Law Matters John Carpay

Law Matters John Carpay

Banning peaceful pro-life protests near abortion facilities is not about freedom of expression, claimed Alberta’s Health Minister Sarah Hoffman at a recent news conference. Yet she went on to say that her new law has been carefully crafted to withstand a constitutional challenge.

Why is the Minister preparing to withstand a constitutional challenge? Because she knows full-well that her new law tramples on free expression as protected by the Charter.

To justify new restrictions on the peaceful expression of opinion on public sidewalks, the Minister along with abortion clinic managers have lumped together “interference, bullying, intimidation, aggression, threats, harassment, shaming, yelling, screaming, and blocking access.” Abortion advocates speak as though these are legal activities, which need to be made illegal by the new law.

The truth is more complicated. Interference, bullying, intimidation, aggression, threats, harassment, shaming, yelling, screaming, and blocking access are already illegal, for the most part.

Regarding “aggression,” it is a criminal assault to push, shove, hit or punch someone, including any manner or level of unwanted touching.  Uttering threats of any kind is criminal. Period. Disturbing the peace by yelling and screaming is contrary to the Criminal Code of Canada, not to mention municipal noise bylaws.  It is criminal to block access to someone going about their business and engaging in legal activities (which includes getting an abortion). Criminal Code section 430 makes it illegal to “obstruct, interrupt, or interfere with the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of property.”

Interference, aggression, threats, yelling, screaming, and blocking access are already illegal. A new provincial law that bans these activities is useless duplication.

But what about bullying, intimidation, shaming and harassment?

Intimidation caused by physical blocking, interference or obstruction (conduct which the University of Alberta deliberately condones, when it’s perpetrated against pro-life students on campus) is already illegal.

Intimidation caused by threats (e.g. the environmentalist protester tells the logger: “chop down that tree, and I will chop you down”) is already illegal. Threatening harm to someone’s life or property is illegal. But threatening some form of moral consequences or psychological harm (for example, “you are on the wrong side of history” or, “karma will repay you for harming Mother Earth” or, “your lust for profits is killing workers”) is perfectly legal.

Intimidation caused by someone criticizing your behaviour is just part of living in a free country. How can citizens debate a topic (for example, President Trump’s foreign policy) without referring – directly or indirectly – to standards of good and evil? In free societies, government does not dictate the correct answers to difficult questions. In contrast, theocratic Iran and communist North Korea punish the “wrong” opinion (say, anti-Islamic speech in Iran or pro-capitalism speech in North Korea).

An oil company executive might feel “intimidated” when confronted by Greenpeace protesters on a public sidewalk, whom she cannot avoid seeing and hearing while on her way into her office building. But as long as environmentalists threaten no harm to her life or property, and do not physically obstruct her access to her office, any discomfort she may feel is simply part of living in a free country.

In a free society, nobody can be exempt from having her or his actions criticized as immoral by others. Witness the predictable litany of judgmental insults hurled by Social Justice Warriors: “racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic.” Should governments pass laws to create “safe” zones where no conservatives will hear such words?

What holds true for intimidation also holds true for bullying, shaming and harassment. If caused by threats, the threats are criminal conduct. If bullying, shaming and harassment consist of physical blocking or interference, they are also illegal.

Unless there are threats of harm, or actual physical interference, feelings of being “bullied, shamed and harassed” are normal in a free country, because people exercise their right to denounce conduct they believe to be wrong.

Contrary to the minister’s assertion, her new law to ban pro-life speech on public sidewalks near abortion clinics is all about speech, and nothing else. These laws, in Ontario as well as Alberta, squelch free speech while pretending to make illegal what is already illegal.

These new laws are about government deciding that the “wrong” opinion cannot be expressed peacefully in a public place, just because the government’s allies disagree with this “wrong” opinion. This law should therefore be resisted and rejected by all who cherish a free society, pro-choice and pro-life people alike.