allows an opportunity for pro–lifers to present their arguments with fresh ideas and new approaches.”
Prior to her new role, Maan had served for 18 months as speaker and public relations officer for Ontario Students for Life. She visited high schools discussing the role young people can play in combating the abortion–contraception mentality.
Maan plans to rely on the experience and advice of former president June Scandiffio, who will remain with the organization as a board member.
Scandiffio expressed confidence in Maan. “Emma has all the natural qualities of a leader,” she told the Register. “I think she represents the confident new approach of young pro–life leaders. In my time with Right to Life, I' ve noticed that younger people have become more enthusiastic about speaking out about respect for life ideas.”
Maan will also look for direction from Toronto Right to Life founder, Gwen Landolt, a Toronto attorney, who now acts as vice president of REALWomen of Canada, a pro–life organization that advocates a traditional role for women and families.
“Gwen was a tremendous help to me as I prepared for the new position,” Maan said. “She presented a number of worst–case scenarios and complicated situations I might be called on to respond to as Right to Life president. It was a crash course in pro–life awareness.”
Maan' s pro–life preparation was also enhanced during a six–week pro–life speaking tour of Ireland this past summer. Maan and a colleague from OSFL visited Irish schools and community groups between June and August to discuss the North American abortion scene with their Irish counterparts.
“I found the speaking tour of Ireland very helpful,” Maan said. “Not only did it force me to prepare for any number of questions on the issue, but it also gave me an international perspective on the right–tolife scene.”
Maan believes it is important for younger people to look for leadership roles in defending the right to life of the unborn. She said many people who were born after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in the United States, remain woefully unaware of the abortion situation.
“There is a tremendous amount of ignorance about the right–to–life issue within the younger generation,” Maan said. “Those who have educated themselves tend to see the truth of the pro–life argument, but too many younger people haven' t taken the time to really learn about it.”
Maan said it is crucial for young people to see beyond the rhetoric of pro–choice that many abortion supporters believe has a struck a responsive chord among students. She said the notion of freedom of choice has been exploited by abortion supporters to win sympathy for their cause. “We have to get more people to understand that many women have been harmed and misled in the name of choice,” she said.
Maan' s views are similar to those of Why Life?, the new youth outreach arm of the Virginia–based American Life League. Why Life? officials say the majority of North Americans under the age of 30 remain ignorant about respect for life issues. They advocate the development of educational programs to foster pro–life information among high school and university students.
In addition to promoting pro–life education among people in her age group, Maan hopes to reach out to other faith groups. “We are eager to promote the view that abortion and legal protection for the unborn are not just Catholic issues,” she said. “In a large, multicultural city like Toronto, there are many groups for whom respect for life is an important issue.”
Maan added, “Youth often represents energy, enthusiasm and new ideas. I am hoping to use that to raise our profile in the mainstream media.”
Mike Mastromatteo writes from Ontario.