Bubble zones and censorship laws treat British Columbians differently in the eyes of legal system
By Nathan Rumohr
The B.C. Catholic
If you ask any B.C. politician about abortion, you'll likely be told it's a federal issue. Though there is some veracity in that, it's not entirely true.
While the federal government has jurisdiction over the legality of abortion, B.C. has two abortion laws, and both of them help facilitate abortion, says John Hof, president of Campaign Life Coalition B.C.
In 1995 the Glen Clark NDP Government instituted the "Access to Abortion Services Act,"(AASA) which pro-life activists refer to as the "bubble zone" law.
The legislation was largely a response to the attempted murder of Vancouver abortionist Dr. Garson Romalis in 1994. Romalis was shot in the leg while eating breakfast.
"It is still hard for me to understand how someone could think I should be killed for helping women get safe abortions," recalled Romalis at the University of Toronto law school's symposium to mark the 20th anniversary of R. vs. Morgentaler.
That event combined with abortion facilities' frustration with pro-life protestors pushed the NDP to legislate a law that established so-called bubble zones around abortion facilities and the homes of abortion providers.
The AASA states the zones around abortion clinics extend 50 metres from the facility and can be amended by the lieutenant governor in the case of "different dimensions for different facilities." The access zones around an abortion provider's home extend 160 metres.
The law also says no person can engage in protest, sidewalk interference (ministering), or besetting (harassing), abortion facility workers.
Pro-life activists Donald Spratt, 61, and Cecilia (Sissy) von Dehn, 75, tested the bubble zone law in 2009 at the Every Woman's Health Centre on Commercial Drive. They entered the access zone, handing out information and wearing sandwich boards warning the public of the AASA.
They were finally arrested in June that year after the clinic claimed the pair were protesting abortion. But Spratt said police had assured him protesting the law did not infringe on the bubble zone legislation.
The two were sentenced June 20, 2011, to two years' probation, with Spratt receiving a $1,000 fine. Spratt told The B.C. Catholic, in a Sept. 2011 article, that his sentence was probably lighter because the Stanley Cup riots roared through Vancouver five days earlier with no arrests.
"Not one single rioter has been charged, so it would be pretty bad if they sent grandma and grandpa to prison," Spratt noted after the ruling.
Hof witnessed the event and said Spratt and von Dehn had been protesting the bubble zone law weekly.
"We've been informing people of the bubble zone legislation for weeks under police watch and subsequent approval," Hof told The B.C. Catholic in a June 2009 article.
With the passage of the bubble zone law, pro-lifers were effectively shut out of exposing abortion in front of clinics. Instead they turned to exposing abortion through freedom of information requests. But after Hof and Ted Gerk, who also works for Campaign Life Coalition B.C., had success uncovering some troubling abortion truths, the NDP government added an amendment to the freedom and information law in 2001. It effectively censored abortion information.
Hof and Gerk had learned there was a special government panel called the Abortion Services Working Groups, which was comprised of cabinet ministers meeting with abortion activists. They also discovered that 15 babies survived abortions between 1995 and 1998 at Vancouver General Hospital, while investigating the death of a woman from abortion complications.
"(This law) says, in effect, that abortion is no longer a proper subject for debate," Darrell Evans, executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA), told The Report news magazine in an April 2001 article. "Those who want to criticize abortion are now at a severe knowledge disadvantage."
David Loukidelis, then information and privacy commissioner for B.C., wrote a letter to Joy MacPhail, then deputy premier, in 2001 stating the amendment (called Bill 21) wasn't necessary.
"Of the almost 450 orders made under the FOI Act, less than half a dozen have involved records relating to abortion services," Loukidelis wrote. "In no case has information been ordered disclosed that would identify or otherwise jeopardize abortion service providers, patients, or other persons who are in any way associated with abortion services."
Loukidelis concluded his letter by saying that his office had been in consultation with the government on many other bills, but not Bill 21.