On Sept. 5, the British Columbia Court of Appeal affirmed a lower court decision which found that the bubble zone law prohibiting pro-life protests or sidewalk counselling within a 50-meter access zone to abortion facilities does not violate the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In December 1998, Gordon Watson and Don Spratt were arrested when they held wooden crosses and signs that said “Abortion is murder” and “Unborn persons have a right to live” outside the Everywoman Health Centre abortion facility in Vancouver. They were charged with violating the province’s Access to Abortion Services Act.

Several intervenors in the decade-old case argued that the law violates constitutionally protected rights of free speech and expression, including the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Canadian Nurses for Life and a coalition of religious groups that included the Catholic Civil Rights League and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

Both courts upheld the law by invoking Section 1 of the Charter to find the bubble zone restrictions on pro-life witnessing as a “reasonable limitation on the freedom of expression” in order to protect both abortion facility staff and clients. The Court of Appeal was unwilling to restrict the application of the law to violent and threatening behaviour.

Joanne McGarry of the Catholic Civil Rights League said the bubble zone law ensures that only pro-abortion information is provided within 50 meters of any abortion facility.

Prior to and following the Court of Appeal judgement, Vancouver pro-life activist Sissy von Dehn was inside the bubble zone distributing information to passersby near Everywoman’s to inform them  that they risked arrest if they so much as discussed the subject of abortion. When police were called to the scene, they emerged after 45 minutes inside the abortuary and spoke with von Dehn to tell her she was not breaking the Access to Abortion Services Act. They told her that while staff at the facility were upset, she was not breaking the law because she was merely informing people of the bubble zone law rather than about abortion.

Von Dehn has vowed to continue informing the public about the bubble zone law.

“If the truth be told, this legislation is actually supposed to be posted on all entrances to the abortion facility, and this hasn’t been done in spite of a court ruling,” John Hof, president of Campaign Life Coalition B.C., told B.C. Catholic.

Also, in June, the Quebec Supreme Court rendered a judgement forbidding Rénald Veilleux, a pro-life activist in the Gatineau area, to protest  in front of the Clinique des Femmes de l’Outaouais. Judge André Roy explained the need to protect both the right to privacy of people seeking ‘medical services’ and the right to free speech of Veilleux and others who wanted to protest in front of the facility.

Roy explained that the request to have the injunction be applied to a zone of 150 meters was unreasonable, as it would not give protestors the ability to express their position against abortion. However, protestors will be permanently forbidden to demonstrate in a perimeter to be established by the court.