Fr. Tony Van Hee around the time of his arrest in October. Photo courtesy Donald Andre Bruneau

Priest’s bubble zone case given legal boost

  • May 30, 2019

OTTAWA -- The Catholic Civil Rights League has joined a constitutional challenge by Fr. Tony Van Hee of Ontario’s controversial abortion “bubble zone” law.

In a legal proceeding filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice May 27, the League and the Jesuit priest ask for an order striking down sections of the 2017 Safe Access to Abortion Services Act, arguing they violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The applicants are also seeking a declaration the act is outside the authority of the province because criminal matters are federal jurisdiction.

Van Hee, 83, was initially charged in October 2108 for intimidating or attempting to intimidate people within the 50-metre bubble zone around the Morgentaler abortion facility in Ottawa. He was silently standing or sitting on a portable stool across the street 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 charge of intimidation was later dropped and replaced with two new charges: that he violated the zone to “inform or attempt to inform a person concerning issues related to abortion services”; and “to perform or attempt to perform an act of disapproval” about abortion services.

The case has been set over to July 2020 to allow time for the anticipated legal challenge. A plea of not guilty has been entered on Van Hee’s behalf.

Albertos Polizogopoulos, the priest’s legal counsel, said the fact the Catholic Civil Rights League has joined the legal challenge “shows that it doesn’t affect one person, it affects the whole community, in this case the Catholic community.”

“We have a Catholic priest, but this isn’t just an issue for the clergy,” Polizogopoulos said. “It’s a political and religious issue for all Catholics and for people of other faiths.”

Phil Horgan, president of the Catholic Civil Rights League and a constitutional lawyer, pointed out Van Hee was standing up for free speech yet was charged “with something completely different.”

“Our board thought the legal challenge is consistent with our position taken on the introduction of the legislation in 2017,” said Horgan.  “In particular, the choice to prosecute a Jesuit priests speaks to the gravity of this breach of the constitution.”

Van Hee could face a fine of $5,000 and six months in jail if convicted. He continues the prayer vigil, wearing the same sandwich board, Tuesday through Thursday,  9:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., on the edge of the bubble zone. 

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