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Legality of anti-abortion posters questioned due to graphic images

Pro-life groups are back in the headlines, after residents and politicians are calling on governments to make it illegal to display graphic anti-abortion images.

Dave Greenlaw, who lives just south of The Danforth, says he and his neighbours recently received a graphic anti-abortion poster in a pile of back to school flyers.

The images show bloodied limbs and what appears to be an aborted fetus, and Greenlaw was shocked that there were no warning labels on the flyer.

“My real concern was little kids. We do have some kids in the area,” he explains. “If they put a dot on it to seal it, then okay, so that people who want to look at it can decide to look at it.”

The disturbing images aren’t only found in flyers, they’re also frequently seen on billboards and at pro-life rallies. Just recently, Calgary passed a bylaw banning anti-abortion displays. Toronto councillor Sarah Doucette wants the city to do the same, and make the use of gory images illegal.

“I’m asking that these posters and the banners which are appearing at the lakeshore across from swimming pools, are banned,” said the Parkdale- High Park councillor. “I’m a woman and I’ve lost a baby, and I find these signs offensive. My pregnancy didn’t end the way I wanted it to, but those pictures are very graphic.”

Doucette says she’s been receiving complaints about these images for the last three years, and the vulgar images seem to be reaching more people.

The councillor contacted police in the past, and says she was told as long as the protesters weren’t harassing people and weren’t blocking the sidewalk, they weren’t doing anything illegal.

“Residents are feeling like they can’t even go shopping, go into their community without having these signs imposed on them and in their face,” she said. “Parents, women and men, don’t have any choice, when it’s on all four corners of an intersection, you can’t get away from it.”

The flyers in question come from the Canadian Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, a national organization that also holds anti-abortion protests across the country, including in GTA.

“We can’t ask for people’s permission to speak up on behalf of human beings who are having their rights violated and lives ended,” said Devorah Gilman, from the Canadian Center for Bio-ethical Reform.

Anti-abortion protestors have gathered in major intersections around the GTA, in front of schools and by universities. Just recently, CityNews told you how pro-choice supporters have been disrupting the protests where disturbing photos have been displayed.

Gilman says the group has received complaints over the graphic images in the last few years, but adds a ban like the one proposed by the councillor would go against their rights.

“If someone does violate our freedom of expression, we’re going to challenge that bylaw,” she said.

Councillor Doucette says the bylaw is meant to allow the public to decide on whether or not they want to see that content.

“We don’t want them shoving the posters into our faces,” she said. “If they have a flyer they can hand it out, and it’s up to the person whether they open it and look at the graphic images or not.”

The MPP for Toronto-Danforth, Peter Tabuns is also joining Councillor Doucette’s calls to have the posters deemed illegal. He’s calling on the province to block disturbing anti-abortion image. Hee is also seeking an injunction from the attorney general to stop what he says is a “public nuisance.”

“We ask that you seek an injunction against distribution of material that features these graphic and traumatizing images. Although we object to the message and the misleading information on the flyers we understand that freedom of speech is protected and we don’t ask for prohibition of the message, as much as we disagree with it,” Tabuns writes in his letter to Minister Yasir Naqvi, that he shared with CityNews.

A number of city councillors have also signed that letter in support of Tabuns’ request.

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