The federal government is accusing Conservative politicians of actively promoting a controversial anti-abortion film that is set to premiere in Canada on Friday.
Tourism Minister Melanie Joly derided the American-produced film “Unplanned” as “propaganda” during an interview with CTV News Channel on Thursday.
“The issue we have is that this film is spreading misinformation, actually propaganda, that is linked to the far-right propaganda that we see in the U.S.,” she said.
Produced by the Arizona-based Christian movie studio Pure Flix, known for such films as “God’s Not Dead” and “The Case for Christ,” “Unplanned” is advertised as a drama based on well-known American anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson’s real-life story.
The film follows Johnson’s conversion from a Planned Parenthood clinic director to a critic of abortion after she claims to have witnessed a 13-week-old fetus squirm and fight during an abortion.
The movie has already stirred up intense debate on both sides of the issue in the U.S. after its release there at the end of March.
Twitter temporarily banned the film from the platform and several U.S. cable networks refused to air its commercials. Despite this, “Unplanned” still had a strong opening at the box office with U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence even singing its praises.
In Canada, Conservative MP Brad Trost, a vocal opponent of abortion, attended the first screening of “Unplanned” on Parliament Hill in Ottawa back in April. In a tweet in April, Trost called it an “incredible film” that needs to be shown across the country.
That wish came true when it was announced the film would have a limited showing in at least 24 cinemas across Canada beginning on Friday.
In response, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Chief of Staff Katie Telford blamed the arrival of “Unplanned” in the country on Conservatives.
“This is happening, at least in part, thanks to the support received by federal Conservative politicians,” she tweeted last week.
In a later tweet she wrote, “Fact: conservative politicians have been petitioning on the films behalf.”
Joly, too, pointed to Trost’s endorsement of the film as evidence of the Conservative Party’s support for it.
“What I’m concerned with, is the fact that we have Conservative politicians, such as Brad Trost or Conservative permanent fundraisers, that are actually promoting the fact that this film should be viewed while women’s groups all across the country are denouncing this film,” she said.
The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada is one such group that recently condemned the film in a scathing online statement, in which it was referred to as a “dangerous piece of anti-abortion propaganda.”
The organization went on to warn that “Unplanned’s” portrayal of abortion providers could “incite fanatics to commit acts of harassment or violence against clinics or doctors.”
In response to Joly’s accusations, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s press secretary Daniel Schow said the Liberals “continue to sink to new depths of desperation” in the lead up to the election.
“Mr. Scheer has been crystal clear that he will not re-open this issue,” he wrote in an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca. “There is only one party talking about this issue and it’s the Liberals. While Justin Trudeau and the Liberals spread fear and smear, Mr. Scheer will continue to talk about his positive, Conservative vision for Canada.”
In May, following a Liberal fundraising email blast, in which the governing party sounded the alarm over the attendance of 12 Conservative MPs at an anti-abortion rally in Ottawa that month, Scheer reiterated his stance on the subject.
“I’ve made it very, very clear Canadians can have absolute confidence that the Conservative government -- after the election in October -- will not re-open this issue,” he told reporters.
When asked if Liberals were using the release of “Unplanned” as an excuse to publicly blast the Conservatives on the issue of abortion, Joly dismissed the notion.
“This is not a question of a partisan issue or not. This is a concern that many women and women’s groups all across the country have raised,” she said. “While actually we are supporting their concerns, we are seeing Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party promoting this film and their many MPs participating in lobby group rallies that are anti-choice.”
“Unplanned” will run in Canada for one week in 14 Cineplex theatres and 10 Landmark cinemas as well as a few independent venues.
In response to the intense backlash Cineplex received for choosing to air the film, the company’s president and CEO Ellis Jacob defended their decision in a public letter.
“I understand and can appreciate the concerns about the film, but it is up to each of us to decide whether or not we want to see it,” Jacob said. “In Canada, we have that option and I think it is an important thing to remember.”