Pro-lifers fight Ontario gov’t crackdown on activism outside abortion clinics
TORONTO, September 6, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — The Ontario government’s intention to bring in a law banning pro-life witness at abortion facilities will hurt women by denying them information on alternatives to abortion they likely won’t get elsewhere, a number of pro-life groups told the Liberals last week.
Moreover, a law creating “safe access zones” around abortion centers will violate the Charter, is “anti-democratic,” and will set a dangerous precedent for government “overreach,” they said.
Representatives of Campaign Life Coalition, Alliance for Life Ontario, and the Association for Reformed Political Action met with officials from the attorney general’s office on August 30 as part of the government’s consultations on its proposed “bubble zone” law.
The officials did not say what other groups the Liberals are consulting.
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi announced in May that he would introduce a law in the fall to restrict pro-life activity. The MPPs return to Queen’s Park on September 11.
Some observers say the Liberals want a “bubble zone” law because the 1994 NDP government injunction banning pro-life activities at various locations lapsed in January under new provincial regulations on out-of-date court actions.
The Liberals brought in a motion June to reinstate the 24-year-old injunction on an “emergency basis.” The court threw that motion out, but the government is still seeking to restore the order.
But Navqi’s stated reason for introducing the “bubble zone” law is because Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson asked him to.
Watson was reacting to lobbying by Planned Parenthood and Ottawa’s Morgentaler abortion centre, which stirred up a media storm over its allegations that pro-life witnesses were harassing women coming into the facility and police weren’t doing anything about it.
So the mayor turned to the province and Navqi said he’d look into it.
“Our government does not tolerate any form of harassment against women exercising their fundamental right to choose,” the attorney general said at the time.
But Watson told the Ottawa Citizen a city lawyer “said if we were to bring in something specific for (individual protesters), it would be challenged under the charter in two minutes.”
Pro-life groups made the same point to ministry officials while voicing adamant opposition to the proposed law.
The province doesn’t have the authority to supplement or expand the Criminal Code, which falls under federal jurisdiction, noted ARPA representative and lawyer John Sikkema.
The Liberals would have to invoke the “notwithstanding clause” to override the Charter when they bring in such legislation, representatives for Campaign Life Coalition told the ministry.
Indeed, the Ontario Court of Appeal just struck down a town’s trespass order banning a noisy protester from municipal property for a year, they said.
The court ruled the Fort Erie order violated the man’s Charter right to “engage in protest.”
More significantly, the Liberals’ bubble zone law would deprive women of crucial information on alternatives to abortion, the pro-life groups said.
Evidence shows that a “significant subset” of women entering abortion facilities have not been told what an abortion is and haven’t given informed consent, noted Alliance for Life Ontario president Geoff Cauchi and executive director Jakki Jeffs.
The pro-life groups pointed to numerous testimonies from women expressing deep gratitude that they spoke with sidewalk counselors outside abortion centers, and as a result, decided against abortion.
Pro-life witnesses are typically low-key, and are there to engage women who respond to them in quiet conversation, to offer them information and alternatives to abortion, they told ministry officials.
It’s abortion advocates who are more likely to engage in angry words and behavior that can be construed as intimidating or harassing, they said.
They also protested the harsh penalties for violations of the law the Ontario government is considering.
Matt Wojciechowski of Campaign Life pointed to the “absurdity of these proposed penalties which exceed those for drunk driving,” with the consequence that seniors, young students, and other pro-life witnesses could be thrown in jail for praying within the “safe access” zones.
Punishment for a first offense could be a fine of up to $5000 and up to six months in jail, with a $10,000 maximum fine and a year in jail for a second offence.
Those are the penalties in British Columbia and Newfoundland, currently the only jurisdictions in Canada with laws banning pro-life witness in prescribed areas.
Ontario is looking to these as possible models for its legislation.
BC passed its law in 1995 and Newfoundland in 2016, and both allow abortion facilities to apply for “safe access zones” of 50 meters.
The activities banned within these zones include sidewalk counseling or “interference,” protesting, besetting, physically interfering or attempting to interfere with, and intimidating or attempting to intimidate doctors, facility personnel or women seeking abortions.
Two abortion centres and two hospitals have been granted a “safe access zone” in BC, as has one abortion facility in Newfoundland.
A BC appeals court upheld that province’s law in three decisions (R v Lewis, 1996, R v Demers, 2002, R v Spratt, 2008).
The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the Spratt ruling in 2009. But that doesn’t rule out the top court hearing a “bubble zone” law Charter case in the future.
Meanwhile, Campaign Life Coalition has launched a petition asking MPPs to vote against the legislation. It has been signed by 1,193 people to date.
Campaign Life is also urging pro-lifers to write Navqi and their MPP to oppose the bill.
Those letters can be sent to:
Honorable Yasir Navqi
Minister of the Attorney General
109 Catherine Street
Ottawa, Ontario K2P 0P4