Alberta to introduce 'safe zones' around abortion clinics

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman was short on details, as she didn’t want to break rules on parliamentary privilege, but said the government is looking at what other Canadian provinces have in place.

Similar laws have been passed in B.C., Quebec, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador

Anti-abortion demonstrators rallied in Ottawa when Ontario's new law on safe access zones came into force in February. (Idil Mussa/CBC)

The Alberta government will introduce a bill Thursday to establish "safe zones" around abortion clinics, a move aimed at protecting women, staff and physicians from being harassed by protesters.

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman was short on details Wednesday, as she didn't want to break rules on parliamentary privilege, but said the government is looking at what other Canadian provinces have in place.

"No one should have to deal with shouts, threats or other intimidation while receiving or providing this service," Hoffman said, noting abortion has been legal in Canada for decades and covered under the Canada Health Act.

"They should be free from intimidation and harassment with their safety, health and privacy intact."

Hoffman said B.C. has had safe-zone laws in effect for 20 years. Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador have recently enacted similar legislation.

The Ontario law, which came into effect Feb. 1, bans protesting within a 50-metre radius of an abortion clinic. 

Hoffman was joined at Wednesday's news conference by Celia Posyniak, executive director of the Kensington Clinic in Calgary, who expressed support for safe zone legislation.

"I'd like people to be able to freely enter the clinic without having to face a barrage of signs or being heckled at," she said. "I'd like there to be some consequences if (protesters) do violate the legislation."

Kensington Clinic has had an injunction against protesters since 2002.

Posyniak said she would welcome legislation that would ensure protesters face consequences for harassing clients and staff.  Under the injunction, all police can do right now is remove the protesters.

"They don't take names and that person may come back the next day and do exactly the same thing," she said. "The only way there is a consequence is if that person refuses to follow the police instruction to move on."

Hoffman denied the timing of the legislation had anything to do with Jason Kenney becoming leader of the Official Opposition United Conservative Party.

Kenney has expressed anti-abortion views in the past.

UCP House Leader Jason Nixon was taking questions for Kenney, who was ill on Wednesday. Nixon said his party won't comment on legislation they haven't seen. 

"We haven't had any phone calls about this, we're not hearing from a lot of constituents about this," he said. "But that doesn't mean the legislation doesn't have value. We'll look at the bill and we'll go from there." 

Liberal MLA David Swann has heard complaints from constituents about harassment. The Kensington Clinic is in his constituency of Calgary-Mountain View. 

"I think it's time," Swann said. "I think people, both patients and staff, need to feel safe and they need to be able to come to work and know that they're not going to be harassed." 

Posyniak said she sought help from the Progressive Conservative government in the 1990s but never received a response.

She wrote Hoffman last year asking for help.