Search TAP

Abortion: Silencing dissent with permanent bubble zones 

Pro-life activist Linda Gibbons silently protesting outside a Toronto abortion clinic in 1999 when the temporary injunction was in place. She was arrested and jailed each time she walked within the so-called ‘bubble zone.’ (Photo: Sue Careless)

(Staff)  On Oct. 25th Ontario’s lawmakers passed legislation criminalizing pro-life speech and expression outside abortion clinics by a vote of 86-1.
Bill 163 automatically outlaws all pro-life activity – including sidewalk counselling and peacefully showing “disapproval” of abortion – within 50 metres of Ontario’s eight abortion centres, a distance that can be increased to 150 metres upon request.

Bill 163 also allows hospitals, pharmacies and healthcare facilities that do abortions – including providing the abortion pill – to apply for “bubble zones” banning all pro-life activity up to 150 metres away.

The Ontario law is modelled after similar laws in British Columbia, Quebec and Newfoundland, but carries heavier penalties. Individuals convicted of breaching Bill 163 face a fine of up to $5,000 and a jail sentence of up to six months, which increases to a fine of up to $10,000 and a jail sentence of up to one year for a second and subsequent conviction.

It will be an offence to stand within 50 metres of a clinic and “continuously and repeatedly observe” it for the purpose of dissuading an abortion service provider from providing abortion services, even if the person says nothing, offers no literature, carries no signs. It will be illegal to silently hold a sign, or to hand out a brochure. It will be possible to be arrested for faxing a letter to a pharmacy, seeking to dissuade it from selling abortion pills.

Indeed, the Act makes illegal any “act of disapproval concerning issues related to abortion services, by any means, including oral, written or graphic means” within 50 metres of a clinic (or other permitted distances, not exceeding 150 metres).

The opposition parties worked with the governing Liberals to fast-track Bill 163 into law.

In 1994 a temporary injunction was granted by Justice George Adams of the Ontario Court’s General Division, imposing specific limits on protesters who were ordered to stay 20 metres from abortion clinics and doctors’ offices in Toronto, London, Brantford and Kingston, and 160 metres from physicians’ homes. Adams declined to order that protesters stay more than 150 metres away from clinics, as the province had requested, and he also refused to impose restrictions on protesters outside hospitals.

In Canada abortion is legal on demand for any reason at any time. Polls show that most Canadians favour some restrictions on abortion.



Critics say the new law attempts to criminalize dissent. In his column in The National Post, Raymond de Souza wrote, “The police could arrest you if, a block down from an abortion clinic, you wore a t-shirt saying, ‘Canada should adopt Sweden’s abortion laws.’”

Bubble zone legislation is “an unjust denial of freedom of expression and Charter rights,” according to Ontario Civil Liberties Association executive director Joe Hickey.

“What’s at issue here is that we live in a democratic society. We have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Individuals have the freedom to protest. They have the freedom to do that in public spaces,” Hickey told The Catholic Register. “It’s simply wrong, and it’s not healthy for society, to start repressing people by removing that right,” he said.

The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) and the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) both spoke at committee hearings before the legislation passed.

CCRL president Phil Horgan, a Toronto lawyer, said he saw little evidence anybody is unable to access abortion services. “At the moment, people have access and it’s protesters’ rights that are under fire,” he said.

Horgan submitted a peer-reviewed study presented by abortion advocates and published last year in Canadian Family Physician that reported on a 2012 survey of abortion facilities across Canada.

Of the seven Ontario abortion facilities responding to a survey, one reported “no violence or harassment,” Horgan said. The other six abortion centres reported “picketing without interference,” and “zero picketing with interference, zero vandalism, zero other forms of violence or harassment including threatening emails or telephone calls,” he said. “The reality is a peaceful protest should not cause anybody harm. That’s democracy,” Horgan said.

Tabitha Ewert of ARPA said that Bill 163 was unnecessary and unconstitutional. “There is just no evidence that without this bill women’s safety or access to abortion would at all be infringed. … (W)e have Criminal Code prohibitions that prohibit such things as assault, threatening, intimidation or harassment,” Ewert said.

The bill is actually “about silencing dissent on the issue,” she said. “Protecting women’s rights or making a step forward for women’s rights, cannot include fining and imprisoning women who disagree,” noted Ewert. “And that is what this bill does. It says if you hold a certain opinion, you cannot express it. Your constitutional rights are not protected.”   TAP

–Several sources including The Catholic Register


Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.
Editor Permission Required
You must have editing permission for this entry in order to post comments.