March 5, 2012
A P.E.I. woman lobbying for abortion access in the province has tied for first place in regional youth leadership contest that unwittingly became a platform for the Island’s virulent abortion access debate.
Kandace Hagen, one of the founding members of the P.E.I. Reproductive Rights Organization, was one of eight finalists for the Active 8 Campaign, an initiative of the Atlantic Council for International Cooperation (ACIC). The online contest aimed to promote youth leaders working for change in their communities and the world.
She was announced co-winner of the campaign after she and fellow finalist Tara Brinston each garnered over 1,600 pledges for their causes.
The campaign was marred by controversy when P.E.I.’s ongoing abortion access debate spilled into the contest.
Hagen’s campaign was targeted by pro-life activists after an email penned by local pro-life advocate Ann-Marie Tomlins was sent to multiple people, then leaked to media, encouraging people to stop Hagen from winning by voting for Brinston.
News stories about Tomlin’s email went viral, with pro-choice websites such as Jezebel promoting Hagen’s campaign and pro-life sites like Life Site News encouraging votes for Brinston.
This led to a surge in votes for both women during the final week of the Active 8 Campaign, forcing organizers to carefully inspect pledges to determine whether they honoured the spirit of the competition.
“Anything that was not motivated or inspired by the work that each of them was doing we considered not in the spirit of the campaign,” said Jennifer Sloot, executive director of the ACIC.
“There were some that probably fell into a grey area and we had to do some deep thinking on it and in the end that was part of the motivation for declaring co-champions. They were very close and that was the primary reason, but we also realized it was impossible to moderate the pledges 100 per cent accurate. We had to do a bit of reading between the lines.”
Brinston, who was campaigning for her work in disability rights, said she was disappointed her campaign was hijacked by pro-life activists.
“I was not prepared to be pulled into an abortion debate, that’s not my work. I have five years experience in the disability movement,” Brinston said.
“I was unprepared to have my face put up in a sort of pro-life, pro-choice movement. It was unnerving.”
While Hagen said she was prepared for some backlash from pro-lifers, she is disappointed the Active 8 Campaign was used as a platform for an abortion debate.
“It was very disappointing to see both of our images used to create a level of separation and controversy between the two of us when personally there absolutely is not.”
Sloot said believes it was the best choice to reward both young women, given their close results and their work in their communities.
“I feel very confident that in the end it was balanced and that what was the end result was appropriate and fair.”
ACIC officials have not yet determined if both will receive the $1,000 prize or if it will be split between them, but both will receive a monetary award.