Following in the footsteps of several Canadian university campuses that have attempted to squelch the pro-life point of view, the city of Hamilton earlier this year removed pro-life advertisements from its bus shelters, claiming they were “inappropriate” and “controversial.” But now, the Hamilton Right to Life organization is fighting back.
The local pro-life group has filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, naming the city, transit director Don Hull, general manager of public works Scott Stewart and Councillor Brian McHattie for allegedly violating its Charter right to free expression by pulling the benign ads, which featured the image of a pregnant woman and the question, “Abortion. Have we gone too far?”
It was Hull who had made the decision to remove the ads this past January, after two of them had been defaced with pro-abortion graffiti and three complaints had been received from the public.
A subsequent debate in the pages of the city’s daily newspaper saw 70 of 92 respondents say the city should not have removed the advertisements. But the city stuck to its guns and failed to put the advertisements back. Then, a firm handling advertisements for city buses called off a contract to run them on transit vehicles.
That set the stage for the filing of the complaint on March 26. It was formulated by Peter Boushy, a lawyer and the secretary for Hamilton Right to Life.
“It’s outrageous, in a free and democratic society, for one or two people on city council who probably, let’s face it, have an opposing viewpoint on the whole pro-life issue, to figure they have the right to simply take down the signs,” he said. “We weren’t even contacted … Hamilton Right to Life wasn’t even offered a courtesy call.”
Boushy said Hamilton Right to Life decided to pursue a human rights complaint, rather than a lawsuit or small claims court action – despite the poor reputation human rights commissions have come to have – because the former avenue “has a wider net. It’s got a greater message for society as a whole … What we wanted to do is widen the scope and importance of this particular issue, because we’re dealing with the rights of the unborn or, in our opinion, the rights the unborn should have.”
Indeed, if the intent of pro-abortion city representatives was to suppress the pro-life point of view, the tactic may well have backfired. The issue and the advertisement have received prominent exposure in local media, far more than would have been the case had the ads simply remained in bus shelters.
“We have received good publicity about this and many people have commented about seeing the (newspaper) articles,” said Hamilton Right to Life president Ted Slaman.
“The fight has already shown fruit,” said Boushy. “Let’s face it, it’s free advertising. And who knows, maybe there’s a young girl out there who has unbearable pressure put on her to have an abortion by a disgruntled boyfriend or whatever. Maybe this type of advertising is the extra support she needs to get the resolve, stand true and have the baby.”
The next step in the complaint process is a mediation attempt, before the matter moves to the investigative stage and a possible tribunal hearing.
“If the city council wants to reverse its decision, that would be excellent,” said Boushy. “If not, it’s going to be a long process, but we will, in the words of Saint Paul, fight the good fight. All the city of Hamilton has to do is back down, admit what they did was anti-democratic and simply put the posters up for eight weeks … We’d also like a written apology, quite frankly … (and) we’re asking for a total sum of one dollar – one Canadian dollar – in general damages.”
For their part, city personnel are not commenting on the human rights action, saying they have not seen the text of the complaint and have referred the matter to the city’s legal department.
Boushy said Hamilton Right to Life is fighting back “because the unborn deserve it.” He asked for prayer for the success of the effort, because “it’s an unbelievable travesty in my mind to have no law on the books regulating abortion. It’s outrageous and a sad commentary on our society.”