British Columbia

B.C. judge rejects anti-abortion ads on Vancouver-area buses

Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform argued its right to free speech was violated by transit authority

Transit bus TransLink

The Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform wanted to display graphic anti-abortion ads on buses in the Lower Mainland. (CBC)

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An anti-abortion group will not be allowed to plaster Metro Vancouver buses with graphic ads that claim "Abortion Kills Children," following a judgment in B.C. Supreme Court.

The proposed ads from the Calgary-based Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform also showed images of fetuses, purportedly at seven and 16 weeks' gestation, along with the website address "endthekilling.ca."

The South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority turned down the ads in 2015, and the group filed an application for judicial review alleging that its Charter right to free speech was violated.

But Justice Peter Leask wrote Wednesday that the decision to reject the ads was appropriate.

"In conveying its moral opposition to abortion, the petitioner was not required to depict fetuses or use the term 'killing,'" Leask wrote.

"The respondent made it clear to the petitioner that it was free to submit a new advertisement conveying its message of the immorality of abortion without using the images of fetuses to do so."

Issues with advertising standards code

Executives with Lamar Transit Advertising, which manages ads for Metro Vancouver's transit system, said they originally turned down the anti-abortion ad because of a corporate policy barring materials that are "of questionable taste or in any way offensive," according to the judgment.

Later, the transit authority asked for an opinion from Advertising Standards Canada. The independent body said the ad would likely raise issues under the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, particularly around the accuracy of the suggestions that abortion kills actual children and that most abortions happen after 16 weeks.

The transit authority also contended that it had a responsibility to provide "an efficient, safe, and welcoming transit system," and the ad in question could cause psychological harm to women and children.

The judge found that argument compelling.

"While women are not as vulnerable to graphic imagery as children, clearly comparing women who have had abortions to 'killers' is content that many members of the general public, especially women, would find disturbing," Leask wrote.

He went on to say that if anyone had visited endthekilling.ca, they would have found "extreme content," including images of dismembered fetuses.

Representatives of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

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