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Judge strikes down abortion censorship law

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Blogger surprised and pleased with ruling
By Deborah Gyapong

OTTAWA (CCN)

Photo: Constitutional lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos (left) stands with blogger Patricia Maloney and ARPA lawyers John Sikkema and Andre Schutten at the Ottawa courthouse in February 2017 after arguing their case in Ontario Superior Court. (Credit: Deborah Gyapong / CCN)

An Ontario Superior Court judge struck down a section of a provincial law censoring the release of abortion statistics in a June 9 decision.

"This is a huge victory for freedom of expression," said André Schutten, director of law and policy for the Association of Reformed Political Action Canada, which raised the Charter challenge along with an Ottawa pro-life.

"It's historic. There has never been a decision granting access to information from the executive branch based on the freedom of expression provision of the Charter.”

In his decision, Justice Marc L. Labrosse wrote, “Having less than 50 per cent of some limited information concerning abortion services and requiring interested individuals to extrapolate that information on a provincial or national basis is not allowing for meaningful debate.”

In a statement, Schutten said, “Abortion is a matter of public importance and the courts have long recognized this.”

He called abortion “a recognized political issue,” and political expression is at the core of protected speech under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

Patricia Maloney, the Catholic blogger who with ARPA challenged the law, said she was “truly surprised but very pleased to learn we had won our charter challenge.”

“I always knew our case was very strong, much stronger than any of the government's counter-arguments in defense of their position.”

The government contended disclosure of abortion statistics could endanger hospitals, clinics and healthcare providers who provide abortion services, which Maloney called “nonsense. How could health and safety be an issue when I never asked for any private or identifying information of patients, hospitals, doctors or abortion facilities?

The court challenge was supported by Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner, who was an intervenor.

Maloney, who blogs at run-with-life.blogspot.com, sought information such as total abortions performed, cost, age of mother, gestational stage of baby, and whether the abortion took place in in a hospital or a clinic.

ARPA Canada and Maloney challenged Section 65(5.7) of Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) after Maloney found her requests for abortion statistics blocked by a 2012 change to the Act that read: “This Act does not apply to records relating to the provision of abortion services.”

Justice Labrosse described Section 65 (5.7) of the FIPPA as “a broad-brushed exclusion which does not leave the door open for any exception.”

He concluded the section “has precluded meaningful discussion and criticism on abortion which is a matter of public interest.”

The government contended there already is meaningful public debate on abortion and that statistics were available through other sources.

Labrosse suspended his decision for 12 months to give the Ontario legislature time to adjust the FIPPA to meet the requirements of Section 2(b) of the Charter.

 

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