The B.C. Court of Appeal has dismissed a challenge to the so-called bubble-zone law aimed at protecting women's access to abortion clinics in the province.
Donald David Spratt and Gordon Stephen Watson mounted the constitutional challenge after they were convicted of violations under the Access to Abortion Services Act in August 2000.
'You don't have freedom of speech in British Columbia — that's what that means.' — Donald David Spratt
Spratt and Watson were convicted because they protested within an "access zone" prohibited under the law outside a Vancouver abortion clinic. They carried signs and spoke against abortion to women entering and leaving the Everywoman's Health Centre, which first opened in 1988 and had been a continuing target of anti-abortionists.
The men appealed to the B.C. Supreme Court, but their case was dismissed in May 2002. Two years later they made their case to the Appeal Court on the grounds that the bubble zone law violated their rights of freedom and expression under the Charter of Rights.
The B.C. Court of Appeal ruling on Thursday said that while the right to oppose abortion is constitutionally protected, the purpose of the provincial law to protect vulnerable women and those who provide for their care justified limiting protesters' rights.
"The purpose or objective of the [Access to Abortion Services] Act is sufficiently important to justify a limitation on the way in which freedom of expression is exercised in an area adjacent to the facilities providing abortion services," it said.
The B.C. government enacted the law in June 1995, seven months after a Vancouver doctor who performed abortions was shot in his home and almost died. The bubble zone is an area within a 50-metre radius of a facility where anti-abortion protesters are not allowed.
Spratt and Watson said on Thursday the court's decision fails to protect free speech in B.C.
"You just heard a judge say you don't have freedom of speech in British Columbia — that's what that means," Watson said.
"Basically it means you have a two-tier system of justice," Spratt said. "If you're a pro-lifer or an unborn baby in this society your rights mean nothing."