Bill to set 50-metre, no-protester zone around Alberta abortion clinics

Protesters who repeatedly violate a “safe zone” proposed for Alberta’s two stand-alone abortion clinics could face a maximum $10,000 fine under proposed legislation introduced Thursday.

'It is a great day for women who need this': Proposed legislation carries $10,000 fine for repeat offenders

A new Alberta bill will prohibit protesters from coming within a 50-metre radius of standalone abortion clinics in Edmonton and Calgary. (Alberta Government)

Protesters who repeatedly violate a "safe zone" proposed for Alberta's two stand-alone abortion clinics could face a maximum $10,000 fine under proposed legislation introduced Thursday.

Bill 9, the Protecting Choice for Women Accessing Health Care Act, would mean protesters could not stand within 50-metre zones of the Kensington Clinic in Calgary and Women's Health Options in Edmonton.

"It is a great day for women who need this," a visibly emotional Kim Cholewa, clinic manager at Woman's Health Options, said at a news conference following the bill's introduction. "It's about time." 

Seventy-five per cent of surgical abortions in Alberta are performed at those clinics. The rest are performed inside hospitals.

Protesters would also be prohibited from taking video or photographs or making audio recordings of patients, doctors and staff entering or exiting the clinic.

Doctors and other service providers could also apply for a zone of up to 20 metres around their offices and 160 metres around their homes.

The bill also prohibits anti-abortion protesters from repeatedly contacting physicians through letters, emails or phone calls.

The proposed maximum penalty for a first offence would be $5,000 and/or six months in jail. Corporations would face a maximum fine of $25,000.

The maximum penalty for repeat violations of the law is a $10,000 fine for individuals and or a year in jail. A corporation that repeatedly violates the law could face a $100,000 fine.

Injunctions carry no weight

Both the Calgary and Edmonton clinics have injunctions against protesters but they carry no consequences unless people refuse to follow police orders to leave.

An anti-abortion outreach centre called The Back Porch is located next to Women's Health Options, and is sometimes confused for the clinic. 

Samantha Williams with The Back Porch says the bill is an infringement on people's right to express their opinions about abortion. She said protesters are simply standing on the sidewalk and praying.

"I don't think that constitutes intimidation, or harassment, or threatening," she said. "I think that is irresponsible and dangerous to say that about people."

But Cholewa says that isn't true. 

"We see it with our own eyes that this is happening," she said. "We hear it even within our own walls of people across the street yelling at our patients."

"It is not true and we have had to call the police numerous times."

Kenney a factor?

The United Conservative Party Official Opposition is reserving comment on Hoffman's bill until the caucus can study it more carefully.

UCP Leader Jason Kenney is opposed to abortion but has said he has no plans to change the situation in Alberta. 

Hoffman dismissed suggestions the bill's timing was a political tactic, claiming concern about women's safety is the main motivation. She said the process started last year when abortion clinics asked to look at implementing safe zones.

When pushed on the issue, Hoffman acknowledged anti-abortion groups emboldened by Kenney's entrance into Alberta provincial politics were also a factor. 

"As a woman in Alberta, when I heard that there were anti-choice groups encouraging people to buy memberships for his leadership because of his history ... as a woman, I became immediately concerned," Hoffman said.

"I happen to be in a position where I can act to make life safer and health-care services more accessible for women."

Four Canadian provinces already have safe-zone legislation: British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.