Ontario will create safe zones around abortion clinics to protect women who seek their services and the health-care workers who perform them, Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said Wednesday.
Naqvi said the zones, which will extend 50 to 150 metres around Ontario’s eight abortion clinics, are designed to protect women who choose to access the services. The zones are spaces where advising a person to refrain from getting an abortion, anti-abortion protests and intimidation or interfering with a woman’s ability to access the services will be banned, he said.
The ban will also automatically apply to 150 metres around the homes of abortion staff and health professionals who provide the services. Anyone who violates the safe zones would face up to $5,000 in fines and six months in jail for a first offence. For a second or subsequent offence, fines range from $1,000 to $10,000 and up to a year in jail.
Naqvi introduced the legislation to create the zones Wednesday.
“Our government firmly believes that the choice to access abortion services is a deeply personal one,” Naqvi said. “Patients have the right to access abortion services safely and securely with their privacy maintained, free from any intimidation or interference.”
Naqvi said over the past several months, the government has heard reports that anti-abortion protests have increased across province. In Ottawa, staff at the Morgentaler clinic and police have reported escalated protests which have prevented women from accessing the clinic.
Those activities can’t jeopardize the safety and privacy of patients and workers, Naqvi said.
“While I strongly support everyone’s fundamental right to freedom of expression, our laws must balance that right with keeping people safe,” he said.
Naqvi said the government began preparing the proposed legislation this summer after looking at similar laws in British Columbia, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Sarah Hobbs Blyth, executive director of Planned Parenthood Toronto, said the safety zones will help women access safe and legal abortion services.
“The safe access zone bill protects choice no matter what comes of anti-abortion tactics now or in the future,” she said. “Health equity cannot be achieved within the four walls of a clinic alone. It begins first with getting to the clinic.”
Anti-abortion group Campaign Life Coalition said the proposed bill tramples free speech protections entrenched in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“Bubble zone legislation isn’t about protecting women and abortion staff workers from violence, because there is no evidence of such violence,” said Jim Hughes, National President of Campaign Life Coalition in a statement. “This is about silencing peaceful pro-life witnessing and preventing women from having access to alternatives.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown issued a statement before Naqvi made his announcement Wednesday, declaring that he is pro-choice but he also accused the government of wanting to re-open divisive social debates.
“Kathleen Wynne has an agenda,” Brown said. “That agenda is to re-open debates about divisive social issues. No one wants this. I don’t want it. … Let me be very clear: I am pro-choice. That includes protecting women exercising their rights from intimidation or harassment.”
Naqvi said the proposed law is about safety, not opening up a divisive social debate.
“Let me be very clear, ensuring women’s safety is not a divisive issue,” he said. “It may be a divisive issue in the Conservative caucus but you can ask any of these advocates, unfortunately women are being harassed, are being threatened, are being intimidated, for merely exercising their right to get health care services.”