Members of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform unfurl a banner depicting abortion on a bridge overpass in Hamilton in 2013.

The activism of Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform has attracted the attention of municipal officials in Hamilton. City councillor Terry Whitehead put forth a motion on June 11, requesting that the provincial and federal governments, “prevent the use of graphic, gruesome and disturbing images of aborted fetuses in display materials, advertising posters, banners, and other mediums as part of any Anti-Abortion or Pro-Life campaign, at least to the extent that such images are shielded from children and other vulnerable persons.” Whitehead had reportedly received numerous complaints in response to CCBR’s postcard project. The lengthy motion, which passed unanimously, can be read in its entirety on Whitehead’s website.

Hamilton Spectator columnist Susan Clairmont, reported that the motion will “be forwarded to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the federal and provincial governments.”
She quoted Whitehead saying, “this is clearly not about picking sides. It’s about protecting children from graphic, gory, inappropriate images.” According to Clairmont, Whitehead “calls the CCBR’s approach a ‘shock and awe’ campaign.” She also reports that motion is inspired by “legislation in Colorado that came about after pro-life protesters displayed graphic images near an outdoor Palm Sunday church service in 2005.” The Colorado Court of Appeals “upheld the order in April 2012 and recently the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear the case, leaving the lower court’s decision to stand.”

Stephanie Gray, executive director of CCBR, told The Interim, “it is troubling that the city of Hamilton is working to stop the circulation of images of abortion victims, rather than working to stop the making of abortion victims.”

Gray explained, “if the images of abortion are so terrible then how much more terrible is the action of abortion? Why isn’t Hamilton demanding the federal government ban the killing of the youngest among us?”

Gray said that no legal challenge can be pursued as of yet, since neither the provincial nor federal governments have taken action against the photos CCBR use in their activism. John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, agreed with this assessment. He told The Interim, “government can place limits on freedom of expression, but it has to apply to all forms of expression,” so he doubted that Whitehead’s request targeting specific kinds of expression might not stand a court challenge.

The Spectator quoted Cara Zwibel, director of the Fundamental Freedoms Program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, who is not a fan of the sort of ban for which Whitehead is calling. “I’m not keen to see a law that deals with this particular problem,” Zwibel said. “I’m not generally in favour of laws that are enacted to silence expression.”

Instead, Zwibel would rather see “‘counter speech,’ which she calls ‘democratic and self-empowering’,” a clash of ideas in the public square, rather than government deciding which views are permitted to be shared and which ones are verboten.