OTTAWA, Ontario, May 16, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – How many attended the March for Life in Ottawa this year? That’s the burning question over which pro-life and pro-abortion commentators and media are sharply divided.
Last week LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) reported that there was a record-breaking crowd of over 15,000 participants. But after CBC cited police saying that only 5,000 attended, and other mainstream media reported either “thousands” or “over ten thousand” in attendance, pro-abortion bloggers scoffed at the 15,000 number as wishful thinking.
At the same time, Jim Hughes, the President of Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) and the source of the 15,000 figure, says he has been challenged on his count by pro-life attendees who were told by police officers that there were at least 20,000 present.
So which was it?
In an interview with LSN today, Hughes explained how he came up with his number, and defended the 15,000 figure (15,300 to be exact, he says) as accurate.
While bickering over numbers plagues many political demonstrations, the Canadian March for Life does have one advantage over similar events: the crowds don’t only stand in the middle of a large open space, but march through Ottawa’s narrow streets.
Thus, rather than simply eyeballing the undulating masses on Parliament Hill, anyone with enough motivation can stand by the roadside and physically count the passersby: and every year for the past decade, this is just what Hughes has done.
“I find a place along the route and I camp out there and count them as they come by, and I have my own system now to do it,” Hughes explained.
Originally Hughes tried to use a clicker, but he says it was “hopeless”: he couldn’t press the button fast enough to count each individual marcher. Now he counts by tens, which he says works well, and is just as accurate.
Given that CLC is the main organizer of annual event, however, abortion supporters might be forgiven for taking Hughes’ count with a grain of salt. But Hughes insists that his numbers are accurate.
In fact, the pro-life leader says he took the task of counting the crowd upon himself only after volunteers came back with what he says were clearly inflated numbers, based more on their hopes than the hard facts.
“I think everybody wants to see large numbers, and they’re full of optimism and enthusiasm and they say well, there must have been 20,000 there,” he said. “And I say, well, that’s very nice and I’m happy about that, but let’s just keep the accurate count.”
“What I will not do is I will not inflate numbers just so we all feel better,” Hughes said.
Even so, with media reporting numbers as low as 5,000, there are bound to be skeptics. After LSN posted a panoramic photo of the whole crowd in an article, one such skeptic posted on our Facebook page, accusing the photo of being “photoshopped” (the photo was, in fact, stitched together from several photos using a panorama-creating program called Hugin, but had no further editing). A video of the whole crowd was then posted, but the skeptic suggested that it might have been doctored to give the impression of a larger crowd as well.
That type of speculation, said Hughes, “is why you have to go and count them yourself so that you get an accurate number.” “I’m happy that I started to do that, so now I can go and build on those numbers and try to get 18,000 or 20,000 next time,” he added.