Graphic anti-abortion flyers trigger complaints to city hall

The City of London has received complaints about anti-abortion flyers distributed in London that feature graphic images of aborted fetuses.

Flyers distributed in London, Ont. show bloody images of aborted fetuses

A Saskatoon man says he's shocked and offended by anti-abortion pamphlets that were distributed in his neighbourhood recently.
The flyer shown in this photo was distributed by the anti-abortion group Canadian Centre For Bio-Ethical Reform in various Canadian cities back in 2015. The same group has been distributing flyers in London this month. (Victoria Dinh/CBC)

Some London residents are complaining to city hall after graphic anti-abortion flyers with images of aborted fetuses showed up in their mailboxes.

The flyers, which appear to have been distributed widely across London over the past few weeks, are produced by the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR). The Calgary-based group has branches across Canada and describes itself as "an educational human rights organization dedicated to speaking out on behalf of the youngest and most vulnerable members of the human family."

Some who've received the flyers say the images could traumatize children or women who've experienced pregnancy loss.   

Kelly Taylor received one of the flyers last week at her house in east London. 

"My six-year-old saw a bit of it, I had to grab it out of his hand," she said. "Kids don't need to see that stuff. There's no warning on it, no envelope." 

Taylor said she supports free speech and wouldn't be opposed to the flyers if they left out the photos of bloody fetuses. 

"The images are so graphic and so vile and offensive, that's why people are heated," she said. "People in the neighbourhood have posted that their children have seen these." 

The flyers prompted Deputy Mayor Jesse Helmer to write a post about it on his web page. It includes suggestions for how people can respond. 

"Some have described receiving the flyer as an assault," said Helmer in his post. " My heart goes out to everyone who has been harmed by the distribution of these flyers."

Deanna Ronson, a member of Pro-Choice London, says the images in the flyers have already been damaging. 

"We have received numerous messages from women who have been traumatized by receiving these flyers in their mailbox," she said.

The City of London doesn't have a bylaw that governs the content of flyers.

Some Toronto politicians have pushed for a ban on placards that CCBR supporters carry on downtown street corners. In SaskatoonCalgary and Surrey, B.C., people have complained about the CCBR's messaging, especially after children found the group's flyers in mailboxes.

One woman who complained about the flyers in London posted the response she received from Mayor Ed Holder's office on a public Facebook group. 

"We are very aware of this issue and have been working with staff to find a resolution," says the response letter from Holder's office. "However, unfortunately this is not a bylaw matter as it falls under the Charter of Rights (Freedom of Speech/Expression) and is not a violation of the bylaw despite the graphic images." 

Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, wrote back to the mayor arguing that the city already limits free speech in other ways, for example through public nuisance bylaws and through limits on advertising on city buses. 

Ronson is opposing the flyers on another front, arguing that they violate the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, which has in the past ruled that images of aborted fetuses in advertising violate the code. 

A spokesperson for Holder's office said they've raised the issue with the city's bylaw department after receiving a number of complaints and are looking into what options are available.

Other Canadian cities, including Calgary, have brought in bylaws that ban the delivery of flyers to residences that have put up a "no flyers" sign. The Calgary bylaw was a direct response to the group now distributing the flyers in London.

In Ottawa, people can opt into the city's voluntary admail reduction program by buying a $2 mailbox sticker from the city that says "no junk mail."

Pro-Choice London has written a letter to Holder and London city council, calling on them to create a similar bylaw.

A spokesperson of CCBR confirmed to CBC News that the group has also erected billboards with similar images at prominent London intersections.