OTTAWA, February 3, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — A pro-life activist argued in an Ontario court this week that the provincial government violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms when it quietly changed the law in 2010 to prohibit access to abortion statistics.
“The government is just worried that if people knew how many abortions are being done, they wouldn’t like it,” said Patricia Maloney, who, along with the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA), launched the action against the government.
Maloney and her ally were in Ottawa’s Superior Court on Wednesday, arguing against a change to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) that the government had slipped into an omnibus bill, unnoticed and unopposed, in 2010. The “Broader Public Sector Accountability Act,” or Bill 122, largely expanded FIPPA’s reach to healthcare institutions. At the same time, however, it also added a provision that excluded any and all information “related to the provision of abortion services” from FIPPA’s reach.
That change, exempting all information about abortion from the Freedom of Information law, meant that the government, in effect, buried all abortion statistics.
“This meant I could no longer request the number and cost of abortions performed in Ontario every year,” said Maloney, adding that the government “does not hide information about any other medical procedure.”
The government has argued that meaningful abortion stats can be procured from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). But Maloney discovered through Freedom of Information requests prior to the 2010 change to FIPPA that the CIHI data underreported the province’s real abortion toll by 44 percent.
While CIHI reported 23,746 abortions were performed in Ontario in 2014, the Ontario government released a factum in court on Wednesday showing that 45,471 abortions, based on OHIP billings, were actually performed, what amounts to 91.5 percent more than CIHI estimated.
ARPA’s director of law and policy Andre Schutten said that taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent.
“This case is about transparency and democracy. In our view, the actions of a democratic government and the money it spends should be open to scrutiny by the taxpayer, the media, and the voter,” he said.
Lawyers representing the pro-life team argued that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognizes that the rights to freedom of thought, the press, and expression carry with them a right to information. They showed evidence how several Supreme Court of Canada decisions acknowledge this.
But lawyers representing the Ontario government countered that the FIPPA amendment in dispute did not prevent the government from publishing abortion information, but merely left it up to its discretion to refuse to hand out such information when it saw fit.
The Ontario government prior to the 2010 amendment had been recalcitrant in providing abortion numbers based on what it called “multiple considerations including the safety and security of facilities, health care providers and patients.”
But Maloney called such considerations “hooey.”
“That’s hooey. I’ve never asked for the names of facilities, or doctors, or patients. Just total numbers,” she said.
She criticized the Ontario government for putting itself in a position of having to defend its decision to protect abortion statistics in a way no other medical information is protected.
“It goes to shows how important open, transparent and accountable government is. We are paying for these abortions so it's our right to know how many there are and what we are paying for them,” she said.
The judge postponed his ruling on the case until a later date.