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Progressive Conservative Party leader Patrick Brown

TORONTO, October 25, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Ontario’s legislators passed a bill criminalizing pro-life speech and expression outside abortion clinics today by a vote of 86-1.

MPP Jack MacLaren, a member of the Trillium Party, cast the sole dissenting vote.

PC Conservative MPPs Sam Oosterhoff, Monte McNaughton and Rick Nicholls were not in the House for the vote.

The far-reaching Bill 163 automatically outlaws all pro-life activity — including sidewalk counselling and showing “disapproval” of abortion — within 50 meters of Ontario’s eight abortion centers, a distance that can be increased to 150 meters on request.

Bill 163 also allows hospitals, pharmacies, and healthcare facilities that do abortions, including providing the abortion pill — to apply for “bubble zones” banning all pro-life activity of up to 150 meters.

Individuals convicted of breaching Bill 163 face a fine of up to $5,000 and jail sentence of up to six months, which increases to a fine of up to $10,000 and a jail sentence of up to one year for a second and subsequent conviction.

Campaign Life Coalition blasts bill

Campaign Life Coalition blasted the Ontario MPPs for passing the bill.

“This law, which was drafted by Planned Parenthood and their allies in the abortion business, using feeling-based anecdotes and hearsays, lacked any real evidence that backed their claims of the war-like atmosphere outside abortion facilities,” said Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition.

“This law is the first step in silencing and criminalizing speech that is not the official opinion of the state. The whole process of fast-tracking this bill, and slandering pro-life people throughout, was a shame.”

Campaign Life Coalition will “pursue if necessary a challenge through the legal system to overturn this totalitarian law which directly attacks the freedom of speech, expression and assembly of Ontarians and prevents pregnant women from having access to alternatives to abortion,” it said in a press release.

Parties agree to fast-track bill

Liberal Attorney General Yasir Naqvi introduced the bill on October 4. PC Party leader Patrick Brown declared the same day that he was pro-abortion and supported the bill, and PC MPP Lisa MacLeod introduced a motion the next day to expedite the bill.

After the Liberals were lambasted in the press for rejecting the motion allegedly to divide the Tory caucus over abortion, the three parties agreed to unanimously fast-track the legislation.

MacLaren, considered an independent because his party lacks the eight MPPs needed to be recognized as a party at Queen’s Park, also cast the sole vote against Bill 163 on second reading.

He told LifeSiteNews then the bill is unconstitutional and voting against it was “the right thing to do.”

No evidence for bill

According to Naqvi, the impetus for Bill 163 came from Ottawa mayor Jim Watson, who asked for it after staff at the Morgentaler abortion center on Banks Street alleged that pro-life protestors were harassing and intimidating women as they approached the abortion facility.

There was a alleged incident of someone spitting on a woman.

But pro-life blogger Patricia Maloney obtained through a freedom of information request a record of Ottawa police attendance at the Morgentaler abortion center from January 2014 to June 2017.

“There were a total of 64 police reports for this period, most of which most were false alarms, cancelled calls, administrative issues, and other minor issues,” Maloney wrote.

“In this three-year, five-month period, there were exactly two level 1 assaults (minor injury or no injury). It is unknown if the assaults were perpetrated against pro-life or against pro-choice people.”

Maloney spoke with Constable Chuck Benoit at the Ottawa Police Service who confirmed the two “level 1” assaults in that period, on October 25, 2016, and May 28, 2017.

“All the other incidents were run of the mill police work,” she wrote.

“I was told that neither of these assaults resulted in injuries, and no one was charged with anything. So why do we need this bubble zone? Why did Jim Watson initiate this law?” Maloney noted.

“Because he doesn’t like pro-life people. He prefers to treat us like second class citizens. If we try and discuss pro-life concerns with him, either by email or in person, his disgust for us is clear.”

One day of public hearings only

Campaign Life Coalition also debunked the “toxic narrative” of pro-lifers harassing women in a presentation to the committee on general government during the sole day of public hearings on the bill.

“(T)his bill aims to address a problem that doesn’t exist,” Matt Wojciechowski of Campaign Life told the committee.

“It is a problem made up by the abortion industry and their allies at Planned Parenthood to demonize their opposition and to protect their grisly business of killing children before birth for profit.”

Five pro-life groups presented on the bill during the hearings, as did eight abortion advocacy groups, and pro-bill Ottawa city counselor Catherine McKenney.

When Planned Parenthood Ottawa executive director Catherine Macnab spoke to the committee, observers were asked to leave the room halfway through her presentation so Macnab could speak to the committee “in camera,” according to Campaign Life’s Wojciechowski.

“So much for transparency and ‘public hearings,’” he told LifeSiteNews..

Bill violates Charter rights of free speech

The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) and the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) reiterated to the committee that the bill violates Charter rights of freedom of association and expression.

Bill 163 “risks certain scrutiny, if not failure, on a constitutional challenge,” warned CCRL president Phil Horgan, a Toronto lawyer.

Similar legislation passed in BC in 1995 was challenged in court, he said.

The BC appeal court ruled in Spratt in 2008 the law violated Charter rights to free expression but the breach was “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society” as allowed under Section 1 of the Charter.

But Ontario’s law does not pass the Section 1 test, Horgan told the committee.

He submitted a peer-reviewed study presented by abortion advocates and published last year in Canadian Family Physician reported on a 2012 survey of abortion facilities across Canada.

Of the seven Ontario abortion facilities responding to the survey, one reported “no violence or harassment,” Horgan said.

The other six abortion centers reported “picketing without interference,” and “zero picketing with interference, zero vandalism, zero other forms of violence or harassment including threatening emails or telephone calls,” he said.

“The reality is a peaceful protest should not cause anybody harm. That’s democracy,” Horgan said.

“When you go another point to say it’s non-peaceful protests, there could be violence, where’s the evidence of that?”

Ontario MPPs engage in ‘political suppression’

Horgan also blasted Ontario’s MPPs for the “political suppression engaged with this bill.”

“The rushed nature of it, the fact that there is effectively all-party support, is an example of suppression of dissenting viewpoints,” Horgan said. “It’s contrary to the process of authentic pluralism that we enjoy in Canada.”

Tabitha Ewert told the committee on behalf of ARPA that Bill 163 is unnecessary and unconstitutional.

“There is just no evidence that without this bill women’s safety or access to abortion would at all be infringed. … (W)e have Criminal Code prohibitions that prohibit such things as assault, threatening, intimidation, or harassment,” Ewert said.

The bill is actually “about silencing dissent on the issue,” she said.

“Protecting women’s rights or making a step forward for women’s rights, cannot include fining and imprisoning women who disagree,” noted Ewert.

“And that is what this bill does. It says if you hold a certain opinion, you cannot express it. Your constitutional rights are not protected.”

The committee made no amendments to the bubble zone bill, which is now only needs royal assent to become law.

Bill 163 record for final vote

PC MPPs who voted for: Ted Arnott, Bob Bailey, Toby Barrett, Patrick Brown, Raymond Cho, Steve Clark, Lorne Coe, Victor Fideli, Ernie Hardeman, Michael Harris, Sylvia Jones, Lisa MacLeod, Gila Martow, Norm Miller, Julia Munro, Rany Pettapiece, Ross Romano, Laurie Scott, Todd Smith, Lisa Thompson, Bill Walker, Jim Wilson, John Yakabuski.

PC MPPs absent: Randy Hiller, Jim McDonell, Monte McNaughton, Rick Nicholls, Sam Oosterhoff, Jeff Yurek.

Liberal MPPs who voted for: Laura Albanese, Granville Anderson, Yvan Baker, Chris Ballard, Lorenzo Berardinetti, Michael Chan, Bob Chiarelli, Mike Colle, Michael Cote, Grant Crack, Dipika Damerla, Stephen Del Duca,   Bob Delaney, Nathalie Des Rosiers, Vic Dhillon, Han Dong, Brad Duguid, Kevin Daniel Flynn, Ann Hoggarth, Eric Hoskins, Mitzie Hunter, Helena Jaczek, Sophie Kiwala, Marie-France Lalonde, Jeff Leal, Tracy MacCharles, Harinder Malhi, Amrit Mangar, Cristina Martins, Deborah Matthews, Bill Mauro, Kathryn McGarry, Eleanor McMahon, Peter Milczyn, Reza Moridi, Indira Naidoo-Harris, Yasir Naqvi, Arthur Potts, Shafiq Qaadri, Lou Rinaldi, Liz Sandals, Charles Sousa, Harinder Takhar, Glenn Thibeault, Daiene Vernile, Sue Wong, Kathleen Wynne, David Zimmer.

Liberal MPPs absent: James Bradley, Joe Dickson, John Fraser, Michael Gravelle, Monte Kwinter, Dave Levac, Ted McMeekin, Mario Sergio. 

NDP MPPs who voted for: Teresa Armstrong, Cheri DiNovo, Catherine Fife, Cindy Forster, Jennifer French, France Gelinas, Lisa Gretzky, Percy Hatfield, Michael Mantha, Paul Miller, Tara Natyshak, Peggy Sattler, Peter Tabuns, Monique Taylor, John Vanthof.

NDP MPPs absent: Gilles Bisson, Sarah Campbell, Wayne Gates, Andrea Horwath, Wayne Gates.

MPP voted against: Jack MacLaren, member of Trillium Party.