Anti-abortion activist says 'safe zones' around clinics would violate free speech rights

The Alberta government’s proposed law to curtail protests outside Alberta abortion clinics is an infringement on free expression rights, according to a Calgary activist.

Proposed legislation carries $10,000 fine for repeat offenders

Under a proposed law in Alberta, anti-abortion protesters would be required to remain outside a 50-metre zone around the medical clinics. (Canadian Press)

The Alberta government's proposed law to curtail protests outside Alberta abortion clinics is an infringement on free expression rights, according to one Calgary activist.

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

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

Karen Bout, a member of the Calgary chapter of 40 Days for Life — a religious-based anti-abortion organization, says her group's right to freedom of speech is being violated.

"And I'm also deeply concerned that this will impact down the road other groups that want to have freedom of expression and freedom of assembly we see now, for example, environmental groups that are protesting their concerns regarding the pipeline," she said.

Pam Krause, CEO of the Calgary Sexual Health Centre — which provides counselling services for pregnant girls and women among its other services, says the law is necessary.

"This is a legal medical procedure. No other legal medical procedure would you be harassed, yelled at, shown pictures," she said.

Bout says her group, which stages regular protests near the Kensington Clinic, does not use intimidation or harassment tactics.

"I have never seen that and I challenge the directors of the clinics and the health minister to provide evidence of that," she said.

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

Stiff penalties proposed

Under Alberta's proposed law, the maximum penalty for a first offence would be a $5,000 fine 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.

Protesters also would 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 Kensington Clinic has had an injunction against protesters since 2003.

But according to Celia Posyniak, executive director of that clinic, the court order carries no real consequences for people who breach it, which she says occurs frequently.