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A Peterborough bus displays a Canadian Centre for Bio-ethical Reform pro-life ad.
Steve Weatherbe

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Fate of Ontario city’s pro-life bus ads hinges on Alberta court

Steve Weatherbe

PETERBOROUGH, Ontario, April 10, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Peterborough citizens will see pro-life ads from the Canadian Centre for Bio-ethical Reform for at least the next three months. After that, says city council, it depends on a court appeal in Alberta.

In Grande Prairie, Alberta, and Peterborough, Ontario, the CCBR attempted to place its hard-hitting ads on the outsides of city buses. Because the ads contained phrases such as “Abortion Kills Children,” both cities rejected the ads. The cities argued the message would distress women who have had abortions.

But CCBR persuaded Peterborough to accept the ads based on freedom of speech and expression. They went up on buses April 1. However, Grande Prairie went to court in an effort to block the ads and won.

Using one of the arguments that won in Alberta, Peterborough councillor Diane Therrien called for the city to draft a new policy allowing council to ban ads that upset anyone. “For some people, transit is the only way to get around the city,” she told council.

In the Alberta case, the argument was used against CCBR that buses create a “captive audience” of both passengers and passersby, denying their constitutional right not to have to see ads they do not like.

Nevertheless, the Peterborough city council decided to watch for the results of the CCBR appeal in Alberta, but in the meantime allow the ads to continue. CCBR appealed in January. So far, the Alberta appeal court has not set a hearing date.

One ad shows two pictures of unborn babies in successive stages of development followed by a red circle representing an aborted child. A caption stretching under all three reads, “Growing, Growing, Gone.”

The ad reading “Abortion Kills Children” also carried CCBR’s web address. This became an important part of the decision of Madame Justice C.S. Anderson. She went to the CCBR website and found it contained “strong statements that vilify women who have chosen, for their own reasons, to have an abortion.” The ads, she said, compare women who have had abortions “to killers or murderers.”

Anderson also endorsed the “captive audience” argument advanced by Grande Prairie. She cited an earlier case that argues that the advertiser in question “has no right to force his message upon an audience incapable of declining to receive it.”

However, CCBR lawyer Carol Crosson told LifeSiteNews this would be one ground for the appeal. The “captive audience” argument was both advanced and rejected in the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority case, she said. The Supreme Court of Canada ruling applies to the Grande Prairie dispute.

Another ground will be Anderson’s reliance on website material. Other decisions have established that only what is made public can be used in evidence, said Crosson.

A third ground will be Anderson’s insistence that the city had balanced the CCBR’s Charter rights adequately because it had told the court it would allow pro-life ads if they were not accusatory in tone. According to Crosson, the city’s undertaking should have carried no weight since the city was under no obligation to follow through.

John Carpay of the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms told LifeSiteNews, “Free speech doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t mean the right to say things that are offensive and outrageous. If it just means you can spout platitudes acceptable to the majority it is worth nothing.”

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