Fr. Tony Van Hee, who was arrested Oct. 24 for violating Ontario’s anti-free speech bubble zone around abortion facilities, is mounting a constitutional challenge of the law.
The Ontario bubble zone law, the Safe Access to Abortion Services Act, prohibits pro-life demonstrations and communications within at least 50 metres of abortion facilities in the province – abortuaries can petition for larger exclusion zones – and came into force last February. Fr. Van Hee was the second person charged with violating the law.
But Fr. Van Hee, a Jesuit famous for his pro-life witness on Parliament Hill, just blocks away from the abortuary on Bank Street in downtown Ottawa, was not partaking in a pro-life demonstration. Rather he was demonstrating against the bubble zone itself. The 83-year-old priest had a sandwich board, which said on one side, “The Primacy of Free Speech: Cornerstone of Western Civilization,” and on the other, “Without Free Speech The State is a Corpse.”
Constitutional lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos, who is representing Fr. Van Hee, said the case has been adjourned until Jan. 24 after it was transferred to the Ontario Court of Justice because a judge, and not a justice of the peace, cannot strike down legislation if it is found unconstitutional.
At the request of Fr. Van Hee, Campaign Life Coalition launched a crowdfunding campaign to help with the costs of the constitutional challenge, which is expected to hit six-figures. Polizogopoulos told the Catholic Register, “These kinds of cases are generally quite expensive.” Thus far, the campaign has raised just under $7,000.
Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast has provided financial and moral support. In a letter to his fellow Jesuit, Archbishop Prendergast wrote that his financial support, “comes with the assurance of my prayers for the cause, and for you as well as my fraternal support.”
CLC national president Jeff Gunnarson told The Interimthat he is glad the bubble zone’s constitutionality is finally being challenged because “it is obviously a violation of the Charter rights of freedoms of speech, assembly, and conscience.” He said it is incumbent upon the pro-life community and all churches to support Fr. Van Hee’s “courageous and much-needed challenge to the injustice of the bubble zone law.”