Civil liberties association steps into fray

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association unexpectedly entered a battle for freedom of speech on the abortion issue, acting as intervenor on behalf of a Saskatchewan nurse sued for demonstrating against abortion.

The CCLA filed an affadavit declaring that the organization backed the rights of pro-life nurse Bill Whatcott, who in 2004 was fined $15,000 and given a 45-day suspension after the Saskatchewan Licensed Practical Nurses Association Discipline Tribunal found him guilty of two counts of professional misconduct for picketing in front of Planned Parenthood Regina. PPR had sued Whatcott for demonstrating outside the facility carrying signs that stated, “Planned Parenthood will give you AIDS” and “Planned Parenthood corrupts your people.” Another sign referring to the organization as “baby killers.”

Whatcott refused to pay the fine and has been suspended indefinitely.

His legal defence has fought the ruling in lower courts for the past three years – the case is soon to go before the Saskatchewan Supreme Court.

CCLA general counsel A. Alan Borovoy filed the affadavit defending Whatcott’s position, stating that “it is on the issue of Mr. Whatcott’s freedom of expression that the CCLA seeks to intervene.”

Borovoy stated the CCLA is primarily concerned with the “protection of civil liberties and the promotion and legal protection of individual freedom and dignity against unreasonable invasion by public authority.”

The CCLA expressed concern for Whatcott’s freedom of speech rights, despite the organization’s long history, as Borovoy’s document states, of advocating for access to abortion in Canada. In fact, Borovoy stated that the CCLA “repudiates the content of Mr. Whatcott’s expression” during his pro-life demonstration.

Nevertheless, Borovoy stated, “It is fundamental to democracy that individuals be able to comment on the morality of others’ behaviour. Indeed, norms of behaviour must generally be debatable. Through such democratic processes, people are assisted in reaching their own conclusions as to what behaviours should be permitted, encouraged, discouraged or forbidden.”

Whatcott argued that his actions in demonstrating before PPR expressed his own personal views and had no connection to his profession as a nurse.

The CCLA defended its request for intervenor status by pointing out that the case involved issues of “broad public and legal significance that concern the rights of all Canadians,” and that the CCLA’s history and expertise would provide a “helpful contribution to the resolution of the appeal.”

“The CCLA is concerned about the implications and consequences of this appeal for the rights and freedoms of all Canadians. The CCLA seeks to ensure that the issues are approached with due consideration for the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Charter and that those freedoms are properly reflected in the resolution of this appeal.”

This article originally appeared March 19 at and is reprinted with permission.