AP 9 Nov 94 20:45 EST V0458 1994. The Associated Press
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -- Police in two countries tried Wednesday to find the person whose bullets critically wounded a doctor and brought the increasingly violent fight over abortion into normally peaceful Canada.
While two U.S. doctors have been killed and another wounded by anti-abortion activists over the last two years, shootings are much less frequent in Canada, where guns are tightly controlled.
That made the attack on Dr. Garson Romalis as he sat at home eating breakfast Tuesday all the more frightening.
"It will affect the way people look at freedom. It will raise a level of fear," said Dr. Mark Schonfeld, president of the British Columbia Medical Association. "Our society has not resorted to this violent level in debates and discussion before."
Romalis performs abortions, a procedure that in Canada is readily available at most government-financed hospitals and clinics. He worked at both of Vancouver's clinics, and was one of the few area doctors who performed late-stage abortions, said Joy Thompson, spokeswoman for the British Columbia Coalition of Abortion Clinics.
Constable Anne Drennan said police weren't sure the shooting was abortion-related. "We have to look at everything. We can't afford to focus in on one angle only," she said. She said police were looking for leads in the often-violent U.S. anti-abortion movement, and that U.S. authorities were helping in the investigation. Romalis, who was in in stable condition Wednesday, and his family were under police protection. Police were keeping an eye on the city's other abortion clinics, which remained open, and were temporarily watching the homes of other local doctors who perform abortions.
Canadian anti-abortion groups spoke out against the shooting.
"We condemn violence totally, unequivocably. We don't believe that violence solves problems," said Ted Gerk, president of the Pro-Life Society of British Columbia.
Canadian authorities also were talking to police in Oregon and Washington state, and in Florida, where three abortion-related murders have occurred in the last two years. "Canadians seem to feel that the 49th parallel is an invisible barrier, that our society reacts differently," Schonfeld said. "It is shocking that now the same things are now happening here. That's not a very nice thought."
The shooting came less than a week after a Florida jury recommended the death penalty for Paul Hill, who fatally shot a doctor and his escort outside a Pensacola, Fla., abortion clinic on July 29.
Hill was friendly with Michael Griffin, who's serving a life sentence for killing Dr. David Gunn outside another Pensacola clinic in 1993. Rachelle Shannon, who's serving 11 years for wounding a doctor in both arms outside a Wichita, Kan., clinic last year, had written more than two dozen letters to Griffin.
Drennan said police were investigating reports that Romalis' assailant may have checked out the doctor's house a day before the attack.
An attendant at a nearby gas station also recalled giving change to a man who used a pay phone about the same time Romalis' wife received two strange calls asking about her husband. Police believe the caller may have been trying to learn if the doctor was home.
Romalis, 57, was struck in the upper left leg by one of three bullets from an AK-47 assult rifle that smashed into his house. The doctor nearly bled to death from a bullet wound that severed an artery in his thigh.
He was making a solid recovery but was expected to remain hospitalized for some time, said Vancouver Hospital spokeswoman Linda Bartz.
Former Olympic high-jumper Debbie Brill vouched for the doctor as a positive person with a dry wit.
Brill said she has been Romalis' patient for 17 years, that he delivered all three of her children, dealt with miscarriages and provided two abortions. "He made it all seem very straightforward and simple. He took away the mystery from a lot of the stuff you're faced with in those critical times," she said.