Van Hee, 83, has been charged under two sections of the Act: trying to inform people about abortion services, and expressing disapproval within the 50-metre exclusion zone created around abortion facilities. Photo from Deborah Gyapong

Fr. Tony Van Hee pleads not guilty to violating abortion bubble zone

  • January 25, 2019

OTTAWA – A lawyer for Fr. Tony Van Hee entered a plea of not guilty on the priest’s behalf Jan. 24 on charges of violating Ontario’s bubble zone law.

The case won’t be heard until sometime in 2020 to allow time for a constitutional challenge of Ontario’s Safe Access to Abortion Services Act.

 “When we pleaded not guilty, we filed a Notice of Constitutional Question challenging the constitutionality of portions of the bubble zone legislation,” the priest’s lawyer, Albertos Polizogopoulos, said in an e-mail. “We expect to set a date for some time in the summer of 2020. This is intentional because we have agreed, with the Crown, to have the constitutionality of the legislation addressed in a separate civil proceeding which we will launch in the near future.”

Van Hee, 83, has been charged under two sections of the Act: trying to inform people about abortion services, and expressing disapproval within the 50-metre exclusion zone created around abortion facilities.

The constitutional challenge will be launched in Ontario Superior Court, Polizogopoulos said.

In early November, Polizogopoulos filed a “Notice of a Constitutional Question” with the Attorney General of Canada and the Attorney General of Ontario that outlined the priest’s intention to plead not guilty and to challenge the validity of the law on Charter grounds.

The notice said the priest was “protesting government restrictions on freedom of expression,” noting the priest was wearing a sandwich board that said on the front: “The Primacy of Free Speech Cornerstone of Western Civilization” and on the back: “Without Free Speech The State is a Corpse.”

The Jesuit priest is best known for spending 28 years fasting and praying for an end to abortion on Parliament Hill every day the House of Commons was in session. 

Starting on Oct. 20, 2018 Van Hee began standing at the corner of Bank St. and Spark Street, near the Morgentaler abortion facility, for several hours a day. Four days later police arrested him for violating the act. The charges included “intimidation or attempting to intimidate” under the act, but that charge was dropped earlier in January and replaced with the charges of attempting to inform and showing disapproval.

The notice filed by Polizogopoulos says Van Hee “never spoke or engaged with anyone and never mentioned or referred to abortion services or related issues.”

Polizogopoulos contended the “Act is arbitrary and overbroad and contrary to the Charter. As such, the Act is null and void.”

The Jesuits of Canada issued a statement Jan. 25 regarding Van Hee’s case, noting the “defence of life and its dignity, from the moment of conception to the grave, is one of the cornerstones of Catholic social teaching.”

“Jesuits in Canada have witnessed to this teaching in the past by providing sanctuary and support for refugees, by accompanying persons facing death in their homes or in palliative care facilities, by serving as hospital and prison chaplains, by accompanying gay and lesbian Catholics as they seek to live out their faith, by engaging wholeheartedly in the Truth and Reconciliation process, by engaging in consciousness-raising and letter-writing campaigns on various issues, by offering moral and spiritual counsel to women who are considering abortion and to those who have had an abortion, and — in the person of Fr. Tony van Hee and others — by continuing to hold peaceful vigils to remind Canadians and their political leaders of the sacred gift of life itself.”

The statement condemned “unequivocally” those groups who will “manipulate” Van Hee’s witness “for the sake of partisan political gain.”

It pointed out the constitutional challenge is over freedom of expression, and said it “must not result in a situation where the physical or psychological well-being of women is endangered; proportionate legal means must be found to protect women at risk.”

“We remind everyone who is concerned with a genuine defence of all life, from conception to the grave, that physical and psychological harassment can never be authentic Gospel strategies to defend life.”

Campaign Life Coalition set up a fundraising campaign for the priest’s legal expenses at The campaign hopes to raise $50,000 for a case Van Hee has said he is prepared to fight all the way to the Supreme Court. More than $8,500 has been raised by late January.

Weather permitting, the priest has continued his protest on the edge of the exclusion zone at the corner of Bank Street and Queen. He is there three days a week, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.,  wearing the same sandwich board.

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