For Immediate Release from the CHRISTIAN LEGAL FELLOWSHIP – September 5, 2008
DECISION RELEASED IN BC BUBBLE ZONE FREEDOM OF SPEECH CASE
The British Columbia Court of Appeal released its decision yesterday in the Spratt case, finding that freedom of expression can be suspended within the “bubble zone” around abortion clinics without violating the Charter.
The unanimous decision to dismiss the appeals of Mr. Spratt and Mr. Watson reaffirmed the B.C. Supreme Court’s holding of 2002. Although both courts found the prohibitions on protesting and providing information about abortion services in the Access to Abortion Services Act to be in violation of s.2 of the Charter, neither court was willing to overturn those provisions. Instead, they relied on s.1 of the Charter to uphold the bubble zone, citing it as a reasonable limitation on the freedom of expression because of its importance in protecting medical clinics, personnel, and patients. The Court of Appeal was unwilling to tailor the restrictions in the Act to violent and threatening behavior claiming a bright line rule was essential to enforcement, clarity, and protection.
This action arose from BC resident, Donald Spratt’s, December 1998 conviction under the B.C. Access to Abortion Services Act, on charges of making a “protest” and “sidewalk interference” resulting in a 30-day sentence. Spratt was compelled by his religious beliefs to protest the Act, viewing it as evil as abortion itself. Mr. Spratt’s “protest” consisted of carrying a nine-foot cross with a sign saying “You Shall Not Murder” and speaking about God’s forgiveness and repentance for sin.
The Canadian Religious Freedom Alliance (CRFA), comprised of the Christian Legal Fellowship, the Catholic Civil Rights League, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, first filed its intervention factum in September of 2006 and was granted intervenor status in May of 2007. Legal Counsel, Julie Owen, presented arguments on behalf of CRFA in September 2007 arguing that the freedom of speech of those protesting within the bubble zone around abortion clinics must be protected, as well as the rights of women using abortion clinics to have access to full information about abortion. The Act does not allow either.
Christian Legal Fellowship Executive Director, Ruth Ross, has expressed disappointment with the decision stating, “In reaching its decision, the court did not expressly address our arguments, including concerns about the legislation’s paternalistic attitude toward women using abortion services. Instead, the court unanimously dismissed the appeals and upheld the reasons of Saunders J. (as she then was) in the earlier Lewis decision.” Ross did, however, note that despite approving the Lewis decision, this judgment makes a much stronger statement about the nature of the expression being at the core rather than an expression of limited value.
At this time, the CRFA is uncertain whether further action will be taken. It intends to fully assess the decision and determine whether or not the appellants will seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Click here to view the decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal handed down on September 4, 2008.
For background information and to view written legal arguments of the CRFA, visit the interventions page of our website at: www.ChristianLegalFellowship.org
For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Stephanie Luck, J.D.