A Canadian city was “proportionate and reasonable” in censoring a pro-life ads from the sides of its buses because the banners were “likely to cause psychological harm to women who have had an abortion,” according to a ruling.
Justice C.S. Anderson has ruled that the city of Grande Prairie in the province of Alberta “reasonably” balanced the freedom of speech rights of the pro-life advertiser with the city’s own policies of providing a “safe and welcoming” space for bus passengers and pedestrians with its advertising.
According to the judge, the ruling won’t prohibit every pro-life ad in the city, but he stressed that it was reasonable to ban banners specifically produced by the Calgary-based Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform (CCBR) because they might upset women and children.
The pro-life group’s ad showed unborn babies at seven weeks’ and 16 weeks’ gestation followed by an empty frame filled in red to represent an aborted baby. Underneath the images were the captions: “growing,” “growing” and “gone.” The ad also read: “Abortion kills children” and showed the group’s website.
Judge Anderson said that CCBR website includes messages such as “Now is the time to put an end to the slaughter. Now is the time to look evil in the face and say, enough. Now is the time to join together, and lend our voices to those who had theirs brutally taken from them.”
“These are strong statements that vilify women who have chosen, for their own reasons, to have an abortion; they are not merely informative and educational,” Anderson added.
Carol Crosson, legal counsel for the CCBR, slammed the undemocratic decision by the court: “If government can tell its citizens what’s upsetting and what isn’t upsetting in their speech, then democracy is threatened and, indeed, progress is threatened.”
A spokesperson for the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada celebrated the decision, saying the decision showed that “anti-choice” groups are wrong to use their free speech privileges against the public.
“The right to free speech depends on respect for your audience and their right to avoid your message. The decision is significant, and shows that anti-choice groups like the CCBR are wrong to wield their right to free speech like a bludgeon against the public,” she said.
John Carpay of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms said the decision to ban pro-life ads on buses is “unsurprising” given previous rulings in the country that have given the right to bus operators to limit free speech to make the vehicles “safe and welcoming.”
“You might as well not have free speech at all,” he said. “Free speech doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t mean the right to say things that are offensive and outrageous. If it just means you can spout platitudes acceptable to the majority, it is worth nothing.”
A CCBR’s spokesperson said the group “was looking at an appeal.”