This Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform ad will soon be running on buses in Peterborough, Ont. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform

Controversial pro-life ad gets OK for Peterborough buses

  • August 31, 2016

After more than a year and a half wait, a Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform pro-life advertisement is set to run on Peterborough Transit buses.

The advertisement, which the CCBR first proposed in January of 2015, contains two pictures of growing fetuses with the words “growing, growing gone. Abortion kills children.”

The City of Peterborough had originally refused to run the ad “on the basis that the city considered that it was divisive and controversial,” said Carol Crosson, the lawyer who represented the CCBR. “(But) my client’s argument was that if others want to speak they should allow messages that are contrary. Free speech slices both ways.”

According to a press release issued Aug. 25 by the CCBR, the Ontario Divisional Court issued a consent order in which the City of Peterborough agreed to allow the pro-life message on the exterior of its buses.

Patricia Lester, city solicitor and director of legal service for the City of Peterborough, said originally the city feared the impact the pro-life message may have on ridership.

“The city believed that the proposed advertisement might undermine the city’s objective of increasing ridership and providing an important service to all of our residents within the city,” she said. “On further review and discussion with the CCBR we acknowledge that advocacy advertisement is expressive speech entitled to protection under Section 2(b) (of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms).”

Section 2(b) provides protection of everyone’s right to freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media.

In 2009 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that this freedom extended to political advertising on public transit. The courts then said that citizens, including bus riders, are expected to put up “with some controversy in a free and democratic society.”

Crosson said the right to freedom of expression is integral to democracy.

“Throughout the ages free speech has stood out as the cornerstone of democracy,” she said. “In fact the courts have said that the first step taken by totalitarian regimes is to muzzle the media and then the individual to prevent the sharing of opinions. And so by the courts protecting free speech they are encouraging democratic principles.”

Currently the CCBR and the City of Peterborough are working out the details to get the pro-life message rolling down the streets on city buses.

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