August 21st, 2018

Bill 9 would ban peaceful persuasion

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on April 17, 2018.

John Sikkema

During Tuesday’s legislative debate on the NDP’s Bill 9, the term “harass” or “harassment” was used 14 times, “intimidate” 13 times, “threat” or “threaten” five times, and “block” (as in block a doorway) four times. Such is the alleged reprehensible conduct committed by pro-life activists near abortion clinics, which the NDP government boasts it will now stop with Bill 9.

Yet five key terms in Bill 9 that define the kind of behaviour it prohibits were never used in the April 10 debate: advise, persuade, inform, disapprove and request. Bill 9 would punish, by fines and prison, “attempting to advise or persuade” someone not to have an abortion, “attempting to inform another person concerning issues related to abortion services”, communicating “disapproval [of abortion]” by any means, written, verbal, or visual, and “persistently request[ing] that another person refrain from providing” abortion. What’s new about Bill 9, its essence, is that it prohibits peaceful attempts to change a fellow citizen’s mind in that most basic and traditional of public forums, our city streets and sidewalks.

True, the bill also makes it an offence to “physically impede” a patient or abortion provider, to “intimidate or attempt to intimidate” the same, or to “engage in threatening conduct” – but this is completely redundant in view of criminal law. Canada’s Criminal Code prohibits harassment and intimidation (which can include stalking a person or impeding their free movement); assault, including uttering threats; mischief (interference with lawful use of property); nuisance endangering safety or health; and causing a public disturbance by screaming, shouting, swearing or by impeding other persons in a public place. If this is going on, you would think the police would lay a criminal charge or two.

In 2014, the United States Supreme Court, in its unanimous McCullen decision, struck down a Massachusetts “buffer zone” that was much narrower, at 10 metres, than the 50-metre-plus radius that Bill 9 would create. All nine judges rejected the state’s arguments that a buffer zone was needed because enforcing criminal laws was too difficult. The court noted that the state had not prosecuted anyone in 17 years. If the state claims there is a record of obstruction and harassment justifying a censorship law, the court pointed out, then surely it could compile evidence support to prosecutions – but it hadn’t done so. The same goes for Alberta.

The way to stop harassment and threatening conduct is to monitor it, collect evidence (say, from clinic security cameras), lay charges and prosecute. That’s not happening in Alberta, either, because clinics and police are incompetent or, more likely, because harassment and intimidation are not happening. So don’t buy the rhetoric.

What Bill 9 is designed to do is quash dissent. It would silence even those who ask women on their way to an abortion clinic to consider alternatives and offer them help. The bill prohibits persuading, advising, informing and the like. Those are innocuous terms, so the NDP doesn’t use them in debate. They use criminal law terms like threaten, harass and intimidate, thus equating peaceful pro-life protest with criminal conduct. That’s a dangerous game.

MLA Karen McPherson contributed this common pro-censorship talking point to last Tuesday’s debate: “I can’t imagine any other circumstance where people would think it was OK to protest somebody seeking health care. If I was going to go for a bypass… I don’t think anyone would think it was OK to have protestors outside of the hospital…” The Editorial Board of the Edmonton Journal made this point as well.

Nevermind, for argument’s sake, the equating of bypass to abortion. Can someone tell me why people shouldn’t be free to do express their opposition to bypass surgery? Why shouldn’t I respect that freedom, even if I need bypass surgery? Preventing me from getting bypass surgery by obstruction or threats would be criminal. But protest? I might think it odd. I might think such people are confused. I might find them annoying. But they should be free to express their anti-bypass surgery views. The fact that my fellow taxpayers pay for such a procedure can surely only bolster the strength of their claim to be free to express opposition to it.

In another lowlight from last Tuesday’s debate, MLA Maria Fitzpatrick argues that this law is needed because there is a double standard, by which women face protest for their choices, but not men. “I might stand outside an adult entertainment business with a sign that berates men for their choices inside this establishment,” Fitzpatrick says. But the reality is men don’t face such protest. But when women try to access the “medical procedure” of abortion, they have to face down “threats” (a criminal act) and people “trying to impose their value system on them.”

Her observation about the lack of protest of “adult entertainment business” establishments is a good one. There are plenty of good reasons to protest such places; maybe someone should. For Fitzpatrick, the solution to this double standard is to censor any disapproval of abortion or pro-life outreach near abortion centres, just to make it fair. You would think, in a free society, the solution to what Ms. Fitzpatrick considers such inequality would be to either protest the shady establishments frequented by men, or persuade the pro-life demonstrators to go home.

Could it be, just maybe, that the reason people want to silence pro-life dissent is because they know abortion is wrong and hate being reminded of it?

John Sikkema serves as Legal Counsel for the Association for Reformed Political Action in Ottawa.

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19 Responses to “Bill 9 would ban peaceful persuasion”

  1. grinandbearit says:

    Ho hum, this guy is just another political christian, with a law degree, who wants to re-establish christian bible rules as the law in Canada. Funny how they have no restriction on making their arguments in this public forum, day after day, week after week, year after year, century after century, always whining about how much THEY are persecuted.

  2. snoutspot4 says:

    Or could it be that folks do not want to be subjected to religious “persuasion”? Could it be, just maybe, that you are advocating for Christian law over Charter Rights?

    Mr. Sikkema identifies himself as “Legal Counsel for the Association for Reformed Political Action in Ottawa”. What he fails to mention is that the organization is a fundamentalist Christian group that seeks to govern according to “the bible”. I can use scare quotes too. The website is:

    This op-ed piece is nothing more than fundamentalist propaganda designed to obfuscate the issue and stir up their base. The smear attempt against MLA Fitzpatrick was particularly gratuitous.

    • Tony Pargeter says:

      What I notice is how veiled the Christianity is, you have to look for it beneath all the puffed up, formal language. He ends his article with a gotcha question, “Could it be, just maybe, that the reason people want to silence pro-life dissent is because they know abortion is wrong and hate being reminded of it?”
      Well, since not all view life in such black and white terms, NO, probably more that it’s just deeply personal, being their own bodies, and embarrassing to have been caught out after being careless with birth control. And even when entirely complicit, men are outside of that reality.
      But on the topic of real reasons, is the real reason that you don’t openly identify your religious affiliation because it’s deeply personal but you also harbour a vague sense of embarrassment about it?
      Entirely understandable; your revered doctrine becomes more arcane and irrelevant by the day.

  3. Windmill says:

    I see a fair number of comments on the authour of the letter, I see a few statements about who he represents, I see observations on the fact that he’s a Christian. None of them flattering, or inclusive (as our society is so strongly for).
    One would think that his argument and observations ought to be the points of discussion. Either they are valid and noteworthy, or they are “out to lunch”.
    Sadly when there is nothing to be said when an observation is sound, the next best thing is to attack the authour. I consider it a win when I’m attacked I hope the authour of the letter does too.

    • Tony Pargeter says:

      It’s ridiculous to pretend that everyone should be flattered or included, especially those espousing or spouting ANY doctrine in a free-thinking democratic society. It puts paid to individual critical thinking, which is even MORE what our society is for actually.
      I’m sure you realize that this argument is an old one, as is outlined in the first response and many people obviously think that it IS “out to lunch.”
      Religious doctrine is not standing up well these days as it comes up against our Charter. Religious freedom just doesn’t hold a candle to a woman’s right to choose what she does with her own body.
      Many of us see this particular tired manifestation of patriarchal arrogance as the absolute limit of what can be tolerated.

    • grinandbearit says:

      The points made in the opinion piece are hardly worth answering they are so weak. The main argument is that the government is trying to squash dissent. This is ridiculous. People who, based on their religions, oppose abortion are free to make comments in the newspaper, to stand on public squares, at universities, by park entrances, on-line in social media, in legislatures, in almost every public place. It is absurd to imagine that a woman who has made the decision together with health professionals to terminate a pregnancy may be unaware of the deluge of “dissent” against a woman’s right to control her own body from the point of view of the religious belief in the sanctity of life, absurd to imagine that the woman has not weighed pros and cons of terminating vs bringing to term. There is about a 50 m radius from which this sort of “dissent” is not permitted. This whiney point really boils down to assertion of a right of religious people to bully and cause emotional distress for a woman at a very difficult time in seeking a medical solution to a her dilemma. Christian men like John should be ashamed of themselves. Likewise, to assert the equal right to protest against and bully people at the time that they may be receiving heart surgery, presumably complaining to them that they are not ethical because they have damaged their hearts, shows that John may have a grasp on legal arguments but has lost sight of compassion and humility in the care he exercises in helping people.

      • James Linde says:

        You are defending a bill that could send someone to jail for attempting to persuade someone peacefully. (Which is a different thing from bullying, by the way – I notice you have conflated peaceful attempts at persuasion with bullying in a similar way to which the NDP conflated harassment with peaceful attempts at persuasion.) So much for the right to control one’s own body.

        I don’t think John has lost sight of compassion – I think you have. We are talking about killing babies in the womb and you are in favour of fining or jailing people who would offer alternatives to that.

        Of course the emotional wellbeing of a woman who wants to get an abortion is important, and of course anyone who harasses, bullies or tries to harm her in any way should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law – the point is that in a healthy society you cannot send someone to jail or fine them simply for expressing that they disagree with your decisions. Mere disagreement does not constitute bullying.

        • grinandbearit says:

          You can express your view any time, any where you want; you can try to persuade others to your religious beliefs until the cows come home, you can lie about the status of babies vs embryos, lie about when embryos can feel pain all you want, you just cannot bring that falsehood to badger, bully, emotionally manipulate women at that moment in that small place – do it as much as you want before that moment and anywhere else in the world. Does not seem like such a big restriction to be so whiney about.

  4. biff says:

    making babies so easy – even the biggest louts and most incapable of parenting can do it. looking after them is where the real effort and skill is, not to mention the need for a reasonable amount of money. unfortunately, those most adapted to our economy – those with marketable skills, luck, intelligence and education – are having the fewest kids, whilst those having the most kids have the least to offer. this latter group siphons away money from the public purse to “raise” the fertilised eggs they have hatched, and their offspring further drain the public purse through social services and the justice system due to issues related to the traumas experienced in a miserable upbringing. not saying all kids in prosperous homes grow up to be useful and compassionate, nor do all kids in poor homes grow up to be useless and criminal, but the stats will speak for themselves on this one.
    regardless, it still comes down to “one’s body, one’s choice”, and that goes for everything, not just carrying a fertilised egg to term.

    • JonathanVS says:

      People with big families don’t have much to offer and instead are a drain on society – is this your point? I’m curious: where’s the line? Two kids? Three? Surely not four?

      Usually, it’s quite easy to “make babies” – I’m guessing we’ll agree that good parenting is critical. However, one can be a lousy parent of one child (even while possessing “marketable skills, luck, intelligence, and education”) while another is an excellent parent of several children (children who are remarkably well-prepared for life in our modern society).

      Your generalizations are discouraging. While it seems you attempt to hedge your bets at the end, this reply is sorely lacking in facts.

      PS: It’s too bad that all the posters decrying Mr. Sikkema’s article have not satisfactorily rebutted any of his statements. He’s staked out his position clearly – the least you can do is to argue cogently, rather than scream “women’s right to choose” and “beware of Christianity”.

      • snoutspot4 says:

        Yes JVS. biff is a bit much to take sometimes, but as for other posters – please. Everyone knows your feelings on this topic. You’ve written more than enough letters and comments. There is no point is addressing Mr. Sikkema’s points. It’s spin. It’s another more than a piece of propaganda. So I suppose I could tell you about how his letter is designed to catch the attention of folks and hook them in. I could point out the bizarre number of quotation marks for no apparent reason. I could point out dog-whistle words but why bother. His and your minds are made up. Furthermore, what is wrong with pointing out his affiliation? He has a specific agenda but does not disclose that.

        As for a woman’s choice, we won the right to personhood on April 17, 1982. We are protected under the Charter of Rights And Freedoms. You do not have the right to make choices for me. Ever.

        You were given the right to freedom of thought and belief. You were not given the right to impose your thought and belief on others. You were not given the right to take from me.

      • Tony Pargeter says:

        Where’s YOUR cogent argument against this apparently blaring nonsense of “women’s right to choose” and “beware of Christianity?” Not exactly minor points of contention are they?.
        It’s truly rich how you believers so confidently trot out reason and argument when it is YOU who imagine there to be some god and a heaven somewhere that grants you eternal life! And insisting on this childish nonsense even with our growing knowledge about how our human animal brains work. You need to start grappling with the truth–that your faith and your belief is all in your head(s).
        There is even a part of our brain that can be called the god part that, when stimulated, feels like there is someone with you in the room. Even when there isn’t.
        A woman’s right to choose is simply inarguable. As for the cult of private, wishful thinking that is religion, go home with it (knock yourselves out) or retreat to your ostentatious clubhouses already subsidized by the rest of us and scattered far and wide, soaring pretentiously toward the unaffiliated sky. And stay the hell out of our collective public life.

        • JonathanVS says:

          “And stay the hell out of our collective public life.” Being part of public life includes the right to expression and the freedom of speech. My engaging on this topic is simply me exercising these rights. You are certainly free to disagree (as you already have), but the previously-quoted statement is a non-starter and reeks of intolerance.

          • Tony Pargeter says:

            You’ve already got it all, the right to expression and the freedom of speech AND the “places of worship.” What more do you want? Well, I think we all know the answer to that too.
            As righteous as you are about your silly dogma, we are just as righteous in trying to keep church and state separate.
            You people of course don’t regard that hard-won conclusion of history to be worthy because it was simply the scrabbling around of common human beings through time.
            While the church deserves some credit for moving people forward in history, it is increasingly showing up as a liability. And why is that I wonder?
            You’re right that I am “intolerant” of religion and who in their right mind isn’t? There’s a lot to try and tolerate. Much is asked when it’s just another man-made idea and arguably the worst one that we have ever come up with. I know that there are many rational people who feel like they’re living in a madhouse at times where we are somehow bizarrely expected to indulge and even respect the occupants, even as they make it clear that they want to in fact seize control and run things, starting with our schools and ending with our government. And all this so they can feel more comfortable with what many know, in their heart of hearts what us unbelievers already know, that their faith is an utter delusion. That the emperor has no clothes whatsoever.

      • biff says:

        i have no number to place on families. i am saying have only the kids you can afford, and are willing to care for fully and decently. i am saying any two fools can fertilise an egg, and too often, they do. and when people have kids that they do not or cannot take care of, it causes a massive cash and resource drain on society; it causes much pain for the neglected and abused person. and then the cycle repeats, only it goes exponential.

        snout, you if you swallow your condescension sideways, it might keep you occupied for a couple years.

  5. Resolute says:

    What a bunch of horrible hatefilled trash is posted by regular “posters” hosted by the Lethbridge Herald. Ideally posters would respectfully discuss and move forward on topics elocuted in the basis letter. This has not been the case here for some time. Accordingly, I would support terminating this service, as it has been subverted into publishing hate.

    • snoutspot4 says:

      So, let me get this straight. You are advocating for an independent newspaper to terminate a service because you don’t like the fact that local folks with a far longer history of commenting than you are challenging the core points of the letter, including providing counterpoints that expose the letter writer for falsehoods. If that is true, then my friend, you are the one that needs to be terminated from spreading misinformation in this forum. I am shocked that you would threaten the readership in this way.

      Look up the definition of irony.

  6. Tony Pargeter says:

    And who are you exactly? Or who do you think you are might be more the question?
    The Lethbridge Herald does not belong to you or anyone else. They are doing their public best to serve the public audience while somehow trying to strike a balance in this backwards bible belt.
    The lack of civility is directly tied to that fact, because not everyone here is a member of one of the plethora of cults, and they are clearly extremely defensive about their manufactured world. No wonder. It IS all in their heads, which can be proven, unlike their extraordinary claim.
    It’s a sort of mob rule really, which is guaranteed to show the worst of human behaviour. Look at the birthplace–the Middle East. Endless war. So we are clinging to the separation of church and state here, but the believers eschew THAT history.
    Rule of thumb, any time people set themselves up as superior to everyone else, as holier in this instance, more pure, more devout, closer to the imagined deity, they always behave abominably. Especially when challenged. And within all these doctrines, women are relegated. So, since half of the population is women, and not all have drunk the Kool-Aid, they will of course react to being relegated. Hence the angry posts in this forum. Religion is patriarchal and all these religious men, especially the most conservative ones naturally become outraged at any change in the hierarchy. Too bad. You’ve had your day in the sun. And have you met life? And its corollary, change?
    How do you fail to recognize the inevitability of a glaring chasm between people who want to live by a religious doctrine from medieval times versus those who don’t, who prefer the actual times we are living in…..where change takes place regularly and evolution has occurred (as it always has, although still systematically denied by many religionists.) How is this NOT a recipe for constant conflict? Again, I direct you to the Middle East…
    Just because believers need constant sanction and affirmation and have indeed received it in the form of basic religious freedom laws does NOT mean they can replace our hard-won secular culture with their alternative religious one. They’ve been given an inch and taken the mile.
    Religious freedom will be trumped by human rights every time because we are all human but thankfully, we are NOT all religious.

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