A constitutional challenge has been filed against the Parliamentary Protective Service after it barred the display of graphic images of aborted fetuses on Parliament Hill at a March for Life news conference. Peter Stockland

Pro-lifers censored, challenge claims

  • July 14, 2023

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) has filed a constitutional challenge against the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS) on behalf of the Campaign Life Coalition and a female anti-abortion advocate.

These parties were barred from displaying images of aborted fetuses during a Parliament Hill news conference hosted by the pro-life organization on May 10, the day before the March for Life.

Before the event, a PPS officer reviewed the pictures depicting victims of abortion at various stages of development. The official ruled that Campaign Life could not show the images because they were deemed too graphic.

In an email sent from the PPS to Campaign Life project manager Matthew Wojciechowski on May 10, a member of the PPS planning and event management unit expressed thanks for understanding the reservations over the graphic imagery. The identity of the specific individual who sent this message is redacted in the PDF file shared in a JCCF press release.

This correspondence also included general rules for the signage that would be permitted at the March for Life the following day. One of the dictates is that “messages that are obscene, offensive or that promote hatred are prohibited.”  While not listed in the email, the most recent version of the General Rules for the Use of Parliament Hill published on May 3 — eight days before the March — included a stipulation that “signs or banners that display explicit graphic violence or blood is prohibited.”

Josie Luetke, Campaign Life’s director of education and advocacy, noted there are ironic aspects to this situation.

“There is a certain irony to the fact that our government is currently spending hundreds of millions of dollars, domestically and abroad, promoting and facilitating a procedure it feels must be censored from the public eye,” said Luetke. “We don’t like seeing the images of abortion either, and we hope Canadians do a lot of soul-searching as to why presenting its victims brings them such discomfort.”

Hatim Kheir, the JCCF attorney representing the plaintiffs, intends to prove that the pro-life group and its supporters were denied their core rights.

“Parliament Hill is an important public square in society,” said Kheir. “It is how it has historically been used and how it is seen by people. Arguably there is no more important square than citizens being able to go to the seat of our federal government to make their voices heard.

“Subjecting political expression on Parliament Hill to literal police censorship based on subjective criteria strikes at the core of Canadians’ democratic right to freedom of expression.”

The notice of application was filed in federal court on June 30. The applicants are seeking for the court to declare the PPS policies and the actions taken by its officers violated their rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Campaign Life is in the process of collecting affidavits from witnesses of the dispute on May 10. The PPS is expected to file documentation with facts supporting its position.

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