City looks at alternative ways to restrict graphic anti-abortion flyers in the mail

Rather than banning graphic anti-abortion flyers from London mailboxes, city council is looking at alternative ways to make sure people who don’t want to see the images, won’t. This is after some councillors expressed concern that a ban may lead to legal battles.

Some councillors were concerned that a ban would lead to legal challenges

A Saskatoon man says he's shocked and offended by anti-abortion pamphlets that were distributed in his neighbourhood recently.
Complaints about graphic anti-abortion flyers in London began as far back as 2020. (Victoria Dinh/CBC)

Rather than banning graphic anti-abortion flyers from London mailboxes, city council is looking at alternatives ways to make sure people who don't want to see the images, won't.

Some councillors expressed concern that a ban could trigger legal battles.

City staff was asked by council to look at ways to make it mandatory for the flyers to be placed in a wrapper so images can't be seen, and that they include a warning. They're also asking that visible images be held to the same standard as outdoor public displays.

Coun. Steve Lehman wants an option that can stand up in court. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Coun. Steve Lehman didn't believe that the original draft bylaw banning the flyers would've had legs in court. 

"However, the referral and the concepts in that based on advice given, I think would have a chance," said Lehman, "and I would like to give our legal team the opportunity to craft something along those guidelines that would perhaps produce something that would stand up to court challenges, which would get us to where we want to go." 

Complaints about flyers began in 2020 after people found some with explicit images of terminated human fetuses, which were sent by the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform in Alberta. 

The city's community and protective services committee has been working on the bylaw since last year. 

"It's not about pro-life, pro-choice," said Coun. Mariam Hamou. "This doesn't have to do with abortion. This is about listening to the community who has asked us to protect them from these horrific images."

Council voted 11-2 in favour of referring the issue back to staff. That included Coun. Michael van Holst, who was against the original draft bylaw, which would've seen people distributing graphic flyers to homes would be fined $350 to $5000. 

The draft bylaw defines "graphic" as "a detailed pictorial image or series of images, containing potentially sensitive content that may cause or trigger a negative reaction to the health and wellbeing of any person at any scale."

"An example of a graphic image may include, but is not limited to, dismembered human beings or aborted fetuses," read the draft bylaw.