What started as a mean-spirited attempt by an anti-choice group to sabotage a youth-leadership campaign has come turned into a positive story of fair-play and collaboration.
This year, the Atlantic Council for International Cooperation’s (ACIC) Active 8 Campaign became the battle ground for Prince Edward Island’s fight for access to abortion. PEI is the only province in Canada that does not provide this service, and Kandace Hagen, an Active 8 Ambassador from PEI intends to change that. The trouble started when an email by the spokesperson for the PEI Right to Life Association went public, urging her networks to “vote against” Kandace Hagen by voting for her closest competitor, Tara Brinston. Unfortunately Brinston’s campaign was promoted in opposition to Hagen’s, with little regard for her important work as an advocate for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities.
This turn of events garnered some local media coverage, but online it was a different story. The story went viral, inspiring countless blog posts - including two notable American sites - Jezebel on the one hand and Lifesitenews on the other. Each triggered hundreds of votes for each candidate.
“The ambassador with the most pledges by 11:59 pm on February 29th, 2012 was named this year’s champion,” said Jennifer Sloot, ACIC Executive Director, at a press conference. “This year, both Tara Brinston and Kandace Hagen were declared Active 8 co-champions. Their totals were nearly identical and we unanimously agreed that both of them had won.”
ACIC strongly moderated the pledges, rejecting those that were not in the spirit of the campaign. Neither Brinston nor Hagen welcomed the controversy, and Brinston was not happy to have attracted the anti-choice vote. “I was personally bothered by being pulled into a debate that I do not have a history of being a part of,” said Brinston. “I would have preferred that pledges would have come through highlighting the work that I do with the disability movement and have been made with that intent.”
Ann Marie Tomlins, the PEI Right to Life Association spokesperson who originally encouraged the “vote against” tactic to prevent Hagen’s win claimed that ACIC’s effort to moderate pledges represented “the denial of pro-life Canadian youth of their fundamental right to vote and to express themselves as they so choose” (Lifesite.net).
Although it is not yet decided whether each candidate will be awarded the full prize money or whether it will be split, both candidates and ACIC are happy with the results.
Josie Baker is a feminist community organizer in Charlottetown, PEI. She works on issues of food sovereignty, labour justice, anti-racism, reproductive rights, and queer visibility in the smallest province in Canada. Her educational background is in community development, and religious studies/women’s studies. In her spare time she is an avid vegetable gardener.