Nova Scotia rams through ban on pro-life free speech outside abortion centers
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia, March 11, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – A new law banning pro-life free speech in front of abortion centers in Nova Scotia has now become law after being rammed through the provincial legislature at a breakneck pace over the course of only eight days.
The Protecting Access to Reproductive Health Care Act — Bill 242, was introduced by NDP Nova Scotia MLA Claudia Chender on March 2 and received Royal Assent on March 10.
The bill went through first reading to become law at an extreme pace. Nova Scotia pro-life advocate, Ruth Robert, coordinator for Campaign Life Coalition (CLC), spoke out against the bill to the Committee on Law Amendments last week, and told LifeSiteNews the speed at which the bill was introduced was “absolutely terrible.”
“I’m horrified about this. It’s just absolutely terrible,” says Robert, who added that not a single MLA stood in opposition to the bill.
“It’s just the beginning of the removal of our constitutional freedoms if we don’t stop and fight this.”
The new law bans any type of pro-life witness in an “access zone” established 50 meters around an abortion center.
The bill states that “no person, while in an access zone” shall “engage in interference;” “engage in a protest;” “engage in besetting;” or “continuously or repeatedly observe” a “patient, a physician who provides abortion services or a service provider” or a “building in which abortion services are provided or facilitated.”
The bill makes it clear that no person shall “request that a “patient refrain from accessing abortion services,” or a “physician or a service provider refrain from providing, or facilitating the provision of, abortion services.”
In addition to creating a “bubble zone” around abortion centers, Bill-242 bans the photographing, videotaping, and audio recording of anyone within the “access zone,” which is defined as hospitals that provide abortions but could also extend to offices and even residences of those who perform abortions if “[t]he Governor in Council may, by regulation,” decides to do so.
A first offense under conviction is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 or a six-month prison term, or both, going up to a maximum fine of $10,000, or one year in prison, or both, for a second offense. If a corporation is found guilty of violating the law, it faces fines of up to $25,000 for a first offense, then a possible $100,000 for a second offense.
The bill was supported by the once pro-life Catholic premier of Nova Scotia, Stephen McNeil. In speaking about the bill yesterday, McNeil said, “On behalf of our government, on behalf of this side of the House, I am honoured to stand and support your bill.”
Abortion is currently available in four hospital locations in Nova Scotia. The province joins similar legislation in B.C., Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland.
Robert gave a passioned plea for freedom of speech before a committee last Friday in speaking out against the anti-free speech bill, saying she is concerned that it directly “violates” Canadians constitutional rights.
“I fear this bill sets a precedent that will diminish, if not completely abolish, constitutional rights of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and conscience,” said Robert, coordinator for Campaign Life Coalition Nova Scotia, to the Committee on Law Amendments.
Robert grew up in Saudi Arabia, a nation where freedom of expression is not tolerated. She also helped revive the 40 Days for Life Halifax campaign, and pleaded with the committee directly, asking them to think of the ramifications on free speech in Canada should the bill become law.
She told the committee that the bill is “extremely troublesome because it does not protect women; it merely violates people’s constitutional rights.”
“We already have laws in place to protect women,” she said.
Despite Robert’s efforts, as well as those of two pro-life voices in protest to the bill, Catherine Dingle and Kevin Ahern (who both helped volunteer with 40 Days for Life Nova Scotia), the committee moved the bill forward with no amendments at the end of the Friday meeting.
Robert told the committee that women are very often coerced into having an abortion and need to be told that help is available.
“And so, I stand outside that hospital, not to condemn women if they need to make this choice if they feel that it’s necessary. I disagree, but I’m not there to condemn,” said Robert to the committee.
“I am there for the women who want their children and feel they have no other recourse, to say: ‘I’m here and I can tell you from experience sometimes there are other options.’”
Robert noted to the committee in her testimony that the bill violates due process as well as the freedom of religion. She brought up a troubling part of the bill, Section 15, which reads: “A police officer may arrest, without warrant, a person who the police officer believes on reasonable and probable grounds has committed or is committing an offence under this Act.”
“How do you define reasonable or probable? If a nun walks through there — most nuns are pro-life — their presence might cause some people who are Catholic going in for an abortion to reconsider,” said Robert to the committee.
“Is that grounds for arrest? [Would this not be] violation of due process, violation of freedom of religion? She might not even be protesting, but her freedom of religion is in jeopardy.”
In her testimony, Robert said the counter-argument that “bubble zones” do not violate freedom of expression is an “inadequate counter-argument,” adding that “location matters, and that people like to emphasize what is happening in what location to better make their point.”
Robert pointed out that the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada’s own data shows that violence from pro-life protestors is not an issue in Canada. “There has been no severe or moderate violence from pro-life individuals in over 20 years,” she said to the committee.
“This means that the only potential violence is not violent at all, but merely emotional, and I would say that people who are struggling with abortion-- considering it, have had one, just don’t want to think about it for whatever personal reason--they can be affected by this no matter where the protest is held,” she added.
Robert mentioned to the committee, that when it comes to the 40 Days for Life protests, she requires all of her volunteers to sign statements which say that they would be peaceful, would not violate any laws or litter, and that “they would respect all law enforcement personnel.”
“The reason for our presence is to offer hope for the women who maybe don’t want abortions, and I speak from personal experience on this one from two accounts that directly affected me and my family.”
Committee hearing a ‘pointless show’
In comments sent to LifeSiteNews this week in regard to last Friday’s committee hearing on Bill 242, Robert noted that ultimately, the hearing was a waste of time.
“What I observed was what I consider to be a pointless show. The general attitude I detected in the committee members was smug and self-congratulatory,” said Robert.
Robert also noted that she was concerned about the speed at which the bill was being passed, saying it was “a disgrace.”
“Without any discussion, without a pause or hesitation, a motion is made to pass the bill with no amendment. The ‘ayes’ were taken, and the ‘nays’ were not asked for,” said Robert to LifeSiteNews.
“No discussion. Nothing. It was a disgrace. This is not how laws are supposed to be made.”
Robert says that the many pro-abortion voices allowed to speak to the bill at the committee hearing were emotional in nature, and “personal testimonies trying to evoke sentiment.”
“Certainly, emotion can drive people to consider that new laws might be needed, but after that we need to enter the realm of reason, fact, evidence, hard data and logical thought,” said Robert in comments sent to LifeSiteNews.
“These are what our laws should be based on. I saw little to none of that: Nothing that actually addressed the legitimate legal concerns that we raised. It was all very "feel good" in my opinion.”
Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) had launched a petition against the law in Nova Scotia restricting the freedom of protest and speech. It had been signed by 3600 people.