Recipients of 'disturbing' anti-abortion flyers in Hamilton want halt to such deliveries
Similar flyers have been reported over the years, but cities like London, Ont., are working to curb harm
Hamilton residents say they want to know who's leaving graphic anti-abortion flyers in their mailboxes so they can urge them to stop delivering them.
Maggie Fox and Amiel Joseph are among those who received the flyers, which depict graphic images of aborted fetuses as well as pictures of fetuses in utero at several stages of development.
The flyers direct the public to the website for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR), which describes itself as working to "make abortion unthinkable."
Joseph described the images depicted in the flyer he received as "bloody" and "disturbing."
"I have a nine-year-old who could have found that," he wrote in a tweet posted Sunday. "There is nothing ethical about this."
Fox, who lives in Hamilton's west end, said she received the same flyer about a month ago. She called the phone number listed on it to complain, but it went straight to voicemail and she didn't leave a message.
"I'm not interested in seeing gory images of medical procedures in my mailbox," she told CBC Hamilton on Tuesday, noting she'd feel the same way about photos of a hip replacement or an eye surgery. "The other part of it is ... I am not interested in someone enforcing their Christian ideology. They have moral issues with certain medical procedures. I don't care. I am not interested in people's religious perspective in my mailbox."
U.S. group behind some images wants warning
The CCBR — which has offices in Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Calgary — refused a request to have CBC Hamilton connect with the local group distributing the flyers.
"The group asked that I respond to media requests on their behalf," Maaike Rosendal, a spokesperson for the CCBR, said in an email.
"CCBR works together with pro-life groups and individuals who, like the group in Hamilton, work year round to bring the photographic evidence of what abortion does to pre-born children to the attention of as many Canadians as possible."
She said that as a mother herself, she understands people would want to shield their children from such graphic images.
"Just like parents would do anything to protect their born children from being hurt, we want to ensure that pre-born children have the same kind of protection."
The flyer cites material from The Grantham Collection, an online archive of abortion photos, as well as from the Life Issues Institute, an Ohio-based anti-abortion group that is the source of the fetus images.
Life Issues Institute president Brad Mattes said while his organization believes there's a place for these types of images in the anti-abortion movement, it doesn't condone showing them to people who haven't been warned.
"We support the use of graphic images in the proper context, that is, with a clear caution that the material includes such images so that the person receiving it is able to refrain from seeing them," he wrote in an email to CBC Hamilton. "I saw no such caution on this brochure, so Life Issues Institute would not agree to having our non-graphic fetal development image included."
He didn't respond to questions about whether his group would ask CCBR to remove its photo from their flyers.
Some cities limit graphic flyer distribution
Some Canadian cities have moved to address the types of materials that people receive in the mail.
Last month, the City of London, Ont., passed a bylaw requiring materials with graphic imagery to be delivered in an envelope bearing a warning.
The bylaw was in response to flyers being dropped in plain view, something critics said had the potential to cause psychological harm, particularly to children or people who've experienced pregnancy loss. A city committee found an outright ban could trigger legal battles. A conviction under the new law comes with a fine of at least $350.
Calgary, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Halifax have varying anti-flyer bylaws as well, although only Calgary's was developed in specific response to anti-abortion materials.
The Ontario government had been considering a similar law, proposed by three London MPPs in 2021. Bill 259, Viewer Discretion Act (Images of Fetuses), only made it to the first reading stage.
Joyce Arthur, executive director of the B.C.-based Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC), said she reached out to the City of Hamilton in recent years to advocate for a graphic imagery bylaw, but did not hear back.
"The municipality… is not very responsive," she said in a phone interview Wednesday from Vancouver.
CBC Hamilton reached out to the city for comment Wednesday, but had not yet heard back at time of publication.
Aside from demanding such a bylaw from city councillors, Hamilton households that don't want to receive such materials can use provincial trespassing legislation to stop the deliveries, Arthur said. She instructs residents to place a "no flyers" sign on their mailbox. If they continue to receive them, they should send a letter to the creator of the materials stating that they have trespassed. If the flyers still show up, residents can inform police and ask to lay charges,
She said there is comparable anti-trespassing legislation in all provinces except Quebec, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Arthur said the distribution of graphic, anti-abortion images is more prevalent in Ontario than the rest of the provinces, and the CCBR is the largest purveyor of such materials nationally.
"These activities change very few minds on abortion, but they do cause many citizens to become upset and irate, resulting in complaints to local governments and police," Arthur wrote in an ARCC post on how to take action against such images.
While Ontario residents, including those in Hamilton, have reported receiving similar flyers over the years, Arthur said recent discussions over abortion rights in the U.S. serve as a reminder that groups like hers "have to stay really vigilant and always be fighting," she said.
With files from Andrew Lupton, Angela McInnes