Ontario’s Attorney General Marion Boyd says that standing peacefully holding a sign which says “Stop Abortion” could be considered “insulting, abusive or defamatory.”
She has applied for an injunction which would make it illegal to hold signs or peacefully counsel women outside 23 sites across Ontario.
Boyd faced intense questioning about her motives in seeking the injunction barring pro-life picketing across the province on December 10. The cross-examination by the lawyers representing pro-life defendants in the case was recently made public.
The Attorney General admitted that picketing is a traditional form of expression for Canadian citizens and that it is not only used in labour disputes. But she added that this right does not extend to pro-life picketing in front of certain sites in the province.
David Brown, one of the three lawyers representing the 18 pro-life defendants, asked her if she thinks it is legitimate conduct for people to conduct themselves “quietly on public property and in a non-violent manner.”
Boyd’s answer made it clear her support of free expression stops when it comes to pro-life expression.
“And again, I would say to you that I’m not going to answer that categorically, because it depends on the context,” Boyd replied to Brown’s question, “it depends on the location and the circumstances…and I would say to you that I think you cannot ignore what the messages are that the people might be carrying.”
When asked whether the injunction she was seeking would “limit the ability of a group of people to exercise their right of freedom of expression,” she answered “of very specified locations, yes, that would be the effect.”
David Brown, by Boyd’s own words, the injunction is “content specific.” He said the Attorney General is only going after pro-life picketing. “The Attorney General, it is submitted, has adopted a separate standard of personal responsibility when dealing with anti-abortion protestors,” Brown said in documents filed with the court. “A person’s belief in an idea rather than a person’s conduct, appears to be the basis upon which the Attorney General determines whether an individual anti-abortion protestor has committed a public nuisance.”
Boyd refused to elaborate on the connection between pro-abortion lobby groups and her government’s policies. The Report of the Task Force into Access to Abortion Services called for a province-wide injunction at the end of 1992. The decision to go for the court order was made the following April. Boyd said the Task Force Report and the injunction “have little or no connection to each other.” Brown said the injunction “was a direct response to the Report.”
Her action arose from a meeting which she, the Minister of Health and the Solicitor General attended with representatives of CARAL, the abortion clinics and other abortionists.