Restrictive freedom of speech bill draws little opposition

On June 27, 1995 one of the most restrictive freedom of speech bills in all of North America passed in the BC Legislature with an over-whelming majority and scarcely a word of opposition was heard. Bill 48, also known as the Access to Abortion Services Act was designed specifically to make illegal what was once legal. That is, peaceful opposition to abortion is no longer allowed in various “access zones.”

The “access zone” includes the homes and offices of abortionists, hospitals that provide abortions and abortion mills themselves. The gag bubble extends 50 metres around hospitals and abortion mills, and extends 160 metres around the homes of abortionists and their co-workers. Another 10 metre zone has been established around the offices of doctors who perform abortions.

What Formerly legal activity is restricted?

It is now against the law to communicate, whether by protest or prayer, any opposition to abortion within the zones…as well as any and all sidewalk counselling. B.C. Health Minister Paul Ramsey noted that even certain passages of the Koran or Bible would be forbidden to be read in the “zones” if they were “designed as an act of disapproval.”

It is illegal to photograph sketch, film or videotape anyone within a access zone.

It is illegal to repeatedly contact medical students with materials that would attempt to talk them out of a career as the local abortionist.

To say the pro-life movement in B.C. was outraged is an understatement.

But what was surprising is the sympathy generated by those who are traditionally pro-abortion.

John Westwood of the BC Civil Liberties Association issued a press release and challenged the BC NDP government for treading “unnecessarily on the right of British Columbians to freedom of speech.”

Westwood went on to say that the legislation “prohibits activities within those zones which we judge should be allowed – namely, advising persons not to access abortion, provide information about abortions, and picketing or handing out leaflets related to abortion.”

The Globe and Mail agreed. In an editorial published on June 22, 1995, it stated: “…handing out leaflets and carrying placards outside an abortion clinic fall well within the bounds of legitimate protest in a free society.”

The editorialist added: “…the British Columbia government has overstepped itself, compromising the rights of peaceful protesters.”

Both the Pro-Life Society of British Columbia and Campaign Life Coalition B.C. are investigating the feasibility of mounting a court challenge. Stated CLC BC President John Hof: “We need to look at all our options…being very careful in what we do and how we go about it. But there is no doubt that some type of challenge to this draconian law will come about. Sooner than later.”

Bill 48 was introduced and rammed through the house by BC Health Minister Paul Ramsey. It is speculated that it is really Attorney General Colin Gabelmann’s bill, but because of his secret meeting with the pro-abortion groups (which led to him signing a false affidavit_ it was found to be politically necessary for Ramsey to introduce the bill.

Unlike the Ontario injunction, Bill 48 does not identify locations of homes, offices or hospitals. Nor does it list alleged incidents of “harassment.” Nor did the government have to prove if any threat even existed in British Columbia.

The Interim has learned that the special Criminal Harassment Unit set up by the government to investigate abortion related harassment found absolutely no proof of any criminal activity occurring. Despite a freedom of information request, the NDP government refuses to release a report that many pro-lifers say will exonerate the movement.

Even the BC Civil Liberties Association found that: “We are not persuaded that peaceful protest, or the peaceful expression of views, so interfere with women’s access to abortion that a constitutionally protected right to free speech must be overridden.”

Pro-lifers insist that, if unchallenged, the Access to Abortion Services Act will rear its ugly head again in some other jurisdiction in North America. They add that pro-lifers throughout Canada should be concerned…and alarmed.