New “bubble zone” legislation may force the National March for Life to alter the route of its annual march through the streets of Ottawa.The Ontario law prevents abortion protests within 50 metres of an abortion clinic. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Pro-life advocates prepare for implementation of abortion bubble zone on Feb. 1

  • January 19, 2018

OTTAWA – Pro-life advocates are making plans to address a new law in Ontario that will create “bubble zones” around abortion facilities and likely force the National March for Life in Ottawa to find a new route.

The new law, which comes into effect Feb. 1, establishes a 50-metre no-protest zone around eight abortion facilities in Ontario and a 150-metre zone around the homes of doctors and others involved in providing abortion services. Beginning in February, hospitals and pharmacies can also apply to have so-called bubble zones implemented around their premises.

The new law makes it an offence inside a bubble zone to show any type of disapproval “concerning issues related to abortion services, by any means, including oral, written or graphic means.” First-time offenders face fines of up to $5,000 and six months in jail.

The National March for Life held in May, which attracts upwards of 20,000 pro-life advocates, has traditionally passed in front of the Morgentaler abortion facility in downtown Ottawa. The new law will likely force organizers to find a new route because it will be illegal for people to carry a pro-life sign or speak against abortion within 50 metres of any abortion clinic.

Sgt. Martin Groulx of the Ottawa Police Service’s special events team said that, as he understands it, something as simple as entering a bubble zone while wearing a pro-life t-shirt or cap would be a violation.

Groulx has been in contact with organizers of the March and will meet with them after police receive guidelines on how they are expected to enforce the new law. He anticipates an educational period, but those who have been warned can expect the police to enforce the new law, he said. Organizers say they have “an excellent and long-standing relationship” with Groulx.

Finding a suitable route for the March would become even more difficult under the new law if many of the dozens of pharmacies in Ottawa successfully apply to create bubble zones around their premises.

Chris Murawsky, manager of the Ottawa office of Campaign Life Coalition which organizes the March, plans to meet with police after the law comes into effect Feb. 1, before he applies the following month for the permit to hold the March.

“We want to go as usual and do our regular March,” he said.

Campaign Life may challenge the bubble-zone legislation in court on the basis that it violates free speech.

“We are in ongoing discussion with our lawyers,” said Matt Wojciechowski at Campaign Life Coalition headquarters in Toronto.

The bubble zone legislation was prompted by news reports in Ottawa of individuals “wearing sandwich boards” who harassed and spit at women as they entered the Morgentaler clinic on Bank St. However, Cyril Winter is the only protestor who wears a sandwich board and he claims he is the one who has been spit at. The retired tradesman said he has never spit at or harassed a woman entering the clinic.

Not long after the bill was passed in the fall, Ottawa police ordered Winter to move away from the clinic otherwise “they were going to arrest me,” Winter said in an interview.

Winter, who wears a sandwich board featuring graphic pictures of aborted babies, “stood his ground” and videotaped an Ottawa police officer yelling and threatening him. He put the tape on YouTube and it has received over 20,000 views, he said.

“After that the police didn’t pull any of that political nonsense anymore,” he said.

Groulx said the treatment of Winter was the result of a “miscommunication” based on news reports after the legislation passed in late October.

“This created confusion” among some officers, he said. “We’ve corrected that.”

He said all officers will receive an information packet to guide them in enforcing the legislation.

Wojciechowski said in the wake of the new law pro-life advocates will need “to be a bit more creative.”

“At the end of the day, this totalitarian law will not silence us and stop us from speaking the truth,” he said.

Wanda Hartlin, coordinator of the annual 40 Days for Life campaign that began in Ottawa in 2008, said organizers discussed in November whether to hold the prayer vigil near the Human Rights Monument or on Parliament Hill instead of across the street from the Morgentaler facility. They decided not to stay put.

“We want to be as close as possible to the abortuary,” Hartlin said. “When the city tells us what our boundaries are we want to be just on the perimeter of that.
“Our focus is to be in prayer for the aborted babies, so we have to be as close as possible.”

Groulx said the law does not prevent people from praying inside a bubble zone provided they do so in a way that does not publicly demonstrate opposition to abortion.

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