Bylaw going too far to stop legal protest

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Members of the group Show the Truth gather to talk about the arrest of a man who pushed one of their members to the ground Thurs., Aug. 7, 2014. The protesters were assembled outside, opposite the main entrance of UPEI when the confrontation took place about 5:30 p.m.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” is the famous maxim of French philosopher Voltaire. It is a ringing endorsement of free speech, the cornerstone of any democracy. It’s a simple leap to modify that maxim to defend the rights of anyone to pass out literature or buy advertising supporting a certain point of view as long as its fair comment.

Last week, the anti-abortion group Show the Truth was in the province protesting a conference at UPEI called Abortion: The Unfinished Revolution. The group passed out graphic images of aborted fetuses or held up placards with those same images at various locations around the conference site. The images were shocking and repulsive.

No one denied they were not what they purported to be. They repulsed many Islanders and an online petition calling for the city to enact a bylaw to prevent the display of such graphic images soon had over 600 names. What offended most people was passing out the images to young children who were shocked and disturbed. It left adults and parents angry that children were subjected to such horror. Protestors hurt their cause more then helped it with their antics last week.

Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee didn’t like them and might have proceeded with a bylaw but he now realizes there’s nothing the city can do to stop the display of graphic images from any group. The city stopped because legal opinion said such a bylaw would violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Protestors have always used shocking images to support their viewpoint. Anti-sealing opponents used disturbing photos and videos of the slaughter of baby white coats for years to sway public opinion. The hunt for baby seals has been outlawed but protesters still trot out those cute photos to attract donations.

Anti-smoking campaigns hit a raw nerve by showing black lungs, people smoking through a hole in their throat and patients with emphysema packed into a tiny hospital room for that last smoke.

So why should it be a surprise that anti-abortion advocates would resort to such tactics. It attracted attention and the conference, which might have come and gone without much fanfare, suddenly was thrust into the media spotlight.

People might not have accepted the holocaust, refusing to believe that mankind was capable of genocide, until survivors told their stories of horror, and images of the death camps were displayed to a shocked world.

Sometimes we don't want to know the truth and we choose to deliberately ignore it. We may not agree with the message and how it was presented but to start talking about bylaws and suppression of peaceful protest is starting down a very slippery slope. Remember that the only violence last week occurred when a man opposed to the anti-abortion groups caused an incident.

There was some criticism of the conference because it only supported the pro-abortion viewpoint and offered no balance. Well, that was the theme of the conference. When anti-abortionists hold a conference or protest, they certainly don’t include pro-choice speakers or differing views.

The issue now centres on reproductive justice but the reality is that a fetus dies during an abortion and even the Supreme Court in its landmark ruling suggested the rights of the unborn also need protection.

Polls say a majority of Canadians believe the issue is a personal one between a woman and her doctor and it’s no one else’s business. We may not agree with either side but we should be prepared to accept protest.

Supreme Court justices cited the charter of rights and freedoms as they ruled Canada’s criminal abortion law unconstitutional because it infringed on the rights of women. The same charter guarantees the right of citizens to protest that decision. Without the charter we would be in a real mess.

Organizations: Canadian Charter, Supreme Court

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Canada

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  • Henry
    August 20, 2014 - 21:02

    What should be more shocking is that in Canada abortion is legal up to 9 months and that we are forced to pay for this horrible procedure through our tax dollars. That should disgust every civilized human being. In some ways we are as barbaric as ISIS for letting this genocide to continue.

  • corey
    August 15, 2014 - 18:10

    Obviously people have too much time on their hands to be able to stand by the side of the highway holding up a picture of a dismembered fetus. However, I do agree people have the right to protest but when it comes at the expense of our children that's wrong. It doesn't make much sense to me that you are doing this to protect the ones without a voice but at the same time harming the ones that have to endure it as they are driving by. Try explaining that to a 6 year old. I was appalled and disgusted by what I saw except 1 young fellow at the end of the line with a sign that had a saying on it and it still got the exact same point across!!!

    • gary
      August 26, 2014 - 12:13

      Tell me, what exactly did the sign say?

  • Thoughtcrime
    August 15, 2014 - 17:30

    Another quote, from the well-known progressive Noam Chomsky: "If we only believe in freedom of expression for those we agree with, then we don't believe in it at all." "Shut up" is not an argument, but a tacit admission that you don't have one. Also, if you want the government to silence those you disagree with, then you establish a precedent whereby the government might silence you too. If you call yourself pro-choice, why oppose the woman's choice being an informed one? As this editorial alludes to, the rhetoric surrounding abortion often conceals the reality.

  • townie2
    August 15, 2014 - 15:29

    kudos!! well said.

  • David MacKenzie
    August 15, 2014 - 14:13

    Nigel is absolutely correct. When protest is politically over-ruled because it is "graphic" or "uncomfortable", even at a municipal level, it is in breech of our constitution, and should be nipped in the bud by the collective wisdom at the level of City Council. Culturally, abortion must die, or our country will. We are not replacing ourselves, except through immigration— and 100,000 deaths/year are a moral and cultural disgrace.

    • Isaac Williams
      August 15, 2014 - 21:46

      50,000 women die annually from unsafe, illegal abortion practices. Practices that unfortunately occur on PEI. That's a disgrace.

  • Richard Deaton
    August 15, 2014 - 07:18

    Congratulations to the (unidentified) letter writer for having the courage of their convictions, and for a spirited and necessary defence of free speech in our liberal democracy. For too long those of progressive views here on the Island have allowed themselves to be cowed by those who want to return to the Spanish Inquisition or McCarthy era. Richard Deaton