CANADA – Court to rule on decision to remove some anti-abortion advertisements from Guelph’s buses

On 16 June 2021, a judicial review was in the final stage of deciding whether the City of Guelph acted improperly when it removed three anti-abortion advertisements from city buses.

The three-judge panel heard final arguments from the city and the applicant, Guelph and Area Right to Life, during a virtual hearing on 15 June. The local anti-abortion group has been advertising on city buses for over 20 years but complaints from the public led the city to forward the advert to the Ad Standards Council (ASC), a third-party non-profit agency.

In 2016 the City of Guelph adopted a new ad standards policy which offered the public a process to complain about ads through ASC.

The anti-abortion group claimed they should have a right to share their opinions on any subject, and that by relying on a third party to decide whether an advert was misleading or offensive, the city had abdicated its responsibility to uphold the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Alison Thornton, counsel for the city of Guelph, said that advertising that is found to be misleading is not something that the city should be forced to continue displaying. “If the city is not allowed to insist that advertising is misleading and that advertising is unfairly disparaging, then what about vaccines in the time of Covid-19? Does the city have to accept an anti-vaccine position from an advertiser who pays their agent because we are… not allowed to insist on truth? That can’t be the case.”

SOURCE: Guelph Today, by Kenneth Armstrong, 16 June 2021


Opinion: Burnaby residents upset at ‘grotesque’ pamphlets delivered to homes

Journalist Chris Campbell writes: Two years to the month after I first wrote about parents and homeowners receiving graphic anti-abortion material at their homes, more Burnaby residents are saying they are receiving the flyers.

“This stuff is grotesque,” said Mary-Anne, a North Burnaby resident who didn’t want her last name used. “They came right onto my property and leave this stuff where my kids could find it. I don’t want these folks on my property to do this.”

The flyers are delivered in a way that the material isn’t sealed up, so kids could be exposed to these images. I previously wrote about a Burnaby father of two children who actually photographed the material and emailed it to me right after his children saw it. “My kids went to get my neighbour’s mail as they were away,” he said. “I found our 7- and 4-year-olds sitting on my neighbour’s front lawn looking at that disgusting anti-abortion pamphlet. My 4-year-old ran to his room screaming. I phoned the RCMP and they said they would call the company to suggest they don’t distribute them that way. They didn’t care to find the person distributing them.”

In the original article, Campbell included a photo above of one of the images because some readers said they wanted more “proof,” but he blurred out the more disgusting parts. [As I find these images both disgusting and distorted myself, I don’t want to share them, even if blurred. Editor]

In response to this article, Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC), based in British Columbia, wrote:

“The graphic flyers are the work of extremist anti-abortion groups (which use) young volunteers to hand-deliver them to homes in dozens of municipalities across Canada. Over the years, several million of these flyers have shown up in the mailboxes and on the doorsteps of Canadians. Thousands of Burnaby homes were targeted with the flyers last summer and the tactic returned in February 2021. Other British Columbia (BC) cities have been hit at various times too, including Vancouver, New Westminster, Surrey, Chilliwack, and Kelowna….

“But residents are fed up. People should not be coming onto private property to deliver such flyers, especially when they are not concealed in an envelope. ARCC has been recommending several actions that can be taken by residents as well as affected municipalities.

“In February, ARCC wrote to Burnaby City Council and the city clerk asking them to take action. Council discussed the issue at their March 8 council meeting where our correspondence was referred back to staff for review. Therefore, we encourage Burnaby residents to contact the mayor and council to ask them what the city plans to do about the graphic flyer delivery. The city has options. It could pass a bylaw prohibiting unwanted flyers to homes that have a “No Flyers” notice posted.

“Four major cities already have such bylaws, including Calgary, Ottawa, Halifax, and Winnipeg. The city could also pass a “Viewer Discretion” bylaw requiring that the graphic flyers be enclosed in envelopes with identifying information on the outside so people are forewarned before opening.

“We have two provincial remedies as well. Any BC citizen can take immediate action themselves by placing a “No flyers” or “No Trespassing” notice at their mailbox or door, then sending a letter to the anti-abortion group to prohibit them from coming onto their property. If they do, they can be arrested and charged under BC’s Trespass Act. Just Google ARCC Trespass Remedy”.

Second, ARCC is lobbying to also have a provincial Viewer Discretion bill introduced in the BC legislature requiring that the flyers be put in envelopes. Such a law would protect all BC residents from the flyers. This bill has already been introduced in Ontario thanks to the advocacy work of the London group Viewer Discretion Legislation Coalition – Bill 259, Viewer Discretion Act (Images of Fetuses), 2021.

“Of course, there is nothing to stop the most-affected cities like Burnaby from enacting their own similar bylaw first, and this could encourage BC to follow suit with a province-wide law. We hope that by sharing these options, residents will feel better equipped to take action.

“Too often, people feel angry and helpless in the face of these upsetting images and don’t know where to turn for a solution. Local governments like the City of Burnaby, as well as provinces, need to take more responsibility for the well-being of their citizens and communities. They have the authority to do so. It’s not a question of protecting “freedom of expression” for the anti-choice group, because they are violating the privacy of residents by coming uninvited to the doorsteps of residents and forcing graphic images onto them.

Please, let’s take any and all actions we can to put a stop to this offensive behaviour.”

SOURCES: Burnaby Now, by Chris Campbell, 13 June 2021 ; Burnaby Now, Joyce Arthur contributed, 16 June 2021

VISUAL: Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada home page