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CANADIAN CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS - Freedoms of thought, belief, opinion and expression

Thursday, May 31, 2018 @ 8:37 AM  


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Appeal by the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform of a decision dismissing its application for judicial review of the respondent’s decision refusing to permit the appellant to place certain anti-abortion advertising on the respondent’s transit buses. The appellant was a public interest group that focused its efforts on the issue of abortion. The proposed advertising consisted of full colour depictions of fetuses with the graphics “abortion kills children” and “ENDTHEKILLING”. The respondent refused to permit the proposed advertising because it would be disturbing to people within the community. The appellant argued its right to freedom of expression was violated. The reviewing judge found that the advertisement, when considered in the context of the content of the appellant’s website, consisted of strong statements that vilified women who had chosen to have an abortion. The judge found that the rejection of the appellant’s advertisement in furtherance of the respondent’s statutory objectives had infringed the appellant’s freedom of expression but that infringement was not absolute, because the respondent had not refused to post any advertisements, just the particular one originally submitted. She concluded that the advertisement was likely to cause psychological harm to some women and to cause fear and confusion among children. The judge found the respondent had acted proportionately and reasonably in refusing this particular advertisement.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. The respondent’s objectives of protecting the public from hateful expression, promoting a safe and viable community, and ensuring a tranquil, smoothly functioning transit system was a valid objective. The rejection of advertising material which, on an objective basis, was highly offensive or disturbing had a rational connection to that objective. There were many reasons justifying the respondent’s rejection of this advertising such as its hateful nature, its likely audience, its potential for harm, possibly its accuracy, its non-compliance with industry standards, and its extreme tone. The advertisement clearly portrayed women who terminated pregnancies, and medical professionals and facilities that assisted, as killers of children. On any reasonable view, the advertisement was likely to promote hatred against the identifiable groups of women and their doctors. The potential effect that the advertisement would have on children was another factor supporting the reasonableness of the respondent’s decision to reject it. The respondent never took the position that it would not accept any advertising on abortion or other social and political issues.

Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform v. Grande Prairie (City), [2018] A.J. No. 570, Alberta Court of Appeal, R.L. Berger, P.T. Costigan and F.F. Slatter JJ.A., April 25, 2018. Digest No. TLD-May282018007