Canadian City Backpedals on Decision to Censor Pro-life Bus-shelter Ads
By John Jalsevac
HAMILTON, ON, June 5, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The city of Hamilton, Ontario, has announced that it will be revising its rules so as to allow pro-life advertisements to be displayed in city bus shelters and other similar city-owned advertising spots.
The decision signals a dramatic shift in policy for the city, which pulled a pro-life ad campaign in January, calling the advertisements too "controversial".
The ads, which were part of a nation-wide pro-life campaign coordinated by Life Canada, depicted a pregnant woman. At the top of the ad were the words, "Nine months: the length of time abortion is allowed in Canada. No medical reason needed." At the bottom of the ad is the question, "Abortion, have we gone too far?"
The decision to pull the ads was made after Hamilton’s transit office received three complaints, and one of the ads was vandalized with pro-abortion graffiti. A city councilor, Brian McHattie, also personally submitted a request for the ads to be removed, saying that they were "offensive," and "totally inappropriate".
Subsequently Hamilton Right to Life, which had sponsored the ad campaign, filed a human rights complaint against the city.
Peter Boushy, a lawyer and the secretary for Hamilton Right to Life filed the complaint on behalf of the pro-life organization. He says that he now credits the complaint with having pressured the city into changing its unfair policy.
"No one wants to be labeled a human rights violator," Boushy told LifeSiteNews.com in an interview today.
Boushy said that he and Hamilton Right to Life welcomed the city’s decision, which has yet to be ratified by city council. According to an e-mail from a member of the Hamilton Public Works Committee, sent to Father Slaman of Hamilton Right to Life, the decision will come before the council on June 11.
"Coming on the heels of our complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, this new decision by the Hamilton Director of Transit to allow religious and advocacy messaging in the bus shelters is healthy for a society that values freedom of expression," said Boushy. "We are hopeful that the decision will be ratified by city council. Now, in terms of the whole Right to Life issue, it is important that the public understand that there is absolutely no law whatsoever regulating abortions in Canada. This is a grave injustice that urgently needs to be rectified and I would urge all like-minded persons to call upon their politicians to help the pro-life movement in this regard."
Boushy told The Interim earlier this month that Hamilton Right to Life opted to pursue a human rights complaint against the city instead of simply a lawsuit in order to drive home the point that the issue is an issue that encompasses the rights of an entire group - the unborn. "What we wanted to do is widen the scope and importance of this particular issue," he said, "because we’re dealing with the rights of the unborn or, in our opinion, the rights the unborn should have."
In their complaint Hamilton Right to Life demanded a total of a mere $1 in damages.
The proposed changes to the city’s advertising policies will not only apply to pro-life ads, but to all advertising that is religious or that involves advocacy of some kind.
"It’s not defensible to continue to restrict this form of advertising," Don Hull, the city’s director of transit told councilors on Monday, according to the Hamilton Spectator.
Previously Hull had stood firmly behind the city’s decision, saying in January, "We don’t think it’s appropriate for that medium (bus shelters) to be used for controversial community messaging."
See related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:
Right to Life Group Files Complaint with Ontario Human Rights Commission
Canadian City Pulls Pro-Life Bus Shelter Ads Citing "Offensiveness"
More Canadian City Officials Censor Pro-Life Ads