VANCOUVER, B.C., September 5, 2008 – The Catholic Civil Rights League today commented on the decision of the BC Court of Appeal to reject the appeal of Donald Spratt and Gordon Watson in the so-called “bubble zone” case regarding protest in the vicinity of abortion clinics in B.C..
In a unanimous decision released yesterday, three justices acknowledged that the bubble zone restriction infringes free speech rights under the Charter, but said the infringement was justified to protect access of abortion service providers and their patients to these facilities.
The League, together with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Christian Legal Fellowship, sought to allow an accommodation of peaceful or religious protest, such as that in which Spratt and Watson had engaged. Instead, the unanimous court determined that the right to freedom of expression was to be sublimated to the current unfettered licence to abortion services. In effect, the bubble zones are one-sided information zones, limited to pro-abortion viewpoints.
The B.C. Access to Abortion Services Act is the only legislation of its kind in Canada. The B.C. Court of Appeal now has endorsed what is acknowledged to be the suspension of civil liberties of peaceful and religious protests in such bubble zones, as the broad protection proposed by the statute is justified in their view.
This case arises from the BC residents’ December, 1998 conviction under the B.C. Access to Abortion Services Act, on charges of making a “protest” and “sidewalk interference” resulting in a 30-day sentence. Mr. Spratt said he was compelled by his religious beliefs to protest the Act, viewing it as evil as abortion itself. Mr. Spratt’s “protest” consisted of carrying a nine-foot cross with a sign saying “You Shall Not Murder” and speaking about God’s forgiveness and repentance for sin. Mr. Watson’s messages were based on considerations of health and politics, including efforts to raise the issue of adverse consequences of abortion to one’s future health. Both acknowledged that they were within the proscribed zone, an irregular-shaped area ranging from 25 metres to 45 metres around an abortion clinic, but challenged the law itself.
Despite the fact that their protests were peaceful in nature, and the fact that the provisions also ban handing out leaflets or praying on a public sidewalk that is within an access zone, the court chose to rely upon arguments that suggested larger scale protests could lead to the possible intimidation of abortion service providers and those seeking an abortion. In fact, the current law likely makes it an offence for medical information of any kind to be provided within the subject zones, unless it is provided by the abortion provider.
A recent cultural example may be helpful to put the issue in perspective. In the recent award winning film, Juno, there is a scene where a high school-aged pro life supporter suggests to the main character prior to her entrance into an abortion facility that her unborn baby has finger nails. In the film, the disclosure has an impact on the fictional character’s decision-making process. That presentation, while fictional, would not be allowed to occur in British Columbia, owing to the court’s acceptance of a strict opposition to the exchange of such views within the bubble zone of clinics in B.C.
The Court of Appeal has effectively ruled that these bubble zones are to be limited to pro-abortion activities. Presumably the court believes women in B.C. cannot be exposed even to the peaceful presentation of other choices and information, even if based on a growing recognition of negative post-abortion medical consequences.
The appellants have not as yet announced whether they will seek to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Catholic Civil Rights League (www.ccrl.ca) assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization and has chapters across Canada. The Catholic Civil Rights League is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.
For further information: Joanne McGarry, Executive Director, 416-466-8244; firstname.lastname@example.org